Monthly Archives: August 2013

Night of the Demon (BFI) – NON-review

EDIT 2 September – I would like to thank the BFI Southbank for keeping their word, and refunding our tickets.  Thumbs up.

This was going to be a review of the screening of Jacques Tourner’s 1957 horror classic ‘Night of the Demon’ at the British Museum, as part of the BFI’s Gothic season.

However, for reasons which I will explain below, this is a ‘NON-review’!

We had bought tickets back on the first day of Members’ priority booking, and although the tickets clearly said ‘unallocated seating’ we thought, OK, we will make sure we get there nice and early for a good view of the screen.  The Gothic screenings are twice the usual price of BFI screenings, so we thought we were in for a special, comfortable  evening in an atmospheric setting.

Arriving tonight at 7.30pm we were surprised to see no seating available and people sitting in groups on the floor.  We thought we would at least try and sit on the grass to make the best of it but were told that whole area (the best section in front of the screen) was restricted to VIPs only.

Remember that ‘unallocated seating’ promise on those expensive tickets?   My husband and I have been to an outside screening before, of Mozart’s Requiem, in Vienna.  This was a screening for free, with chairs provided in a lovely setting.  So for £15 or thereabouts a ticket I did expect something a bit more than sitting on concrete at the back of a courtyard, or standing around.

We sought out a BFI employee near the box office who at first said that emails had also been sent out to ticket holders explaining there were no ‘seats’ (no email was received).  As I have a recurring back problem and my husband has problems with his knee we would not have turned up had we been aware of this as neither of us can sit for long periods of time on the floor.

However the chap from the BFI was glad to take our tickets back and promised to refund our debit card, saying we were not the first people to complain at this incorrect description on the tickets.

I’ll let you know if we receive our refund.

My point of drawing attention to this is not to get at the BFI.  I am a member there and have been for several years.   I support all their seasons and have been particularly interested in the Gothic season announcements.  ‘Night of the Demon’ itself is an excellent film and I would have loved to see it on the big screen – but if I am being asked to sit on the floor I would not expect to pay twice the price of a comfy seat within the Southbank.

It seemed that bringing one’s own seat was not allowed either, although you could purchase a ‘bum box’ (a cardboard seat you had to construct yourself).  The only actual ‘seating’, on concrete benches, was restricted to disabled only, which I can understand, but why on earth couldn’t the BFI and/or the British Museum either provide some temporary seating for such screenings (like our hosts did in Vienna) or make it clear that these expensive screenings are not really ‘unallocated’ (because the best spots are reserved for VIPs) and are not ‘seating’ either (a seat by definition is something to sit on, provided by the event organiser, and not a patch of concrete floor).

A copy of the above has been emailed to the BFI Southbank today, and I have also posted on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.


Jane Eyre on television

In this post, I will be considering seven adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s famous book.  I will also touch briefly on a version I have not yet seen in its entirety, but only in a small number of clips.  (For a look at versions made for the big screen, see my post Jane Eyre in the cinema).

The earliest version made for the US television series, Westinghouse Studio One, was transmitted live in 1949, and features the young Charlton Heston as Mr Rochester, with Mary Sinclair as Jane.  This pair would also appear together in the same year as Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights, the book by Charlotte’s sister Emily.   Studio One dramatisations were extremely short and succinct, running at approximately fifty minutes including advertisements.  The time limitation obviously means a much truncated story, although there is still time for basic plot points including Rochester’s fall from his horse, the Mason visit, and the fire at Thornfield.

Another anthology series, Matinee Theatre, provided an adaptation in 1957 with Patrick McNee and Joan Elan in the leads, in a colour production.  Again, this version runs at just under an hour and so must be selective in its storyline.  The advantage of having such a tight timeframe in which to turn around a complex book is that an adaptor must decide which characters/plots to leave out.  McNee appeared in quite a few literary adaptations in the 1950s but he doesn’t have the right personality for this role.

1957 also saw the first full-length television adaptation, made in Italy with a recognised star, Raf Vallone, as Mr Rochester, and Ilaria Occhini as Jane.  The version currently available does not have English subtitles, but those familiar with the story will be able to follow it despite the language barrier.  The settings and atmosphere feel very gothic, and the running time, across several hours, gives ample time for the whole of Bronte’s book to be at least attempted.

The previous year, the first British adaptation of the book was filmed, and although it survives in its entirety, it is not currently possible to view the whole series.  However, on viewing a couple of clips (Rochester and Jane’s first meeting, and the aftermath of the wedding) it seems that in Stanley Baker and Daphne Slater this production provides a leading man and lady who do justice to their characters, although Baker is a bit on the gruff side.

It was not until 1973 that another four-hour version appeared, in colour, this time with the Irish actress Sorcha Cusack as Jane and Michael Jayston as Mr Rochester.  This is one of my favourite adaptations, with Jayston being particularly sardonic and charming in his role, while Cusack is much his match as a rational girl whose personality develops as she falls into love.  This version of the book feels quite wide in scope and landscape, and the St John Rivers story is well-covered with Geoffrey Whitehead a sanctimonious polar opposite to Jayston’s man of hidden passions.

