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Friday, 28 September 2012

Television Review: Leaving

Leaving stars Helen McCrory as Julie, a married hotel events organiser, and Callum Turner as Aaron, an unemployed ex-student struggling to find his place in the world. They meet at Aaron's brother's wedding (to Aaron's ex-girlfriend) and then he comes back for a job. They grow closer as they work together, despite a twenty year age gap, and eventually an affair ensues. Julie is trying to get him out of her system but it could prove to be more than that in the end.

I was surprised by how emotional this three-parter was, given that the trailer had focused mainly on the sensational final episode and a half. In actual fact, the build up to the affair is realistically portrayed and the unlikely romance doesn't seem all that unlikely by the end of the first episode. Helen McCrory put in an excellent performance as Julie, as did Sean Gallagher as her husband, Michael. It was certainly an emotional rollercoaster and Julie's motives and reservations were clear throughout.

There were, however, a few bits that didn't work for me. Julie mouthing the words to the wedding vows seemed a contrived way of showing that her life was lacking romance and the piece is very cosy and middle-class. Michael's own attempt at a dalliance with a colleague demonstrates another side to the family situation but the first few scenes about it jar on the rest of the action which is solely focused on Julie and Aaron. Also, while the young daughter is given plenty to do, the son of the family is little more than an irritating stereotype. Much more could've been done with him. While I don't generally agree with stretching dramas out for the sake of it, I do think this could've done with another episode. The events of the final part seemed a little too rushed, hurtling to a climax that, yes, was emotive but could've been even more so.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Television Review: The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat, based on the 1957 novel by Daphne du Maurier, tells the story of John Standing and Johnny Spence, two men who are remarkably similar in appearance. Standing, an out of work teacher, and Spence, a failed businessman, (both played by Matthew Rhys) meet in a pub and Spence decides he can use the situation to his advantage: he gets Standing drunk, steals his clothes and wallet and effectively gives his life to him. Standing is awoken the next morning by Spence's chauffeur and finds himself pushed into being Johnny Spence, who turns out to be a thoroughly despicable man. His wife is so scared of him that when she breaks a special plate of his their young daughter offers to fix it so he'll be mad at her and not her mother; his sister blames him for a tragedy; his mother has a morphine addiction funded by her son and he's sleeping with his sister-in-law. Added to which, he's completely ruined his business. Standing sets about fixing things as best he can but what will happen when Spence returns to claim his life?

This only works if you can look past the three levels of implausibility it poses at the start: firstly, that two men who look so similar would meet at a moment so fortuitous to one; secondly, that the reluctant impersonator wouldn't run away the moment things became clear; thirdly, that the family wouldn't recognise the imposter. In fairness to the story it attempts to deal with the last two but not wholly successfully. However, an excellent cast makes up for any plot deficit. Aside from Matthew Rhys the cast includes Eileen Atkins as Lady Spence (the mother), Jodhi May as Blanche (the sister) and Sheridan Smith (the sister-in-law). Phoebe Nicholls also deserves a mention as housekeeper, Charlotte. They combine to make a perfectly plausible - if completely dysfunctional - family unit.

I think the length of the episode (100 minutes) suited the story. Any longer and the situation would've become ridiculous but there was enough tension in the plot to keep it going for this length of time. There are a few particularly memorable scenes but I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who doesn't know it. Worth a watch, in my opinion, but don't expect action and thrills. This is much more slow-moving and all the better for it.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Classics Challenge: September Prompt

This was by far the most difficult of all the prompts so far this year: "This month's prompt is to select a piece of music that you feel reflects the book. Modern, classical, jazz, anything, it doesn't have to be from the period of the novel but share what it is about the piece that echoes the novel in someway." Now, I read The Mayor of Casterbridge, a novel so complex that I couldn't think of a single song that bore much relation to it (reviewed here). However, then I had a thought.

Quite a few years ago Carla Bruni (now Mrs Sarkozy) released an album that performed quite badly in the charts. I was one of the ones who bought a copy, mainly because the premise intrigued me: poems by greats such as Christina Rossetti and W.H. Auden set to music. So it was to this album I finally turned, in the belief that I might find a suitable song. I was right. This is 'Promises Like Pie Crust' by Christina Rossetti, poem first then video of the song at the bottom.

