Sunday, November 23, 2014

Page to Screen: Enchanted April

In 1991, director Mike Newell brought Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel The Enchanted April to life.  With a solid cast, slow pace, and stunning scenery, it is an enchanting little film and one that is sure to help put a bit of calm into a stressful life.

The four main female characters are portrayed by Josie Lawrence (Mrs. Wilkins), Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Arbuthnot), Polly Walker (Lady Caroline Dester), and Joan Plowright (Mrs. Fisher).  The men of the novel are played by Alfred Molina (Mr. Wilkins), Jim Broadbent (Mr. Arbuthnot), and Michael Kitchen (Mr. Briggs).  I thought the entire cast was simply marvelous.  Of course, the performances themselves were solid but it was also nice to see the characters brought to life just as I imagined them when I was reading the book.

The film also did a fantastic job keeping the plot and pacing of the book intact.  When a book has as slow a pace as this one, it is easy for the film to try and add lots of extra drama, etc. to make up for it.  That doesn't happen here.  Instead, the film embraces the quietness and self-reflection of the novel and allows the story to simply be about the characters themselves.  Couple this with some spectacular scenery and you have a film that feels like a quiet vacation in and of itself.

If you like the book, this is a wonderful adaptation.  True to the story and characters, beautifully shot, and nicely paced, it is a little gem.  I recommend it for anyone who enjoyed (or is even interested in) the book.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Enchanted April

“Now she had taken off her goodness and left it behind her like a heap of rain-sodden clothes, and she only felt joy.” 

It is so easy to get bogged down in our lives.  To wake up one day and realize that we don't like where we are or what we have become because of it.  In her 1922 novel, Elizabeth von Arnim tells the story of four unlikely travel companions who leave their dreary lives behind and find joy, friendship, and love on the shores of Italy.

The Plot:

Lottie Wilkins needs a change.  She isn't sure whether her unhappiness is due to her own timidity, her husband's attitude towards her, or the dreary English weather.  Whatever the reason, once she reads the advertisement for a secluded castle on the Italian coast to let for the month of April, she knows she has to go.  She also notices that a slight acquaintance in her women's club,  Rose Arbuthnot, has seen the advertisement and she impulsively enlists her as a traveling companion.  Before they know it, the two have made the arrangements to rent the castle and have also found two more companions, Mrs. Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, to help split the costs.

Each woman declares that they simply mean to get away from it all and be alone.  They have little intention of being near each other except at mealtimes, and true friendship certainly seems out of the realm of possibility.  But Italy has other plans.  As the month passes, the atmosphere of San Salvatore works its magic on each woman.  They slowly open up to each other, and in the end find themselves longing for the very things (and people) they were trying so desperately to escape.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

This book has been on my "to read" list for awhile now and it was nice to finally get around to it.  Though it was not all together what I was expecting, it was still a nice little read.

Though at first it seems that all four women are nothing but drab and unhappy women with a great need to escape the dreary English weather, it soon becomes apparent that they are actually lively and unique individuals.  Each woman has shut herself off from her world for different reasons.  Lottie feels that she can't please her husband.  Rose is embarrassed by the way her husband makes a living (writing books about royal sex scandals).  Lady Caroline can't stand being constantly followed around by men struck by her beauty.  And Mrs. Fisher simply won't let go of the past.  But as they spend more time in Italy, and each other's company, they begin to break down the walls they had constructed and allow themselves to be open to each other.  I think we've all at one time or another simply been simply shut away inside ourselves.  Sometimes, we don't even realize we are doing it.  We simply know that our relationships with others aren't very strong and we find no joy or satisfaction in what we should love.  We can't all rent a castle in Italy for a month, but we should stop periodically and evaluate what needs to change in our lives (and ourselves) to allow us to be open with the ones we love.

Though the setting of the book is certainly beautiful (lots of flowers, a spacious castle, ocean views), I was slightly disappointed that the book didn't really allow for Italy to be a character.  The only Italians we meet are the servants and none of the visitors ventured outside of the castle grounds.  I was hoping for something along the lines of A Room With A View and an "Italian flavor" to the story. This story, though charming, could have happened in any beautiful place.

This book certainly has it's charming moments and is a great story of the need for openness in any relationship.  Though I wasn't quite satisfied with the lack of, well, Italy in this novel it is still one that I can recommend.  An easy read with lots of lovely little lines and moments.

The Movie:

I will fully review the 1992 film version of this book in a separate post.