Graham Swift’s evocative 80$ novel about Fenland folk and the course of history is one of those extraordinary achievements that works so well on the page that you do wonder how anyone could ever put it on screen, or indeed what they might gain by so doing. A tale about tale-telling itself. the literary saga of the Crick family over the centuries works on the same gradual time scale as the ongoing contest between dry land and the watery marshes. so by reducing it all to 90 minutes or so, American director Stephen (Paris Trout) Gyllenhaal and his British screenwriter Peter Prince seem to be on something of a cinematic suicide
mission. ‘ Except. ofcourse, that they ve
survived to deliver a film which offers a not entirely cursory precis of its source’s many-layered complexity. Well up to his usual high standards. Jeremy Irons is spot-on casting as the English schoolteacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown. who confronts his troubled past by turning it into a history lesson for his bemused class of Pittsburg teenagers. Box office considerations are behind the transfer of this part of the action from Greenwich to the US, but Irons still brings off with due aplomb the demanding exposition his role has to deliver.
Whisking us back to the traumatic events at home in the Fens during
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two World Wars which go some way towards explaining Irons’s present-day malaise and his disturbed spouse‘s (Sinead Cusack) recent attempt at baby snatching. Gyllenhaal and Prince have come up with the device of transporting the schoolchildren back in time to observe the eccentric but compelling flow of events. Variously involving lethal bottles ofbeer. idiot brothers. adolescent hormonal awakening and the odd wriggling eel down the underwear, it all impresses star pupil Ethan Hawke enough to convince
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him that ‘history’ isn‘t just a collection of facts but something that real people have to live through.
Retaining at least some of the historical backstory and not wimping out on the uneasy sexual details in the bizarre relationship involving the central couple’s younger selves — newcomers Grant Warnock and Lena Headey make attractive youthful lovers — it‘s pleasing to see that not all the edges have been rounded off in the process of adaptation. On film, the pace rushes along a little too swiftly for the
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Waterlanzwrernains true to the novel's bader intentions
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thematic outline to emerge as smoothly as it might but. by remaining true to Swift‘s broader intentions, this celluloid Waterland should prove intriguing to newcomers without totally insulting the original’s many fans. (Trevor Johnston)
Waterland (15) (Stephen Gyllenhaal. UK/US. 1992) Jeremy Irons. Sinead Cusack. Ethan Hawke. 95 mins. Glasgow: Odeon. Edinburgh: Odeon.
The List 11— 24 September 199215