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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 03:01pm on 26/12/2007 under ,
This was the Kidnapped Christmas - my family regards my Kidnapped obsession as marginally more respectable than my love for The Man from UNCLE or Peter Wimsey, so they raised no eyebrows when I ordered myself the Peter Finch and Iain Glenn versions on DVD, although my eldest daughter did ask "Why did you get me this?" when I gave her the graphic novel. I also got Catriona in paperback - I'm older and more patient now than when I first tried to read it, and believe I have a good chance of getting through all of it, instead of just skipping directly to the parts with Alan Breck.

So far, I've watched 2/3 of the version made by the BBC in 2005, starring Iain Glenn as Alan and someone I've never heard of as David.
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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 10:11pm on 26/11/2007 under ,
Thanks to the kind offices of [ profile] princessivye I have now got my hot little hands on the ancient ITV serialisation of Kidnapped, starring David McCallum as Alan Breck, a dubbed German as David Balfour and a dubbed Frenchwoman as Catriona Drummond (why yes, it was a co-production with French and German TV, how can you tell?) I am pleased to report that David McCallum is much better than I remembered. I imagine my youthful dissatisfaction with his peformance must have had more to do with the liberties the production takes with the text than with his acting as such, because he really does manage to be much fierier than I remembered. Or perhaps I've just mellowed in my old age, because although the series does mess about with the story rather a lot, I now think some of those changes aren't half bad. For one thing, they make a real attempt to fill in some of the historical background, so although I couldn't repress a cringe at the sight of twenty English actors in skirts recreating Culloden, while Bonnie Prince Charlie - played by Christopher Biggins!!! - stupidly told Alan Breck not to attack until OMG IT WAS TOO LATE!! I did appreciate that they were trying to set up the political backstory. I was on board with David running into Catriona before he even gets to Shaws, rather than having her pop up suddenly in the second half, and I also thought it was a good idea to open with Alan arriving back in Scotland from France, because it's definitely a flaw in the book that he arrives so late in the story. As A Literary Critic once observed "From the appearance of Alan Breck in chapter nine, a breathless interest prevails", but the preceding eight chapters are sadly a bit short on said breathless interest, so if the TV series inserts lots of shots of Alan jumping onto redcoats from high walls and leaping onto horses to gallop off through the mist, who am I to complain? However, having given the writers credit for a couple of justifiable changes, they then lost all the Brownie points they'd gained by deciding to have Alan land in Scotland a couple of miles from David's home village of Essendean. I mean, excuse me?? And also WTF?! Why all this business with the Torran reef later on if they could just have sailed down to the Lowlands and let the French pick him up there? Having been put in a bad mood by this inexcusable bit of geography-fudging, I also couldn't help noticing that a great deal of thoroughly undesirable whitewashing goes on (and also blackwashing). James of the Glens has not been shooting his mouth off about wanting to see Colin Campbell dead, on the contrary he's a wise and humanitarian leader who orders Alan to make sure the Red Fox is KEPT SAFE while he's in Appin. Which Alan duly does, albeit not terribly effectively, since otherwise we would have No Story. And James also pays the tenants' rents to Ardshiel out of his own pocket, because taking their money is oppression, and he tells Alan that the Highland cause is lost and rebellion is pointless. But the evil redcoats hang him anyway, or will, when we get on to DVD 2 tomorrow. Colin Campbell, by contrast, is not a brave man reluctantly doing his duty, but has stepped straight out of a Stewart propaganda pamphlet - we can tell he's Eeeevil because he has rude, and enjoys burning innocent farmers out of house and home, and he has the kind of long red hair that looks great on Catriona but awful on a portly middle-aged man. In fact, all of Stevenson's careful sullying of the moral waters is de-greyed, and all the characters' contradictions are removed. Hoseasons is scum, and that's that. We're given no opportunity to observe how brave he is in the face of death by drowning compared to Alan, because Alan isn't afraid (and nor does the ship founder because Alan was stupid enough to believe he could navigate a stretch of water he didn't know well - it's because an English ship gives chase). Riach isn't a bastard when sober and nice when drunk. Mungo Campbell isn't devoted to Glenure and terrified for his life, he's a Eeeevil lawyer who looks like death and has got it in for all Stewarts. David Balfour is a thoroughly nice chap, and not arrogant, or priggish, or condescending (though I could forgive a lot of this as he's played by someone who looks about sixteen, which felt exactly right). Cluny Macpherson is also a lot nicer than he seems in the book, and though the card game was extremely well done, the writers seemed to miss the point about what the subsequent quarrel between David and Cluny was actually about. The only bit of moral complexity that is preserved is the fact that the tenant farmers didn't actually want to come close to starving in order to send money off to France - RLS glosses over this a bit (although Alan does say "It's wonderful to me how little pressure is needed", thereby admitting that there IS pressure being applied), but here we have it rubbed in our faces - we hardly need the dispossessed farmers to wave their homeless children at Alan when Bonnie Prince Charlie is CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS. But we get them anyway.

