Brian McFarlane

One should approach a new film with an open mind, but it’s very hard to do so when it has been preceded by the sort of hype that has accompanied The Great Gatsby. And it’s not just the hype but the other threats to the open mind which include the famous source novel (one that people know about even if they haven’t read it), the previous film versions, ...

What is it about Great Expectations (1861) that makes it seem indispensable? Can it be its hero, Pip’s, search for a liveable identity? The small, terrified, often bullied child gets a glimpse of ‘the quality’ albeit in desuetude, becomes dissatisfied with being a blacksmith, receives the eponymous expectations, and tries to become a gentleman before se ...

Those Brontës. If they’d only had a decent agent with foresight, they could have escaped that dank parsonage on the gloomy moors of windswept Yorkshire and set up on the French Riviera in comfort. Since 1910 there have been at least forty film or television versions of Jane Eyre, most recently in 2011. Now it is Emily’s turn for the latest (seventeenth) go at Wuthering Heights (1847), that extraordinary work sui generis that so memorably sites wild Gothic strangeness in a solidly realised world of landscapes both benign and forbidding.

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The author of this handsomely produced volume claims in his opening sentence, ‘The sex lives of celebrities (and the less famous) always excite the curiosity of others.’ For the sake of his book he’d better be right, because what follows are more than eighty gay histories and/or partnerships, each moving inexorably to the matter of sexual orientation and declaration – reluctant or otherwise. Aldrich is probably right. Think of all those journals whose covers you browse while waiting in the supermarket queue, inviting you to speculate on, say, the vicissitudes of Brangelina. Recent political controversies about gay marriage rights or the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy of the US armed forces provide a contemporary context for Aldrich.

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By chance, two of the most famous 1950s plays are in the news again. John Osborne’s historic rant, Look Back in Anger (1956), has been successfully revived on Broadway, while Terence Rattigan’s emotionally taut piece, The Deep Blue Sea (1952), has been filmed by another Terence – Davies, that is. In their day, Osborne railed against the ‘porcelain plates [of] the well-set table of British theatre’(John Lahr in the New Yorker), his arrows directed at the likes of Noël Coward and Rattigan, who in their turn were less than excited by Osborne’s class-based invective. It’s now at least arguable that Rattigan has outlasted Osborne; he has clearly been more frequently revived on stage – and on film and television – than his vituperative contemporary. Who now, I wonder, would rather watch or listen to Look Back than The Winslow Boy?

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The Narrative of John Smith by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Lindsay (reader)

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March 2012, no. 339

A century later, the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes industry shows no signs of abating. In recent months alone, there have been Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk, a new Holmes adventure, and the big, dumb action movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; a television series, Sherlock, set in the twenty-first century, appeared in 2010; and in 2005 Julian Barnes’s George and Arthur investigated the relationship between an unjustly accused solicitor, George Edalji, and Doyle who took up his cause.

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Whenever I have found myself in disagreement with Philip French’s film reviews in London’s Observer, I have always felt worried, assuming I had missed a crucial point or misread a plot move. He may well be the longest-serving film reviewer in the English-speaking world; he is certainly the most honoured.

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As the dust settles on twentieth-century acting giants, and reputations are appraised, it is at least arguable that John Gielgud emerges as the greatest. Certainly his was the longest and most varied career, spanning nearly eighty years, only death itself, when he was ninety-six, causing him to slow down. Since then his pre-eminence has seemed confirmed as one reads about him and his distinguished contemporaries.

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When Arnold wrote his famous sonnet, he could have been anticipating John Bell’s book, which repeatedly asks provocative questions about the man and the work that have been his life’s inspiration – and arrives at much the same conclusion as Arnold. We don’t go to Shakespeare for mere knowledge, but for insight, challenge, and enrichment, and perhaps to help us know ourselves and others better. Further, as Bell says: ‘There is no worldwide conspiracy to keep Shakespeare alive. He survives because actors want to go on performing him and audiences want to listen.’ These sentences come from his second-last page, and the rest of the book helps us to understand why.

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Cloudstreet

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23 May 2011

Whereas the miniseries, most often based on revered literary texts, has been a staple of British television for fifty years, I could count on the fingers of a dismembered hand its Australian counterparts. In fact, the miniseries in general, as distinct from serials that run for a longer or shorter ...

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