by Allan Fish
(UK 1997 415m) DVD2
Twentieth Century Blues
p Alvin Rakoff d Christopher Morahan, Alvin Rakoff w Hugh Whitemore novels “A Question of Upbringing”, “A Buyer’s Market”, “The Acceptance World”, “At Lady Molly’s”, “Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant”, “The Kindly Ones”, “The Valley of Bones”, “The Soldier’s Art”, “The Military Philosophers”, “Books do Furnish a Room”, “Temporary Kings” and “Hearing Secret Harmonies” by Anthony Powell ph Chris Seager ed Jake Bernard m Carl Davis art Eileen Diss cos Dany Everett
James Purefoy (Nicholas Jenkins), Simon Russell Beale (Kenneth Widmerpool), Paul Rhys (Charles Stringham), Jonathan Cake (Peter Templer), Miranda Richardson (Pamela Flitton), Emma Fielding (Isobel Tolland/Jenkins), Claire Skinner (Jean Templer/ Duport), John Gielgud (St John Clarke), Alan Bennett (Sillery), John Standing (older Nicholas Jenkins), Joanna David (older Isobel), James Fleet (Hugh Moreland), Edward Fox (Uncle Giles), Julian Wadham (Gen.Liddament), Zoe Wanamaker (Audrey McLintick), Richard Pasco (Sir Magnus Donners), Adrian Scarborough (J G Quiggin), Nigel Lindsay (Odo Stevens), Oliver Ford Davies (Le Bas), Grant Thatcher (Mark Members), Harriet Walter (Mildred), Frank Middlemass (Edgar Deacon), James d’Arcy (Jenkins as student), Michael Williams (Ted Jeavons), Nicholas Jones (Bob Duport), Paul Brooke (McLintick), Sarah Badel (Lady Molly), Colin Baker (Cannon Fenneau), Nicholas Rowe (David Pennistone), Robert Pugh (Capt.Biggs), Eileen Atkins (Brightman), Emily Mortimer (Polly Duport), James Callis (Gwinnett), Sean Baker (X Trapnel),
Upon its first showing on Channel 4 in the autumn of 1997, A Dance to the Music of Time was paid the ultimate compliment – it was compared by critics to the imperishable 1981 Granada adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. There were undoubted similarities; being partially set in Oxford, encompassing the events of the 1930s and World War II. In truth, however, there was a big divide in terms of pages to running time ratio. Brideshead was not a large novel, yet was followed so punctiliously that it stretched to eleven hours’ worth of drama. Powell’s story ran twelve novels, yet was televised barely two thirds the length of the Waugh adaptation. One would think that it would mean too much plot was cut out, and indeed a great deal was cast aside. Yet the central plotline, that of the eponymous dance to Father Time’s tune undertaken by the four male protagonists remained very much intact. It helped, too, that the four protagonists – Nicholas, Kenneth, Charles and Peter – found such perfect actors to essay them. Rhys is spot-on as Stringham – Powell’s Sebastian Flyte, as it were – doomed to an equally sorry end; Purefoy is the perfect centrepiece, forming the soul of the piece with intelligent assuredness a million miles away from his other famous TV role as a droog-like Antony in Rome; future Oswald Mosley Cake is also good as the cad with a heart. Best of all, however, was Simon Russell Beale as the insidious, supercilious Widmerpool, one of the truly great performances in TV literary adaptation. They are complimented by a cool Skinner as Jean (memorably naked in the opening scene) the brilliant Richardson as supremely superstitious and bitchy Pamela, and superb vignettes from Pasco, Fox, Wadham, Williams, Ford-Davies and the ever reliable Pugh. It’s a shame the makers’ felt compelled to replace Purefoy, Fielding and Skinner with older actors in the final episode.
Let us be glad, however, for what we have, a magnificent distilling of the essence of one of the most thought unfilmable of sagas (Morahan’s experience on The Jewel in the Crown will have stood him and the series in good stead), beautifully shot, scored (Noël Coward’s ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ caught the rhythms perfectly) and acted. Sublime civilised Sunday evening entertainment, but also one that makes one wish that the movies themselves were subject to Father Time’s tune and its players available out of time; think of Bette Davis as Pamela, Olivier as Jenkins, Leigh as Jean, Milland as Stringham, Sanders as Templer (well, he did play the Saint) and Laughton as Widmerpool. It’s another of those dreams I have…