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Amaryllis on the Silver Screen

It was book group this morning and we were discussing Patrick Hamilton’s searing novel of London just before the outbreak of war, Hangover Square: a sad, lonely schizophrenia sufferer and his mad obsession with Netta, the beautiful but cruelly indifferent object of his desire. It is a novel that positively reeks of cigarette smoke and alcohol as the protagonists puff and imbibe at a really astonishing rate but the unfortunate fact that the author was thoroughly familiar with his subject and themes gives the book great realism and poignancy.
 
However, the film makers had different ideas… they decided they wanted to make a film of Hangover Square but that the setting should be moved from the working class pubs to upper class drawing rooms and that the sad, shambling, lonely man should become a brutal, murdering psychotic and ne’er a drink was seen to be drunk let alone a hangover to be suffered… Americans seem particularly prone to eliminating the more disturbing aspects such as the death of Roger in Northern Lights – it just didn’t happen in the film. Why don’t they just write their own film rather than ruin an extremely good book? Needless to say and thankfully it was a flop so they didn’t bother with the rest of the trilogy and we were saved any more creative happy endings.
 
It set me to thinking about books being turned into films. Today, unfortunately, I feel a lot of books are written in the hope that a film (and lots of money) will be the result – these are not good books and should not be encouraged by making them into films, eg anything with the word ‘girl’ in it. Sometimes the film improves on the book but generally the best films are made from very good books. I have just been to see The Handmaiden which is transposed from Victorian London to 1930s Korea and it worked gloriously well – it kept the pace and the tension and the twists and the turns but clothed it in the beauty of the Japanese landscape and sensuous 1930s silks and satins.
 
In fact, most of the films I have seen recently have been adapted from books – Lady MacbethTheir FinestNocturnal Animals– and I have really enjoyed them. I do think new books work better than classics that require longer and weightier treatment of a television series or radio dramatization although I did love the film versions of Dangerous Liaisons and The Age of Innocence. And they should never star Keira Knightley or Nicole Kidman or children… Unfortunately, some of my favourite children’s books have been ruined by wooden, precocious children such as the Narnia books – dreadful both on film and television. Others have fared much better: A Little PrincessThe Secret Gardenbut a general rule should be that very few children can act – the marvellous Margaret O’Brien being a historic exception; as Beth in Little Women, she could melt the hardest heart.
 
Film is my other great love apart from books. As a child, I wasn’t allowed to watch television in the day time, but such a forbidden treasure was only the more tempting and, my father away, my mother would eventually give in rather than have me under her busy feet all day. So began my lifelong love affair with black and white melodrama and the Hollywood legends: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Robert Mitchum, Lana Turner, Katherine Hepburn – too many to mention but all adored. It was everything about that golden age: the clothes; the hairstyles; the intrigues and love affairs where lighting a cigarette and a smouldering glance spoke passion louder than words or action; the chiaroscuro that played over it all so hauntingly and transported me far away from school, homework, real life… I didn’t even mind that the 1939 film of Wuthering Heights only told half the story or that Greer Garson and her sisters wore crinolines rather than regency gowns in the 1940s Pride and Prejudice: I was in thrall to it all and remain so still.
 
We had a very interesting book group discussing Outline by Rachel Cusk: whilst not everyone enjoyed the read, it was agreed that she was an extraordinarily good writer and she gave us a lot to think about and discuss and we may even read another of her novels, Transit, which would be a book group first!
 
I also very much enjoyed my first non-fiction book group – with myself! Yes, sadly no interest as yet, but The Violet Hour was a really interesting read – it details how several literary figures confronted their death. It sounds depressing and morbid and no-one is more scared of the thought of a world without me than me, but it actually wasn’t and I only had the one panic attack!

About Amaryllis

 

Amaryllis is our bookshop blogger.

 

Her pen name is taken from Alice Thomas Ellis’ Other Side of the Fire, which is unfortunately and scandalously out of print. One of the funniest bits in the book is the bodice-ripper that one of the characters is writing and the female - who slays the men with one toss of her raven locks and one glance from her fiery green eyes as she strides among the glens, faithful wolfhound by her side - is Amaryllis! And the name just seemed to suit so here we are.

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