(originally on the SeeSaw blog)
I really hope that you have been watching William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, although you probably haven’t.
A measly 1.4 million tuned in to see the first episode of the four-part adaptation of the 2002 novel. 10 million people less than those who at the same time watched, not a Doctor, Gillian McKeith fainting. These people are idiots, and here is why:
The first episode opens to an aged Logan Mountstuart standing in the middle of a tall grass field clutching at his heart. This Logan is played by Jim Broadbent, who since Longford has perfected the melancholic warhorse. He is alone, we know that, and we begin to worry that if the worst may happen he could just disappear.
However he walks on into the dark and cluttered front room of his cottage. Spread over the surfaces like relics are manuscripts and journals. As he touches them voices and visions emerge. Characters from his life, or perhaps from his work? Whoever they are, they are mostly women. He picks up his diary from 1926 and we are back to his final year of Oxford.
The young Logan Mountstuart – played by Sam Claflin – is arrogant, robust and has one thing on his mind: sex. He makes a wager with two of his friends to see who can bed a girl from a nearby village first.
If we had met this Logan first, perhaps we wouldn’t have sat through the whole hour and a half. He’s a typical modernist always smoking and/or drinking, went to Oxford in the ‘20s, before sleeping with prostitutes in Paris in the 30s. He’s, frankly, turning into a bit of a cliché. But we are reminded of what he becomes by the constant flashforwards to Jim Broadbent’s sad eyes and wry smiles. What happens so that he ends up alone taunted by his memories?
It might be the alacrity with which he changes women; he beds no less than 5 of them in the first episode, including his friend’s girlfriend and Freya, a lady who he meets in a passport waiting room. Maybe it has something to do with that. Who knows? But the schaudenfraude in us, well me, wants to find out.
The cast is brilliant. If you were watching the Pillars of the Earth beforehand it might have taken you a while to notice a new mini-series had started as Matthew MacFadyen, Hayley Atwell and Sam Claflin appear in both.
I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book. But the production is quite clever. If ‘clever’ is a satisfactory adjective for an adaptation, or any production for that matter. While I was watching the first episode my friend turned round (literally) and said:
‘It’s very odd. All the scenes seem to be one-on-one’s.’
Of course. The very thing! What William Boyd is trying to do as an author (I presume) and a screenwriter (I infer) is trying to recreate the concept of memory. I can talk until my mouth is hoarse with postmodern theories about this, but that is unnecessary. As anybody knows, scholar or otherwise, that the ‘intimate’ moments are the ones that stay with you the longest.
The personal event narrative is quickly usurped by the narrative of History in the second episode and Logan is taken along for the ride. We still have the Peep Show filming angles but now Logan becomes our own Forrest Gump and turns up at historical events. He is in the Navy, instructed by his superiors to hobnob with the Duke of Windsor in the Bahamas. And lo and behold he becomes involved in the Harry Oakes murder. Oh and there’s Hemingway, who simply loves his book. Indeed.
So far, I’ve been impressed. I would certainly recommend that you watch it this Sunday. If not only for the smug feeling of *not* watching I’m a Celebrity.*
Watch the last episode of Any Human Heart is on Channel 4 at 9pm on Sunday. Catch-up on SeeSaw.com shortly afterwards.
*Oh well, that appears to be over now. That is how out of the loop I am. Well done to woman who came third on the other reality show last year for winning