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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 06:19pm on 16/03/2008 under
Kidnapped – the graphic novel

I'm gradually coming to the conclusion, having sat through two TV versions, and now the graphic novel, that Kidnapped should not be adapted. Or at least that I should stay as far away from adaptations as possible. I got the graphic novel because I wanted my daughter to read Kidnapped, and I knew there was no way she would ever consider tackling a 19th century novel, let alone one full of Scots dialect; for this reason, and because I had been been warned off the Scots version by [ profile] tree_and_leaf (on the grounds of linguistic inaccuracies and general liberty-taking with the text), I opted for the English adaptation.

I should say up front that in my student days I was an avid reader of 2000AD, and although Judge Dredd left me cold, I don't, in principle, have any problem with that particular style of comic book aesthetics. Cam Kennedy leans strongly to the grotesque, and in places that fits perfectly with Stevenson's own imagination, particularly when it comes to the minor characters – Ransom, especially, is a brilliant interpretation, which captures the full horror of a half wit child grown up amongst pirates, and the scenes on the ship are generally excellent, with top prize going to the running down of Alan's boat. It also came as no surprise to me that Alan Breck's pockmarks feature prominently – I knew before I even saw the book that they would be irresistible to an artist of Kennedy's sensibilities.

But there are three main problems with the adaptation. The first is David himself. Even in the non-graphic novel, he's a bit insufferable, with his priggish, Whiggish ways and very good opinion of himself. One of the things that makes him bearable is that he's so very young and utterly inexperienced, and pretty soon gets his nose rubbed in his own inadequacies – the trip through the Highlands would literally have killed him (as we see from his stay on Earraid) had Alan not been there to guide him and teach him that he doesn't yet know everything about everything. But Kennedy's David appears to be in his thirties, a strapping man with a brooding demeanour, rather reminiscent of John Constantine. If he had run across any vampires on his Highland journey, he would have dusted them instantly, no trouble at all. It's hard to see why he needs Alan. It's hard to see why he needs anyone. He looks like the sort of mysterious character that parachutes in, solves everyone else's problems, and disappears again. He looks like a male artist's version of the dark-and-glowering hero of a bodice-ripper. And that's just wrong.

Secondly, like the TV adaptations, the graphic novel runs into the problem that the heart of the novel, the flight in the heather, is apparently so really, really difficult to render in pictures that no-one ever dares to try. It's such an interior journey, so much focused on physical and mental states, that it inevitably gets curtailed, even though it is, by any standards you care to name, far and away the best bit in the book. No-one is really interested in David's adventures before Alan shows up, and even Stevenson lost interest in what happened after they got safely out of the Highlands, but you'd never guess it from the tiny number of pages devoted to their journey here.

And finally, there is the tragic mistake of the language. I hadn't realised till I read this quite how much Kidnapped lives from its Scottish cadences. It hasn't been completely anglicised here, but Alan Grant makes some very regrettable choices, always favouring banality over poetry, presumably in the interests of comprehension. Changing one of my favourite lines in literature, "You're no very gleg at the jumping," to the characterless (and inaccurate) "You're no very good at the jumping", when it is in any case obvious from context what Alan means, strikes me as a crime that should be punishable by at least fifty lashes. Worse still is the change of Rankeillor's wonderful "I would name no unnecessary names, Mr. Balfour, above all of Highlanders, many of whom are obnoxious to the law," to "If you must talk of outlaws, then give him another name." Where is the poetry in that? Where is the sense of intelligent deviousness, and sly wit?

There's no point in tackling Kidnapped if you think that all that counts is the plot. It is, indeed, a rattling good plot, but the plot is merely the string on which the real jewels are strung. The graphic novel falls into the trap of thinking that the plot is the point, that David is the hero, and that it's more important what is said than how it's said.
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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.
Read more... )
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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).
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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 06:33pm on 06/11/2007 under
Yesterday was a red letter day for Kidnapped fanfic, with not one but two pieces being posted on LJ. I would have mentioned these as they appeared, except that I was suffering from a bad dose of real life, which looks likely to continue. The first is slash, written by [ profile] sweetmeatboyso and posted here; the second, by the unspeakably brilliant [ profile] tree_and_leaf, is a crossover with Old Who, thus continuing the grand pre-internet tradition of Kidnapped crossovers (scroll down to the Barry Lyndon letter).
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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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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 09:56am on 21/10/2007 under
It turns out that there's a rather excellent statue of Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour in Edinburgh, which can also be seen on a website that reconstructs the route they took from the Isle of Erraid to Edinburgh. And there is also a graphic novel, which I think I will have to inflict on my eldest for Christmas, since there is no way she will ever plough through 19th century prose, even for a crackingly good story.
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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 08:27pm on 19/10/2007 under
Today I pimped Kidnapped to [ profile] nineveh_uk so enthusiastically that she actually went out and bought it in her lunch break ::YES! Am pimping god!:: Just thinking about the delights in store for her made me rush off and find my copy to re-read all the good bits. I must say that while I had acquired a certain awareness that the David Balfour/Alan Breck Stewart relationship could be read as rather slashy, I had completely failed to realise just how extensively RLS anticipates fanfic tropes. For one thing, it's a WiP. Then the dedication has him defending his version of Alan (he even calls him an "avatar") and worrying about whether it's too AU ("you will likely ask yourself more questions than I should care to answer: as for instance how the Appin murder has come to fall in the year 1751") and the epilogue says "Give me feedback or I won't write the next installment" ("How Alan escaped, and what was done about the murder, with a variety of other delectable particulars may be some day set forth. That is a thing, however, that hinges on the public fancy.") As for the story itself, not only is Davy/Alan clearly RLS's OTP (he has trouble continuing the story once they split up), and not only is there lots of slashy sleeping under one coat and declarations of love, it has Hurt/Comfort in it! And an obsession with establishing who is the Smaller Man! ('"My poor man, will ye no be better on my back?" "Oh, Alan," says I, "and me a good twelve inches taller?"') And channeling one's inner twelve year old! ('"I never said you were," said I, which was exactly the rude, silly speech of a boy of ten.')

I'm not sure that I'm entirely thrilled to have acquired this set of fanfic goggles, but the story is still totally and utterly wonderful, and I note that I am still just as much in love with Alan Breck as I was at 12.


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