Worst of all, though, is the curtailing of the flight in the heather, so that we jump straight from Cluny's cage to the Bridge of Stirling, thus CUTTING ROBIN OIG! This is a terrible crime against narrative, and I can only forgive them for it by presuming they thought it would be hard to make an actual bagpipe contest sound anywhere near as beautiful as RLS makes it.

Still, on balance it's not too awful a version, and at least it wasn't shot in New Zealand, unlike some productions I could mention (although, actually, I could see why one might be tempted - ITV clearly had terrible luck with the weather in Scotland, as all Hoseasons' fog scenes whad to be filmed in broad sunshine, whilst David and Alan birstled away on the rock in what was evidently a really grey and chilly day).
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 08:13am on 23/10/2007 under ,
1. When Christopher Reeve had the riding accident that ended his career, he was about to start shooting the part of Alan Breck. The role was eventually filled by Armand Assante, who I've never heard of, so I can't say if he'd have been any more suitable, but frankly, the mind just boggles at the thought of Reeve playing a short, bloody-minded Highlander.

2. Other screen incarnations of Alan Breck have been played by Patrick Troughton (of 2nd Doctor fame), Peter Finch, Michael Caine, David McCallum and Iain Glen. At least two of these represent casting decisions as jaw-droppingly unlikely as Reeve. The New York Times wrote of Caine's performance: "real admiration goes to Michael Caine, who plays the swashbuckling Alan Breck with a refinement of indifference so sublime that it is often difficult to tell whether he has been rapt into stillness by his role or has merely mastered the art of sleeping with his eyes open." Caine himself said of his accent "I hope they [the Scots] will forgive me."

3. David Balfour, by contrast, has been played by a string of nonentities (with the single exception of Roddy McDowall in 1948), who so signally failed to be catapulted to fame by their performance that there's no point listing them, because you will never have heard of them.

4. Stevenson had such extensive knowledge of tidal conditions on the Isle of Erraid because his father was the engineer in charge of building a lighthouse on that stretch of coast. It is still possible to reach it by foot twice a day.

5. The "Breck" part of Alan's name is an epithet, doubtless intended to distinguish him from the numerous other Alan Stewarts in the clan. All the Highland characters have such an epithet, much in the way that early English kings are distinguished (William the Red, Edward Longshanks, King Harald Horrid-locks etc etc). The epithets seem mostly to refer to personal appearance, given that we have no less than three "Roys" (Colin Roy Campbell, Neil Roy Macrob and Rob Roy McGregor), who were presumably all redheads; one "Dhu" (Duncan Dhu MacLaren, in whose house the piping contest takes place, and who presumably has dark hair, since "dhu" = "dark") and two Brecks (which means "pockmarked" or, more charitably, "freckled", both of which regrettably apply to Alan, though at least he is not described as "grotesquely disfigured by the smallpox", like John Breck MacColl, who brings the money from James of the Glens). Robin Oig, as far as I can tell, is "Robin the Young", thus distinguishing him from his father, Rob Roy.


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