on 14 January 2008
Having read the books, I wondered how on earth they would manage to do them justice on the television. I have to say, I thought the acting was absolutely first-rate, without a shadow of a doubt: I can't think of any weak characters, and some of them were simply outstanding: Charles Stringham descending into alcoholism and reborn, but completely destroyed in the process; Widmerpool, played, I think, by the same actor all the way through the series, and always more or less ridiculous; Pamela Widmerpool, played by Miranda Richardson, having some marvelous lines as she turns one male head after another; and then gentle Nick Jenkins, who appears to be the only sane person in the whole mad world.
There's lots in the books that couldn't possibly find their way onto the TV, but it was splendid to see so much of it brought to life. I found it a very enjoyable 6 or 7 hours viewing. Highly recommended for any Powell aficionado, or anyone looking for something a bit out of the way.
on 22 February 2001
This is Powell made wonderful on screen!
"A Dance to the Music of Time" is widely regarded as a well-crafted sequence of 12 novels. On this video there is Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter: the journey of colleagues, friends and acquaintances through the rapidly changing 20th Century. This is no quaint, shallow portrayal of 'four friends have mixed lives and then get back together and reminisce' or any such formulaic narrative.
Like Poussin's painting, the story follows figures which entwine, cut loose, and meet again. The characters are all very well-drawn and excellently portrayed in this wonderful Channel 4 production. Mostly, the same actors play their characters from the beginning of the 20th Century to 1960s. However, a couple do not, and although this may seem strange at first, the characterisation shines through. Simon Russell Beale plays the incomparable Widmerpool throughout the production: he is utterly amazing.
In short, this video shows a highly enjoyable, amusing, wry and touching story whether or not you have read (some or all of) the novels. Powell's prose can be delicious and detailed and very little of that quality is lost in the lavish, but not too polished, production. A great cast (including James Purefoy, Jonathan Cake, Paul Rhys, James Fox and Zoe Wanamaker) [apologies for any spelling mistakes] involved with a largely engaging story. Powell's grasp of the 1950s/60s might be less than usual, but nevertheless one cannot help but be drawn into the entire story.
If you've read the novels - you won't be disappointed!
on 30 January 2004
Any attempt to do more than summarise the characters and multi-layered plots in the twelve books that make up A Dance to the Music of Time is bound to fail, but this Channel 4 production is an extremely honourable failure. The four films are glued together by the performance of Simon Russell Beale playing the monstrous Widmerpool, and the atmosphere shifts successfully from the stifling atmosphere of Eton, through the gaity of the twenties, the austerities of the wartime years, and the bleakness and exhaustion of the post-war years.
If you know and love the novel sequence there are times at which you feel the film makers have taken some liberties, sliding over too quickly, or even omitting favourite passages, but this is a necessity to keep the running time to an acceptable 415 minutes.
Apart from Beale's magnificent portrayal of Kenneth Widmerpool, enjoy Edward Fox's wonderfully seedy portrayal of Uncle Giles, and Alan Bennett's Sillery. I'm afraid I've forgotten the name of the actor who plays the tragic Charles Stringham, but he nails the character to a perfection.
on 24 July 2007
I have watched this several times and it always puts me in a good mood. It is like a classy 'soap' about friends, enemies, lovers and acquaintances who keep meeting over the years, their lives affecting each other in romantic, comic or deadly ways. To me it is mainly about friendship and loyalty. There are two central characters, Nicholas Jenkins, who is decent and everyone's friend. Then there is Kenneth Widmerpool, the figure of fun who rises to power to the surprise of everyone around him.
There are some of our very best actors in this : Sir John Gielgud, Alan Bennett and Edward Fox, and some who are seen more on our screens today such as James Purefoy (Mark Anthony in 'Rome'). Claire Skinners looks wonderful. Miranda Richardson plays a black widow type who causes more than one death. She plays it very much like one of her characters out of Blackadder
One thing which I did find disappointing, was that for the second half of the story, another much older actor was used to play Nicholas Jenkins and his wife, and yet, the same actors play the other characters, and are just aged a bit. Very odd.
on 25 April 2004
This is a fantastic production, much overlooked in the past few years. There is only one problem with it, for people unfamiliar with the books:the actors change. Thus the part of Jenkins, the narrator, is played bythree actors as he moves through Eton, WWII and old age. It isparticularly confusing in the first episode, where you've barely had timeto get acquainted with the schoolboy characters before they are into their20s and suddenly played by another actor. If you hadn't been playingclose attention to the names, this switch can make it difficult to matchthe first-phase actor with the second-phase actor.
