22/09/2011

WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING - SONS & LOVERS (2003)


"From his mother he drew the life warmth, the strength to produce; Miriam urged this warmth into intensity like a white light" (from chapt. 7)


I've finally watched this two-part series I have had on my TBW list for a while. To remind me of it,  my watching "A Dangerous Method" in Rome last week.  It is 2003 ITV adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, an autobiographical novel based on his own early life, in particular his close relationship with his middle-class  mother in comparison with his father, a mineworker. At the time of writing the book, Lawrence was probably reading/studying Freud though he always denied the influence. Indeed the book is often regarded as a meditation on the workings of the Oedipus complex, but it is in its own right an accomplished novel which goes beyond its specific biographical and theoretical references. Lawrence himself defined it as a tragedy, "the tragedy of thousands of young men in England".


The plot ( mild spoilers)

A refined young woman of the middle class, Gertrude, meets a rough working class miner, Walter Morel at a dance and falls in love. After a brief whirlwind romance, they marry but soon she realises the hardship of life as a miner's wife. There is little money and she and her husband are very different. The couple struggle but Morel, unable to crush his wife's defiance or avoid her disdain, becomes an alcoholist and spends his nights at the pub. Gradually Gertrude's affections shift to her sons. 
William is the oldest and he is deeply attached to his mother and jealous of her company. As he grows older, he defends her against his father's violence. Eventually William leaves home for a job in London, where he satisfies his mother's ambitions for him and does well for himself. He gets engaged to a very beautiful but superficial girl and the relationship causes tension between him and his mother who seems not to be able to accept the girl. William falls ill and dies. Mrs Morel is heartbroken, but she transfers her love to her second son, Paul.
Paul is also totally absorbed by his mother, but at the same time he longs for his own independence. Like William he hates his father, doesn't respect him.

Paul meets two very important women in his life. Miriam,  from a nearby farm, is young and pure and wants to have a spiritual, rather than physical relationship with him. Clara, instead, works in the same office as Paul, she's separated from her husband and offers him a much freer and more physical affair.  Paul doesn't exactly understand why but all his relationships with women are doomed to failure... 

From the book to the series



Reading a novel like Sons and Lovers is an interior experience, with the richness of the language and descriptive passages taking life within the reader's imagination. Necessarily, like most cinematic adaptations , this one can't translate the work literally into images,  can't use narration or have characters repeat whole passages of the book. So it may be disappointing  because you're  mainly left with just the melodrama of the novel's plot.  
It is however an honest,  quite faithful adaptation,  which on the whole respects the original text and its author. I  liked it watching it.



I agree with this comment I've found in a review: "The scriptwriter did a lot of things right. First, he did a good job of working around Lawrence's windy dialogue. He didn't make it contemporary  but was working with a recognized masterpiece that had to retain its feel. So he kept the words, but reduced their quantity, either making the exchanges terser and more natural or eliminating dialogue altogether in favor of pauses and glances whenever possible".


In adapting the novel to the screen, the scriptwriter eliminated Paul's younger brother altogether. Drastic but  not a totally bad decision because the younger brother's subplots really add nothing to the story and would only distract  from the central characters. He also decided to diminish the role of  Paul's laconic miner father.  Not a great loss. What we have makes it clear enough: there was very little for his sons to admire in him. 

A couple of things are rather unrealistic. The first one  is  the setting , which always seems too clean and sanitary, given that the story takes place in a mining and farming community. 



The other one is the very last scene, in which Paul sits under a tree,  in a pastoral setting , and recalls images of  an idillyc version of the past. This is maybe the farthest  from the original.  It feels like it was added for some warmth and a more hopeful tone after the last tragic events in  the story.


Oops, did I forget to tell you Mr and Mrs Morel also had a daughter? Mmm ... it must be a Freudian slip!



Jokes apart, what I don't want to forget is to recommend this miniseries to anyone who's interested in adaptations of classics,  in comparing them with the original books or in period drama in general. 


