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Thursday, 24 January 2019

A few things I made recently

1/ This is a scene I did last year for Directing Workshop:



I wrote, directed, and edited it. Cinematographer was my classmate Frances Farrell Oscroft.
The scene was only marked on the way I worked with actors—nothing else, and there was no budget.

2/ This is the bank scene from the test shoot last December for my graduation film Non-Person.
We did 3 scenes for the test shoot, this is one of them.



A few points to clarify:
a) This was a SW4 assessment, which we saw as a chance to test a few things for the scenes. There will be changes.
b) For the assessment, the scene was shot in a studio. The actual film will be shot on location.
c) The actors were hired by the film school for the assessments. The actual cast will be different.
Having said that, this scene can give you an idea of what the story is like, and what kind of tone we are going for.
In addition to the 3 scenes, we also did a camera test:



3/ Here again is my film Colours of Her Mind, which I made on the side:



I made some flip tests:



And here’s a random silly video:





4/ Now serious stuff:
My film Footfalls has just been nominated for the RTS (Royal Television Society) Yorkshire Student Awards.

The ceremony is on 27/2.
Here’s the link: https://rts.org.uk/award/rts-yorkshire-student-awards-2019-0?fbclid=IwAR1VKwI5pAq1XVLcGRZYAKANb03mjPKuulqagGfiV5z1nbspqmrrH8BmoGo 
(under Short Form) 
I didn’t expect that.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Plotting in North and South

North and South is, I think, a rather bland book. Elizabeth Gaskell’s main strength is in the individual scenes—I’m near the end, and the best chapters are chapter 40 (Mr Hale, Mr Bell, Margaret, and Mr Thornton sit together, and Mr Thornton lets slip a mocking allusion to her lie that silences her and makes him ashamed of himself), and perhaps chapter 46 (the visit to Helstone, and the conversation between Margaret and Mr Bell about Mr Thornton). 
I like Margaret Hale. Next to some 19th century heroines, she might not stand out much, but she has inner strength and self-reflection, without being perfect—she has her own prejudices, and sometimes appears haughty. Moreover, she doesn’t understand herself. Like Jane Austen’s novels, North and South is about Margaret growing, learning, and coming to understand others and herself. A lot of the book is about misunderstandings, and Gaskell writes these scenes with subtlety.   
I like the way Margaret changes without realising. She grows up in London with her cousin Edith’s family, then returns to Helstone for a short time, and is forced by circumstances to move to Milton, which she doesn’t like at 1st, but afterwards she returns to London and revisits Helstone but no longer feels at home at either place. 
Gaskell’s prose is plain, but I won’t complain—it is remarkable what she could achieve, having to deal with the weekly serial. It’s the plotting of the book that I don’t like. It’s clumsy, and it’s like Gaskell, for the entire book or at least the 2nd half, tries to crush Margaret. I’m on chapter 48, and now Mr Bell is dead—she kills off Margaret’s friend, then mother, then father, and now even her godfather. Who will be next? Frederick? 
I count 6 deaths, plus a roasted cat. Gaskell has to roast a cat too. Such cruelty. 


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Having said that, I know Mr Bell’s death brings Margaret liberation—she becomes an heiress, and can have all the freedom she wants. That is like the plot device at the end of Jane Eyre. An inheritance can solve all problems and bring about a happy ending.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

North and South: Elizabeth Gaskell kills lots of people [updated]

Do lots of characters die in Victorian literature because people died easily, for numerous reasons, in Victorian times? Or because it’s a convention to kill off characters who no longer matter or who need to die to untie a knot and advance the plot? 
At least, the Brontes’ novels always make me feel that way (much as I love Emily). Slash slash! Kill them off! 
Now, in North and South
Margaret’s friend Bessy Higgins dies of consumption in chapter 27. 
In chapter 30, her mother Mrs Hale dies of some disease that is never stated (why not? what is it?). 
In chapter 34, Leonards is dead.  
Now in chapter 36, John Boucher, 1 of the strikers, commits suicide. 
That’s a lot of deaths in a couple of chapters. 
The book has 52 chapters in total. Let’s see how many will be killed off.


