Saturday, July 23, 2011

Film and text

Immersed in the second volume of the Raj Quartet, coming towards its conclusion, and thinking of the relationship between the text and the television series.

Your mind moves between your own self-created imagination of how the unfolding narrative appears and the imagination of the series. The adaptation was very faithful, and yet it is a different media and an interpretation (as, of course, is one's own).

The most obvious things that do not appear 'on the screen' are the interior aspects that it is always so difficult to incorporate, to make bodily. Thus both the religious context and the dreams that haunt particular characters are subdued and a whole dimension is diminished. Indeed re-reading I was struck by how important both are to the unfolding narrative.

The religious dimensions are manifold. There are the commitments of central characters, most especially Miss Crane and Miss Bachelor as members of Christian missions and their disbelief both about the effectiveness of their mission, and of the beliefs that underlie it and their fragility. There are the communal commitments that will play a developing part in the narrative as India suffers partition. There is the strand of unwinding belief - of beliefs that no longer carry the force they once did, of others that carry the weight of gathering politics.

The dreams are haunting, complex and drive the symbolism that underpins aspects of the novel. One key theme is 'play'. The way that, as in dream, we inhabit parts that are both meaningful and yet detached from our daylight selves. These selves might, of course, be less vivid than our dreams and on waking we might momentarily wonder which is the most real.

A wondering that for some characters continues into life. There is a compelling conversation between Susan and Sarah Layton that follows the death of Susan's husband at the front (repulsing the Japanese invasion). Susan is confessing that she has never felt a part of the world, that all that she has been is a 'play'. Her last attempt at belonging was marrying the now dead Teddy. With he gone, she is nothing. It is a powerful account of how people's selves can be wholly created by serving the expectation of others. Our 'selves' can be confiscated by the gaze of others (as the French psychologist, Henri Wallon, would describe it).

But there are simpler interfaces between series and text.

One of the central characters is Barbie Bachelor, played by Peggy Ashcroft, superbly if you only see the film, but in the book Barbie is a more superficial and vulnerable. Strangely an exemplary, known actor is always playing fragility in the film, brilliantly, but playing not being. 

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