Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Mid-week Movie ~ The Pumpkin Eater

Returning to the weekend's topic of TV/movie drama: a few nights ago we watched (via Amazon Prime) a British 1964 film, The Pumpkin Eater. I'd heard of it, but hadn't ever seen it, nor had my husband. I was persuaded to watch by the cast list : Ann Bancroft, Peter Finch, James Mason, Maggie Smith....what could possibly go wrong?

I'm still not sure exactly what went wrong, for me . It could've been Harold Pinter's screenplay (though this was much lauded by others). I'm not good at appreciating the arty-farty in film, so that could have been my basic problem.

I kept remarking to husband along the lines of, "People do not, and did not in the 1960s, as I recall, converse like this! " Apparently, in Pinter's world, they did. I simply was unable to believe any character in this movie, in spite of the A-list actors involved. They, of course, could use only the story and material presented to them.

Leading female character was played by Ann Bancroft. This woman, from what we could perceive from the script, was neurotic and self-absorbed to the nth degree. Why then did she continue having children, yet seemingly taking little notice of them as their numbers grew: 3, 4, 5, 6, and I think more, but lost count. She eventually passed on responsibility to a nanny and/or to her 3rd husband (played by Peter Finch) in a then-failing marriage. She gave little thought to the lives she was forcing onto those kids in an at times ugly, emotionally-charged, if fairly wealthy background. I felt little sympathy. Her 3rd husband was unfaithful on the one hand, but seemed to love the kids who were not his, equally to any who were (I was never sure which were which). I had no sympathy for him either, except a grudging admiration for his continued devotion to the kids, in spite of having warned his wife of potential difficulties in that area, before they married. I think they were, then, 3 in number. The two eldest were shuffled off to boarding school quick sharp, before getting to know their parents at all.

I'm sorry, but I could not dredge up sympathy for a woman who had hardly ever worked a day in her life, but insisted on procreating when it became obvious she did not have the required stability in relationships to be responsibly doing so. My sympathy was reserved for the kids.

The best thing about the movie, for me, was the lush black and white format. "Lush" seems an odd adjective, but, on our screen the black and white (or rather 1000 shades of grey) of this movie did come over much better than black and white format in other movies of the same age. I enjoyed just looking at the pictures!

I realise that my view of this film is not once shared by many. I haven't read the book by Penelope Mortimer upon which the film was based. I've read several reviews of book and film; the movie and its actors received plaudits and awards for their performances. Perhaps I'm just not up to appreciating certain nuances - or perhaps, if the screenplay and dialogue had been written by a woman it would have felt more true to life. I wonder if, and how, any re-make in 2019 would be different. Perhaps things have changed so much in intervening decades that this movie belongs among historical dramas, almost as much as do Poldark and Lorna Doone! (See last weekend's post). Or, alternatively, as a reviewer at Time Out wrote: " ..... the world of the Hampstead soap opera now seems so far away as to almost rate as science fiction. "


Wisewebwoman said...

Even at the time I remember wishing that Mortimer had written the script. Pinter couldn't possibly capture the nuance of Jo, neurotic, mentally ill, listless. He perverted the original work into a lesser piece, IMO.

I remember another work of that era, Greengage Summer, do you recall that? - Haven't looked it up. I remember enjoying it a lot more.

BTW Have you seen Roma? I absolutely loved it. B&W and I was so pleased to see it won awards.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Yes, Pinter's screenplay/dialogue was certainly off-key in this case, even for 1964. I think I've seen a couple of other films, long ago, in which he was involved (The Servant, and The Go Between) - don't recall much about them but don't remember being put off by the dialogue as in this case.

I haven't seen Greengage Summer - sounds interesting, will look out for a chance to see it. We haven't watched Roma yet - will put it on our list, thanks for the recommendation. :)