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The post above was written on 18/1. 
Update: Now, in chapter 41, Margaret’s father Mr Hale also dies. 
Everyone dies.

Monday, 14 January 2019

The narrator of North and South

“But he resented those words bitterly. They rung in his ears; and he was proud of the sense of justice which made him go on in every kindness he could offer to her parents. He exulted in the power he showed in compelling himself to face her, whenever he could think of any action which might give her father or mother pleasure. He thought that he disliked seeing one who had mortified him so keenly; but he was mistaken. It was a stinging pleasure to be in the room with her, and feel her presence. But he was no great analyser of his own motives, and was mistaken as I have said.” (Ch.29) 
Aha! The narrator now shows her face. 
North and South isn’t The Turn of the Screw, however, so there isn’t much to say about the narrator. There’s nothing to suggest I should doubt her reliability. 
Let’s change subject. 
“Margaret thought about him more than she had ever done before; not with any tinge of what is called love, but with regret that she had wounded him so deeply,—and with a gentle, patient striving to return to their former position of antagonistic friendship…” (ibid.) 
I like that phrase: “antagonistic friendship”. 
In the future, I suppose I’m not going to write much about North and South. Margaret Hale is all right. Other people have written about her, and the social issues in the book, I myself haven’t picked up on anything worth discussing. 
The other day I realised that I had completely forgotten Effi Briest. My blog posts about it sparked a few things, but overall I had forgotten the story and everyone involved. Worse, with The Awakening, I can’t remember a thing. Absolutely nothing. I wonder why. Anna Karenina, I of course remember (after all I’ve seen 5 film adaptations, in addition to reading the novel). Madame Bovary I remember. War and Peace, I remember the main characters and main events, though not the plot (but who cares about the plot?). Jane Austen’s novels and George Eliot’s novels, I of course remember. With the Brontes, Agnes Grey and Shirley have faded. 
But Effi Briest and The Awakening? Not a thing. Absolutely gone. 
I wonder why. 
But I suspect that North and South will suffer the same fate.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

New short film: Colours of Her Mind

This is a short film I made on the side, filmed in September and just completed now. 
1-woman crew. 


Thursday, 10 January 2019

Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen: How to write what characters think

