BBC iPlayer is a godsend. It has saved my life more than once.
Like when the TV was juddering and I couldn’t tell whether Paul Hollywood’s dubious frown resolved into a positive comment or not.
Like when I was on the train home after a weekend away and wasn’t going to get back in time for the start of Poldark.
Like when I didn’t know the BBC was doing a series of 20th-century literature adaptations until it was almost over simply because I don’t watch enough TV in order to find out about these things. (Only on Wednesdays at 8pm for the last ten weeks…)
Cider with Rosie and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are two books I have on my lengthy to-read list. Their bucolic, time-gone-by settings are just the kind of thing I like to indulge in now and then, so, naturally, I turned to iPlayer for my fix.
At the immediate entrance of a horse-drawn cart trundling through a field, I had a good feeling about Cider with Rosie. The settings throughout – fields, woodland, the wildly overgrown cottage, the picturesque village – were idyllic, heightened by Timothy Spall’s voiceover of Lee’s text, full of beautifully poetic observations.
While these things enjoyed their screen time, however, the story began to bustle on through insensitively. The film soothed us into its handsomely painted environment and yet we were suddenly expected to be emotionally primed for when Laurie is on the verge of death! …and then better again! …and then when Frances dies! (…who?)
Throughout the whole hour and a half, I felt quite detached from Laurie. Rosie’s defiance amused me, but that only partly made up for the fact I felt sorry for Jo (Laurie’s first love interest), who was a relatively undeveloped character anyway.
Laurie’s mother, Annie Lee, played wonderfully by Samantha Morton, was the only character towards whom I was truly sympathetic. The strength of this adaptation is its representation of what must have been a physically and emotionally draining experience for her.
The first few minutes of Lady Chatterley’s Lover also tore through what seemed to me to be a sizeable helping of storyline. Yet the cleverly interwoven stories of the marriage of Constance and Sir Clifford Chatterley and Sir Clifford’s later experiences in the war immediately stirred my concern for these apparently doomed lovers. I briefly thought he would not survive, but it was worse: he returns, disabled, and promptly attempts suicide.
This sequence establishes the tone that runs throughout, the tone that has been criticised for not being that for which the novel is notorious. Knowing that Lady Chatterley would soon have a lover, I began to acknowledge how the strains of her marriage would drive her to this, despite clearly still loving Sir Clifford.
It matters not that this particular adaptation lacks full-frontal nudity, as the 1993 adaptation apparently boasts. We have Game of Thrones for that. In the words of director Jed Mercurio, what was titillating in DH Lawrence’s novel is no longer ‘groundbreaking’ and therefore his interest lay in the love triangle.
So my expectations for Cider with Rosie are left sadly unfulfilled and my enjoyment of the DH Lawrence adaptation is nevertheless besmirched by the awareness that the story was told through a 21st-century tinted spectacle.
In both cases, I feel a need to reform my opinion by reading the books themselves. Never judge a book by its adaptation… no matter how good.