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Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

Goodbye, Christopher Robin

Once upon a time (say late 2011), Simon said “Gosh Claire, I really think you’d enjoy the adult works of A.A. Milne.”  And I said, “He seems extremely prolific and eminently useful for A Century of Books so why not?”  And down the rabbit hole I went (this is a particularly good joke if you know about the Rabbits.  Which you probably don’t.  Which is why you should read more A.A. Milne).

Having now read 30+ of his works (22 of which I somehow managed to review here), plus Ann Thwaite’s excellent biography, and Christopher Milne’s autobiographies (The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees), I feel pretty close to A.A.M.  He is one of my favourite authors and, frankly, human beings.  So it was armed with all this knowledge of him that I went this week to see the newly released film “Goodbye, Christopher Robin”.

Simon, the chief A.A.M. advocate hereabouts, also saw the film and had his own thoughts about it.

Covering the period between the First and Second World Wars, the movie looks at Milne’s life as he recovers from his experiences in WWI, becomes a father, and creates the children’s books that would make both him and his son immortal, to their mutual horror and to the detriment of their relationship.

It begins with Milne stumbling through parties and opening nights, haunted by memories of battle that make it difficult for him to function in the swirl of society his wife, Daphne, so adores. Illustrator E.H. Shepard stands stoically by, a fellow survivor, to let him know he is not alone.  To Daphne’s frustration, Milne struggles to finish new works, including the anti-war book he feels passionately about.  A move to the country doesn’t help much and it isn’t until Milne is left alone for several weeks with his adorable son, from whom he has been distant until this point, that inspiration strikes in the form of children’s poems and, eventually, stories.  And then the whirlwind begins.

It makes for a strong narrative in a film that is beautifully shot and competently acted.

However…

I can understand why Milne was portrayed as having writer’s block even though the years covered were some of his most prolific and successful.  I can see why shell shock is a convenient basis for this, even though there is nothing in A.A. Milne’s, Thwaite’s or C.R. Milne’s writings to suggest he actually had it.  And I can forgive the “let’s hit the viewers over the head” approach to the film’s central anti-war message and lack of mention of Milne’s real-life about-face regarding war (despite having been a life-long pacifist (even before serving in the First World War) and the author of the anti-war book Peace with Honour, Milne was incensed by Hitler and felt passionately that the Second World War needed to be fought and there was honour in doing so.  When Christopher wanted to leave Cambridge and join up but was having trouble passing the medical, he turned to his father, who gave him every possible support).

No, what truly bothered me about the film is the misrepresentation of the relationship between A.A. Milne and his son.  It is accurate in parts but robs them of the close and happy years they actually had together before the rift emerged.

In the film, A.A.M. only notices Christopher (or Billy Moon, as he was known to the family) when the womenfolk are away from home and there is no other caregiver for the little boy.  The two play in the woods, A.A.M. recaptures the joy of childhood and is suddenly inspired to write what will become instantly successful children’s poems and stories.  He – and especially wife Daphne – are swept up in the success, essentially abandoning Christopher once more.

While it’s true that Christopher Milne resented his parents for not protecting him from the success of the books and was haunted his whole life by Christopher Robin, the fictional boy with his name, the truth of their relationship was very different, at least during the period covered by the movie.

A.A. Milne really only had two people he was truly close to his entire life: his brother, Ken, and his son, Christopher.  While Christopher was growing up, both before and after the children’s books, he and his father were best friends and did just about everything together.  It was a close and loving relationship that endured as Christopher grew to adulthood.

For me, the most upsetting scene in the movie is between father and son, when Christopher accuses his father of basically only using him for copy and then ignoring him for the rest of his life.  However, in real life it was Christopher who dropped his father and the split didn’t occur until after Christopher had joined up during the war.  Unfortunately, it was a rift that would only grow larger as Christopher grew older.  What the film does get right is that the great tragedy of both their lives was the success of that bear of very little brain.

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Opera and Olympics

rusalka_thumbIt’s a long weekend here in BC and I am determined to make the most of it.  To start it off, I went to my first ever “The Met: Live in HD” performance on Saturday morning.  For those not aware, these performances are broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to movie theatres around the world (1,900 theatres in 64 countries, according to their website).  It’s been a clever (and successful) initiative (I highly recommend Ann Patchett’s essay on her love of these performances, included in her essay collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage) and it was wonderful to see how packed the theatre was yesterday morning for the Met’s production of Dvorak’s “Rusalka” with Renée Fleming.