Promise me no promises, 
So will I not promise you: 
Keep we both our liberties, 
Never false and never true: 
Let us hold the die uncast, 
Free to come as free to go: 
For I cannot know your past, 
And of mine what can you know? 

You, so warm, may once have been 
Warmer towards another one: 
I, so cold, may once have seen 
Sunlight, once have felt the sun: 
Who shall show us if it was 
Thus indeed in time of old? 
Fades the image from the glass, 
And the fortune is not told. 

If you promised, you might grieve 
For lost liberty again: 
If I promised, I believe 
I should fret to break the chain. 
Let us be the friends we were, 
Nothing more but nothing less: 
Many thrive on frugal fare 
Who would perish of excess.

Book Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

Published in 1886, The Mayor of Casterbridge offers a very sensational premise: while drunk, Michael Henchard sells his wife and child to a passing sailor. Afterwards, he regrets his actions, gives up alcohol for twenty one years, and tries to locate them but can't find them. He proceeds to the town of Casterbridge where he works very hard to rise up to be mayor of the town. But when his 'widowed' wife Susan returns with his grown-up daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, he is compelled to do the right thing and marry her. However, this involves letting down another woman he had hopes of marrying, Lucetta. Intertwined with all this is his new assistant, Donald Farfrae, a man Elizabeth-Jane has taken a shine to. What ensues is a tangled web of deceit, love and retribution.

This is such a complex book with more twists and turns than I can count. Hardy draws on the conventions of the sensation writers he read earlier in his career but adds logic and psychological analysis to what could have been simply a book of events. Hardy's representation of Henchard as a man struggling to master guilt, jealousy and the desire for revenge throughout the book is a powerful one. Henchard is a complex character, but one the reader understands. This is less true for Donald Farfrae, first Henchard's friend then his bitter rival, but Farfrae is not the focus of the book. As for the female characters, Elizabeth-Jane is something of an insipid paragon of virtue, blindly submitting when the man she loves demonstrates an attraction for someone else. Susan and Lucetta are distinctly unmemorable but the array of incidental characters are fascinating enough.

Perhaps the main strength of this novel is the description that Hardy employs so well in many of his novels. Much of his description is necessary, relating to the plot or character, although there are a few superfluous passages. His eye for detail certainly adds realism to the story of the over-stretched mayor, almost bringing the reader into Casterbridge itself. The Roman roots of the town are expertly exploited, particularly in the Amphitheatre, the site of Henchard's first meeting with his long-lost wife in chapter eleven.

What impressed me about this book was that the preamble was actually kept to a minimum. Time could easily have been wasted examining the 'lost' years of Susan and Elizabeth-Jane's lives but Hardy sprinkles necessary details in as the story progresses. There is much more involved in this novel than the blurb suggests and it surprises and fascinates throughout. I regret leaving this spine to bleach on my bookshelf for seven years but I think the pleasure of reading was worth the wait.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Television Review: The Bletchley Circle

I was drawn to this series initially by the calibre of the cast. It stars Anna Maxwell Martin (who I adored in South Riding and The Night Watch), Rachael Stirling (Tipping the Velvet, enough said) and Julie Graham alongside a relative newcomer, Sophie Rundle. The four play women who worked at Bletchley Park during WWII but by 1952 they are leading mundane lives. That is until Susan (Martin) begins tracking the progress of a serial killer working his way around London (she has a collection of newspaper clippings tacked to the back of her bedroom mirror so that her husband doesn't find out). She spots a pattern in the killings and takes it to the police but, of course, they laugh her off. She feels she has no option to recruit the other girls for their various skills - Millie (Stirling), Jean (Graham) and Lucy (Rundle).

There are numerous twists in this one. Although we do catch sight of the killer 'at work', these moments mainly serve to heighten concern for the protagonists. They are four very clever women but they keep finding themselves stonewalled. When they finally do get the police to listen to them it becomes apparent that this may be bigger than any of them imagined.

The cast really were superb, though they were assisted by exceptional writing and wonderful period detail. The subject dictates that the drama should be dark and atmospheric and it succeeds. It offers a fresh twist on the period murder mysteries by introducing these four amateurs, all with different personalities and experiences since the end of the war. Intermingled with the suspense are snapshots of their lives - Millie quits her job in order to focus on the investigation while Lucy battles with her abusive husband. Susan, meanwhile, is pushing her own husband to his limits by refusing to tell him what's going on.

