To Walk Invisible (Wainright, 2016): Review

To Walk Invisible aired on BBC1 last night and I was very excited about it – I love the Brontes and made a trip to Haworth earlier in the summer to see the Bronte Parsonage Museum. I was unsure at first, author’s lives are difficult to depict and easy to romanticise, but I was pleasantly surprised and I think Sally Wainright did a wonderful job of showing the Bronte sisters as real people in a difficult situation whilst still maintaining the idolisation of them as inspiriational women and inspirational authors.

 

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Charlotte, Emily and Anne

 

The acting was phenomenal, as someone who has never particularly been a fan of Emily Bronte the dramatisation of her and the depiction of her complex personality was spot on – sympathetic but also angry. Chloe Pirrie was a dream to watch and truly emphasised the complexity of the woman who could have dreamt up such a bitter and complex tale as Wuthering Heights. Finn Atkins’ depiction of Charlotte was also very good, and, once again, she is a representation of her works – Jane Eyre is ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’, so is Charlotte. Anne, similarly, is a much more gentle soul, which comes across in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  

All in all the characterisation was exquisite, and I loved the way Wainwright emphasised the difficulty of their situation living with a drug addict and alcoholic. It makes them more human – Branwell’s (Adam Nagaitis) problems and the problems that they cause are still relatable, and the complex representation of their sibling relationship (they clearly love each other but it is sometimes difficult to show it) also rings true of modern families. They are not overly romanticised in this adaptation (though, of course, there is a little bit of that) they are real people, in a small parish, with ambitious, risky money-making schemes and proper Yorkshire accents. It is a representation that suits them.

 

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A crisp, clear image and the vivid moors show the intesity of imagination

 

The cinematography was spot on, the filming was clever and unique, with beautiful framing and clear colour, unlike Witness for the Prosecution which totally overdid the atmosphere to the point of alienating the spectator, the dullness of the rural and industrial North in Victorian Britain in To Walk Invisible was emphasised through set design and the colours within it, no obvious overlay. This is particularly successful in contrast to the bright colours of the moors, obviously where Emily in particular finds her inspiration. This contrast is done so subtly the spectator can catch it if they wish or choose to not acknowledge it but be guided by it. There was some standout camera work also; drone shots with Emily marching across the moors, beautiful framing within the house using doorways – really lovely. I will admit that the dream sequences were a little strange, and the ending was a bit abrupt but apart from that I was very impressed.

The depiction of Haworth and the parsonage was tremendous also – it was exact. Anyone who has been to the museum will see that, apparently they built the house and nearby houses from scratch as it was no longer possible to use the actual house and the attention to detail is amazing, the corners and shapes and walks of the house were absolutely perfect. I cannot gush about it enough: incredible.

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The set of the Parsonage being created with incredible attention to detail.

My only complaint would be that some things were not clear unless you are a big fan of the Brontes. I think that Wainwright missed an opportunity to do a mini-series giving a little more background, especially about how the siblings got into writing in the first place as children. I would argue that two hours is a bit long for a TV period drama, especially as they tend to plod and do not often have a moment of peak drama. To Walk Invisible was intense all the way through, but didn’t really have a crux point, the publication of Jane Eyre and the success thereafter was left for watchers in the know to fill in, whilst this is not necessarily a problem, and indeed worked quite well, I feel this is a more televisual tactic that would have led itself to a series rather than a film.

For those of us that love the Brontes, and have secret, hidden aspirations to walk along the moors and write books which touch hearts and stand the test of time, it was a real treat and the best television drama on this Christmas. A fine way to round off the celebrations of the bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth.

Witness for the Prosecution, Rillington Place and the mystery of the Green Murk

Witness for the Prosecution (2016) missed the mark for me – too determined to be edgy, too much sex, swearing and coughing which felt a million miles away from Christie’s original text, and, without wishing to sound too prudish, a tad awkward to watch with the family on Boxing Day….

Crucially what I found difficult, and this is as someone who likes art cinema, it unbearable to watch because of the murky muse en scene, which, whilst I appreciate is a stylistic choice is only effective used sparingly. I found the consistent murk combined with slow motion not only unnecessary and detracting from the performance of the actors (who were fantastic -especially David Haig and Toby Jones) and from the story. I could barely tell you what happened because I simply didn’t care.

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Rillington Place (2016) used the same technique, arguably slightly more effectively; the murk wasn’t quite as pervading and there were moments of much-needed clarity both in and on the screen. Witness for the Prosecution overdid the atmosphere so much that the seaside scenes at the end felt quite jarring, which may have been the intended effect but it felt strange watching it and because of that I could never fully absorb into the story.

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A quick twitter search will show that the pervading feeling from the programme was the ‘green murk’, a particular favourite of mine was the comparison to the Olympic Swimming Pool debacle earlier in the year. My own feeling was that it felt like there was a smudge on the screen the whole way through. Not what you want to be thinking when watching something as it is distracting. And it is a shame because these colouring and editing techniques can be really beneficial when used well and can truly help a spectator engage with the mood of the film or programme, but you have to give the spectator room to react to it rather than making it too obvious and if the mise-en-scene is too obvious, it removes the need for a spectator at all.

So what is the deal with this trend of murky art television? I think that with the success of programmes such as Sherlock (2010 -) and Doctor Who (2005 –) who used editing the great success in a way that complimented the pace and plot (think of Sherlock’s mind palace and the use of text and animation) there does seem to be more room for experimental TV, but push it too much and people will either switch over or switch off. It’s a fine line to walk.

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Does experimental art cinema belong only in the cinema? Can art TV work or is it too difficult to view on small screens, in well-lit rooms with patchy resolution? In terms of a ‘Christmas Christie’, I preferred the cinematic qualities of And Then There Were None (2015) in terms of the murky trend, I’m not convinced of its place on television just yet.

Nanowrimo – The end

So Nanowrimo ended last week, and as it was my first attempt at it I thought I would share a few thoughts.

 

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Firstly, it is very difficult to motivate yourself when you don’t like your novel and there is a culture in Nano that ‘any words are good words’ – after all, it is all about word count. I think, to make this work practically, you need to be flexible. For me, this meant writing ANYTHING – something which I only figured out later in the month. Once I let myself abandon the original novel (which clearly needs rethinking and/or scrapping) I felt happier about the whole process. So, my tip – find flexibility within the process and create your own goals – mine was to write everyday, which I did. I’ll aim bigger next year.

Secondly, Nano can take over your life if you are attempting to actually win. If you are not aiming to win and have other things to do it is really difficult to make the time, or indeed, the word count, so you need to judge it by how much time you are willing/able to make. Next year, I would aim to prepare more in advance.

Thirdly, writing buddies can be a little like a ‘fair weather’ friend. I admit, I was a fair weather writing buddy, I think I only spoke to him once – before we started.  I was part of a facebook group which was incredibly supportive; I don’t use facebook very often but when I did go on there it was a really lovely community. So writing buddies are important – stay in contact.

Hopefully now Nano is over I can get back to focussing on my blog. I found it difficult to balance doing Nano along with everything else and as a result, I seem to have ground to a halt so far in December – which is frustrating and I’m trying to get myself back on the waggon again. I think, in future I need to pace myself, not only with Nano, but with everything – I bundled a load of things into November that I barely had time for and, weirdly, I managed to balance them last month but so far have done nothing this month which I am finding annoying. But all in all, Nano was a good experience and next year I will be more prepared.