DVD Review: Northanger Abbey (2007)

“What could be a more innocent or harmless pastime than reading”

Another of Austen’s novels that I haven’t quite gotten round to reading, Northanger Abbey was thus a brand new beast to me and so something of a queer little thing. Its mixture of naïve girlishness and gothic fantasy is winsomely portrayed by Felicity Jones as the ingenuish Catherine Morland and the ever-so-handsome JJ Field as Henry Tilney, but I found it very hard to get into the story or really care for it.

It’s always nice to see Sylvestra Le Touzel, here a friend of the family who introduces the book-obsessed Catherine into Bath society with her husband, the equally kindly Desmond Barrit, and Carey Mulligan is surprisingly fresh as the spirited Isabella. But the use of Geraldine James’ voice as a narrator in the form of Jane Austen herself sits a little oddly and altogether, this was one of my least favourite films in this whole exercise.

TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto

“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”

Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.

Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.

Both timezones were beautifully realised. The hopeful youthfulness of the 50s scenes were perfectly captured by Maimie McCoy and Rory Kinnear (with some appalling hair), him determined to do anything, no matter how ill-advised, for his beloved and her trying to ensure she didn’t end up like her mother (an archetypal but still excellent performance from a purse-lipped Phoebe Nicholls) yet unable to really break through the emotional repression of the age. This was reinforced by older Joyce, a wonderful turn from Francesca Annis all bitter recrimination and sharp edges and all too close to the matriarch she was trying to escape, but one who jumped at the chance at a second bite of the cherry as Wood’s creative license made Hatto a witting accomplice in the fraud.

The real life Barrie (still alive) is adamant that she never knew a thing but Wood’s evocation of the man, played with astounding sensitivity by Alfred Molina, as someone willing to do anything for his wife in her final months and a man somehow lost in the fantastical world he had created has a deep tragedy about him. The way in which he struggles to break the old routines after her death, his determination to protect her reputation, the depth of his love for his wife, it all made for an emotionally disturbing ending that lingered long in the mind. Victoria Wood really is building a considerable case for her work as a dramatist to be taken as seriously as her comedy – iPlayer it now.

Not-a-review: Juno and the Paycock, National Theatre

“Never tired o’ lookin’ for a rest”

When the National Theatre open their booking periods, there is normally a mad scramble to pick up the cheap £12 tickets and so my default position has generally been to take a punt on most, if not every show that comes up, without really considering how much I actually want to see the plays. Increasingly though, I am coming to realise that the rush for a bargain really shouldn’t override my instincts about whether I will enjoy a play or not: it may seem like common sense to most people but to a theatre addict, this is a big step. Which is all leading up to me telling you that I left Juno and the Paycock at the interval.

The play in question was lauded as one of the best 100 plays of the last century and an Irish classic – this is a co-production with the Abbey Theatre, Ireland where it premiered last month (this was the final preview here) – with Howard Davies directing and a cast including Sinéad Cusack and Ciarán Hinds, so one would have assumed it was something of a safe bet. But if I’m honest, the prospect of this play never really stirred any excitement in me and the way the first two acts played out left me completely cold and so I made the very rare (for me) decision to make a quick exit. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Juno and the Paycock, National Theatre”