The Bletchley Circle succeeds on several levels, providing a tightly-plotted and compelling mystery drama that isn't a carbon copy of other programmes. I think it has potential to be a real hit and I hope that ITV have the courage to recommission it.

Friday, 21 September 2012

What A Character Blogathon: Marjorie Main

When I think of Marjorie Main I can't help but link her with Judy Garland. Others may remember her as Ma Kettle but, for me, the pictures that spring into my head when I hear her name are from Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946) and Summer Stock (1950). This seems a shame since she didn't have leading roles in these films but they cemented my view of her as an excellent character actress and someone who always enhanced a film, although you didn't always pause to notice her.

Take her role as Katie in Meet Me In St. Louis for an example. She blends almost in the background of the Smith family as the sarcastic maid who, on being asked if she's seen the cat says, "I don't know. A while back she got in the way and I kicked her down the cellar steps. I could hear her spine hit on every step." But she's also an integral part of the family unit, keeping secrets for the girls. As she says, "Miss Smith, if I have to keep lying for your daughters, I'll have to have more money."

I think one of the things that attracts me most about Marjorie Main are those facial expressions. She's an excellent comic actress because of the way she involves every feature of her face in a simple smile or frown. And those eyes! One look from her can tell you more than eight pages of dialogue.

In The Harvey Girls she plays a stalwart Harvey 'girl'. She steals her first scene simply by chewing rhythmically. Sonora Cassidy is a no-nonsense woman and this allows Main some wonderful moments. She gets to dance with Ray Bolger and club Chill Wills over the head with a frying pan for a start.

Summer Stock sees her revert to being Garland's house helper. Esme works for Jane Falbury (Garland) but, as usual, isn't shy about making her thoughts known. Two women on a farm are susceptible to snoopers, she says, so she asks Jane to get some blanks: "If any man's willing to snoop around me, I don't want to kill him, just stun him." She gets all the best one-liners in her films. Summer Stock was Garland's last MGM film and it works because she's surrounded by people she works well with - Marjorie Main is certainly one of those. 

Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about Marjorie Main is the comedic warmth she exudes. Whenever she comes on screen all you have to do is keep your eyes on her and she'll do something funny, whether she's the focus of the action or not. Very few actors make me smile simply by chewing but she's one of them. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Book Review: Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

I've been gazing longingly at this biography since it came out but, apart from anything else, I wanted to boost my knowledge of Dickens's fiction first. After reading and reviewing Oliver Twist, Bleak House and The Old Curiosity Shop since the beginning of this year I thought I was ready. I knew Claire Tomalin to be an excellent biographer after reading her examination of Katherine Mansfield but Charles Dickens: A Life surpassed all my expectations.

One of the problems of writing a Dickens biography are the number of people - family members, friends - who are constantly on the periphery of his life. Tomalin combats this by including a 'Cast List' at the beginning of the book, some sixteen pages long. This comes in very useful throughout, as do the three maps which illustrate where Dickens spent much of his time. These maps are particularly enlightening when considered in the light of things he wished to keep secret, primarily his relationship with actress Nelly Ternan. There are also generous notes at the back of the book meaning that people who only have a cursory knowledge of Dickens will still be able to follow his life with ease.

Tomalin's balanced tone is notable throughout the book. Although it's obvious she is fascinated by her subject, this never translates to hero-worship: she is equally critical of both his actions in his person life and the flaws in some of his novels. However, she highlights the small events in his life which demonstrate the inner man, the two which stick in my head are the meeting on a train with a young girl and the inquest of the death of a baby which Tomalin chooses as her prologue. There are numerous instances of Dickens's compassion throughout but there are also many instances of his stubborn, and sometimes vindictive, nature. As Tomalin writes of his separation from his wife: 'You want to avert your eyes from a good deal of what happened during the next year, 1858.' (p294) You do but you can't. The Dickens who treated his wife so abominably is still the Dickens who created Our Mutual Friend and the tantalising unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The man and his works are linked and, actually, you can see fragments of his life and experiences reflected in all his novels and other works. A fuller understanding of the events of Dickens's life can lead to a more pleasurable reading of his fiction.

