Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane reviews 'Martin Boyd: A life' by Brenda Niall

Brian McFarlane
Thursday, 19 November 2020

When Martin Boyd returned to Australia in 1948 after twenty-seven years in England, he set about restoring the Grange, the derelict former home of his mother’s family, the à Becketts. He had been disappointed to find how little known his novels were in Australia and he had difficulty in re-establishing himself with the Boyd family. Nevertheless he persevered with his impulsive scheme until he could draw ‘the curtains at night in the little sitting room ... [and] indulge the illusion of being in an English manor house.’ Among the à Beckett portraits and eighteenth-century furniture were his nephew Arthur’s biblical frescoes. In trying to be an English squire in the Australian countryside, surrounded by the artefacts of two continents and centuries, Boyd presents the image of a man who never quite found himself wholly at home anywhere.

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Theatregoers with long memories may well hug to themselves the ‘golden years’ of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s tenancy of the Russell Street Theatre in the 1960s, a time in which plays as varied as Hochhuth’s The Representative, Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s infallible matinee version of Henry James’s The Heiress, and many others jostled for attention. It was the time when an actor called Clive Winmill stepped on stage in the swinging London comedy The Knack and, instead of saying his lines, treated the audience to a passionate anti-Vietnam involvement speech. It was a time when the provocative new and the venerated classic made equal claims on a theatrical ensemble which achieved real importance in Melbourne’s cultural life.

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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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J.M. Coetzee and Philip Roth on Screen

Brian McFarlane
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

‘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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Words and Images is a valuable contribution to the rapidly growing body of work on Australian film culture and a welcome addition to the relatively small collection of volumes dealing with the film-literature connection. As McFarlane notes there is not, as yet, a ‘definitive work’ on the art of adaptation, though George Bluestone’s Novels into Film (1957) established a fairly solid base for others working in this area. McFarlane’s acknowledged indebtedness to Bluestone is most evident in the method he adopts in order to examine individual adaptations. Essentially it is one of determining and exploring changes to texts, that is, the major alterations and manipulations which take place in the process of adapting a narrative from one medium to another.

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Brian McFarlane’s small book on Martin Boyd’s Langton novels is a particularly measured and useful study. He makes no grand claims for Boyd but sees and appreciates him for the writer that he is when he is at his best, and the Langton novels – The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, Outbreak of Love, and When Blackbirds Sing – certainly see Boyd at his best.

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‘I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it. I wanted it to be a gripping narrative, even suspenseful.’ So says Hanna Heath, protagonist of Geraldine Brooks’s latest novel, about her search through time and place for the history of ‘the Sarajevo Haggadah’, the ‘Book’ of the title ...

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Brian McFarlane reviews 'Dirt Music' by Tim Winton

Brian McFarlane
Monday, 03 June 2019

Talk about unlikely associations. My first response to the opening chapter of Tim Winton’s latest novel was how its sense of a life at a standstill, awaiting some new impulse, reminded me of Jane Austen’s Emma. Winton’s protagonist, Georgie Jutland, with a string of unsatisfactory relationships behind her ...

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'It is arguably the most famous play on the planet’, writes Jonathan Croall in his introduction to this absorbing study of how the play and its eponym have gripped the imagination across the ages – and, as far as this book is concerned, particularly across the last seventy years. Whether for actor or director, Hamlet has always been ‘a supreme challenge’, making huge demands on those bringing it to theatrical life.

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Peterloo ★★★★

Brian McFarlane
Tuesday, 20 November 2018

What I’ve come to expect of a new Mike Leigh film is, above all, the unexpected. His first feature, Bleak Moments (1971), of which there were quite a few in that contemporary study of urban, lower-middle class life, made him a potent force in British film. Think of Naked (1993) and Secrets & Lies (1996) ...

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