DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (2)

“I was meant to do the world a service”

Watching the 2003 adaptations of The Canterbury Tales may have gotten off to a shaky start on disc 1 but soon rallied to make the project seem a worthwhile one and so I tackled disc 2 with some gusto. Unfortunately these latter three stories also suffered from the same unevenness and ultimately threw up a big question about the efficacy of the whole thing. In Avie Luthra’s The Sea-Captain’s Tale, the story of a marriage in an Indian community gone sour gains a pungent power as Indira Varma’s manipulative Meena turns to her husband’s business partner when in something of a bind. She would have it that Om Puri’s older Jetender is an oppressive bully and that Nitin Ganatra’s Pushpinder is her only chance of happiness, but it is soon apparent that she will say and do anything to get her bills paid, her urges satisfied and her selfishness sated. It has a film noir-ish tendency which works well and Varma is always eminently watchable.

The Pardoner’s Tale, retooled by Tony Grounds, is much less successful though. An unwieldy tale of three ne’er-do-wells and their conman ways in a town that is reeling from the impact of a potential serial killer as another teenage girl disappears. As parents and friends intensify their search, the men plot ways to scam money for themselves and as a young woman falls into their circle, the two plot strands ostensibly weave closer. But it is clumsily done, the denouement an unsubtle hammer blow and the elements of the story far too disparate – Jonny Lee Miller as the lead character is vaguely interesting, but not enough to save it.

And last up was Olivia Hetreed’s version of The Man of Law’s Tale, split between Kent and Nigeria as a near-mute refugee in washed up near Chatham and taken in by a kindly couple who nurse her back to health. Clearly traumatised by events from her past, she finds succour in the refuge of a nearby church as well as in the attentions of a local man with whom she slowly falls in love, but when jealousy rears its ugly head, the impact is huge and ripples out back to her native Nigeria where the tale culminates. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Andrew Lincoln are both excellent as the putative lovers and supported well by Rakie Ayola as the mother figure and a nerdishly intense Leo Bill to make a somewhat interesting tale.

But as it ended up in Nigeria, it suddenly struck me that I had felt no connection at all between the stories at all. Without significant prior knowledge, they just came across as six entirely separate tales, the only concession being their locations in Kent progressing ever closer to Canterbury and even that was ultimately fruitless in binding anything together in any meaningful sense. So a very random watching experience, perhaps you should view them as they were broadcast, a week apart and so the lack of linkage might seem less of an issue…

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