Ultimately, Tomalin paints a portrait of a flawed genius. Her descriptions of him, using just the right amount of detail, never verge on boring and she draws on numerous sources along with conjecture to summarise the secretive aspects of the author's life. This book is worth reading for the pages leading up to his death alone. They are compelling pages, intricately detailed and sympathetically written. Then again, so is the whole book. I'd sum this up as a very satisfying biography of a great man.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Classic Film Review: This Happy Breed (1944)

Written by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, This Happy Breed is essentially the story of a working-class family between the two wars. Just after WWI the Gibbons family move into a suburban house: Frank (Robert Newton), Ethel (Celia Johnson) and their three children along with Frank's sister Sylvia (Alison Leggatt). Their next door neighbour happens to be a man Frank met during the war, Bob Mitchell (Stanley Holloway), and he has a sailor son, Billy (John Mills). The film follows the fates of these characters until the outbreak of WWII.

Because of the scope, the film can feel a little fragmented at the beginning, particularly in regards to the three children: Vi (Eileen Erskine), Queenie (Kay Walsh) and Reg (John Blythe). Once these are firmly established, though, it becomes intricate and interesting. We see the major events of the period - the General Strike, the abdication etc - through the eyes of this typical family. In addition, of course, they live their lives with the children getting older, getting into trouble and getting married.

This turns out to be a compelling narrative primarily because of the talents of the cast. Newton and Holloway make a great double-act as friends going through middle-age (and often getting drunk along with it) while Johnson's performance as Ethel is both repressive on the outside and emotional underneath, as befitting the era. There are plenty of on-going strands such as the rivalry between Sylvia and her brother's mother-in-law and Billy's love for Queenie. There are a couple of shocks along the way but these are tempered by as happy an ending as you can get when your audience knows WWII is about to start. We live with the Gibbons family for two decades and it feels very strange to say goodbye to them after that journey.

There was, for me, one stand-out moment of the film. When Vi is delivering some terrible news to her family, the radio is on in the background. She tells her aunt and her grandmother then goes out to the garden to tell her parents. The room is empty but the radio keeps on playing jazzy upbeat music until her parents reappear alone, completely shell-shocked. It's just a beautiful moment of film.

There isn't a bad performance in this one and the writing is excellent. If you're looking for a portrait of an 'ordinary' family between the wars (with a few dramatic elements thrown in along the way) then this is well worth a watch.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Television Review: A Mother's Son

Starring Hermione Norris, Martin Clunes and Paul McGann, A Mother's Son tells the story of Rosie (Norris), a woman who has to confront the horrible truth that her son may have murdered someone. She lives with her new husband Ben (Clunes) along with her two teenagers and his two teenagers but there are already tensions in the family about how best to deal with their essentially separate parenting lives. On the outskirts of the family is Rosie's ex-husband David (McGann), father to her two children. Rosie turns to him when their son's behaviour becomes worrying.

If this sounds complex, it's because it is. In that, I suppose, it reflects modern family life with its divisions and difficulties. The real difficulty comes in Rosie's reluctance to follow her instincts about Jamie (Alexander Arnold) and her attempts to cover up any involvement he may have had in the death of a schoolgirl after finding his trainers covered in blood. It certainly strikes a chord on a parental level but, I must admit, I wanted to throttle Rosie for wringing her hands at confirming the substance was blood on the trainers for starters. From the clock on the wall behind her it seemed she'd been sat there for six hours staring at them and sighing. I understand her reticence but it was a lengthy scene which could've been trimmed.

There were a couple of aspects to the piece as a whole which didn't quite work for me. Firstly, the demonstration of the dead girl's mother's grief wasn't necessary for the plot to work. Although the performance of Annabelle Apsion as the grieving Kay was flawless, the scenes felt out of place in a story which was essentially about the family of the potential murderer. This can also be said of the police scenes. I understand that the intention was to keep the audience in the loop and ramp up the tension a bit but it only served to distract from the main thrust of the piece. All the information that was conveyed via the police scenes could've been dribbled through to the family in a less heavy-handed fashion. This drama wasn't supposed to be about the dead girl or the police really, and I think the producers lost sight of that at times.