How does Elizabeth Gaskell write characters’ thoughts? 
Like this:
“'That's what I call a fine girl!' thought Dr. Donaldson, when he was seated in his carriage, and had time to examine his ringed hand, which had slightly suffered from her pressure. 'Who would have thought that little hand could have given such a squeeze? But the bones were well put together, and that gives immense power. What a queen she is! With her head thrown back at first, to force me into speaking the truth; and then bent so eagerly forward to listen. Poor thing! I must see she does not overstrain herself. Though it's astonishing how much those thorough-bred creatures can do and suffer. That girl's game to the back-bone. Another, who had gone that deadly colour, could never have come round without either fainting or hysterics. But she wouldn't do either—not she! And the very force of her will brought her round. Such a girl as that would win my heart, if I were thirty years younger. It's too late now. Ah! here we are at the Archers'.'” (North and South, Ch.16) 
Does that work for you? It got on my nerves. To me, it looks like a clumsy way of describing/ praising our heroine Margaret Hale, through another character. 
Is it a Victorian convention for writing characters’ thoughts? I can’t remember. 
Later in the same chapter, we have something that seems to be a monologue: 
“'Bless her!' said Dixon. 'She's as sweet as a nut. There are three people I love: it's missus, Master Frederick, and her. Just them three. That's all. The rest be hanged, for I don't know what they're in the world for. Master was born, I suppose, for to marry missus. If I thought he loved her properly, I might get to love him in time. But he should ha' made a deal more on her, and not been always reading, reading, thinking, thinking. See what it has brought him to! Many a one who never reads nor thinks either, gets to be Rector, and Dean, and what not; and I dare say master might, if he'd just minded missus, and let the weary reading and thinking alone.—There she goes' (looking out of the window as she heard the front door shut). 'Poor young lady! her clothes look shabby to what they did when she came to Helstone a year ago. Then she hadn't so much as a darned stocking or a cleaned pair of gloves in all her wardrobe. And now—!'” (ibid.) 
And then in the next chapter: 
“Bessy stilled her rocking to gaze after her.
'I wonder if there are many folk like her down South. She's like a breath of country air, somehow. She freshens me up above a bit. Who'd ha' thought that face—as bright and as strong as the angel I dream of—could have known the sorrow she speaks on? I wonder how she'll sin. All on us must sin. I think a deal on her, for sure. But father does the like, I see. And Mary even. It's not often hoo's stirred up to notice much.'” (Ch.17) 
The passages are unfortunately also too close to each other to be ignored. 
Compare this to the way Jane Austen writes characters’ thoughts—she uses free indirect speech. 
For example, let’s look at this passage near the end of Emma
“The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her thoughts.—She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours. Every moment had brought a fresh surprize; and every surprize must be matter of humiliation to her.—How to understand it all! How to understand the deceptions she had been thus practising on herself, and living under!—The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart!—she sat still, she walked about, she tried her own room, she tried the shrubbery—in every place, every posture, she perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that she had been imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying; that she was wretched, and should probably find this day but the beginning of wretchedness.
[…]
With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing—for she had done mischief. She had brought evil on Harriet, on herself, and she too much feared, on Mr. Knightley.—Were this most unequal of all connexions to take place, on her must rest all the reproach of having given it a beginning; for his attachment, she must believe to be produced only by a consciousness of Harriet's;—and even were this not the case, he would never have known Harriet at all but for her folly.
Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith!—It was a union to distance every wonder of the kind.—The attachment of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax became commonplace, threadbare, stale in the comparison, exciting no surprize, presenting no disparity, affording nothing to be said or thought.—Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith!—Such an elevation on her side! Such a debasement on his! It was horrible to Emma to think how it must sink him in the general opinion, to foresee the smiles, the sneers, the merriment it would prompt at his expense; the mortification and disdain of his brother, the thousand inconveniences to himself.—Could it be?—No; it was impossible. And yet it was far, very far, from impossible.—Was it a new circumstance for a man of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers? Was it new for one, perhaps too busy to seek, to be the prize of a girl who would seek him?—Was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous—or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate?
Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! Had she left her where she ought, and where he had told her she ought!—Had she not, with a folly which no tongue could express, prevented her marrying the unexceptionable young man who would have made her happy and respectable in the line of life to which she ought to belong—all would have been safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been…” (Vol.III, ch.11) 
Isn’t that so much better? 
Go back to North and South
“Margaret sat utterly silent. How was she ever to go away into comfort and forget that man's voice, with the tone of unutterable agony, telling more by far than his words of what he had to suffer? She took out her purse; she had not much in it of what she could call her own, but what she had she put into Bessy's hand without speaking.” (Ch.19) 
Elizabeth Gaskell uses free indirect speech there. If only she used it more.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

