Thursday, 24 January 2008

With books that become films it is easy to loose track of the original intent.

I suspect that is what has happened with Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Over on the OU/BBC discussion board, there’s a classic case – the French have re-titled the film and at least one person has gone along with it.

I’ve not yet seen the cinema version and have only just read the book – it is quite stunning.

The title reflects something that isn’t fully revealed until the last section – and I don’t see how it could work on film – it is such a literary device that the impact and the ‘revelation’ would require some fairly fancy filmic devices to make it work. It reminds me a little of ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’ – in terms of transferability.

This could account for the title change – and makes me suspicious of the film – have they missed the point?

Another element that is un-filmable for me is the description of the British debacle at Dunkirk.

My father was in the B.E.F. that went over early in the war only to be evacuated from the beaches, and, for the first time in my life, I have a sense of what it must have been like – and what it must have meant to him – from a fictional work.

No amount of documentary footage, no Hollywood style film, no fancy computer animations and sound effects could give me the shocking bitterness, the sense of failure, the almost absurd visions of the soldiers and civilians in France at that time.

A clear example of fiction being truer than fact.

Which brings me to a final aspect which I think un-filmable: The exploration in the book of the craft of writing and the nature of the novel.

To some extent all novelists (at least the good ones) are forced to consider what they are doing when they write – when they ‘fictionalize’ (if such a word exists). The choice of printed narrative as opposed to some other genre, is a conscious one.

Ian McEwan has made the foundation of his story the act of fictionalization.

"Is he trying to Atone for something?" one is tempted to ask!