Customer Review

11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Are the Shades of Pemberley to be Thus Polluted ?", 30 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Awakening (2011) [DVD] (DVD)
It takes more than the designer to create a 'period piece' for film or television. The writer and actors and director have an even more important part to play. It is not good enough to costume your cast as if they are at a fancy dress party, and then claim 'accuracy' - and nor is it good enough to import cartloads of period props to a nice location, and then hope that nobody will notice the rubbish that's being performed in it.

'The Awakening' is one of those ghastly exercises in movie cynicism that has obviously been dreamed up to cash in on 'The Next Big Thing'. At present, The Next Big Thing seems to be fairly traditional English ghost stories - something that English literature, past and present, has more than its fair share of. There are the great writers of spooky fiction: M.R.James springs to mind at once for lovers of period writing, as do Henry James (no relation to M.R.) and Susan Hill - whose 'The Woman in Black' will doubtless continue to spawn many a clone both in print and on film before it's forgotten about. Of course, there is also Charles Dickens, who penned a wealth of literate eerie tales.

Unfortunately, 'The Awakening' has no such pedigree to call on: it's an 'original screenplay', and the three writers who have cobbled it together have obviously sat down over a few pints and trawled their minds and memories for any vague recollection of stuff they've seen or (maybe) read that has worked well in other movies:

'Big creepy house!'
'Like it. No, wait - big creepy school!'
'Love it!'
'Kids who see things - you know like psychic, and maybe there's a ghost kid -'
'Murdered way back - yeah, cool.'
'And dodgy teachers.'
'Hey ... Amazing ...'

And of course, because you can't possibly have a modern ghost story, especially when it's British and got anything to do with the BBC, it has to be a period piece. This time - because the crinoline is so last year - they've opted for the early 1920s, and an England that is still licking its wounds after the horrors of the First World War.

Spiritualism - and a desire to contact the dead - is very popular, and the gullibility of the common punter is something that is naturally open to abuse.

Enter Florence Cathcart, a no-nonsense bluestocking and book-writing debunker of such matters. She is the renowned saviour of those who have been conned - a rationalist who rejoices in the public exposure of fraudulent goings-on.

The film opens with one such scene of debunking. A hitherto incognito Cathcart jumps up from among the observers in mid-seance and struts about, pronouncing loud and clear on the trickery of bogus mediums. About her, another "sitting" - complete with its cartload of bogus props - collapses in ruins and plenty of tears.

Our heroine is played by Rebecca Hall - Sir Peter's daughter, he of National Theatre fame - and she turns in a performance so unfortunately 21st century and modern that she not only looks completely inappropriate, but sounds as though she has stepped straight from a second-rate no-win-no-fee lawyer's office. Strident she may be, subtle she isn't, simpatico is off the menu completely, and her accent alone would ensure that most respectable doors remained closed to her in a society that was still very much governed by class. Her portrayal of this one-dimensional character goes a long way to kill the film stone dead before it ever gets going.

There is a lot to endure before the end credits: a tale in which La Cathcart finds herself embroiled in a messy and cliche-ridden piece of nonsense that is not risible enough to raise a titter, but just bad enough to make the viewer cross. There's everything - abuse and murder in the Big House, loss of memory, a mysterious lake, and an elderly housekeeper who knows dark things and comes out with cryptic bits and pieces to keep our interest.

The supporting cast looks fairly lost throughout, the best performances coming from some of the juvenile actors, who enter into the spirit of the thing (no pun intended) in the trusting way that only children can.

Weep for the main location, and remember it from its happier incarnation as Pemberley, the home of Mr Darcy, in the BBC's world-renowned 'Pride and Prejudice'. In 'The Awakening' we have no Colin Firth (with or without wet shirt) and no Jennifer Ehle or Barbara Leigh-Hunt to lighten the goings-on, and there is definitely no suggestion of a Jane Austen to endow the grim screenplay with any merit at all.

Ludicrous modernisms in the writing pop up throughout - and no I can't be bothered to single out the worst offenders, there are simply too many - and the mis-pronunciations of names and expressions should have been spotted on set and corrected. Instead they are left to fester and to annoy those who notice them.

A pity that director and cast - to say nothing of the galaxy of producers and executive producers - were so ignorant and lacking in general knowledge. A little research would have done wonders. Is this something that doesn't happen any more ? Or is there a belief that it doesn't matter ? If so, why doesn't it ? It should, and there is no excuse to the contrary.

There are a couple of nicely-shot moments, the best featuring that other ghost-story cliche, a doll's house, but it's very sad that the time, trouble, and obvious merits of the film's design and special effects teams should be so largely wasted.

Any discerning viewer must surely consign 'The Awakening' to the longest sleep of all: the dustbin.
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Comments

Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 22 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 Mar 2012 20:33:44 BDT
F. McGillion says:
Excellent, and sadly highly accurate, review.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012 12:25:15 BDT
Green Knight says:
Many thanks! I was so disappointed in this effort. It could have been so good.

Posted on 2 Apr 2012 09:00:56 BDT
Stephen Foot says:
I agree..... it's a turkey.

Posted on 3 Apr 2012 21:42:06 BDT
oldbillie says:
Yeah, nice review. I'm still in the middle of watching this film, but as you can tell my attention has wandered!

Especially agree about the Rebecca Hall character: entirely unconvincing as a 1920s woman.

Posted on 9 Apr 2012 21:33:27 BDT
I actually quite liked this film, but with some fairly substantial reservations-and I have to say that Green Knight's comments on the character of Florence Cathcart, both as written, and acted, are on the money. At no time did I believe that she was a woman of the 1920s. She was also deeply irritating, but maybe that had more to do with the actress playing her. The other problem was the pile-up of false endings. The writers didn't seem to know how to finish it, and it all gets quite contrived and messy in the last act. Still, most of the scares were well engineered, and , Florence aside, I thought the cast were pretty good. A missed opportunity, though.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012 15:27:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 Apr 2012 15:57:10 BDT
Green Knight says:
Well put, Mr. Low ... I agree entirely, especially about the missed opportunity. That alone is very sad.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012 15:27:50 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 11 Apr 2012 15:57:26 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012 15:57:58 BDT
Green Knight says:
Well put, oldbillie!

Posted on 27 Apr 2012 10:54:02 BDT
Irvine Smith says:
Think I got it .. long and boring DVD!
And review, not dissimilar!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2012 11:34:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Apr 2012 12:39:32 BDT
Green Knight says:
I haven't mentioned the length (an 'average' 107 minutes) and nor have I suggested that the DVD/film is boring.
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