Tag Archives: Movies of Books

Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Discovering Daphne Readalong #4

4 stars 4/5

Thanks to Simon lending me his library copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories on Monday (after I was able to hunt out my own last weekend), I am able to conclude Discovering Daphne! This copy might have travelled some 200 miles from its home in Manchester, but within the pages of this short story collection I travelled much further, from Venice to Israel, Crete to Ireland.

Don't Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Penguin Modern Classics, 2006 paperback edition (first published as a collection in 1971), 272 pages - loan

Don’t Look Now is the first story, and the most famous (made into a film with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christy in the 1970s), was a re-read for me, yet it lost nothing in the telling. I decided on a whim to read all the stories in a muddled-up order instead of one after the other, which I usually do.  I feel it was rather apt to finish Discovering Daphne with the spooky Don’t Look Now on Halloween! Daphne du Maurier is a mistress of atmosphere and as she does in Rebecca where she takes the reader through the gardens of Manderley, she conjures the labyrinthine streets of Venice, romantic by day, haunting and oppressive by night. A couple are on holiday in this beautiful city, there trying to forget the loss of their little girl and mend their relationship, but the story takes a turn for the unusual when they bump into two strange old ladies. Don’t Look Now is probably my favourite short story, or at least it’s my favourite short spooky story. Luckily I hadn’t seen the film the first time I read this (although I have now and I have to admit it’s rather dated but creepy in the way that 70’s horror movies almost inherently are), so I was quite taken aback by the nasty little twist at the end and I found it almost as suspenseful the second time around. This is a brilliant, chilling tale.

Not After Midnight is about a schoolmaster who takes a holiday in Crete. Looking forward to enjoying painting the Mediterranean seascape, he finds that his peace and quiet is shattered by an over-loud American man, named Stoll who is staying at the same hotel with his long-suffering wife. As the story develops, the schoolmaster has a disconcerting feeling that something is not right on his idyllic island. When I first picked up this collection of stories and read Not After Midnight perhaps I was just not in the right mood because I found it a bit dull, but for some reason the second time around it really unsettled me. I think I missed the little hints of what was to come when I read it before and this time I was really absorbed. It is a strange little tale and perhaps would lose something for a reader with no understanding of Greek myth but I really enjoyed it.

In A Border Line Case a young aspiring actress, goes on a journey to Ireland to find an old friend of her recently deceased father. While on the Emerald Isle she is practically kidnapped by the locals and spends an unusual night with her father’s old comrade. I don’t want to give anything away but suffice to say this is one of the more shocking tales in the series! I’m not quite sure whether to think it’s a little too bizarre or just brilliantly nasty.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Jerusalem in The Way of the Cross but wasn’t really gripped by the storyline. All the characters were horrible apart from poor hormonal Mrs Foster and pathetic Miss Dean. This doesn’t normally put me off but I think that perhaps there were just too many different personalities in a short story for me to really be invested in what was happening with them.

The Breakthrough was a curious experimental piece – a mix of the spiritual and scientific (something that du Maurier also plays with in The House on the Strand.) It wasn’t quite my cup of tea and I also wasn’t convinced by how quickly the main character came to believe in the research that he was doing, but it is original and I liked the idea that something amazing could be discovered unbeknown to the rest of civilisation in a little backwater somewhere.

Although some stories in this collection stand out much more for me than others, overall I think it’s a perfect way to dip into du Maurier’s work. It is also interesting to read because it was written much later than her better known novels, so feels quite modern. If you like a good scary story then it’s worth buying for Don’t Look Now and some of the others in the collection are just as dark if not more so. My advice is to make you’ve got a nice cup of tea to take away the chills after reading this one.

The Guardian also chose Don’t Look Now as a reading choice for October – you might enjoy heading over to read the comments and commentary here, or read this excellent review by Simon, my lovely Discovering Daphne co-host.

Did you join in with the Don’t Look Now readalong or have you perhaps been tempted to pick up a copy?

Alice in Wonderland Movie – Ho-hum

Ho-hum…

I went to see Alice in Wonderland at the cinema the other day and it just wasn’t as wonderful as I wanted it to be. I thought that it was utterly beautiful to watch from a visual perspective and that it was brave to try a storyline which was based around Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass without trying to retell it, but ultimately I felt as if it was a bit of a missed opportunity.

Newcomer Mia Wasikowska really held her own as Alice and Helena Bonham Carter was great as the Red Queen, although I had a hunch that she might have been influenced by Queenie from Blackadder a little. I also loved Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, one minute flouncing around elegantly and the next trying not to gag.

I sort-of liked the feisty-female message that they were trying to promote, however it was so overdone as to be well… just a bit silly and unfortunately not Lewis Carroll nonsensical-silly. I tried to look at from the perspective of it being a kid’s movie. My other half said “Yes but kids are bit more credible, for example when you were little you thought that She-ra and He-man was a cinematic triumph” (how rude!). The thing is, She-ra never pretended to be anything more than just fantastical fun. I think that the feisty-female thing works much better when that is the focus of the story (like in one of my favourite children’s books The Paper Bag Princess) as opposed to being an mis-matched addendum to what is an amazing children’s classic story with themes of its own.

Anyway, there were lots of things that I thought were lovely about this film but sadly the bad points just left me feeling a bit deflated about it all.

Have you seen the film yet?

French Fancy? – Thoughts on the Chanel Biography and Film

On a recent library trip I spotted the Chanel Biography Chanel, her Life, Her World, The Woman Behind the Legend by Edmonde Charles-Roux.

Chanel Biography by Edmonde Charles-Roux

I love fashion and I have always admired the beauty and classic femininity of ‘Coco’ Gabrielle Chanel’s designs so I decided to read it. I don’t usually choose biographies, possibly because there are very few famous personalities that inspire me to want to know every detail about their lives so I must admit that I started the book with some trepidation… and in fact didn’t finish it.

