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Cultural notes

June 13th, 2009 (12:13 am)
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Accident, released in 1967, is possibly the film that best captures Oxford in summer: rich, deep greens under a hot sun; lush flora overhanging and growing out into the Cherwell; a hot sun shining down onto starched young men playing cricket, and young women, rare and exotic creatures in a masculine world, misunderstood and exploited. This latter observation has probably dated most, though perhaps my women readers have their own stories to tell. Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker are convincing middle-achievers in mid-life crises as dons; Michael York a diffident aristocratic undergraduate; Jacqueline Sassard the object of their lust. Not for nothing does a goat find itself on St John's lawn early in the film. This is a Harold Pinter screenplay, so all the principal characters spend a good section of the first half of the film sitting around a table getting drunk and talking as blatantly as they can about their conflicts, inward and outward, without actually voicing them directly. Characters disintegrate as we watch. Disturbing, but very precise, and with a minimal but appropriate score by John Dankworth, who came on afterwards at this BFI screening to talk about composing for the cinema, though he had little to say about this particular score - "It was only eleven minutes worth..."

I finished Possession on the train coming back from London. It's one of the most enjoyable reading experiences which I have had. I suspect I'd have appreciated it even more had I known more about Victorian literature and history, but I knew enough to see the game being played. Even so, this appreciation is only an adjunct to Byatt's skill as a storyteller; not for nothing is it relevant that she makes her Victorian poets Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte find a Hob-hole in Yorkshire, and it's tempting to say that it's difficult to imagine Possession existing without The Lord of the Rings, though I'm not quite sure how I'd back the statement up at this precise moment. I tried reading it long ago, but perhaps I needed to have experienced some of the life on the fringes of academia that Roland Michell does before developing an empathy with it. There are many deft shifts in tone throughout, from the sense of security and cosiness of the early Lincolnshire scenes, to the hell of the garden flat Roland shares with Val (and there is something about Roland's idealization of the academic woman, and how his idea of this shifts through experience and ultimately evolves into something realistically appreciated) to the grotesque comedy of the chase through Brittany. More, perhaps, on another occasion.