“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

Recently, I had come across an old BBC production that I have not seen in years. The production was a television movie based upon author George Eliot’s first novel, “Adam Bede”.

This adaptation of Eliot’s 1859 novel told the story of four young people from the rural English community of Hayslope around the end of the 18th century. This “love rectangle” revolved around a local carpenter named Adam Bede; a beautiful, yet self-absorbed milkmaid named Hetty Sorrel; the local squire’s charming grandson and heir, Captain Arthur Donnithorne; and Hetty’s cousin Dinah Morris, a beautiful Methodist lay preacher who is also attracted to Adam. How did this “rectangle” come about? Although highly regarded by the Hayslope community as an intelligent and talented carpenter, Adam has a weakness . . . namely his passionate and unrequited love for the beautiful Hetty. Unfortunately for Adam, Hetty was deeply in love, lust or simply dazzled by the handsome and charming Arthur. Did Arthur love Hetty? I honestly do not know.

As I had stated earlier, “Adam Bede” was George Eliot’s first novel. Eliot’s earlier skill as a writer is very apparent in this television adaptation. Do not get me wrong. I rather enjoyed “ADAM BEDE” very much. But it did not strike me as . . . fascinating or complex as other George Eliot adaptations I have seen. If one must be honest, the whole “servant girl get seduced by rich young man” scenario is not particularly new. I suspect that it was not new when Eliot wrote this novel back in the 1850s. I believe that Eliot had used this trope again when she wrote “Silas Marner”, which was published two years after this first novel. Both stories featured “fallen women” and both portrayed the latter in a slightly unsympathetic light. Mind you, Eliot did a good job in conveying Hetty’s struggles between the discovery of her pregnancy and the verdict during her trial. But I could not help but suspect a slight taint of Victorian morality in Eliot’s portrayal of Hetty. I believe screenwriter Maggie Wadey tried her best to overcome that rigid morality, but thanks to the narrative, I do not think she had fully succeeded. Especially when one considers how “ADAM BEDE” ended.

If I have a real problem with “ADAM BEDE”, it is the ending. If the production had been a two-part movie, perhaps . . . You know what? I suspect that stretching out the running time would not have solved what I believe was the narrative’s main problem. I believe changing the ending would have helped. One problem proved to be Hetty’s fate. After being found guilty of infanticide, Hetty was sentenced to execution. Her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Australia at the last moment, thanks to Arthur Donnithorne. Ye-ee-ea-ah . . . I found this scenario a bit improbable. It seemed as if Eliot had tacked on this last minute fate for Hetty to avoid a truly tragic ending. Another problem I had with the ending proved to be the main protagonist’s relationship with the Dinah Morris character. The movie featured a brief scene in which Adam Bede regarded Dinah as an attractive woman. Despite this, he spent most of the production harboring a passionate, almost possessive love for Hetty Sorrel. Once Hetty was sent away for transportation, Adam became romantically interested in Dinah. Rather fast. Too fast, if you want my opinion. I realize that he was urged to consider Dinah as a romantic partner by others, but . . . yeah, I thought the final romance between the pair happened too fast.

However, “ADAM BEDE” had its virtues. One, the production did an excellent job in conveying the mores and traditions of a rural town in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century. I found it amazing how the town’s middle and lower classes were judged a bit more harshly than the upper-class residents. I noticed that although Adam is not regarded as morally questionable, many others tend to judge him based upon his moral compass . . . a lot. I also noticed that many seemed to regard Arthur’s morals with a wary eye, they seem willing to give him a pass. I doubt they would have been that generous with Adam. But that is always the case, is it not . . . at least for those who are not part of an elite social group.

If middle and lower-class men had it bad, women of all classes had it worse. Dinah Morris is portrayed as a decent and pious woman. Yet, there seemed to be a slight air of disapproval directed toward Dinah, due to her role as a Methodist lay preacher. But no one is judged more harshly than Hetty Sorrel. Even by Eliot. Audiences are expected to harshly judge Hetty for her desire for a life “above her station”. But I will give credit to both Eliot and screenwriter Maggie Wadey for injecting a great deal more of ambiguity and sympathy toward Hetty . . . especially after she became pregnant.

I also have to commend the movie’s performances. There was not a bad one in the bunch. Susannah Harker made a very serene Dinah Morris, even I did not find the character particularly interesting. James Wilby had a more interesting character to portray, namely the shallow and sensual Arthur Donnithorne. However, I do not think Wadey’s screenplay really gave the actor much of a chance to explore Arthur’s ambiguity, aside from one or two scenes. “ADAM BEDE” also featured excellent performances from Jean Marsh, Paul Brooke, Robert Stephens, Freddie Jones, Michael Percival and Alan Cox.

