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Sandraseahorse

Zola transferred to the North of England

I see that an adaptation of Zola's "The Ladies Paradise" has been commissioned by BBC North drama section and it will be set in the north of England.

It seems to be  a big budget production - eight episdoes in all.  It is not a Zola novel I have read and I gather it is regarded by many as one of the weakest.  Anyone who has read it got any thoughts?
TheRejectAmidHair

I found this novel slightly disappointing- but only slightly,and only by Zola's own standards. I felt that Zola was more interested in the background rather than the foreground, and that,as a consequence, it is the social context that beco es the most important feature rather than the characters; the characters are, indeed, somewhat overwhelmed.

The novel is set around a department store: while Zola clearly admires the sheer dynamism of capitalism, and the unprecedented plenitude that is a consequence of mass production, he is concerned also by the implications of it all: people are changing from being citizens to mere consumers. Whatever one may say about Zola, he always ad his finger on the pulse.
Evie

I haven't read it, but have been meaning to - ever since I read The Kill, and a friend (Professor of French literature, albeit not a 19th century specialist) said he would be interested to know what I thought of this one.  I wonder why they have moved it to England...and how well it will work...but I will certainly be watching.  Perhaps I will push the novel up my TBR list.
Chibiabos83

Every time I spot this thread its title strikes me as my nightmare headline from the late '90s. But happily it's about literature and not football.

I've got so many books to read, but I really must make room for Germinal. Perhaps one to take on holiday to France next month.
KlaraZ

I've read it, and I think transferring the book to the North of England will completely destroy the point! It's very much a novel about Paris, and Paris being at the forefront of commercial enterprise/the fashion industry, with the rise of the department store in the capital contrasting with  provincial expectations---mammon, certainly, but a reality at that time. Nowhere in the North of England could possibly have competed with Paris in those terms, although no doubt there were big department stores, but so much will be lost if the heroine doesn't travel to a big, metropolitan capital city.
Sandraseahorse

It strikes me how long it has been since there has been an adaptation of Zola on British TV.  I remember a dramatisation of "Nana" in the late 60s which was considered pretty raunchy for its time; I seem to recall Morecombe and Wise mentioning it in a routine.  There was an adaptation of "Germinal" in the early 70s but I can't remember anything since.  

Looking at Zola film adaptations on IMDB I see that "The Kill" was filmed by Roger Vadim, starring Jane Fonda, as "The Game is Over."  Unfortunately the DVD is only available in Region 1 format.  Has anyone seen it?
blackberrycottage

Chibiabos83 wrote:
Every time I spot this thread its title strikes me as my nightmare headline from the late '90s. But happily it's about literature and not football.


Love that Gareth. This ladies paradise would be the football rather than the department store!
Gul Darr

I really must read this before the adaption is screened; I bought a copy in St Malo about 3 years ago and it's still in the TBR pile.
Evie

Re television adaptations - I remember a version of Therese Raquin in the early 1980s, I think, with Kate Nelligan.  But no, nothing since.

There is a new film (feature not TV) of Therese, I read somewhere, starring Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films.

Re Klara's point - even without having read the novel, I think you are right, Klara, that Paris is surely part of the point!  Presumably it will be a fairly loose adaptation...
TheRejectAmidHair

Evie wrote:
Re television adaptations - I remember a version of Therese Raquin in the early 1980s, I think, with Kate Nelligan.  But no, nothing since.
.


Yes, I remember that. Mona Wahbourne was the mother.
KlaraZ

Yes, Therese Racquin was brilliantly done, and I believe Alan Rickman was in it. There used to be so much C19th French literature dramatised on TV thirty plus years ago (Zola, Balzac, Flaubert), but we've been rather poorly served since, I feel.  I can remember the last time 'Madame Bovary' was dramatised (in the 90s) and thinking how disappointing it was in comparison with the one in 70s (with Tom Conti and Francesca Annis.)
TheRejectAmidHair

Yes, I remember that dramatisation of Madame Bovary with Francesca Annis. I think they don't do French novels now (or Russian novels, or, indeed, any novels other than classic 19th century British novels) because they need to sell these dramatisations to the international market under the Ye Olde Heritage Britain imprint, and non-British novels, especially those without much scope for pretty faces in pretty costumes, don't quite fit the bill. The marketing bods have long been tearing out their hair because Jane Austen was so inconsiderate as to die having written only 6 novels.

The dramatisations from the 80s and earlier are, in dramatic terms, almost inevitably superior to their modern counterparts, because they were not constrained by the assumption that viewers will be switching off should any scene go on for longer than a few seconds or so. As I have argued before, this modern fashion in film-making is not suitable for dramas of any depth or intricacy; and since the classic novels they are adapting generally do have depth and intricacy, all that has to be be jettisoned.