On a more positive note, the three leads were well cast, as were the four teenagers. The family set-up and its problems are probably more important than the did-he-didn't-he murder aspect and I certainly enjoyed them more. The dialogue in places flagged a little, becoming a little over-indulgent towards the end but I empathised with many of the characters. Not a fantastic drama but an intricate one that made a valid point underneath the murder.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Planning September-December

Did you know there's only three and a half months before we wave 2012 goodbye and welcome in 2013? The revelation caused a slight explosion in my head as I realised all I want to achieve before New Year's Eve and how improbable that's looking right now. But there are always ways for me to stretch my limits (or, as friends often put it, be 'impossible' and 'stubborn'). So I've come up with a little traffic light code for what I need to get done by 2013, what I want to get done and what I'd be grateful to get done.

  • My PhD has to take up one of the priority slots. I'm currently working on my second chapter (on disability representation in the works of Wilkie Collins and Edmund Yates, if anyone's interested) and I want to have that finished by the end of the year. Polished up to the hilt too. Got 3000 words which just need tinkering with then only another...10,000 of analysis or so. Easy. 
  • The novel that helped me get an agent is in the middle of a complete rewrite. When I say 'in the middle' I mean that I've only rewritten around 15,000 words so far. It was a 70,000 word novel and it's now shaping up to be around 85,000 I think. That makes me not so much 'in the middle' as 'somewhere near the beginning'. Nevertheless, I want this redraft to be finished by the end of the year.

  • National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is soon going to be upon us again. I've achieved the 50,000 target two out of three attempts and I am determined to give it a go this year. I already have my idea and everything. I enjoy taking part in NaNoWriMo because it gives me a first draft in the bag in a month which I can then work on later. I haven't yet had time to look at the one I finished last year but it's there waiting patiently in line!
  • I'm around 36,000 words into another first draft (the one which I keep abandoning and picking up again). I'd tell you about it in detail but then I'd have to go and chop off my fingers from the sheer embarrassment of it. However, I would like to finish the first draft of this novel by the end of the year, and I don't see it stretching beyond 60,000 words. So that's doable.

  • I've been thinking over the second draft of another novel I've got on the go. Although I was surprisingly pleased with the way the first draft worked out, I know I've got to make some fundamental changes to the background of the piece and that'll impact the front story. So far I've got a few thousand words of the rewrite which I had to abandon after other areas of my life took precedence but I'd love to have a second draft finished by the end of the year. 
  • Blogging is an important part of my weekly routine and I'm not given it up. After consultation, I've decided to aim for at least 40 posts in the next few months. At least. They will probably mostly consist of book and classic film reviews because I'm doing, well, a lot of reading of books and watching of classic films. In a way, blogging counts as the fun part of this list though, of course, it's all fun.

There are a couple of things I couldn't put on this list. My work for 2020UK, for instance, is fluid. One week I may have to write one blog post but the next things may go haywire. Family commitments, too, can't be set in stone and they invariably take precedence when they crop up. But this list is at least something to work towards. And I think I need to stop writing about doing these things and actually go and do them. So...going. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Classic Film Review: Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)

This musical stars Jimmy Durante and Doris Day as father and daughter team Pop and Kitty Wonder alongside Martha Raye and Stephen Boyd as their respective love interests. Pop Wonder runs a circus, the prime attraction of which is Jumbo the elephant. But Pop's got a gambling habit and another circus has been trying to get hold of Jumbo for some time. When new circus-hand Sam Rawlins (Boyd) arrives, it seems they could be about to lose everything quicker than they anticipated.

There are some good numbers in this, particularly 'Why Can't I?' (a plea from Day and Raye) and 'Little Girl Blue' (Day). The final number 'Sawdust and Spangles and Dreams' (the four stars) drags on a little too long for my liking but this was MGM's last real musical extravaganza so I can forgive it. 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World', originally sung by Boyd is reprised by Durante and is probably my favourite song of the film. The dances are as spectacular as a circus setting necessitates, especially the opening number 'Over and Over Again', and there are some decent stunts throughout. It really does have all the hallmarks of a classic MGM musical, although it slips up on occasion.

Although Day, Durante and Raye worked perfectly in their roles, there were moments when Stephen Boyd seemed to suffer from a combination of hackneyed dialogue and a lack of comfort in his role. This wasn't helped by the fact that the character had to consistently hide his real intentions from his love interest. It made their romance a little more unbelievable than most musical romances.

