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Do you mind terribly?
on 8 September 2010
I do mind, but perhaps not "terribly," that Waugh's satyrical, absurd masterpiece has been reduced to an entertaining, engaging, but not at all deep or thought-provoking flick. The cast is superb, especially James McAvoy as the neurotic Early of Balcairn whose "swan song" comes across with a keen balance between pathos, irony, and the ridiculous. Discovering Fry, director and screenwriter, in the small but in a way crucial role of the limousine chaffeur, is a neat surprise which puts a tiny twist on the viewer's experience. Fenella Woolgar's Agatha Runcible is perhaps a little weak and vague at times, but she remains the loveable and tragically victimized bright young thing of the novel. Julia McKenzie's Lottie Crump is a delight - but that's one comical character which would be hard to spoil.
The rest of the cast is equally brilliant, and the movie, on the whole, is a feast for the eyes of any fan of the British cinema. However, it is not a feast for the intellect of any fan of Waugh. Perhaps it's just as well - Waugh should be enjoyed through the page, not the screen - and I wouldn't mind if the changes made to the original storyline were not so terribly out of tune with it. But they are. Especially the ending, dripping with syrupy sentiment as sticky as the wax of the milliard candles wasted on that scene, is bound to annoy anyone who has read and loved "Vile Bodies." A little less of burlesque and sentimentality, a little less of P. G. Wodehouse and a little more of Evelyn Waugh, and this could have been a brilliant adaptation.