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Dear friends and readers,

As part of this summer's first project, I've been exploring films by Anne Pivcevic and Andrew Davies in order to understand their 2008 Sense and Sensibility -- with more than a little bit of help from director, John Alexander. 


Anne Pivcevic interviewed as producer of the 2001 Granada/WBGH Dr Zhivago

I've discovered that Pivcevic's career history shows her  consistently to choose woman-centered material, to go for post-feminist readings of novels and career trajectories: she was script editor for the strongly feminist inflection of the late 1990s Tom Jones and the powerful The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She was the second major force in Gwyneth Hughes's Miss Austen Regrets.  The dialogic I discovered there prompted me to explore Gwyneth Hughes's career, and the one film I could find by Hughes, available  to me (through Netflix) was Five Days.


Gwyneth Hughes, during her interview for Five Days

Consequently I rented and watched Five Days.  I was riveted. 

So tonight I am in the odd position (for me) of rcommending a police drama: Five Days, a 5 times 60 minutes mini-series, written by Gwyneth Hughes -- and from the feature clearly dominated by her vision; one of the two producers is a woman too, Caroline Skinner whose name I've observed in another series by Hughes and Pivcevic about a woman comedian on British  TV.  But then in the spring over on Trollope19thCStudies I recommended a police drama too: Red Riding, a six hour drama aired in 3 parts (2 hours each).  IN both cases you find yourself watching the usual brilliant British actors you see in the high status film adaptations (and on the stage occasionally) in a script or drama which while it is a police drama (with its conventions of speed, mystery, intensity, violence, and an apparent scrutiny of police and public media) is really something else. In the case of Red Riding it was a political inditement of the Thatcher-Blair years where political and social arrangements in northern England (the Ridings, West, East, North -- which include Leeds where I lived for more than 2 years) has become corrupted to the extent that we see the lives of a group of ordinary characters (powerless and vulnerable) being wrecked.

Five Days might be compared to The hurt Locker (where a woman won an Academy award as director): like that we find ourselves in a male genre; in the case of Hughes , she genuinely hijacks the genre to explore the story of a family's private agonies -- in an intelligent feature, Hughes says her interest was to explore the experience of step-families (we expect them to be all loving and not noticing what has happened to the original family members and why -- not so at all), intergenerational conflict, ethnic prejudice, how we treat the aging, how sexuality is handled in our groups, and in a real way how those who are not competitive, triumphant, successful types but inward, vulnerable, have trouble with social life (Rory Kinnear as Kyle Betts and his loving mother) with all sorts of things in their characters, and lives go down to big loss.  


Rory Kinnear as Betts, the bullied lonely man who gains affection of child he abducts:



I also liked how the police were presented. In Red Riding you see have the usual story about slick networking, and glamorous parties and competition (as in a LeCarre novel0; here we are given glimpses into their private lives.  Not so good -- like that of the families whose central figure, Leanne, is abducted and then murdered -- or so we think as we start out. 


Matt, the husband


Leanne, the wife, brought back in body bag

Janet McTeer (Mrs Dashwood of the 2008 S&S; also in an adaptation of Mary Webb's Precious Bane) plays a police woman who retires at in the 5th episode -- facing a life of loneliness we see because a job is not (we are told) a family; the series does not (as is suggested) sentimentalize families, for while all ends in a kind of reconciliation, along the way too much has been shown to upend the notion that families hold together.  Hugh Bonneville again delivers a masterly performance in a type I've not seen him do before (he does so many), the head who is failing to do the job. 


My favorite moment is of them seen from the back on two lawn chairs in his backyard

Penelope Wilton again delivers a masterly performance (e.g., Falling), this time the aging mother/grandmother who really had not wanted to spend her life as a mother to Leanne and is continually caught up in trying to act out what she is told is her script, partly because she feels it. Patrick Malahide is the father/grandfather. He is a stunningly good actor (Casaubon in the 1994 Middlemarch is just one of his roles; I loved him in the 1980s Month in the Country, adaptation of J. L. Carr, can't recommend it too highly)


Family group before children found, watchng TV together -- about the crime

In short Five Days is a melodrama about interpersonal relationships which centers on the experience of the world through the perspective of family and personal life, both careers and love.  it's really Stella Dallas made using the conventions of the thriller and suspense mystery.  It's an 18th century sentimental novel brought up to date and turned into a contemporary fast film. It has top notch actors.  And it is pop drama too -- appealing to those who would watch it luridly and for the kick of the rollercoaster pace and slick language.

Five Days has been praised (as well as derided -- Red Riding was overpraised, only Alan Bennet raised doubts about that one as encouraging stereotypical ideas about police and reporters.  I was alerted to Red Riding because of praise for it in publications like NYRB.  He said it was a police thriller and in its obedience to generic conventions would do the same kind of harm: misconceptions of police, and the corruption would not be seen broadly at all.  Like Red Riding, Five Days is using this as a disguise and come-on (to make money, gather the larger audience) to explore important familial, private, sexual social problems of our societies today:  stepfamilies, ethnic intermarriage among them as I've said.  The praise of Hughes doesn't make it to prestigious journals, and derision is found quickly (on IMDB -- what a load of "rubbish" -- very like what was said about 18th century novels by women and is said about women's novels today).

Now I was alerted to Five Days because the name of Hughes is connected to my Austen studies -- she made Miss Austen Regrets. She includes a feature in her movie because she does want her movie to be respected, and there she talks unusually intelligently and frankly for such additions on DVDs.  I have now watched two other features which Anne Pivcevic directed -- to see if I could get some insight into Miss Austen Regrets. I did.  And now watching Five Days I am now more ever convinced we have a serious dialogic presentation about marriage in the Austen film -- for we do have just this kind of dialogism (obviously) in Five Days.   It uses all the modern computer techniques, the epitomizing scenes, the frankness about full gamuts of emotional pain.  On the film's technique I transcribe some of Hughes's interview

"Well ultimately I think Five Days is about uncertainty.  It is about how you can deal in your life when you realize you won't always know the truth about everything.  That you won't always understand what's happened to you."

She said she writes these police thrillers without knowing the ending; she works that out at the end to give the program utter freshness; she cannot shape it to the final revelation but rather the characters and their circumstances.  She had done a documentary on missing girls and some of what she learned there came into this film. She was "haunted" by the images of that documentary.  She remembered other high profile crime stories -- especially the one where two boys abducted and murdered a third. That's where the image of the children left alone came from and shown on the CCTV:



She says she doesn't try to control the director at all or tell him what to do with his camera.  It's her business to make a "robust and muscular and forward moving story."  What's important is that the director understands "the emotional resonance that I'm after that is what I think I try to do with most directors.

She didn't involve herself with casting at all, except to say the grandmother was Penelope Wilton her mind -- and Wilton was hired.  She wanted an actor at the center (Matt)  who had the quality of "containment: so as to "control this maelstrom of emotions that the characters are put through."  The stepfather does come through in the closing moment:


Holding all together

"Increasingly," she has been resorting to including "subtexts" in her scripts.  She said "this is against all the rules" that you learn in screenplay writing courses. She will write that the character really feels or thinks the opposite of what he or she asserts; there is so much going on so swiftly that she wants to make sure the actors can "work out the subtety:" after all there are "five hours of wrenching" levels of "deepest emotional pain" here.  There is a trajectory of emotion to be gotten through, how far each character is moving (evolving) in his or her relationships with the other characters. I think this is how MIss Austen Regrets is plotted too -- on which more next time.

Ellen

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