Brian McFarlane

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) ...

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 ‘po ...

Posthumous Holmes

Brian McFarlane


The Narrative of John Smith
by Arthur Conan Doyle (read by Robert Lindsay)
British Library Board (Inbooks), $39.95 5 CDs, 270 minutes, 9780712351157


A century later, the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes industry shows n ...

Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask: Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge.
(Matthew Arnold, ‘Shakespeare’)

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 ...


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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Anyone who remembers Julie Taymor’s 1999 version of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first published play, will not be expecting a reverential treatment of what is reputedly his last, but Taymor’s new film does move more or less inexorably to the play’s final wisdom: ‘The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance.’ The Tempest is a d ...

Having cut my narrative teeth on Dad and Dave and Martin’s Corner (and my critical molars on the Listener-In), I had high expectations of this book. Night after childhood night, I would wait agog for Wrigley’s Chewing Gum and a burst of rowdy music to usher in the outback doings of Dad and his hayseed family. Martin’s Corner, on the other hand, was brought to our living room by Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, which, we were assured, would ‘provide the essential bulk or roughage your system needs to keep it functioning healthily and regularly’. I didn’t know what this meant, but, such was the persuasive power of commercial radio, I believed it. Just as I believed from Sunday-night listening to the Lux Radio Theatre that ‘nine out of ten Hollywood stars used Lux for their daily active lather facials’, though I did wonder about the arid pores of that misguided ‘tenth’ star. The ABC was there for the news, but it was 3LK for entertainment, including such taxing intellectual games as Quiz Kids and Bob Dyer’s Pick-a-Box.

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‘It wasn’t like that in the book’ is one of the commonest and most irritating responses to film versions of famous novels. Adaptation of literature to film seems to be a topic of enduring interest at every level, from foyer gossip to the most learned exegesis. Sometimes, it must be said, the former is the more entertaining, but this is no place for such frivolity.

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It used to be said in decades gone by that overseas acting luminaries only came to Australia when their stars were in decline. This was never true in the case of Sybil Thorndike, who was critically acclaimed here, and widely admired as a person. She was not one of those who was past her prime – or, like some, never had one. She remained in her prime until she died in 1976. It is indeed hard to imagine her contemplating any other approach.

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