Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Dance to the Music of Time

Anthony Powell's magnificent series of books known as A Dance to the Music of Time (available in either 12 volumes or in 4 omnibuses under Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) is one of my all-time favourite works of literature. Chronicling the lives of four schoolboys at the end of the First World War, through the partying and politics of the 1920s and 30s, their participation in WWII and ending in the 1960s, this brilliant work could be characterized almost as a sequel to Proust's similarly ambitious In Search of Lost Time, if Proust had jumped onto a ferry, crossed the Channel and taken up British citizenship. There's even a lovely tribute to Proust in one of the later volumes and how can you resist a series that includes the aptly titled Books Do Furnish a Room? