Friday, May 27, 2016

How Julian Fellowes' Doctor Thorne spoilers itself; a spoiler-free review that addresses point of view

I have not read Anthony Trollope's Doctor Thorne, so I don't know if the main weakness of Fellowes' adaptation comes from it. I hope so, because if not, Fellowes has done Trollope an enormous disservice.

But before I get to that, a few quick observations:

1. If you like BBC tales of the 19th century, you'll like this. The actors and settings are all fine.

2. The director is barely competent. There are too many cuts and close-ups, perhaps because he was told to shoot for TV rather than the big screen, and some of the group shots are not as effectively composed as tbey might be.

3. The production's not quite historically accurate. Emma thinks they overdid the flowers in women's hair, and there's one scene that must not be from the book in which a gentleman and a lady behave on a public street in a way no one of the time would have.

On to my realization:

The story gives us all the background for what happens in a way that makes the plot seem weak: we know who must die and when they must die for the story to reach the conclusion it promises us, and sure enough, they do.

The problem is not with the plot. Dickens and Wilkie would've taken the same story and revealed the important truth at the end. The details of the story would not have to change a bit: Doctor Thorne's niece learns the important things exactly when we, the audience, should learn them. But because the story's point of view is generally with Doctor Thorne instead of Mary Thorne, we learn the facts much too soon for any dramatic effect. The result's like watching a story that's been spoilered—we know what will happen, so the only pleasure left is in watching how things happen, a pleasure that should be left for the second viewing.