To my mind, it is largely because we have very few actor switches in FilmsTwo and Three that those two are the most excellent of an altogetheroutstanding series.
But there is one character who is played by the same actor throughout --all the way from film one to film four -- and that is the magnificentSimon Russell-Beale. He should have been showered with BAFTAs for hisacting here. Widmerpool is such an awful character, yet many of us haveknow similar people in our lives. He really deserves the utterly selfishPamela, played by the scene-stealing Miranda Richardson, who marries himdespite everything.
on 3 October 2003
This is a magnificent production with an excellent cast. The acting is very fine and the pacing rivetting. I had not read the novels on which this is based but certainly shall. My wife and I rated this the equal of Brideshead Revisited and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Four evenings of top notch entertainment!
on 27 February 2014
I am a Powell nut; I re-read the books every couple of years, because I am a writer, and Powell my master. I re-read the sequence everytime I am embarking on a new book, or if, as at present, I get stuck. Having just finished the books (again), I thought I'd try this DVD. I remember watching the series when it was broadcast, and on watching it again, my opinion is unchanged; it doesn't make much sense if you haven't read the books. But if you have, there are real treats; Geilgiud as St John Clarke, Alan Bennett as Sillery, Michael Williams playing Ted Jeavons to a T, Miranda Richardson as a rather brilliant Pamela; and of course, Simon Russel Beale's monstrous Widmerpool. Most of the dialogue is lifted from the books, so it can be laugh aloud funny. But there is no time for characterisation, many of the characters have been cut (Barnby, Frederica and Dicky Umfraville etc), and some characters appear on screen for such a short period of time that it is impossible to care; Robert Tolland's death, for example, or Maclintick's suicide, both would have made me shrug my shoulders if I hadn't known who the characters were. But I must say my eyes moistened at the deaths of Lady Molly and Moreland. But that was because I cared for them as characters in the book. So, read the books, and then watch this in the realisation that they are really unfilmable, and that this is the closest anyone will get.
on 17 July 2013
A who's who of English acting tackles the almost impossible task of condesing Anthony Powell's 12 novels into a 4 part television series. Inevitably some of the connections that make the books so fascinating have to be discarded in the interests of dramatic pace. That having been said the resulting production is tour de force particularly in it's representation of literary society in London during the 1920s and 30s.
The decision to change actors for the final part of the series, particularly the Nick Jenkins character is rather disconcerting particularly when others (notably the dreadful Kenneth Widmerpool - rather the awesome Simon Russell-Beal) continue with the same actor throught. Overall one of the best drama series ever.
on 18 October 2010
It is always difficult to adapt a book for television, particularly when you have 12 books to distil into just under 8 hours. However, this is a fine adaptation and manages to be both very moving and very funny. It is an example of TV drama at its' best; beautifully made, a great feeling of period all the way through and not one bad performance. James Purefoy holds all the strands together with a fine central performance, an attractive and calm character in the middle of various eccentric souls. He is surrounded by the cream of British actors all giving of their best. It is churlish to pick out individuals, but alongside Purefoy, Miranda Richardson is at her brittle best; the late and much lamented Michael Williams is wonderfully warm and moving; and Simon Russell Beale is simply superb, taking Widmerpool from student days to old age. Watch his reaction in the sugar scene - I've never seen anyone be at one and the same time so deeply hurt, hideously humiliated and profoundly dignified.
on 6 October 2011
To cram 12 novels into about seven hours of TV can't be done, as it gives each novel just over half an hour. That said, much of the novel consists of Jenkins' musings on life, relationships and the rest, so has been entirely cut - unlike in Brideshead (1981) there is no narrative here. What we do have is the action seen on stage, such as the killings of two characters in WW2, the assault on Widmerpool at the concert near the end, etc., rather than these events being related to Jenkins after the event. Episodes have been cut out - such as Jenkins' spell as company officer in the war or his stay at the guest house in France, and many characters are cut out (eg Barnaby) or included only sparingly (eg General Conyers or Jimmy Brent). The replacement of Purefoy by an older actor in the last phase is a let down and it took me a while to realsie this was Jenkins - all the other actors were aged. Widmerpool is splendid.
Those who have not read the brilliant books may find themselves rather lost as characters come and go frequently, but it is an entertaining ramble through the highlights of the books. There are some fine actors, good settings and appropriate music. I feel it catches the essence of the books, even though the detail has had to be sacrificed to meet the time constraints imposed by the medium. Not the best there could be, but very good.