Julia McKenzie struck me as particularly memorable as Mrs. Poyser, the aunt of both Dinah and Hetty. Although Eliot had written her as a comic figure, the actress managed to inject a good deal of pathos and emotion into the character, thanks to the screenplay. Patsy Kensit was superb as the flighty, yet hard-luck Hetty Sorrel, who proved to be the most interesting character in this tale. Kensit managed to skillfully rise the character’s one-dimensional portrayal in the movie’s first half and embrace the ambiguous quagmire that poor Hetty ended up in the second half. Superficially, Adam Bede did not seem as ambiguous as Hetty. Superficially. But underneath the stalwart and industrious carpenter existed a proud and emotional man, whose world centered around a woman who did not love him. And man did the producers select the right man to portray young Adam – namely Iain Glen. I have been aware of the actor for several decades. And I have noticed that whether he was playing a hero, a villain, anti-hero – you name it – Glen has always managed to convey the emotional depths behind his characters on a level that very few actors have managed to achieve . . . whether through his voice or expressions. Or perhaps both. And he utilized the same level of skill in his portrayal of the emotional and lovelorn Adam. No wonder I have been a fan of his for years.

Overall, I would never regard “ADAM BEDE” as one of my favorite George Eliot adaptations. The problem is that the movie reflected too much of the novel’s narrative flaws. But not all was lost with Maggie Wadey’s adaptation. I still managed to enjoy the movie, thanks to its intriguing plot and first-rate cast led by Iain Glen. In the end, I believe it had more virtues and flaws.

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1989) Review

Below is my review of the 1989 miniseries, “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”

 

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1989) Review

I have seen at least three full versions of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”. And if I must be frank, I have yet to see a version that I would consider to be flawless or near flawless. But if I had to choose which version would rank as my favorite, it would be the three-part miniseries that aired on NBC in 1989.

Directed by the late Buzz Kulik, this version of Jules Verne’s novel starred Pierce Brosnan as the globe-trotting Phineas Fogg. ”MONTY PYTHON” alumni Eric Idle co-starred as Fogg’s French manservant, Passepartout; Julia Nickson portrayed the India-born Princess Aouda; and the late Peter Ustinov was the English detective who was convinced that Fogg had robbed the Bank of England, Detective Fix. The story started with a conversation between Fogg (Brosnan) and three fellow members of the Reform Club (Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Simon Ward) in 19th century London about the technological advances in transportation in the past thirty to forty years. This leads Fogg to make a wager for twenty-thousand pounds (£20,000) that he could travel around the world in eighty (80) days or less. During the same day, a thief robs the Bank of England and all suspicions point to Fogg, who is identified by a bank employee as the robber.

Wentworth (Robert Morely), an official from the Bank of England and his assistant McBaines (Roddy MacDowell) dispatch private detectives to various ports throughout Europe to find Fogg and have him extradicted back to England. One of the detectives include Fix (Ustinov), who is sent to Brindisi, Italy. Unfortunately, Fix spots Fogg and Passepartout boarding a steamer bound for Suez and Bombay a minute too late and is forced to follow them on their trek around the world. Upon Fogg’s arrival in India, one last member joins his traveling party when he and Passepartout (actually, Passepartout) rescue a recently widowed Indian princess from a suttee funeral pyre.

Like its 1956 predecessor, this version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” turned out to be longer than necessary. The miniseries could have easily been a two-part miniseries or a 135-minute television movie. Unfortunately, John Gay filled his screenplay with unecessary scenes and dialogue that merely served as fillers to justify a three-part miniseries. In Part I, Fogg and Passepartout’s adventures in France lasted longer than necessary – especially after they met a balloonist named Gravier and his mistress, Lucette. Even worse, viewers have to endure Fogg and Passepartout’s balloon journey from France to Italy – which included a period that the heroes found themselves stranded in the Italian Alps. Part II included scenes that featured Fogg, Passepartout and Aouda’s adventures with a Burmese prince and the bandits that kidnapped all of them; and Fogg, Aouda and Fix’s encounter with the Empress of China and her son, the Emperor. I realize Gay also added these scenes to make Fogg’s journey around the world more interesting. Unfortunately, they failed to interest or impress me.

Another problem I had with Gay’s script turned out to be a major blooper that involved Fogg’s encounters with the famous bandit, Jesse James (Stephen Nicols). Following Fogg’s first encounter with James in San Francisco; he, Aouda, Passepartout and Fix boarded an eastbound train for Omaha. By some miracle, Jesse James and his brother Frank managed to catch up with this train somewhere on the Great Plains (probably in Nebraska), where Jesse boarded said train before the second encounter with Fogg. How was this possible? Fogg’s train should have traveling eastbound for at least a day or two before James boarded it. There is NO WAY that the bandit could have caught up with that train. Gay should have allowed the James brothers or Jesse board the train in Oakland, along with Fogg and his party. Sloppy writing. And some of the dialogue featured in the miniseries seemed ladened with pedantic and half-finished sentences and unecessarily long pauses that seemed to serve no other function than to act as fillers to stretch the story.

