Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Boardwalk Bliss: What Now for Nucky and Margaret?

Last year, after months of dreaming about it, I finally signed up to Sky. This turned out to be a well timed decision as my installation date gloriously coincided with the launch of Sky's new channel, Sky Atlantic. This opened me up to the delights of plentiful new series, such as Game of Thrones, Bored to Death and The Borgias, and also to re-runs of classics, like ER and The Sopranos, which I had missed the first time around.

By far the most wonderful discovery was Boardwalk Empire. The series is set in Atlantic City during the prohibition era and focuses on the personal and private life of corrupt County Treasurer Nucky Thompson (based on real life Enoch Johnson). The show was set to be a success from the beginning, being produced by Martin Scorsese and Terrence Winter (of The Sopranos fame). The pilot episode alone cost a staggering $18 million and was well spent with the first series being nominated for eighteen Emmy Awards and winning eight.

For more information, videos and photos see HBO website
As a viewer, I was instantly captivated by the glamourous sets, costumes and soundtrack which drew me so completely into the world of Atlantic City that I was reluctant to return to my own front room when the hour was up. The language of the prohibition culture was brought to life through beautifully drawn characters made compelling by outstanding actors including Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt.

There is so much to say about Boardwalk but as the series moved on, I found myself drawn in by the romantic storyline between Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald). And I should probably make it clear to you now that the rest of this post is written by a hopeless romantic! As the first series concluded, Nucky's vulnerability was revealed and I began to hope that their future might be positive. But, as the pair looked out to sea during those closing seconds of the series one finale, uncomfortable glances suggested Margaret already doubted her choice and Nucky doubted her intentions. The audience was left to consider: does she love him or the life he can offer her?

Nucky and Margaret dine out
After months of waiting for the second series I was happy to see the series open with Nucky and Margaret enjoying a certain amount of domestic bliss. I was also pleased to see Margaret take on a more significant role in Nucky's life, with Nucky leaning on her for more than just emotional support (although I was concerned for her own morality of course!).

But Owen (a new Irish character now working for Nucky) loomed on the horizon. And then this week, Margaret took Owen into her bed. I have to admit I'm imensely disappointed that this has happened! We were warned that Margaret would constantly surprise us this series (Kelly Macdonald on Boardwalk Empire spot, Sky Atlantic), but this was something I did not expect. Before Nucky gets shot in the hand, he also eyes up an attractive young woman. So, what now for Nucky and Margaret?! I'll guess I'll have to wait until next week.

Nucky and Margaret: what does the future hold?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Let's Hear From the Writers

This one's for those of you interested in hearing from the writers!

Last month I made my first visit to a literature festival. Full of excitement and anticpation I made my way to Cheltenham early on the opening day. I had booked myself tickets for ten speaker events and one writers' workshop over the course of four days.

Perhaps it was the speakers that I chose to see, but the over-riding theme of the festival for me was the impact of the author's own life experiences on their fiction writing, resulting in elements of biographical or confessional fiction, and upon the creativity of their non-fiction works. Starting out as a writer myself, it was enlightening to discover storytelling from the perspective of the authors and, in this post, I thought I would give you a flavour of my three favourite speakers at the festival (sorry it's a bit of a long one!).

1. John Sutherland and David Lodge - Lives of the Novelists

My very first speakers were John Sutherland and David Lodge discussing the former's new book Lives of the Novelists'. This is an extraordinary work in which Sutherland provides short biographies of 294 novelists, with emphasis upon how their lives have influenced their writing. Lodge (A Man of Parts, Deaf Sentence) joined Sutherland on stage reiterating the importance of confessional writing and biographic influences in creating fiction which is both convincing and realistic. The speakers discussed novels as works of art, in which raw facts, aesthetic tactics and strategies are combined. This inevitably led to a discussion about sexuality and an incredibly interesting debate about the dichotomy between an author's desire to protect his/her privacy with the openess necessary for realism. Did you know that Charles Dickens and Henry James burnt their papers, most likely in an effort to preserve their privacy after death? It was argued by the floor that this in fact created yet more speculation about their private lives and has probably led to false conclusions. This was a wonderful discussion and I'm certainly going to dig out the works of Sutherland and Lodge in the next few weeks.

 2. Peter Conradi and Mark Logue - The King's Speech

Having seen the film a couple of times, I finished reading the book during the festival itself, just before this event. For me, The King's Speech turned out to be one of the most enjoyable events of the whole festival. I firmly recommend the book, especially to anyone who has seen the film. Although a piece of non-fiction (and so not strictly the focus of this blog!), the friendship described in the book between the King and his speech writer is powerful and as beautiful as in any work of fiction.

 Both excellent speakers, Logue and Conradi described the great dramas encountered in writing the book to tight deadlines which were set by publishers to coincide with the release of the film, whilst working with a constantly growing archive of papers. The writers stressed that the book is not a companion to the film, and I have to agree, but rather the true story behind the dramatised events shown on screen.