My not finishing the biography has less to do with the quality of the writing and content and more to do with my impatience to watch the film Coco Avant Chanel which I ordered from Love Film and had been waiting to be watched for more than two weeks. One hundred and fifty pages into the biography I gave in to the appeal of Audrey Tautou and a two-hour film instead.

The book

Edmonde Charles-Roux’s biography really is well written and gives an unexpected insight into Gabrielle Chanel’s childhood, her youth and development into the woman and icon she became. I think that it is fair to say that when one thinks of the House of Chanel, one thinks of luxury and expensive tailoring so it might surprise readers to learn that Gabrielle was in fact born into a poor peasant family in a French backwater in 1881, dumped into an orphanage and had to fight her way to escape obscurity, dabbling in a singing career (where she got the name ‘Coco’). She even a wealthy man’s mistress before bucking the trend for frou-frou by creating simple and chic hats for a living. The rest, as they say, is history. Against the odds and the restraints her gender imposed on her at that time,  she became the head of a vast business empire where she socialised with the likes of Picasso and Stravinsky.

What Charles-Roux does exceptionally well in the biography is to humanise Gabrielle. He really digs into her background in great depth to really understand how her past experiences influenced her approach to fashion. He paints a critical portrait of her balancing her faults (a tendency to embroider the truth) by showing the reasons why and also how they made her unique. The overall impression that I got was that Gabrielle was a fascinating and complex woman who would have been difficult to get to know but whose values were reflected in her designs.

“Adopting one of Gabrielle’s creations was like crowning yourself with a riddle, and it also involved learning to be attractive by going against the stream.”

Influenced by a love of things English (including her patron and lover ‘Boy’ Arthur Capel) and by military style and practical riding clothes, Gabrielle found ways to bring out the natural shape of the female form without constricting it at a time when corsets and feathers were the norm. She chose to wear black and crisp white shirts as well as, shock-horror…trousers, when other women were adorned in garish colours and huge skirts . An audacious and truly forward-thinking woman who wore what felt good, yet was stylish and encouraged other women to do the same.

The Film

So, although I didn’t finish the biography, I did learn a great deal from it. It was a little too detailed for me, but I think that Coco Avant Chanel which was based on it benefited from this greatly. The film was really quite wonderful to watch, and Audrey Tautou really was the Gabrielle Chanel of my imagination from reading the book, but even better – on screen, in cinematic glory! The film only touches on the orphanage and doesn’t set the scene of the family background in great depth which I thought actually worked well as this was a bit too much for me when reading the book. I was impressed at how much it brought out the behaviour of Gabrielle as described by Charles-Roux – the fibbing, her tom-boyish attitude.

Of course the film is also totally gorgeous to watch. Fashion is a visual thing, so seeing images of the dresses and designs contrasted on-screen was brilliant. I also thought what the film did well was to make her character even warmer, playing on her relationships with Etienne Balsan (her rich lover) and Arthur Capel who as a self-made man really seemed to understand her as well as her sister whose promising love-interests repeatedly left her high and dry.

Finally, one thing that struck me both in the film and when reading the book was how amazing it must have been for Gabrielle Chanel to have lived through such different time periods from the late 19th Century right through to 1971 and how impressively contemporary she remained right through to modern times.

The biography(at least the first half!) is excellent, however I think it is probably more suited to people who really want to know everything about Chanel in-depth with a bit of a historical perspective. I thought that the film was utterly enjoyable and would recommend it highly. It does move at a reasonably slow pace but is beautiful and engaging all the way through.

I think only you will know if you would be interested in this but for me I found the story of Coco Chanel fascinating and inspiring.

Who has inspired you (real or imagined) lately?

The Time Traveller’s Wife Movie – Flop or Fantastic Fantasy?

ttWA little belated blog about The Time Traveller’s Wife movie which I saw last Wednesday. Some thoughts for anyone who’s also read the book and wants to know whether it’s worth a trip to the cinema.

Having read very mixed reviews of the film on movies.com and in various newspapers I was pretty dubious about going to see it. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is one of my all time favourite books, and after being invited to go see the film I was worried that worried that I might be thoroughly p***** off by it being an awful rendition. I have to say that the trailer didn’t make me feel any more confident as it pitches it as just another slushy rom-com albeit with a quirky storyline. I agreed to go on condition that it was a 2 for 1 deal on Orange Wednesday and gave it the benefit of the doubt.

Going in with such low expectations, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The actors were like-able and convincing (although I didn’t like the child version of Henry for some reason, thankfully he’s only in it momentarily!) so they went a long way to conveying the emotional journey that you take in the book. Also you get to see Eric Bana naked quite a lot which is a huge bonus for any female watchers! I read the novel a couple of years ago so I can’t remember the precise storyline, although I could tell that the film does diverge from the plot a little bit. However, I don’t think it did so enough to make any TTW readers really mad. And as us bookish types know, movies rarely live up to the standards of the book they are derived from.

I do think that the film will appeal mainly to female watches whereas I believe that the novel has wider appeal, and also I think that it might actually be of benefit to have read the book as you’ve already been convinced by the unlikely idea of time-travelling being a genetic anomaly.

I’m not going to go into lots of details as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone (especially if they haven’t read it) but suffice to say the key elements were there and it was very moving. I had a bit of a cry and heard lots of sniffles in the cinema!

And if you haven’t read the book yet, why not?! The fact that The Time Travelers Wife - Audrey Nifeneggerit has a 4.5* rating on Amazon from more than 900 reviews  should convince you to push it up your TBR list.