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Friday, July 14, 2017

A HANDFUL OF DUST (1988)

Having made his mark on the mini-series of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED/’81, Charles Sturridge no doubt seemed the go-to guy for further Evelyn Waugh adaptation. But the mix of glamour, regret, gay-ish romance, Catholicism (lapsed & found), and class comedy proves less useful here. Instead, the distinctive tone of drift, envy, (self)-loathing & dark, bitter satire called for proves beyond his range. And not helped by having all three leads come across as if they were playing behind stage scrims. It’s early ‘30 uppercrust England, and while James Wilby & Kristin Scott Thomas make a handsome, if ill-matched titled couple, they’re barely walking thru a life in his magnificent, if slightly hideous, family ‘pile.’ Bored even with her little boy, ‘Lady’ Kristin offs herself to London where she takes a small, posh flat and a small less posh lover (Rupert Graves). But tragedy interrupts this idyll of iniquity, revealing character flaws just below the polished surface. Typical of Waugh to find comic angles stemming from unspeakable sorrow, but comic they be. If only Sturridge were a bit less afraid of them. Still, some supporting players get a shine on: Judi Dench, Anjelica Huston and a devilish Alec Guinness taking great pleasure in the story’s swerve into Joseph Conrad territory, reveling o’er a lifetime of reading (and re-reading) LITTLE DORRIT . . . ‘the horror; the horror.’*

DOUBLE-BILL: What Waugh has worked on screen? Certainly not the recent BRIDESHEAD diminution of ‘08. More satirically straightforward stuff, SCOOP/’87; BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS/’03; DECLINE AND FALL/’17 (the last not seen here), find everyone overplaying for small comic return. THE LOVED ONE/’65 may be too weird to write off, but also . . . too weird. And the old BRIDESHEAD mini-series (priceless just for John Gielgud) lives best in memory.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *In an odd coincidence, Guinness had just triumphed in Christine Edzard’s unusual double-sided take on LITTLE DORRIT/’87.

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