Their discussion provided an insight into the film-makers' choices in telling the story of the King and Logue. For instance, cramming a relationship which lasted more than two decades into little more than a year of film time resulted in a period of non-contact between the King and Logue being attributed to a 'falling out' when in fact it was merely the result of the King's increased confidence. A lot can be learnt about the art of storytelling by studying the strategic choices made by the film's creators.

Although the film-makers made such tactical decisions in their storytelling, my own reading of the true story in the book led me to believe that on the whole, the characterisation of Logue and the King was well reflected in the film version. From listening to their debate, it appeared to me that Logue and Conradi were of the same opinion and felt that the film-makers had made a true effort to keep the characterisation accurate. This biographical realism has undoubtedly been a key factor in the believability of the characters and success of the film. At the end of the event, however, a simple poll was taken and I was saddened by the stark contrast between almost 100% of the audience having seen the film compared to around 15% who had read the book. If you haven't already, I urge you to read this book, the true story is even more remarkable than its film counterpart.

3. Stephen Poliakoff

A final highlight of the festival for me was hearing Stephen Poliakoff discuss his work. Poliakoff is one of my favourite television and film screenwriters. If you haven't heard of him, he's written and directed one off dramas for the BBC including Capturing Mary and The Lost Prince and has written films for the big screen including Close My Eyes and Glorious 39. His stories are intense and have a strong psychological element. You can get them reasonably cheaply on Amazon and I definitely recommend them to you.

The main focus of his talk was his new play My City showing at the Almeida Theatre in London. The plot centres on a young man in his twenties who encounters one of his old school teachers on a park bench in London. Poliakoff's twelve year absence from theatre has led to My City being awaited with keen interest and the play appears to use some interesting storytelling devices. For instance, Poliakoff  discussed how different stories require different mediums (television, film, theatre) and described how during 'My City' the theatre audience would themselves become pupils, addressed directly by the teachers in the play's school assembly, immediately putting the audience in an alternative mindset.

Poliakoff spoke about his own personal style, the influence of his own life in his work, his preference for directing his own work and the differences between screenwriting in Britain and America. I found this latter discussion incredibly enlightening, highlighting the financial power of networks such as HBO which are able to fund expensive new drama series such as Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, and the emphasis that is placed upon the writer's vision in America which often rewards them with producer or co-producer credits.

On the whole, the Cheltenham Literature Festival was a rewarding trip, giving me a exciting insight, not only into biographical and confessional literature, but also into the publishing, television and film industries. I will definately be returning next year. Please get in touch with your experiences of literature festivals you have attended this year, I would love to hear from you.

For more information on the festival click here

An Hour With Moira Buffini

You might remember my first blog post in which I offered my thoughts on the recent Jane Eyre film. At this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival I had the pleasure of attending a Jane Eyre event with the film's script writer, Moira Buffini. During the event, Buffini explained the purpose of the new version: to create an interepretation relevant to a modern, 21st century audience. This central concern, she added, was the main reason for reducing the gothic element in the script. The lack of gothic emphasis had been one of my main criticisms of the film. According to Buffini a great deal of the gothic storyline, such as Bertha's night time wanderings and tearing of Jane's veil, had actually been filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor, being considered too melodramatic and unrealistic for a contemporary audience. Without having access to this cut material it is difficult to reach a firm view on whether or nor this was the right decision and we are left to wonder what the original script would have offered.

Buffini also spoke about the decision to begin the film at the book's midway point. Begining the action at Jane's most vulnerable moment (when she flees Rochester and Thornfield) was designed to throw the reader immediately into Jane's inner consciousness, an alternative to first person narration which can often detract from the intensity of the action on screen.

The altered location for the ending (which I won't spoil for you if you haven't seen the film or read the book) was explained as vital to mainting the momentum of the story and offering a more action centred alternative to the domestic surroundings in the book. Although I found the ending somewhat rushed, I have to agree with Buffini that the location and photography of the landscape throughout the film, 'allows the audience to feel Jane's emotion epically'.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about whether the film lived up to Buffini's hopes for it and will end with one of the key debates at this Cheltenhem Literature Festival event: is Rochester attractive and, if so, what is so appealing about him? Buffini commented that Rochester is capricious, cruel, rude and deceitful but ultimatley values truth, recognising Jane's own truthfulness and seeing to her core. An audience polarised into two camps: love him; and hate him, led to a suggestion that perhaps the reader's view of Rochester is affected by the age at which the reader first discovers the book. A number of audience members admitted that - approaching the book for the first time in their thirties, forties and later - they found Rochester deceitful, dangerous and extremely unappealing, being themselves more compassionate to the plight of Bertha. Whilst younger readers owned up to finding him completely irresistable. I have to confess that I fall into the latter camp, trusting in Rochester's desire for redemption. Please get in touch with your thoughts on this and keep the debate going!

Jane Eyre is due for DVD release on 12 March 2012.

For information on the Cheltenham Literature Festival Click Here