The story that wouldn´t leave

I had to watch this film, "The Good Soldier",  twice, with a nights sleep in between, to make up my mind about it. Much like the book, as I wrote in my previous post, gave me resistance, so did the film. My opinion keeps improving and I can´t seem to stop thinking about the story. I find myself wanting to talk about this book. And I think, despite of what I thought two weeks ago, I will put it up there on my list of books to re-read. (Perhaps it was also that the film - a US release from 2007 - has no English subtitles, which is always a bit of a support. I know a lot of Swedes think they speak English fluently, but I dare anyone to watch a decently scripted English film and get it all at a first viewing. It´s a bit humbling. And earphones help.)

The adaptation has been made by Julian Mitchell ("Wilde", ten episodes of "Inspector Morse", etc), and I think he has done a good job of it. There are bits missing from the book of course, that is to be expected with a film of only an hour and forty minutes. The gaps are filled in by narrative voices, John Dowell´s and Leonora Ashburnham´s. On the other hand, the actors have added something to the story that the novel didn´t have, some kind of emotional realism. And the atmosphere of the period really comes across (I suppose a 1915 reader would have taken this for granted), you really feel drawn in to this other world of fin de siècle upper class end-of-the-Victorian-era decadence. The locations are wonderful and grand, as are the costumes and the hair and all of it.

Susan Fleetwood as Leonora is perhaps the best cast actor of the whole piece. She is pitch-perfect the whole time. It´s a bit like she is the pillar around which it all revolves. And perhaps it was like that in the book as well. It´s she who makes the rational decisions for Edward Ashburnham, she who enables his "goodness" and respectability. Jeremy Brett as Edward unfortunately does not have enough room to more than hint at his character´s childishness behind the mask of stiff-upper-lip. In one telling scene he giggles at Leonora the way a child giggles at his mother. Don´t remember that from the book, but it says a lot about their relationship and his state of mind.

Robin Ellis, as John Dowell, has a funny-sounding American accent which irritates me slightly. But he is otherwise just like I imagined him in the book: tall, kind and a bit slow. Vickery Turner is a disappointment as Florence. Not that she´s a bad actress, she does Florence´s silly and self-centered talkativeness and flirtyness very well, but I pictured her as having that charm that only the very unlikely beautiful have. And Jimmy too (Florence´s first lover, played by John Ratzenberger, if you remember, Cliff in "Cheers"). They are both rather plain and while I can´t really criticize anyone for the way they physically look, they are just not what I expected. In the film it´s hard to imagine why Edward Ashburnham falls for Florence, other than boredom, perhaps. In the book, I saw her as an angelic kind of beauty. But I suppose that was my personal construction.

One other character I didn´t mention in my post about the book was Nancy, the Ashburnham´s foster-daughter, who get´s caught and smashed in the emotional turmoil between her foster-parents. Elisabeth Garvie is equally well cast as Fleetwood and gets a few scenes where we really get to see her as the teenage girl she is, with hormones raging and so on. There is also a lot of reference to the convent and Catholicism. This explains to me, at least, why she is as affected as she is by the events, in the end.

Do I recommend it? Well, yes, I will have to, as I will have to recommend the book. But it must be read/watched with a certain attitude. Don´t expect to be mindlessly entertained. This is a story, and a narrative (perhaps more that) that will give you a lot to brood on. And I suppose that is what makes the finest literature.

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