By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Although Michael Henchard, the hero of Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, is a tragic figure, he never struck me as a pathetic one. Unfortunately, Ciaran Hinds’ interpretation of Henchard in the new A&E adaptation (Sun., Aug. 17, 8 p.m.) made him seem just that. Normally, Hardy’s characters and stories lend themselves well to film. Unlike those of many of his 19th-century contemporaries, for whom the novel was a means of exploring the intricacies of the mind, Hardy’s fictions are like old ballads set in prose, and his heroes and heroines have the unchanging consistency of myth. In their use of coincidence and melodramatic plot devices, his novels are not so different from a classic Hollywood movie like Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place, in which Humphrey Bogart’s love affair with Gloria Grahame is doomed both by his psychological flaws and a universe that seems determined to foil him.
The story of The Mayor of Casterbridgeis a riveting one, and has a sensational opening that outraged many readers when it was first published in 1886. A penniless field hand, in a fit of drunken belligerence, sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair (such sales did occasionally take place in rural England). The following day, mortified at his actions, he swears off alcohol and goes searching for his family but never finds them. Fast-forward 19 years and he has become the teetotaling mayor of the titular town, when his wife and (apparent) daughter return, and his downfall is belatedly set in motion, though the reappearance of his family turns out to have little to do with it.
For me, this adaptation, which was directed by David Thacker, fell flat. It’s competent, certainly, but feels dutiful rather than inspired. In particular, the atmosphere of the town and surrounding countryside, which in the novel are virtually protagonists themselves, seems strangely muted here, and with it goes most of Hardy’s poetry. Given that his work has been adapted for the screen by everyone from Michael Winterbottom to Dennis Potter and Roman Polanski, there are better options at the video store.
And so to sport. I’ve always found pool to be a boring game to play, probably because I’m so unbelievably bad at it. But watching some frames of nine-ball pool on television, as I did recently on Fox Sports World and ESPN2, is utterly captivating. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a sport more perfectly suited to the small screen. I only caught the last half hour of the duel between Germany’s Oliver Ortmann and Francisco Bustamante of the Philippines, whose names are completely unfamiliar to me, but it was a thing of beauty. The shots are shown in three main ways. First you see the player actually leaning over the table and knocking the ball in (they rarely miss), the way you might if you were watching someone play in a bar. This is followed by a close-up, so you can see one ball strike another from a distance of inches. And finally, for the complex shots that draw oohs and ahs from the crowd, an overhead camera lays out the terrain precisely.
There is something almost voluptuous about the intimacy of billiards on the box. It’s as if it had been designedfor television. No, it’s not as exciting as a great tennis match or a playoff basketball game, but it’s uniquely entrancing. And quite therapeutic, too, I imagine. A smart doctor would prescribe watching those glistening orbs slide across the green baize as a cure for stress. Though not, needless to say, if I was playing.
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