1/3 way through North and South

I’m on chapter 14 of North and South
Now and then I come across a sentence that is oddly phrased: 
“Mr. Thornton had thought that the house in Crampton was really just the thing; but now that he saw Margaret, with her superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel ashamed of having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales, in spite of a certain vulgarity in it which had struck him at the time of his looking it over.” (Ch.7) 
Don’t you think it would be much better if it were “Mr. Thornton had thought that the house in Crampton was really just the thing, in spite of a certain vulgarity in it which had struck him at the time of his looking it over; but now that he saw Margaret, with her superb ways of moving and looking, he began to feel ashamed of having imagined that it would do very well for the Hales.”? 
Or a strange simile: 
“But the little altercation between her son and her daughter did not incline Mrs. Thornton more favourably towards 'these Hales.' Her jealous heart repeated her daughter's question, 'Who are they, that he is so anxious we should pay them all this attention?' It came up like a burden to a song, long after Fanny had forgotten all about it in the pleasant excitement of seeing the effect of a new bonnet in the looking-glass.” (Ch.12)
(my emphasis) 
What?
The characterisation isn’t much to write about either. Elizabeth Gaskell’s characters, at least in North and South, are not as interesting as characters by some other Victorian novelists, and perhaps not so memorable. 
However, the book does improve. 
My favourite so far is chapter 12, when Mrs Thornton and Fanny (John Thornton’s mother and sister) come visit the Hales. 
It is a well-written scene: the visitors come with reluctance whilst the hosts are either indifferent (Mrs Hale) or distracted (Margaret—as she thinks more about seeing her friend Bessy Higgins later); both sides have their own prejudices and try to be civil whilst silently judging each other; and the conversation also shows the clashes between them—North vs South, middle class vs working class, old residents vs newcomers, etc. 
Take these lines, from Mrs Thornton: 
“I merely thought, that as strangers newly come to reside in a town which has risen to eminence in the country, from the character and progress of its peculiar business, you might have cared to visit some of the places where it is carried on; places unique in the kingdom, I am informed. If Miss Hale changes her mind and condescends to be curious as to the manufactures of Milton, I can only say I shall be glad to procure her admission to print-works, or reed-making, or the more simple operations of spinning carried on in my son's mill.” 
That’s delicious. Such a passive aggressive tone. 
As I said, North and South gets better. The way to read it is to read it as a social novel. The beginning may be misleading—the preparations for a wedding make it look like another romance novel, or a novel with a marriage plot, and it looks like Edith may have a rather important role, but she quickly disappears before she can be remembered. As a social novel, it is interesting—Elizabeth Gaskell doesn’t only write about North and South, the clashes between classes, class prejudice, and workers’ conditions, but also mentions tyranny and injustices in the Navy, and mutiny.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Catcalling in the 19th century

Look at this passage from chapter 8 of North and South
“… But she alternately dreaded and fired up against the workmen, who commented not on her dress, but on her looks, in the same open fearless manner. She, who had hitherto felt that even the most refined remark on her personal appearance was an impertinence, had to endure undisguised admiration from these outspoken men. But the very out-spokenness marked their innocence of any intention to hurt her delicacy, as she would have perceived if she had been less frightened by the disorderly tumult. Out of her fright came a flash of indignation which made her face scarlet, and her dark eyes gather flame, as she heard some of their speeches. Yet there were other sayings of theirs, which, when she reached the quiet safety of home, amused her even while they irritated her.
For instance, one day, after she had passed a number of men, several of whom had paid her the not unusual compliment of wishing she was their sweetheart, one of the lingerers added, 'Your bonny face, my lass, makes the day look brighter.' And another day, as she was unconsciously smiling at some passing thought, she was addressed by a poorly-dressed, middle-aged workman, with 'You may well smile, my lass; many a one would smile to have such a bonny face.'…” 
That, ladies and gentlemen, is catcalling. I don’t remember coming across anything like that in a 19th century novel before—that is interesting. People have always been the same. 





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There isn’t much else for me to write about North and South at the moment. 
The scene of our heroine Margaret Hale meeting Mr Thornton the 1st time has a sentence that got my attention:  
“He almost said to himself that he did not like her, before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her with an admiration he could not repress, she looked at him with proud indifference, taking him, he thought, for what, in his irritation, he told himself he was—a great rough fellow, with not a grace or a refinement about him.” (Ch.7) 
That looks like a James sentence. 
Otherwise, Elizabeth Gaskell’s style is rather plain, full of clichés. Earlier I saw the praise for North and South, and Elizabeth Gaskell in general, and wondered why she wasn’t counted among the greatest female writers of British literature, together with Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and George Eliot. Now I can see why.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