Then,  last but not least,  I must  credit the cast for very good performances. I liked them all:   Rupert Evans (North and South, Fingersmith, Agora, Emma) is Paul Morel, Sarah Lancashire  
(Wuthering Heights, Five Daughters, Lark Rise to Candleford) is Mrs Morel , Hugo Speer (Bleak House, Bedlam)  is Mr Morel, James Murray (Under the Greenwood Tree, Primeval)  is William Morel , Lyndsey Marshal ( Being Human, Garrow's Law) is Miriam, Esther Hall (Spooks, Rome, Waking the Dead) is Clara. 


13 comments:

Traxy said...

Great review! Have got the book but haven't read it yet. Lawrence is an author I approach with equal amounts of interest and trepidation. Some of what he's written is great reading - others bore me to tears! Maybe if I saw the adaptation, it would inspire a read of the book? :) (Or a deterrent, for that matter ...)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Traxy
I read the book at University, then I re-read parts of it with my students few years ago. I can't say I liked it, but I found it very interesting. Instead, I liked watching this 2-part series. It was not bad at all. Give the series a try then, freely decide if you want to compare it with the book. Reading must be a pleasure!

Elisabeth Storrs said...

MG, great review. DH Lawrence was a great favourite of mine when I studied him at university. I recently re-read this book, though, and have to admit I found his chauvisim and self absorption a little jarring but the beauty of his language made me forgive him :) I've seen this TV series and enjoyed it given the need to reduce the drama to the essence of the novel. Of course I love DH Lawrence because he was passsionate about Etruscans like me!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Elisabeth Storrs
Yes, his characters are not easy to love but the beauty of language is what makes his work very special. Lawrence passionate about Etruscans? I want to discover more ... Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

Elisabeth Storrs said...

Lawrence wrote a book called 'Etruscan Places' after seeing various Etruscan tomb paintings in Italy. The name of my blog is actally inspired by a quote from that book which describes the beauty of the regions where the Etruscans lived eg Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. Wish I was there now!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Elisabeth Storrs
Thanks for all the info re Lawrence/Etruscans! A trip to Italy in this period would be blessed by sunshine and cool (warm) weather. If you can take a break (at least 2 weeks) from writing, I'll wait for you here in Lazio :-)

Julie @ Read Handed said...

I read this book several months ago, but have never seen the adaptation. It does seem like it'd be hard to translate the prose to the screen, but I'm glad they've done a good job.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Julie@Read Handed
It's never easy to adapt a novel for a film or a mini-series. But British TV (ITV but especially BBC) have rarely disappointed me. This is another good one, in my opinion. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

JaneGS said...

I read Sons and Lovers so long ago I can barely remember the plot--I went through a D.H. Lawrence phase and remember liking this book the best of the ones I read. Sounds like a wonderful adaptation, mostly faithful and with a strong cast. I do also like the quote about how the script writer dealt with Lawrence's "windy" dialogue--great adjective!

>"He didn't make it contemporary but was working with a recognized masterpiece that had to retain its feel. So he kept the words, but reduced their quantity, either making the exchanges terser and more natural or eliminating dialogue altogether in favor of pauses and glances whenever possible"

Brilliant strategy when dealing with an author like Lawrence.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@JaneGS
Well, to adapt 19th century literary prose for contemporary TV audience is a hard task and I guess that you, being a writer, can imagine the work behind these scripts. I don't envy those scriptwriters. But some of them are very good (see Andrew Daview and Sandy Welch, just to mention two great ones!)
Thanks for your contribution to the discussion, J.!

Sam said...

I haven't read the book or seen the adaptation, but I think I'm more likely to go for the adaptation as I've just never felt compelled to read D.H. Lawrence.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Sam
He's never been one of my favourite English authors either but I had to study his novels at university and I found them fairly interesting. This adaptation is not bad at all. Good choice, Sam.

Shelley said...

I mostly remember Sons and Lovers as being very depressing and hopeless. And yet I watched the adaptation, and found it rather depressing too! But very well done. For some reason, I remember a little brother though. I wonder if I saw a different version or if I'm getting things mixed up in my head. Probably the latter.
What a great blog filled with things that I love. You've introduced a dangerous concept to me--TBW!