Ten years later, in 1983, the quiet and unassuming Zelah Clarke was cast as Jane opposite Timothy Dalton, who had previously played Heathcliff in a cinema adaptation of Wuthering Heights.  Again running at over four hours, this version is perhaps the closest to the book, and both principal actors are excellent, especially Clarke (who should have had a great career on the back of this, but instead fell into obscurity and is now retired from acting).  A particular highlight is Rochester’s gypsy trick with the Ingrams, which is great fun.

An adaptation at feature film length in 1997 suffers from a degree of miscasting as Mr Rochester, with Ciaran Hinds far too one-note as an angry and bitter man who resents his dark secret.  Samantha Morton, however, is mesmerising as Jane, delicate, naive, and trusting.  We see her shopping for her wedding trousseau in childish delight, and follow her emotional awakening as a woman with some empathy.

Finally, in 2006 we saw another four-hour version which presented another quiet Jane (Ruth Wilson), but this time one with hidden depths.  Toby Stephens was perhaps not an obvious choice for Mr Rochester, but with his Byronic brooding looks he fits the part of a damaged romantic hero, which is how the character is presented during this dramatisation.  Wilson is absolutely stunning as a girl who goes from plain to beautiful before our eyes.  She rightly went on to more high-profile roles in television (including Luther) and cinema (most recently in The Lone Ranger).


Jane Eyre in the cinema

I would like to look at five adaptations of the Charlotte Bronte novel which were intended for cinema release.  (For a look at some television versions, go to my page Jane Eyre on television.)

The first is Hollywood’s first, and rather ridiculous, attempt, to dramatise the book, in 1934.  In choosing to amend or ditch much of the story it might present a short piece of melodrama (70 minutes at most) but it is most definitely not the Jane Eyre we know (to start with, Jane comes into her money much more early on; while Rochester’s wife appears quite lucid and there is even talk of a divorce before he is free to mary Jane).  Virginia Bruce is far too pretty in a classic peaches and cream way to convince as the ‘plain’ governess; while Colin Clive does his best in a role to which he is completely unsuited.

The first genuine adaptation appeared in 1943, and benefits from the casting as Mr Rochester of Orson Welles, then the toast of Tinseltown following his acting and directing debut in Citizen Kane.  Here he does not take on directing duties, but this swirling gothic romance is much fairer to Bronte’s novel than the version of a decade earlier.  There are still missteps – St John Rivers is now the doctor at Jane’s school, for example, while Joan Fontaine doesn’t quite have the necessary depth for Jane – but this is at least an entertaining and well-done piece of cinema.  I like the scene in which Welles and Fontaine meet in the hallway during the Ingrams’ party, and his touching enquiry about how Jane is feeling.

In Britain, 1970’s adaptation appeared as part of British Lion’s trio of classic dramatisations for cinema (the others were David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights).  It now exists in very poor condition, which is a shame as its principals are very good indeed.  As Jane, Susannah York was cast to present a feisty and mature match for the American actor George C Scott, who would occasionally appear in literary adapations made in Britain over the next few years (he was Fagin in Oliver Twist, and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol).  Here he has both the frustration and the vulnerability required for the complex role of Mr Rochester, and a particular strength of this version is the scene, post-wedding, where Jane decides to leave Thornfield.

The 1996 American version has some casting against type, with Charlotte Gainsbourg essaying a dark-haired and sullen Jane to William Hurt’s blond and reserved Mr Rochester.  It is almost as if the roles are reversed.  This version focuses closely on Jane’s artistic endeavours, and presents her as something of a free spirit.  It doesn’t quite gel with the source material, but works as a film.

Finally, in 2011 a radical shake-up of the plot showed Jane’s flight from Thornfield before anything else, before returning to her childhood story.   Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, previously known for the lead in Alice in Wonderland, is a very different Jane to those we have seen before.  She is so quiet and delicate the wind could blow her away.  German-Irish actor Michael Fassbinder is a traditional looking Mr Rochester, but his first interview with Jane is disappointingly truncated.


Letterboxd – a new social tool for film lovers

Many of you might have been aware of Letterboxd during its invitation-only launch last year.  It’s a social networking tool which allows people to share their ratings, reviews and lists of films they have seen (including TV films).  As I abandoned IMDb after twelve years’ reviewing last year I was pleased to see another tool which allows something a bit more user friendly and interactive for us movie lovers.

So far I have logged over 6,000 films viewed (who knew?) and as you can also assemble a watchlist as you view other people’s profiles, putting together a list of titles I really should have seen by now.  Like Midnight Cowboy.

If you want to try Letterboxd for yourself, you can link it in to your Twitter and Facebook accounts for free, and if you upgrade to a paid account, you can link content with your blog software.  Here’s the link: http://letterboxd.com.


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