North and South: 1st impressions

I’m reading North and South, my 1st Elizabeth Gaskell. 
Tom at Wuthering Expectations read it nearly 8 years ago, and complained that “the plain ol’ novel writing of Elizabeth Gaskell looked pretty thin at the sentence level”. 
After Henry James’s dense prose, the plain prose of Elizabeth Gaskell doesn’t bother me too much. At least so far she’s not as dry as George Eliot. 
Now and then, a sentence bothers me a bit, like this one: 
“She was so happy out of doors, at her father's side, that she almost danced; and with the soft violence of the west wind behind her, as she crossed some heath, she seemed to be borne onwards, as lightly and easily as the fallen leaf that was wafted along by the autumnal breeze.” (Ch.2) 
Or this awkwardly phrased sentence:
“There were plenty of questions to be asked on both sides—the latest intelligence which each could give of Mrs. Shaw's movements in Italy to be exchanged; and in the interest of what was said, the unpretending simplicity of the parsonage-ways—above all, in the neighbourhood of Margaret, Mr. Lennox forgot the little feeling of disappointment with which he had at first perceived that she had spoken but the simple truth when she had described her father's living as very small.” (Ch.3) 
Generally it doesn’t bother me much. 
Rohan Maitzen called North and South an industrial version of Pride and Prejudice. I guess we’ll see.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Brief thoughts on film adaptations of classic literature

1/ A new BBC adaptation of Les Miserables is coming out.



I’ve just realised I’ve seen 3 adaptations:
- The 1998 version, dir. Bille August, with Liam Neeson. I don’t remember it very well, but remember thinking that it was excellent.
- The 2012 musical, dir. Tom Hooper, with Hugh Jackman. A great adaptation.
- If I remember correctly, I’ve also seen the 2000 French miniseries, dir. Josée Dayan, with Gerard Depardieu.
Might as well watch this one, though I’ll probably hate it because it’s by Andrew Davies.
My general impression is that there are good adaptations of Les Miserables, unlike Anna Karenina or Wuthering Heights, but perhaps I’m wrong—I haven’t read Victor Hugo’s book.

2/ I’ve seen 5 adaptations of Anna Karenina:
- 1935, dir. Clarence Brown, with Greta Garbo. American.
- 1948, dir. Julien Duvivier, with Vivien Leigh. British.
- 1967, dir. Aleksandr Zarkhi, with Tatiana Samoilova. Russian.
- 1997, dir. Bernard Rose, with Sophie Marceau. American.
- 2012, dir. Joe Wright, with Keira Knightley. British.
Probably the work I followed the most obsessively. I either saw all 5 adaptations before reading Tolstoy book, or saw 4 of them, and watched the Sophie Marceau version whilst reading.
So far none of the Anna Karenina adaptations is good—Greta Garbo looks too hard and imposing, Vivien Leigh doesn’t look right even though I love her, Tatiana Samoilova has a moustache, Sophie Marceau looks right but can’t act, and Keira Knightley is too bony and too sure of herself to be Anna; at the same time, the early adaptations tend to portray Karenin as a monster, whilst the 2012 one portray him as too good, too nice, and too good-looking (Jude Law), whereas the character in the book is a lot more complicated.
I’d like to see the 1977 series with Nicola Pagett, the 1985 version with Jacqueline Bisset, and the 2013 miniseries with Vittoria Puccini. Currently most interested in the 2013 version because, if we ignore the fact that she’s supposed to look Russian, Vittoria Puccini seems to have the right look for Anna. 

3/ Haven’t seen any adaptation of War and Peace.

