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Comments by Michael Calum Jacques, author of '1st Century Radical'.,
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This review is from: Rector's Wife [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
The reader will not have to read many reviews about Giles Foster's 1994 adaptation of Joanna Trollope's (b.1943) novel of the same name before he or she realizes that there is considerable disagreement about the merits and flaws of this production. Without giving too much away, the essence of the main plot is thus; Anna is the Rev Peter Boverie's apparently long-suffering wife. She is in her early forties. Increasingly, Anna discerns that she has become, over the twenty years or so of their 'togetherness', rather too tightly and robustly clamped by and within the ecclesiastical mechanism of the Church of England - along with its encumbent ritual duties, expectations, taboos and the like. The plot in both the book and in this DVD of Channel 4's production deals with the personal vicissitudes and the personal, practical outworkings of what could liberally be described as Anna's 'struggle for self-realization', although that description would not satisfy all the critics as there are myriad other topics and issues raised which receive a passing nod in both book and screenplay (extra-marital affairs, adolescence, public and private education et al).
To be subjective for a while, this reviewer enjoyed this adaptation and, by and large, the performances of the cast. The general tenor and 'accumulative' depiction of the inner nature of the characters is achieved pretty well nigh on flawlessly. The rolling pastoral beauty of the southern Cotswolds is framed admirably (some of the filming was done aroun Witney, apparently) and Richard Harvey's subtile - non-intrusive and mellifluous 'background' soundtrack helps to secure a genuinely 'bucolic' presence, underpinning the action and the outworking of the plot.
Nevertheless, it is true to say that a reasonable degree of negative criticism has been levelled at the implausibility of Anna Boverie's (played by Lindsay Duncan)rather sudden 'rebellion' against a 'life married to the Church and Jesus'. Whether this such criticism is just or not, it would certainly apply to both book and film; in both, the featured character sets her face stonily against many of the practices she has embraced, either voluntarily or compulsorily. Her depleted and recently disappointed husband can only, it seems, interpret this as calculated recalcitrance. Precisely how feasible and realistic Anna's rather axiomatic transformation is, in the viewer's mind, will vary - this reviewer suspects - according to that viewer's own disposition. Such transformation is certainly not impossible; people's outlook and attitudes change with time, experience and, sometimes, without a particular abundance of either!
'The Rector's Wife' was the authoress' fourth ('non-historical') novels and certain literary critics have loved to draw parallels with the world of Barchester made famous by her ancestor. Indeed, Joanna Trollope is well at ease in an ecclesiastical, especially an Anglican environment and both the book and DVD are thoroughly drenched in details discernible only to one more fully immersed in the font of Anglican 'Churchianity' than is usually the case. Indeed, the authoress herself hails from the Cotswold village of Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire where she was born in her grandfather's rectory! Her first novel, 'The Choir' (1988) was made into a six-part adaptation and is now also available on DVD.
In summary, I would heartily recommend this adaptation and production to most viewers. The redoubtable Jonathan Coy turns in a sympathetic and convincing performance as Peter Bouverie, 'The Rector', as does Miles Anderson as the minted, beneficent and - to Anna, at least - tempting, flamboyant, newly-arrived neighbour, Patrick O'Sullivan who is, somewhat inauspiciously located in what was the village's previous rectory! There are a number of other strong performances, too. In closing, if you buy this 2 disc set, I hope that you find it both as interesting and as stimulating as I originally did.
Michael Calum Jacques
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