If broadcasters are serious about putting major works of literature on the screen, they really should be looking beyond the bonnets-and-bustles; and they should be looking beyond English novels also. Just think what fine dramas could be made from, say, L'Assommoir; or The Scarlet Letter; or Fathers and Sons; or The Ambassadors; etc. etc. And why stop at the turn of the 20th century? How about adapting, say, Buddenbrooks? Or The Trial? Or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? And how about having the courage to challenge current film-making practice, and actually try to do some justice to these works?

Well, one can dream, can't one?
Sandraseahorse

I was just about to make the same point as Himadri.  I can remember in the 70s seeing a BBC adaptation of Sartre's "The Age of Reason."  I can't imagine that being commissioned these days.  Also, there was "War and Peace" with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre.

I agree with the point about the "heritage industry" but even within this confine, I wish the BBC would explore authors other than Austen, Dickens and the Brontes.

People often complain that the BBC is over-staffed with Arts graduates but if so, they don't seem to have heard of any other authors.
TheRejectAmidHair

I'd guess that the BBC drama section is staffed by people whose performance is judged by rating figures, and who, therefore, not surprisingly, commission studies on what kind of thing attracts high ratings, and act accordingly. Innovation, challenging current fashions in film-making, attempting to communicate at least some of the complexity of the the material being adapted, etc. don't really get much of a look in.
Evie

Andrew Davies lives literally round the corner from me, and I have been meaning for ages to write a list of novels beyond Austen and Dickens that would make great TV adaptations and push it through his letterbox - he must have some clout, after all! - but I haven't done it.

The Americans recently made a feature film of Maupassant's Bel-Ami - so someone must think the Americans can cope with non-British classics!

As for not having heard of things - I was listening to A Good Read the other day, and Tim Coates, who has been managing director of three of the major book retailing chains (Sherratt and Hughes, Waterstones and WH Smith) had never heard of Ayn Rand.  Then again Harriett Gilbert, the increasingly disappointing host of what was once a wonderful programme, hadn't heard of John Wyndham's Chocky.

On the more serious note, I do think the days of detailed, sensitive, complex adaptations of great novels are over - until someone comes along with greater vision and courage.  Someone who looks beyond story, or at least more deeply *into* story, and can see the potential for exploring great literature on screen.  We need more character-led drama generally, not just in terms of adaptations.
TheRejectAmidHair

Evie wrote:
The Americans recently made a feature film of Maupassant's Bel-Ami - so someone must think the Americans can cope with non-British classics!


In my student days, I attended an interview given in the Glasgow Film Theatre by John McGrath, who had just directed the rather fine gangster film The Long Good Friday (this was in the late 70s/early 80s). He was saying that they were having difficulty distributing the film in US, not because the American audiences didn’t like tense gangster thrillers, but because this was not the sort of thing they expect to see coming out of Britain. The kind of films they do expect from Britain, he said, were stately “heritage” films – preferrably costume drama. (I think he referred at this point to the huge international success at the time of Chariots of Fire.) I wonder to what extent things have changed in this respect.

Evie wrote:
On the more serious note, I do think the days of detailed, sensitive, complex adaptations of great novels are over - until someone comes along with greater vision and courage.  Someone who looks beyond story, or at least more deeply *into* story, and can see the potential for exploring great literature on screen.  We need more character-led drama generally, not just in terms of adaptations.


Oh, I agree fully. Recently, I was watching on DVD the film Sunday Bloody Sunday, made in 1971 from a very sensitive and perceptive script by Penelope Gilliat, very well directed by John Schlesinger, and superbly acted by Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch. It is an absorbing and challenging adult drama, very much focussed on character rather than on plot: the conflicts were as often within characters as between characters; and even when it was between characters, the conflict was usually not overtly depicted. In short, it was a drama that demanded much of the audience.

(When I describe it as an “adult” drama, by the way, I mean that it is aimed at a grown-up audience – not that it is pornographic: isn’t it strange the connotations of the word “adult”?)

I mention this because it is unthinkable that, only some 40 or so years ago, a film of this nature was actually distributed into the mainstream. How I’d love to see intelligent dramas of this nature now!
Castorboy

I am sure it is part of a world-wide TV trend to cater for the simpletons but here the intellectually challenging content is shown in the theatre - the actual live theatre of fond memory! We have the musicals of popular appeal such as The Jersey Boys and last week there was a performance of 8 by Dustin Black, a play based on the court trial brought about by Proposition 8 relating to gay marriage in California in 2008. I read about it in a newspaper - the play, of course, was not mentioned on either radio or TV despite President Obama being in the news about this contentious issue.
Sandraseahorse

Did anyone watch the first episode of this?  I found it rather slow and so did many of the commentators on the BBC Points of View messageboard.

