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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

I would like to know

the name of a movie that did not disappoint you, after having read the novel first. Please send your answer through Wix “comment” or to my e-mail, (I ask the question as one who only dreamed of being a film major at USC in Los Angeles between 1961-1965. World of males and required money then.)

What movie for me answers the question I ask?

To Kill a Mockingbird. In the movie, nothing was left out, and each character on the screen matched what I envisioned while reading the novel before the release of the movie in 1962. (The copy I have of Harper Lee’s novel is from 1960, the 24th printing in hard cover.)


Last week I wrote that I’d read A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr on Saturday morning and watched the movie version that night. This short novel presents a common problem for a film director. Years ago in San Francisco, I heard Mike Nichols tell an audience (before we were to watch scenes from Catch 22), that he had to “obliterate the novel” to tell the story on screen. I mention this to admit that in one sense, it is wrong-headed to compare the two mediums of print and film. But I’ll do it anyway!

The movie version of A Month in the Country begins with a soldier crawling through mud, with rain pouring down. And to sounds of cannons and gunfire everywhere, the soldier swallows the mud-laden filth. This opening is juxtaposed with a man in a hospital bed awakened from a nightmare of the scene just shown.

Yet in the novel it takes until page 18 to have the first-person narrator, Tom Birkin, mention he had only two bad nights during his weeks in Oxgodby (the country). Only once does he recall “slithering through mud to mutilating death.” As a result of the war, he has a “face-twitch,” a “stammer” and on page 12, “one side of my face jerked in another and unreliable direction.” As the novel continues, the reader (me) forgot about the facial tic. Then there is one mention that Birkin’s “cheekbone clicks away like mad.” Actor Colin Firth seems to have fixated on this image. He keeps recreating Tom Birkin as a man whose jaw is locked and must be unlocked through great effort.

A larger problem from Carr’s novel to the movie version is Tom Birkin’s point of view. One Month in the Country is first person from the memory of the older Tom. The film suggests this only at the end when an elderly man appears in the church and looks at the wall painting uncovered during a month of work that summer of 1920. Both place and work and lovely villagers, plus a man named Moon and a woman named Alice, all helped to restore “a casualty” from the recent war. But in the movie this final scene, in my opinion, gives a hackneyed ending to a novel that is in no way trite. I will admit, however, the film’s scenery captures the novel’s vast and magnificent landscape far more effectively than written words can match.

On the last page of the novel, Birken says, “Then (and I can’t explain it) the numbness went, and I knew that whatever else had befallen me during those few weeks in the country, I had lived with a very great artist, my secret sharer of the long hours I’d labored in the half-light above the arch. So I turned and climbed the ladder for a last look. And, standing before the great spread of color, I felt an old tingling excitement and a sureness that the time would come when some stranger would stand there too and understand.”

Carr then continues in a way that a movie director would have to ignore.

“It would be like someone coming to Malvern, bland Malvern, who is halted by the thought that Edward Elgar walked this road on his way to give music lessons or, looking over to the Clee Hills, reflects that Houseman had stood in that place, regretting his land of lost content. And, at such a time, for a few of us there will always be a tugging at the heart….

The references here are important. Edward Elgar, who was told he had no talent, went on to be one of the most revered and respected English composers.

And A.E. Housman, whose The Shropshire Lad was published at his own expense, became hugely popular during WW 1.


The novel concludes with, “All this happened so long ago. And I never returned, never wrote, never met anyone who might have given me news of Oxgodby. So, in memory, it stays as I left it, a sealed room furnished by the past, airless, still, ink long dry on a put-down pen. But this was something I knew nothing of as I closed the gate and set off across the meadow. Beneath the last line is… Stocken, Presteigne, September, 1978

Next week: J.L Carr is worth knowing about, related to the Elgar and Housman references. Plus, I’ll share movies you liked better than the novels. Please shoot me some titles.

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