The Spectre of the Unfinished Book

I have always considered myself to be a ‘bookworm’. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been an avid reader. From being read picture books as a young child, to ploughing through thick novels as a literature student, books have definitely shaped my life more than I might like to admit. But at the same time, there are many, many books that I simply never finished, or at least didn’t finish the first time around.

There’s something strange about a book that you have left unfinished. Do you leave it in your ‘Currently Reading’ list on Goodreads, lingering there in eternal 48% completion? Do you pretend you never picked the book up in the first place by sending it to a charity shop for someone else to pick up, or deleting it from your device on Audible or Kindle so it remains forever in the cloud? The problem with a book that you have started but not finished is that you know some of the plot, some of the characters, but you don’t get the gratification of the resolution. Of course, you could just look up a summary and spoil it for yourself, but in the back of your mind is that (only sometimes true) conviction that you will return to the book again.

For me, returning to a book (or even the next in a series of books), that I have left unfinished feels confusing. I always wonder whether I should read the part I’ve already read again, or just pick up where I left off. Reading the same passages again when I haven’t got to the end gives me a strange feeling, because I can almost remember the first time I read it but, like the first time, I still don’t know what going to happen, so I can’t see what is coming as I normally can when re-reading a book.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things this is truly a non-issue. No-one is checking that you finished a book on your first attempt, or that you finished it at all. A lot of the time, it is not the book itself that is at fault, but rather that I picked it up when I did not have time to read it, or I had to focus on the reading for my course, or that another (and normally shorter/easier) book caught my attention. This is the only reason why books that I was actually quite enjoying such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos or Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician remain in limbo on my Currently Reading list. I know that I will go back to them. However, other books I won’t be returning to, unless I have to.

At the end of the day, what this all comes down to is the fact that in a world where we are able to enjoy the stories told in books, we must also accept the certainty that we can never finish them all, and we will not like them all. The only solution to this, irritating as it is, is to take breaks from or simply not finish books in order to be able to move on to the ones we do like.

How do you feel about leaving a book unfinished? What do you do with books that you own but are not going to read?

Emma. – Film Review

Emma is one of my favourite books. I’ve watched several adaptations, from the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow to the 2009 mini-series starring Romola Garai and even the web series Emma Approved. I was really hoping to find another film to add to my long list of favourite Austen adaptations. My problem with the new Emma movie is that it was almost perfect, but there were a few things that really impacted my overall enjoyment of the movie.

First: let’s get my issue with the movie out of the way. The humour in this movie worked really well most of the time, but for me there was one moment that felt utterly misplaced. When Knightley made his proposal to Emma, she had a nose bleed. None of the dialogue was really changed, at least, but this moment felt extremely wrong. This is the big romantic moment in Emma, and it was played for a joke. I really think this took away from the film, as just because it was more of a comedy than other adaptations have been doesn’t mean that it can’t have a genuine moment. For the relationship of Emma and Knightley to be believable, they need to be able to have a serious romantic connection. I genuinely think that if this scene – and a few others- were executed more seriously this film would be up there with the 2009 version of Emma as one of my favourite Austen adaptations. It is beautifully made, the cast is fantastic, the costumes are gorgeous. But it just lacks that sense of heart that for me is central to making a period drama re-watchable. I probably wouldn’t watch this film again.

Now that my problems are out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff about this film. There are a lot of great things about this film. Firstly, the use of colour and setting makes the film look fantastic. The pastel colour palette is sickeningly sweet, the costumes more extravagant than in other adaptations of Austen. This really helps to emphasise the over-indulgence and lack of action that characterises the lives of these upper-class characters. The cast is also fantastic. Bill Nighy was seemingly made to play Mr Woodhouse. Everything from his costume to his movements was perfect for this version of the character. Johnny Flynn plays a convincing Mr Knightley, though he is perhaps too much in earnest to match the tone of the film. Anya Taylor-Joy was also wonderfully cast as Emma, as she plays Emma’s meanness in a way that feels more true to the book, whereas other adaptations that tend to make her more sympathetic. This also makes the character development of Emma from the beginning to the end of the film more apparent after the turning point where she is called out by Knightley for insulting Miss Bates, and realises her rudeness.

The scene where Knightley and Emma dance is one which gets it right: showing their feelings for each other in a way that is not mitigated by unnecessary comedy, and I wish there were more moments like this in the film, as the cast and crew were clearly capable of achieving it. Scenes with Mr and Mrs Elton were hilarious, and they worked well because in the book they (particularly Mrs Elton) are characters who are supposed to be seen as somewhat ridiculous in the way that they act.

I would recommend this film to be seen at least once, because I think there is plenty to like about it. It is a well-made film, and as the response to it has shown there are many enjoyable moments. If you are like me and are a big fan of an older adaptation or the book, then don’t go into this film expecting a similar portrayal as past iterations of Emma. Personally, I don’t think that this film got the tone quite right. While I always saw Emma as a romantic story with comedic elements, this version is primarily comedic with romantic elements. If you like that idea, then you’ll like this film.

Have you watched Emma? How does it compare to other adaptations you have seen?

David Copperfield- Film Review

David Copperfield is a breath of fresh air. Funny, clever, and not afraid to be innovative, this adaptation of Dickens’s novel directed by Iannucci is an entertaining addition to the period drama scene.

Dev Patel is both hilarious and moving as the film’s titular character, and is joined by a talented cast including the likes of Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, and Tilda Swinton. The casting for this film was very well done. Each actor seemed to almost perfectly fit their role. I also think that many of the funniest moments of the film would not have worked as effectively without this specific cast and their interactions with each other.

