So, one of the challenges for October’s Victober readathon was to read a Victorian novel and watch the adaption. I decided that, since I didn’t want to choose, I’d watch an adaption of each book I read.
The first book I read, Emily Fox-Seton (combining The Making of a Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst) has a 2012 film, The Making of a Lady, but I couldn’t find a copy anywhere. I did find something for each of my other three reads — Carmilla, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wives and Daughters — and one Brontë biography. Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about my thoughts on Carmilla and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Web Series – Modern-day setting.
4 seasons + 1 movie.
Available on YouTube.
I really like this show: the acting is pretty good, and if the special effects are a little sketchy, the certain charm it has makes up for it.
I thought it really hit its stride at S01E20 when Carmilla reveals her dark past. I really liked that they managed to make the show both a retelling of the book (replacing the castle with a college of eldritch horror, the governesses with hall monitors, etc.) while also making it a sequel, giving a slight twist on the ending of the novel which allowed Carmilla to have been resurrected after the events of the book.
What I like the best about the series is that it tackles my main problem with the novel; in that Laura is very “Victorian female character” passive. I like that in this, she’s in the driving seat. She’s the one that decides to investigate the missing girls, she’s the one that confronts Carmilla and she’s the one that makes the decision about how to tackle the Big Bad on campus. I thought this was a really nice to take on it.
I’m not convinced the second and third season quite match the simplicity or charm of the first, but the post-series movie is wonderful. It can probably stand on its own, has beautiful costumes, a stunning set and a strong storyline.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)
3 approx-50-minute episodes.
Overall, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a really good, really accurate adaptation of the book. If you want to experience the plot without reading the book itself, this would definitely give you the story. If you’ve already read the book, it’s still beautifully filmed (apart from all the spinning) and well-acted so definitely worth a watch either way.
*Spoilers for both book and series below*
The story starts with Helen making her escape from from Huntington instead of from Gilbert’s POV, so it has more of a thriller-type aspect to it rather than the small town gossipy-mystery angle. This gives us the chance to see Helen, Arthur and Rachel settle into Wildfell Hall though, and shows Helen more smiley and happy, rather than dour and mysterious — for a few minutes anyway — than she is early in the book. We see flashes of memories interspersed with ‘current day’ right from the start, and since we also see some of Helen’s perspective during what would have been Gilbert’s POV, it seems to centre the narrative on her, rather than splitting the story between them. Instead of Gilbert being the one to try to unravel the mystery of Helen’s past, the audience kind of take Gilbert’s place and it’s us there trying to unravel the mystery of her.
I really liked the casting of Helen (Tara Fitzgerald), Huntington (Rupert Graves) and Gilbert (Toby Stephens). I didn’t think James Purefoy really fit as Frederick Lawrence — he just seems a little too worldly (and maybe this is influenced by the other roles I’ve seen him in) but he still puts on a good performance, it’s just not the character I read in the book as closely as the others are.
Obviously, it’s a different style of film-making — being over 20 years old — but the swirling camera angles during the early flashbacks with the dead bird really had me confused (and a little motion sick). If I didn’t know what the backstory was, I would have thought that this was the kid from The Omen, and that something like that was the big secret.
The horseback conflict between Gilbert and Lawrence becomes much more violent, and much more dramatic in this version. Instead of giving him a whack so he falls of his horse, Gilbert full-on rugby tackles Lawrence and then they have this big fist-fight that doesn’t stop until Helen intervenes. This is the part where she reveals that he’s her brother rather than it being done in the more low-key way from the book. I think this obviously creates a much more dramatic moment and I can see why it was changed — it gives you more action, and it’s probably quite a good place to end an episode.
Huntington is worse in this than I remember from the book, but I could be wrong. There’s two attempted sexual assaults, physical abuse, and an attempted kidnapping of Arthur. This is probably partly to make a (desensitised) modern audience more understanding of the actions Helen takes and partly for dramatic effect, but it felt unnecessary. You got just as much of a sense of who Huntington was in the book, without being explicit about it, and it just feels like lazy storytelling. Why does everything have to have a women get raped? Also, the fact that Arthur is kidnapped (or almost kidnapped, more accurately) and then Helen decides to go back to Huntington, I felt, took away from the character’s agency. In the novel she chooses to go see him because he’s sick and she’s a (too) good person, not because she’s manipulated into it.
This adaption is much more concise with the ending, cutting most of the second half of Gilbert POV. It cuts out Gilbert’s cross-country trek, his visit to Helen’s aunt and all the information about Helen’s new inheritance. I was a little upset that he didn’t get to see Gilbert’s self-reflection at this point, because I thought this was the part where we saw him develop into more of a grown-up — he was willing to set aside what he wanted in order that Helen would be happy — as opposed to the rather young and naive boy he is at the start.
As I said above, despite one or two flaws, it’s a brilliant and faithful adaptation of the book, that I think readers and non-readers will enjoy.