The Shipping News dir Lasse Halstroem
5 April 2002


Today I saw director Lasse Halstroem's (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) interpretation of the book at Rialto Cinema. It is a good film, as films go, but perhaps a little lifeless. This could have been because I already know the story, but it seemed to me that there were no lovely, gooey sentimental bits, no moments of great drama, no horrific scenes - in short, nothing to take it off the movie screen and place it firmly in the real world.

There were a few things that I felt the movie did better than the book. Petal in particular was far more real on the screen than in the pages. As I try to think why, I realise that her actions were not given in the book, only her words. It is rather difficult to build up a detailed picture of somebody just from what they say.

Whenever a film is based on a novel, there is the inevitable complaint from purists about the alterations made to the story. This is why I refuse to see films based on books that I have read and loved. However, I have no qualms about seeing films based on books that I have merely read (Lord of the Rings) or have no intention of reading (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone).

Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - the film made me realise how good the book really was, in this case. Halstroem has only managed to cram the emaciated and coyote-picked skeleton of the plot into a two-hour piece. Seeing it stripped like this causes me to realise that there actually was a plot, and how subtley it was hidden among the sub-plots, by-plots and clever language techniques.

What I see as the most important relationship, or one of them (Quoyle-Nutbeem) has been removed, as has at least one crucial piece of dialogue (Wavey on her late, womanising, husband: "It's like you feel to yourself that's all you deserve... you got it coming to you or it wouldn't be that way,") and many, many tiny plot-building events. No, it's not the alterations I mind. It's the ommissions, although I can understand why they were made.

I do rather like the book, you know.


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