Before I proceed, let me just explain, once again, the nature of my review. It was inspired and therefore motivated by comments made before and after the release of this DVD. Mainly all the expressions of hope that this production would be a more faithful narrative of the story and it’s characters. As I said, after it was released there have been more than a few that have joyfully exclaimed “It’s more faithful to the book!”
It has never been my desire to prove these reviews wrong or right. Instead, my goal was to answer this question for myself. Being sure to state that it is my opinion and in no means official nor above anyone else’s opinion.
For me, when I saw it for the first time, I actually found myself wondering what I had missed in the book for people to make this statement. Though I’ve studied this novel extensively and repeatedly, I am not so foolish as to think that there might be things that I’ve missed. Normally, I would have just set this adaptation aside and moved on. Yet as owner and administrator of this blog I felt a responsibility to give a review and to do an honest and thorough job. So, in essence, this review is one that answers the question, ‘Is this production a faithful retelling of the story? or Does it stay faithful to the book?’
I have also said before, that writing this review has not been easy. In fact, I discovered that the viewing of this production, for the purpose of this review, was very painful. That being said, I’ve made the commitment and so I will press forward and give you all as honest a review as I can, always having the above questions in mind as I go.
In this last segment of my review, it will be my goal do an overview of the portrayal of our two main characters, the ending scene and then a wrap up of the production.
So let’s get started with Margaret. I’ve hinted and stated plainly that I have not been overly impressed with this productions view of Margaret. Now, let me clarify to say that I am well aware that portraying Margaret is not an easy task. Margaret is a wonderfully real and complex character. She is a character that is mature beyond her years. So much so, many mistake her to be older than she is. On the flip side of this, she is also a very idealistic young girl of 18 (when the story begins). She is independent and opinionated (most opinions coming from her idealistic views) and then at the same time, timid and self-sacrificing. She, not unlike other characters in this story are a wonderful balance of strengths and weaknesses.
What is interesting for this particular character is that I sensed things about her, intuition, you might want to call it, from my first viewing of the ’04 adaptation. Yet at the same time there were conflicting elements to her character that I didn’t understand. I think I’ve mentioned before that in my last study of the book, it was my goal to concentrate on Margaret. To truly get to know her and understand her to the best of my ability. To take her as Gaskell presents her. Thankfully, Gaskell defines her well and I found myself liking her more as I turned each page.
On the plus side, I was very grateful to see Margaret’s more timid & self-sacrificing side shown in full color in this production. So many miss this element of her character and to miss it, is to see an incomplete image of her. This is a vital aspect of what makes Margaret was she is. Margaret is all these things wrapped up into one female package and it’s what makes her such a stunning character.
As I said, fully grasping the whole package, the intricate weave of both self-sacrificing and self-sufficient is a daunting task that lays before any actress taking on the role. This production played too heavily on the timid side of her character and struggled successfully portraying the other side of her. Margaret’s relationship with her parents is one of the best examples of the duality of her character. She loved her family without wavering and sacrificed much for their happiness and wellbeing. Yet, it is her self-sufficient side that confidently cared for her ailing mother and despondent father. She managed the funeral details when her father and brother were too stricken with grieve to take responsibility. In a society where it was believed women were too weak to attend funerals, Margaret was stronger and more controlled than her male family members. Do you all see the complexity of her character in this? How she choked down her own grief to do what was needed for her family. I could go on but diving into the complexity of her character is for another post.
Now with all that being said, I didn’t miss the efforts that were made by this production to show the many layers of her character. Yet all of these instances either felt awkward or came upon the character so swiftly they felt out-of-place or inconsistent.
Again, to see Margaret clearly, you need to see all sides of her character, otherwise you run the risk of making her into something that she’s not. I didn’t hate this performance of Margaret, yet at the same time, I didn’t see the beautifully complex Margaret that I have come to love.
Moving onto our hero, if you have read the first two parts of this review, you will not be surprised to find that I also feel that this was not an accurate portrayal of Thornton’s character either. Let me just say, that with my first viewing of this production, I didn’t sit there and pick apart Patrick Stewart’s (PS) portrayal. I did, however, feel that his interpretation of Thornton had missed the mark. When I viewed this production for the purpose of this review, the elements that were wrong began to stack up. One of the largest elements that frustrated me is the consistent portrayal of Thornton having a short and sharp temper. In this production, Thornton loses his temper with his mother, Mr. Hale & Margaret as well as Higgins. PS tends to show Thornton’s passion in fits of anger instead of intensity of heart.
Not unlike Margaret, another element that I struggled with is Thornton’s swift change in character. I have stated how I loved the banter between he and his mother. How he seemed to take her brash and blunt opinions with respect, humor and ease, standing his ground confidently. Then suddenly he would change and seem to be totally under his mother’s control. As I said, just like with Margaret, these changes felt awkward and out-of-place, with no real explanation of what brought them on.
Then there was the absence of the “Look Back at me” scene. A scene that shows the depth of his love for her and the heartache in her loss to him. Much of Thornton’s deep passion for Margaret is either missing or not portrayed at all. Thornton seems rather unaffected and conducts himself too well. No hint of the battle raging just under the surface.