Now, seeing an opera on a screen is nothing like seeing one in person but it was still a great experience (and, not living in New York, the closest I’m likely to get to seeing this sort of production).  Fleming is not my ideal Rusalka but she still has a beautiful voice and this is one of her signature roles.  I brought my mother with me to the show and, as a native Czech-speaker, she of course had great fun critiquing everyone’s pronunciation.  I loved the Prince, I loved the Water Gnome, and I particularly loved the three nymphs who get to frolic saucily about while everyone else’s lives get progressively darker.  But most of all, I loved the sets.  The shimmering pond in the woods where Rusalka lives before being turned into a human was beautiful in every detail.  The operas I’ve seen recently in Prague and Vienna have all had budget-conscious staging so it was wonderful to see such richness on stage.  The whole experience was enjoyable and I’m definitely looking at the rest of this season’s offerings, wondering what else I should go see.

I’ve also been enjoying all the Olympic sports on television – and, because I’m hugely sentimental, all the tear-inducing interviews with athletes.  Really, all I do is cry during the Olympics: any interview, any glimpse of a grandparent cheering from back home, any particularly well-executed commercial is enough to have me reaching for the tissues.  Canada has had a great start with a gold, two silvers, and a bronze in the first two days and I am loving being able to watch the primetime events live early in the morning.  This twelve-hour time difference is working out quite well!  Plus it leaves my days free to spend outside (where it is usually cold and I am getting good use from my patriotic Team Canada mittens) or inside, with a good book (Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy is off to a great start).

Justine Dufour-Lapointe via @CBColympics

Justine Dufour-Lapointe via @CBColympics

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A Blue Room in Kensington by James Durden (via here

A Blue Room in Kensington by James Durden (via here)

It has been an unusually busy past couple of weeks for me but this weekend particularly so.  I have barely had time to sit down with a book, but that is what I have planned for the rest of the afternoon.  There is no ending so perfect to the weekend as spending a grey, wet Sunday afternoon curled up with a book, a pot of tea, and the knowledge that everything you needed to do has been done.

I have been reading Jane Ridley’s wonderful biography of Edward VII, Bertie, but for some reason I find myself unable to really get into it.  It is an odd feeling, especially since it is such a well-written and brilliantly researched book.  On every page I learn something new and Ridley’s writing is excellent.  But…what?  I am not sure.  I have never been much interested in Bertie, despite my fascination with other members of his family, which could be part of the problem.  As much as I have enjoyed what I have read, I have been deeply frustrated by my inability to sit down with this book for any lengthy period.  I think I shall probably put it aside for now and come back to it in a few months, when I can do it justice.  The fault here lies entirely with me and not with the book.

In order to kick-start my reading after my struggles with Bertie, I have reread Kristan Higgins’ Just One of the Guys, breezed through Dodie Smith’s Autumn Crocus, and am blissfully working my way further and further into Trollope’s Orley Farm.  The perfect antidote, it turns out, for what ailed me.

But most of my entertainment this weekend has been decidedly non-bookish.  On Friday, I went to the theatre to see Boeing-Boeing, a 1960s farce about a businessman in Paris juggling three fiancées – all air hostesses – whose foolproof plan for keeping them all separate falls apart when their flight schedules are disrupted.  The play itself is hilarious but the physical comedy in this production was what made it.  It has been a long time since I laughed so hard.

On Saturday, I finally saw Quartet.  The film is set at a retirement home for musicians and focuses on the four members of a once-famous quartet, played by Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins.  It is a quiet, uneventful film but a lovely and quite funny one.  While all four main characters give good performances, I loved that the film did not focus exclusively on them.  There were glimpses of the other residents as well, as they worked to put together a gala showcasing all of their talents and hopefully succeed in raising enough money to run the house for another year.  Michael Gambon’s turn as the flamboyant, snobbish operatic director in charge of the gala is wonderful – complete with a magnificently colourful and dramatic wardrobe – but it was lovely to also see the accompanists featured alongside the divas.  This is a home for lovers and performers of all kinds of music, for big names and forgotten ones.  And the house itself is gorgeous.  I am half a century short of needing a retirement home but would happily live there now.

Now, to ready myself for the coming week…but first a few hours with Trollope!