The film is structured through a frame narrative, with the adult David telling his story from his birth through his childhood and schooling, up to showing him writing his autobiography. Much of the film is involved with writing, telling stories, and paper. An interesting aspect of the film was its use of projection style images to impose one scene on another, or removing a ‘wall’ so that the audience sees into another scene. These experimental aspects were intriguing but they did also break suspension of disbelief, as they made it apparent that what the audience is experiencing is constructed. This could have been intentional, however I don’t think that it always worked.

The strongest moments of the film were when it leaned most into comedy. I remember leaving the film wishing that it had gone more comedic rather than trying to achieve a balance between comedy and seriousness that – for me at least – didn’t quite work. It is understandable why the film didn’t become a complete parody of Dickens, as they were clearly trying to be somewhat respectful to the story as a classic piece, but knowing what Iannucci is capable of in terms of comedy, as well as what the amazingly talented cast is capable of, I think that it could have worked if the film had been even more satirical and comedic.

There were many laugh out loud moments throughout this film, including any scene involving donkeys, and some ridiculously well-executed scenes involving rather unappetising looking cakes. A lot of the more subtly funny moments were achieved through the way the characters stood or sat in relation to one another, or how they talked to one another.

However, there were also serious moments to the film. Though I think the film worked best with its comedic elements, this is not to say that all of the serious moments were weak. I think that the way that the film showed the young David (played by Jairaj Varsani) being treated badly by Mr and Miss Murdstone and being separated from his mother genuinely felt upsetting and showed the fear that a child can feel of adults. Scenes with Mr Murdstone were often shown from the young David’s perspective as if the audience is looking up at him, which was very effective.

In terms of characters, it genuinely felt as if every character worked extremely well as part of the cast. But some stand-out performances would have to be Morfydd Clark as Dora Spenlow, as her character’s abundance of awkwardness with Dev Patel’s Copperfield meant that their every interaction was very entertaining and funny. Tilda Swinton also stood out in her role as Betsey Trotwood, as did Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick. Though she played a relatively minor character, Nikki Amuka-Bird was also very convincing as the proud and uncompromising Mrs Steerforth.

Overall, this film is definitely one to watch for fans of period drama. For people who aren’t, it is still probably one to watch because of the different approach that it takes. Though at times it may feel like it veers into being too experimental, it is never boring.

Queen and Slim – Review

Queen and Slim is a film which is at times funny, and at others heartbreaking. What starts as a Tinder date quickly expands into a fast-paced, heartfelt story about two likeable, flawed, characters.

(Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

What I like most about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from showing characters as flawed, or from showing consequences. Over the course of the film, though we grow to like the two protagonists, we also come to see their shortcomings. This only makes the relationship that forms between them seem more real and genuine. Additionally, the viewer is constantly made to consider the implications of the first key climactic moment of the film: the confrontation with the police officer that leads to the officer being killed in self-defence and Queen being injured. Throughout the film, we also see the implications of this on a wider scale, including the effect on the black community, and perhaps most thought provokingly a “copycat” crime committed by a young boy who is inspired by the two protagonists.

I think that this film’s strongest points are its beginning and its end. The beginning of the film lulls the viewer into a false sense of security with the rom-com type scene, before throwing the characters into the situation with the police officer. The ending of the film is tear-jerking. I don’t think I realised until the ending how much I was rooting for these characters throughout the film. The parallels with what the two protagonists said they wanted in a partner earlier in the film was especially moving, while finding out who had betrayed them was shocking. Another strength of this film was the way that Queen and Slim’s relationship developed over the course of the film, as they grew to trust and love each other.

In contrast, there were some parts in the middle of the film that I just wasn’t as interested in, where the pace slightly dragged or the chase became a bit repetitive. I also thought that it was perhaps slightly unrealistic that so many black characters were willing to turn a blind eye to the protagonists’ presence despite knowing the police were looking for them throughout the movie. But this is nitpicking – Queen and Slim is a gorgeously made and clever film, that really promotes discussions about things like police brutality, the way that the media represents people, and the way that individuals can become representatives of ideals that they might not even agree with.

One really clever thing about this movie is the fact that we don’t learn the real names of the main characters until the very end. The thing about this is you don’t realise you didn’t know the characters’ names until they are said – because of the title you just know them as ‘Queen’ and ‘Slim’. It really helps to make this film feel like you were catapulted into these two people’s lives without any introduction or explanation. The film doesn’t explain itself: it is secure in its script and in its stylistic elements and it unfolds in front of the audience. You either get wrapped up in the plot or you get left behind.

I hope that Queen and Slim does encourage viewers to really think about issues of police brutality, institutional racism, and how black people are presented in the media and viewed in real life. I think that it is a really relevant film in terms of current issues facing black people. I also think that one of the best things about this film is that it doesn’t encourage thinking in absolutes about these issues, it shows a more nuanced approach to it that I think is necessary for making actual change, because every individual has their own individual views and actions. I think we really see this in the “copycat” murder scene when Junior is at the protest and there is a black police officer who tries to help him by telling him to leave (which of course ends horribly as Junior then kills him, copying the people he sees as his ‘heroes’), and also with the white characters who do help Queen and Slim to hide. This isn’t a film about putting people into inflexible boxes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film, and would recommend it. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are amazing in their roles and their chemistry and portrayal of Slim/ Ernest Hinds and Queen/ Angela Johnson really bring the film to life, as does the clever script and the aesthetically pleasing look of the film.