Much of the power of Thornton’s character is once again the intricate balance in his character. What captures so many hearts when reading or viewing Thornton’s character is the element of strength being softened by this life changing passion he feels. His love for Margaret shakes his iron self-control. It doesn’t take it away but it does unbalance him and then shapes him into an even better man. This production did now show me this change in Thornton.
Another issue with both of these characters development comes with absence of Leonard’s and Margaret’s lie. It still baffles me as to how this production team felt this element was inessential and therefore cut it from the script. How did they miss the change it brings upon both of these characters? It’s an necessary component that plays a heavy role in Margaret’s maturity and coming to understand the man that she fought so passionately to dislike and then harshly rejected. It thrusts Margaret’s character forward and gives a basis for her change of heart.
Dialogue is both an asset in the production and a crutch. The asset is that it used dialogue to deliver many aspects of the story that are revealed via narrative or thought in the book. As a dear WoM member shared, for some this was a wonderful way of telling the story, as it helped some understand what was happening. The aspects of the story that were delivered successfully, were delivered through this means. However, at the same time, using the dialogue so prevalently also became a crutch. The dialogue lacked the backing of emotion to relay to the accuracy of what was being said. As mentioned above in my reviews of the two main characters, the lack of portrayal of Thornton’s passion and Margaret’s developing passion makes the ending feel that much more rushed. In some ways, I suppose this is closer to the book in that many feel the ending there was too rushed as well.
That brings us to the ending as portrayed in the production. Many have expressed their feelings of adulation over how this depiction, which they feel is closer to the book and therefore helped them understand things better. How Thornton coming to Margaret to apologize for his assumptions about her brother made logical sense as to why he was there in London. Feeling this had never been made clear to them in the book. That statement grieved me greatly because nothing could be further from the truth. Thornton comes to London to seek out the business manager of his landlord for the purpose of giving up his lease. In other words, he was there to inform his landlord that the business was closed and that he needed negotiate an early release of his lease.
Henry is so taken with him that he invites him to dinner at the Shaws. There he and Margaret meet again. This meeting thrusts Margaret into action. Seeking to do whatever was in her power to help the man that she loved. She selflessly seeks to do for him just has he did for her when he saved her from the inquest.
I was displeased with this ending the first time I viewed it, for many reasons. With this second viewing, I decided to pause the film to read the ending as Gaskell wrote it. After reading it, I then proceeded to watch the filmed interpretation. To say that this ending has flaws is an understatement. If you have read this blog for long, you know we have a beloved member by the name of Courtney. You will also know that Courtney is forever reminding us of the amazing power found on the last pages of this story. And she is right! Though I’ve come to love this ending with every re-read, comparing the true ending to what is portrayed in this production made Gaskell’s ending that much more powerful.
There were many things that this production got wrong with this scene but one of it’s largest issues was the missing the power found in those last moments. Margaret is awkward, as she should be in this scene. Yet if I hadn’t known that she was actually in love with him at this point, I wouldn’t have known it from the performance or the scenes leading up to this moment. Then there is PS, who chooses to express Thornton’s tender passion in a barking calls of her name. He comes off commanding, barking out her name instead of relaying the quivering passion that Thornton possessed.
Read as Gaskell describes Thornton’s demeanor:
While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said:— ‘Margaret!’ Chapter ‘Pack Clouds Away’
Then second call to her name is then described as tremulous. Then the last passionate words are described as “whispered-panted”. There is amazing energy found in this moment that is completely missing in this portrayal. While watching this ending a good friend looked at me and said… “The emotion is either not there at all or completely unbelievable!”
I know that some really enjoyed this production and it’s not my intention to tear apart your enjoyment of it. As stated repeatedly, my desire was to face the idea that this production was an honest and straightforward portrayal of the book. In direct comparison, it is not.
Now that should not be translated to mean that I feel this production is not worth while. Believe it or not, I do completely encourage others to view this production. It does wonders for giving you a new perspective on this story. Seeing Margaret in a more timid light & Thornton in a more formal one. Though I don’t agree with much of the choices this production team made, I still have no hesitation in advising fellow fans and friends to watch it. One thing that I do not recommend is viewing this production with book in hand. If you do so, there is a higher probability that your opinion and enjoyment of it will be greatly hindered.
I do believe though that if you go into this production not expecting it to be an honest representation of the book, but instead another interpretation of the general story, I think you will be able to find gems to enjoy. Some fans of this production felt that it relayed and defined many of the more obscure parts of the story. You may find the same to be true for you.
So… this concludes my review of the production. I’ve been requested to do a comparison of the two productions and I will do my best to comply with it that request. I hope that you all will once again feel open to comment. Both those who have seen the production and those who have not. I would love to hear everyone’s opinion or even questions. As with all posts here on WoM, these reviews will always be open for comment. For those who have not yet viewed this production, you are welcome to comment when you do. Share your own observations and general feeling of this production, whether positive and/or negative!
Thank you all for staying with me through this review.