One might wonder how I can view this version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” as my favorite, considering the above criticism. But despite the flaws, I must admit there were many aspects about the miniseries I found enjoyable. John Gay’s screenplay did not turn out to be a total loss. In fact, the number of gems in the story seemed to outweigh the flaws. I especially enjoyed the following:

*Fogg and Passepartout’s charming encounter with actress Sarah Bernhardt (portrayed by a still sexy 54 year-old Lee Remick) at Dover
*Fogg and Passepartout’s hilarious adventure at a Parisian bar
*The steamship journey from Brindisi to Suez that featured Fogg’s encounter with Egyptian stonecutters and Fix’s hilarious encounter with a Turkish prisoner willing to offer himself to help the detective pass the time
*Princess Aouda’s rescue
*Fogg, Aouda and Fix find themselves shipwrecked on the China coast
*Fogg’s first encounter with Jesse James at a San Francisco ball
*Fogg and James’ duel on the Omaha-bound train

One particular scene I truly found enjoyable was Fogg and Aouda’s hilarious and unsuccessful attempt to stowaway aboard Cornelius Vanderbilt’s (Rick Jason) Europe-bound yacht. It was never featured in the novel or the 1956 movie. Too bad. I thought it was one of the best written scenes in the miniseries.

And it was Pierce Brosnan’s performance as Phileas Fogg that really made that last scene a comic gem for me. Which is not surprising, considering he has turned out to be my favorite Fogg. Sorry Mr. Niven and Mr. Coogan, but I feel that Brosnan’s portrayal has the other two beat. He managed to combined the best of the other two actors’ performances to create the most emotionally rounded Phileas Fogg. He managed to perfectly convey the angst of Fogg’s tendencies to suppress his emotions with some great comic timing.

Speaking of comic timing, Eric Idle’s timing was effectively on display in some of my favorite scenes. Granted, I found his French accent rather questionable. But Idle more than made up for it in some very hilarious scenes. One featured his reaction to being attacked by a French thug at the Parisian bar and another a drunken moment shared with Fix at a Hong Kong tavern. But my favorite Idle moment centered around his reaction to a questionable meat pie purchased by Fogg on the Omaha-bound train in probably the funniest line in the entire miniseries.

Julia Nickson was both charming and amusing as the very brave Princess Aouda. Her Indian princess provided the miniseries with some deliciously angst-filled moments that allowed Aouda to question Fogg about his habit of suppressing his feelings from others. Nickson’s Aouda also provided the miniseries with some political correct moments that were not only amusing, but well handled without being overbearing. And I simply enjoyed Peter Ustinov’s performance as Detective Fix. Like Brosnan’s Fogg, his Fix came off as more rounded and complex as Robert Newton or Ewan Bremmer’s Fix. Without a doubt, Ustinov had some hilarious moments – especially in scenes that featured Fix’s encounter with the Turkish prisoner on the voyage to Suez; and his reaction to anothergame of whist with Fogg. Not only did Ustinov managed to be funny, but also give Fix’s character with a great deal of depth not found in other versions of the story.

I do have to say something about the supporting characters. One, I really enjoyed Robert Morely and Roddy McDowall as the Bank of England official and his assistant. Morely was a lot more amusing and fun in this miniseries than he was as the more stoic bank official in the 1956 version. And McDowall supported him beautifully. I also enjoyed the performances of Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Simon Ward as the three Reform Club members who made the bet with Fogg. I especially enjoyed Lee’s performance as the one member who especially found Fogg’s precision and rigid habits rather annoying.

This version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” lacked Victor Young’s memorable score and Lionel Lindon’s cinematography. But it does possess a pleasant and catchy score written by Billy Goldenberg. And I must admit that I found myself impressed by Emma Porteus’ costume design, which captured the styles of the early 1870s more effectively than the 1956 movie.

In a nutshell, the three-part miniseries is simply too long. It has scenes and some clunky dialogue that could have easily been edited. But screenwriter John Gay also provided some wonderful and effective moments in the script. Frankly, I thought the cast was top-notch – especially the four main characters led by Pierce Brosnan. And although he is not well known, I thought that director Buzz Kulik did a solid job bringing it all together. The 1956 version may have won the awards, but in my book, this 1989 miniseries remains my favorite version of Jules Verne’s novel.