Day, though, was remarkably comfortable as Kitty Wonder, both long-suffering daughter and enthusiastic performer. Her rapport with an elephant is something to behold and I don't think I can fault her in this film. Though the script falters at times, she brings charm to this film. My favourite moment, though, has to be a Durante/Raye one: Pop decides to try and shoot Lulu (Raye) out of a cannon to give the circus a new act. It doesn't quite work!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold

As well as focusing on 'Bedlam' itself, Catharine Arnold looks at the wider issue of madness in London and how the mentally ill were treated generally throughout the life of the hospital. This makes for a surprisingly wide-ranging book and one that doesn't become stale.

Bethlehem Hospital has been in existence since 1247, though in various locations around the capital. It survived scandals, both of cruelty and fraud, and the Great Fire of 1666 along with numerous problems surrounding the building itself. Arnold blends an ongoing narrative about the hospital with an examination of contemporary treatments of madness using primary sources wherever possible. This creates a sense of coherence, binding the hospital to wider events. One of the most interesting of these, for me, was the madness of George III which Arnold explores in chapter seven.

There are some surprisingly individual stories which appear in these pages. Perhaps my only criticism of the book is that we can't follow these people through their lives, though the author can hardly be held to blame for the shoddy record-keeping of previous centuries! I would recommend this book to anyone who would like an overview of London's record at caring for and treating mentally ill patients or a specific look at Bethlehem Hospital itself. Arnold's style is both accessible and involved, making this an easy book to digest but with many things to learn along the way. I'll leave you with a taster of it:

"The flames engulfed the wooden structure and spread swiftly to the surrounding properties, despite the efforts of two soldiers to pull them down. The screaming mob, the distant sound of gunfire, the terrified citizens running out of their houses and the sky itself, deadly red from soaring flames that produced a drift of smoky particles, created a vision of hell. To which was added an even more infernal dimension: the gutters blazed with burning alcohol. Flaming spirits ran through every crack and fissure, forming a deep pool into which people dropped down dead by the dozen. Scooping up the liquid in their bare hands, they drank until they died: husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, women with children in their arms and babies at their breasts. Some passed out straight away; others danced, half in triumph, half in torment, until they fell into the liquor that had killed them. Burns victims, their clothing still ablaze, mistook it for water and unwittingly hurled themselves into the lake of fire, dying in agony." (p144)

Monday, 3 September 2012

Classic Film Review: Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

Based on a true story, Blossoms in the Dust tells of Edna Gladney (Greer Garson) who targeted the stain of illegitimacy that blighted the lives of children in Texas in the early 1900s and found families for homeless children. Being Hollywood, much of her story is fictionalised, although the spirit of celebration is well deserved. The story begins with a celebration of Edna's engagement to a rather boring man, although she has just been proposition by another man in a rather arrogant fashion. That man is Sam Gladney (Walter Pidgeon), a wheat farmer who's based in Texas. Finally, they marry and go through several hardships. After Sam dies Edna continues the work that she's started with homeless children and is convinced to campaign for the stain of illegitimacy to be removed from birth certificates in the state of Texas.

Admittedly, the film struggles with great jumps in time. We first meet Edna then we fast-forward, via the medium of letters, to her marriage then, by way of anniversary cards, through the various stages of her marriage. It can feel a little episodic but Garson delivers a warmth to the character which sustains the film throughout the jumps. One difficulty I had was an ability to spot what was about to happen in terms of 'plot twists'. It was no surprise for me to learn that the two events I'd predicted accurately - the deaths of Edna's adopted sister and her son - were fictional Hollywood creations and not part of the real Edna's life. In all honesty, while the additions gave 'cause' to Edna's journey, her opinions and actions were remarkable enough not to need fluffing up in this way.

Garson and Pidgeon work well together as the two leads, though an integral part of this film is her friendship with Dr Max Breslar, played wonderfully by Felix Bressart. He spends as much time in the film as Pidgeon and is perfect as the loyal friend willing to help Edna's endeavours any way he can. I'd almost go as far as saying he outshines Garson herself, though that's practically impossible. The final scene of this - I won't spoil it - had me in floods of tears and is part of the reason I recommend this film so much. Although it is a little sentimental at times (and extremely Hollywoodised) it's a heart-warming story of one woman's determination to do the right thing. It's inspired me to learn about the true Edna Gladney and that can only be a good thing.