It doesn't seem to be enthusing  the "Lark's Rise to Candleford" and "Cranford" fans plus at the same time the Zola fans are enraged that it has been trasferred from Paris to the North of England.  The set is ludicrous; there is a dingy side street that looks like something from the a heritage-themed advert and then there is this Harrods type store right in the middle of it.

Period drama used to be one of the things that the BBC did really well.  I suppose I should welcome the fact that the Beeb is dramatising a writer other than Austen or the Brontes, but if it means trying to shoehorn a great writer like Emile Zola into the heritage drama cosy escapism slot, then the BBC really shouldn't bother.
chris-l

I've just watched it on iPlayer and have to confess myself underwhelmed. I don't know the Zola book at all, but could not see that the change of location was a positive move. I really had no feeling of place - was it a small town, or a large city? - and the accents seemed to be all over the place. Until Denise announced herself as from Peebles, I had taken her to be Irish.

I have not written it off completely, but the first impression is of a programme that fails to live up to its promise.
Green Jay

I was watching this while trying to read a report for work, so neither got my full attention but ... it felt like a middling-sized provincial town to me. I wondered how the staff - specially female staff - could go out on the lash and not get noticed. Where would they go? That seems to conflict with what I know of British society, and workers, at the time.  Maybe you could do that in a racy city like Paris, but I'm not even sure it woud have been possible in London. Much more uptight and everyone overseen by their "betters". Did it happen in The History of Mr Polly!? The young women in Jean Rhys stories are beyond the social pale just for being chorus girls who drink the odd cocktail, and that's in the 1920s and 30s, and in Dorothy Whipple's High Wages, the young woman who sets up a fashion shop in a well-off Northern provincial town has her every move scrutinised to the hilt. She is dazzled when she comes to London and sees how differently everything is done there. Again that's early in the 20th century, long after the period in which the Paradise is set. I don't know Zola's book, but department stores were purely city phenomena when they first began.
Green Jay

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
. The kind of films they do expect from Britain, he said, were stately “heritage” films – preferrably costume drama. (I think he referred at this point to the huge international success at the time of Chariots of Fire.) I wonder to what extent things have changed in this respect.



There was a time (in the 1980s ?) when the only thing we could export were Merchant -Ivory films, and I think after a bit even Merchant & Ivory felt constrained in having  to produce the same kind of thing. Refined Empire stories with fab costumes, stunning locations, and repressed emotions.

Then the fashion turned to bonnets and giggles (and that's just Tom Wilkinson  Wink ). Slightly less repressed emotions.

I think you may be right that we are busy exporting a kind of National Trust heritage Britain in film. But the French do something similar with their historical films - chateaux/horses/forests/big silk frocks/bloodletting. Gorgeous, swaggering, tragic - I've no idea how historically authentic they are.
KlaraZ

Oh dear---Zola with Zola taken out!  Very chocolate box imagery and the loss of Paris really does affect it badly---a Northern town cannot in any way compete with Paris. As for the line Moray said about the other draper 'losing' if he chose to challenge the Paradise---would such a comment be necessary, given the fact that the Paradise was already dominating the street?  
I think I may continue watching, in the way I might choose to watch any light-hearted period soap (although actually, I rarely do! Couldn't get along with 'Lark Rise'), but another 7 episodes might be too much. But I am prepared to give this a chance as an entertainment----but Zola it isn't!
KlaraZ

Green Jay wrote:
Iin Dorothy Whipple's High Wages, the young woman who sets up a fashion shop in a well-off Northern provincial town has her every move scrutinised to the hilt. She is dazzled when she comes to London and sees how differently everything is done there. Again that's early in the 20th century, long after the period in which the Paradise is set. I don't know Zola's book, but department stores were purely city phenomena when they first began.


Oh, if only the BBC had had the sense to dramatise 'High Wages' instead!
Evie

Absolutely, Klara!  There are a host of Persephone and Virago titles that would make excellent TV series.

There is going to be a TV film of The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett - I think they have retitled it The Making of a Lady.

I didn't watch The Paradise in the end - might have done on another day, but decided I could live without it.
Green Jay

Evie wrote:
Absolutely, Klara!  There are a host of Persephone and Virago titles that would make excellent TV series.

There is going to be a TV film of The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett - I think they have retitled it The Making of a Lady.

I didn't watch The Paradise in the end - might have done on another day, but decided I could live without it.


Oh, they could make a wonderful series of High Wages, I'd never thought of that. Much more appropriate given the available skill-set.


When I was a child I always heard the word Marchioness  - hmm, how often did it crop up??- as Martianess. "...and his wife, the Martianess".  Now that would be some story! Perhaps I read too much John Wyndham. I never questioned my assumption, or asked anyone about it. What a wonderful world children live in!

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