4/ I’ve seen 3 adaptations of Jane Eyre:
- 1996, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, with Charlotte Gainsbourg.
- 2006, TV, dir. Susanna White, with Ruth Wilson.
- 2011, dir. Cary Fukunaga, with Mia Wasikowska.
The 1996 was a failure, partly because of the changes and partly because of Charlotte Gainsbourg (one of the actresses I most hate), but I liked William Hurt in it.
The best one is 2006.
The 2011 version receives lots of praise, but it’s overrated—I have never thought highly of Mia Wasikowska as an actress, and Michael Fassbender can act with his face and body but never his voice, it is always monotonous and devoid of feeling. I remember laughing at the outburst scene at the cinema, when Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) confessed her feelings.
If you want a Jane Eyre film with feeling, watch the 2006 version.

5/ Officially, I’ve only seen 2 films based on Wuthering Heights:
- 1970, dir. Robert Fuest, with Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton. Incomplete adaptation. 
- 1992, dir. Peter Kosminsky, with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes.
In the 1992 film, Ralph Fiennes has the qualities for Heathcliff, but Juliette Binoche lacks the fire, wildness, and savagery of Cathy—much as I like her in other films, she looks too nice and sweet for the role.
I may or may not have seen another one.
Other adaptations don’t interest me at all, because the casting just doesn’t look right, which is probably the hardest thing about adapting Wuthering Heights. I mean, Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff? Or black Heathcliff? Or Tom Hardy as Heathcliff with Charlotte Riley as Cathy? Nah.
Right now the only version I’m mildly interested in is the Luis Bunuel one.

6/ I’ve seen 2 films based on Sense and Sensibility:
- 1995, dir. Ang Lee, with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.
- 2008, TV, dir. John Alexander, with Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.
The 2008 version is very good, but it is sexed up, which is something you expect when it’s written by Andrew Davies.
I love the 1995 film, and I love how Emma Thompson shifts the balance from Sense (as in Jane Austen’s novel) to Sensibility.

7/ I’ve seen 3 adaptations of Emma:
- 1996 film version, dir. Douglas McGrath, with Gwyneth Paltrow.
- 1996 TV version, dir. Diarmuid Lawrence, with Kate Beckinsale.
- Clueless (1995), the modernisation of Emma, dir. Amy Heckerling, with Alicia Silverstone.
Both of the 1996 adaptations are good, especially the TV version because of Kate Beckinsale, but nothing beats Clueless. I see Clueless as one of the best teen films, and one of the best loose adaptations of a literary work. Amy Heckerling moves the setting to high school in modern day America, whilst retaining the spirit of Jane Austen’s novel. It is a great work.

8/ With Pride and Prejudice, I don’t remember the Keira Knightley version (2005) and couldn’t finish the Jennifer Ehle version (1995).
I have always hold a personal grudge against the 1995 version, because Andrew Davies does lots of harm to the understanding of Jane Austen, by creating a charming and handsome Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) and leading to massive misconceptions of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen’s works in general.
I also believe that the lack of understanding of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen’s views on men and relationships contributes to the misunderstanding of Mansfield Park.
I will not talk about Bridget Jones's Diary, nor the 1999 version of Mansfield Park with Frances O’Connor. Let’s pretend they didn’t exist. 

9/ I’ve seen 3 adaptations of Great Expectations:
- 1946, dir. David Lean, with John Mills as Pip, Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson as Estella, and Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham.
- 1998, modernisation, dir. Alfonso Cuaron, with Ethan Hawke as Pip (now called Finn) and Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella.
- 2012, dir. Mike Newell, with Jeremy Irvine as Pip, Holliday Grainger as Estella, and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
I have a vague feeling of having seen the 1999 version with Ioan Gruffudd, but am not sure.
Of these films, the best one is the David Lean film, but the Mike Newell has some good moments, especially with Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
The 1998 film is forgettable. I have always maintained that a modernised Great Expectations would be The Great Gatsby.

10/ Up till now, I haven’t seen any of the Dracula or Frankenstein films, except for Brides of Dracula, which isn’t really an adaptation anyway.
Updated at 5:30pm: I have seen the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Not a fan. 

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It turns out that, after all, I don’t dislike film adaptations. In fact, with certain works, I keep watching different versions and compare. Each adaptation is a new take on the work, and another chance to go through the story and live with the characters again.