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I had just about the most perfect Sunday I can imagine. I began the day snuggled up on the sofa with a fleece blanket and Katie Fforde’s Living Dangerously (not my favourite of her books but still very enjoyable), went outside to prune roses and pull out some sad, straggly heather bushes (which were surprisingly heavy), and, after a quick grocery shop, kicked into high gear in the kitchen.  Soup was made, goulash was prepared, and, most excitingly, cake was baked.  I’ve been wanting to make a Dundee cake since last November and it was just as delicious I had imagined it would be.  I love fruit cakes.  Any other kind of cake or baked good I can usually resist, but not fruit cakes.  Theoretically, this cake can be stored for years.  I’m fairly confident this one is not going to see out the week, given the enthusiastic response it’s had.

I also rewatched Midnight in Paris with my father, who was seeing it for the first time.  I’d forgotten how much I loved Hemingway’s scenes – too perfect!  It is such a charming movie but, like any Woody Allen movie, has those painfully embarrassing moments that make it excruciating for the overly sympathetic viewer to watch.  Does that happen to you?  When I’m watching a movie at home and I know a character is about to do something ridiculous, I sometimes have to walk out of the room until that scene is past (sadly, I do not have this option in the theatre).  Otherwise I spend all my time squirming in my chair, my eyes screwed tight and my face an unbecoming beetroot-colour, praying for the awkwardness to pass quickly.  My father shares this trait so it makes him the perfect movie-watching companion.  Strangely enough, I never react this way when I’m embarrassed – my reaction is always more extreme when witnessing the embarrassment of others.  It does make Woody Allen movies difficult to watch!

I hope to get back on track with my reviews soon but I’ve been having too much fun reading in the evenings to want to put down my book and write.  Usually, I have a very precise schedule I follow to ensure that a few reviews are written every week, blocking off several hours after dinner to work on the next day’s post.  Last week, it went completely off the rails.  Why would I want to write about a book when I could read one?  A fine attitude for a book blogger to have!  I am, however, finally caught up on all the books I wanted to review for January, which feels like a major victory.  I’m going to savour that feeling while I try to figure out how to attack the books from February – War and Peace is proving far more intimidating to review than it was to read!

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My mother and I abandoned our chores this afternoon and ran away to our favourite movie theatre to see “The Artist”. I had only heard great things about this silent film and, having now seen it, can affirm that all the praise is well deserved. It’s funny, poignant, clever, and, above all things, charming.  If you have the chance to see it, do!

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I don’t usually get that excited about films (particularly ones that aren’t coming out for almost a year) but…

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The new film version of Jane Eyre opened here today and, rather to my surprise considering my distaste for the novel, I found myself attending the four o’clock matinee.  But I do love costume dramas and the reviews had been good so off I went with my mother, who, not having read Jane Eyre since high school, really had no idea what she was about to see.  My expectations were certainly exceeded, not necessarily by the film as a whole but by its one central performance.      

Mia Wasikowska is mesmerizing as Jane.  She took a character I have never liked, at the center of a story I continue to view more as an unrestrained juvenile fantasy than a great romance, and for the first time made me like Jane and feel for her.  I shall never understand her, but I certainly came away feeling sympathy and respect for her, which is the first time that has happened in the ten years since we were first introduced in my Grade Nine English class.  Indeed, Wasikowska’s performance is so strong that I found myself looking at her even when other actors were speaking.  Readers, I barely even looked at Judi Dench during their shared scenes, so intent was I on observing this perfect Jane.  Judi Dench.  Ignored.  By me.  Shocking.  Did the world really need another adaptation of Jane Eyre?  No.  But for Wasikowska’s performance alone it has been proved a worthwhile undertaking.

Mr Rochester was his usual disturbing combination of desperate and cruel and the moors  beautiful and stark, as is their wont.  Neither can elicit much of a reaction from me.  The excesses of Charlotte Brontë in forming both her characters and her plot have had me rolling my eyes since I was fifteen.  I have no stomach for such theatrics, for passions better suited to opera houses, for all-consuming, never-ending dramatics.  My problem understanding the Brontës in general is that they seem to have felt things in a way and on a scale entirely foreign to me.  They speak of undying love and emotions that drive their characters to obsession and misery.  I am more Austen-esque in my world view.  An attractive mate is not one who lashes cruelly out at others with the intention of wounding, interrupted by intermittent periods of brooding and manipulation, but one with a good income, a comfortable home, and an affectionate, steady nature.  Bloodless perhaps, by the romantic standards of Charlotte and her sisters, but nevertheless that is my preference.

Carolyn and I have had this discussion before but I remain unconvinced: what is there to love about Jane Eyre?  Wherein lies its appeal?

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