Tag Archives: film adaptation

The Great Gatsby: First Look

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels of all time.  To me it is the quintessential Great American novel of the 1920s (sorry, Hemingway).  So, when news came out that a new movie adaptation was being created about the novel, I was excited.  But then I found out it was being created by Baz Luhrmann, whose work is a bit…over the top for my taste.  I was hoping for a sweeping period piece that stuck closely to the novel, but I’m not so sure if I’m going to get it with Luhrmann’s film.  Here’s the trailer, in the event you haven’t seen it.

After watching it a few times, I’ve started to come around a little.  It looks like the main themes of the novel are there.  And it appears that Luhrmann will have no trouble portraying Gatsby’s famous parties to their full dazzlingly overindulgent potential.  And the casting also looks promising–I can see Tobey Maguire as narrator Nick, and I think I can see Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby.  Carey Mulligan seems slightly young as Daisy, but that girl can act, so I know she’ll give the role her all.  Based off Luhrmann’s previous works (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), I don’t think I’m going to get my sweeping period piece.  But he may just surprise me and pull off something I’m willing to go to the theater for.

As an interesting side note, while I was looking around at past Great Gatsby adaptations, I found the trailer for the very first adaptation, made in 1926, just a year after the book was published.  It is based off the stage play by Owen Davis, and had a running time of 80 minutes.  Unfortunately, only the trailer survives today.

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Birdsong: Part II

I’m a bit behind posting my thoughts on part II of Birdsong.  The conclusion of the series did not disappoint.  I know that there have been some mixed reviews about this adaptation, but I felt the production was solid throughout and thoroughly enjoyed it.

One of the main complaints has been the flashbacks to Stephen’s life before the war threaded in throughout his wartime experience.  But as I said before, I think this only strengthened the story.  The horrors of the war are so vividly depicted that the viewer needs a chance to escape to a time before the nightmare began, just as it is likely the soldiers would have done when things became too much to bear.

Stephen going over the top during the Somme Offensive

Birdsong portrays the First World War very well, hitting all of the major notes that made this war so devastating, including the horrendous loss of life during the Somme Offensive.  I don’t want to write too much in the event some of you have not seen it, but I strongly urge you to watch it online on PBS while it is still available.

There’s also a good interview with Eddie Redmayne about his role as Stephen Wraysford which you can read here.

Jack Firebrace & Stephen Wraysford

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Filed under Period Pieces, World War I

Birdsong: Part I

Written in 1993 by Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong is considered a classic of modern English literature.  It tells the story of Stephen Wraysford, a troubled young man who falls deeply in love with a married Frenchwoman named Isabelle Azaire in 1910.  The book follows Wraysford into the trenches during World War I, and through his eyes the reader experiences some of the major battles fought on the Western Front.  Millions of copies of Birdsong have been sold worldwide and it is regularly voted one of Britain’s favorite novels.  It is considered so significant, in fact, that it is required reading in British schools.

All that being said, I’ve tried picking the book up twice, and have twice failed to finish it.  It’s a tough read.  I breezed through Part I, the portion focusing on the love/lust relationship that develops between Stephen and Isabelle.  But at the beginning of Part II I was suddenly plunged 45 feet below No Man’s Land into a claustrophobic earthen tunnel with Jack Firebrace, a completely new character that had nothing to do with Part I.  The stark contrast between a forbidden love affair  in the lush Amiens countryside and the gritty, depressing conditions of the Great War was a very jarring adjustment.  I put the book down again, time passed, and it went back on the shelf.

Jack Firebrace listening for enemy tunnelers

Then last night the first of the two-part miniseries based on the book aired on PBS.  I tuned in because I was curious how Birdsong would adapt to the screen.  After all, it’s taken Working Title 13 years to get it there since buying the film rights to the book.  And I have to say, I was very impressed.  Unlike the novel, which progresses in chronological order, this adaptation chose to intersperse the pre-war love story scenes as flashbacks Stephen Wraysford has during the war.  The film weaves between the light and the dark, contrasting the young Wraysford and the hardened soldier he turns out to be, leaving the viewer wondering what caused such a transformation in his character.  In the book we already know by the end of Part I, but the series lets the two stories play out simultaneously, so the viewer is left guessing what happens both in the past and present.

Stephen and Isabelle steal a moment alone together.

The cinematography is beautiful, the actors’ performances solid (Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Wraysford while Clemence Poesy plays Isabelle Azaire), and the war scenes bring the bitter reality of the First World War home (a much grittier portrayal than what you’ll find on Downton Abbey).  I look forward to seeing how it wraps up next week.  This adaptation inspired me to take the book off the shelf.  Maybe the third try’s the charm.

Wraysford at the Front

Be sure to check out this interesting article about the filming (and why it took 13 years to get it on the screen).

See my thoughts on Part II here.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Period Pieces, World War I