Monday, January 14, 2008

Sons and Lovers (2003 TV adaptation)

I generally liked the movie while I viewed it, yet as soon as it was over I began to feel disappointed. Unfortunately, this is the complete opposite my feelings about the book. First the good things—the scenery and music are beautiful. Since Lawrence was so focused on nature, I don’t think the movie could possibly overplay outdoor scenes. (Flowers played such a key part for Lawrence but they seem to be lacking on screen.) However, Walter’s alienation from his family was one of the better dramatized parts of the book. His portrayal at William’s funeral was moving.

One of the toughest things about adapting this book to a movie would be trying to externally capture what is going on internally. The emphasis in the novel is with conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings directing what the characters do. A couple of ways they tried to get around that here was to have a lot of the dialogue straight from the book as well as adding invented scenes to help build the ‘feeling’ of the movie.

I don’t expect a movie to follow the work exactly, and realize there will need to be a lot of paring in order to get to an acceptable length. But one of the strengths of the book was Lawrence’s ability to give a well-rounded picture of a character on the sketchiest of details. Seeing Walter Morel with red hair was a jolt, as was anything other than a buxom Clara. The latter point was especially jarring since Lawrence painted not just the internal strength of Clara (which fails in the end) but her physical strength as well. There are many more examples where the choice made for the movie is different from the book, which at some point seems to make it into something completely different story.

As the scenes piled up that were out of order, conflated, or invented, the general gist of the story remained but much of the power of the book was lost. The scene where Walter locked his wife out of the house in Chapter 1 is sadly truncated (as was the workmen carrying William’s casket). And changing a seaside vacation with Clara to one with Miriam is just inexplicable. While I wouldn’t say the nudity in the movie was gratuitous, it didn’t feel necessary. The one point (repeatedly shown) that sex and sensuousness don’t always mix felt old by the end.

The question on recommending the movie is a tough one. The movie can be a pleasure to watch at times as long as you’re not expecting it to be true to the book. While that can be said of many adaptations from book to screen, this one definitely took a considerable step away from the source many times.

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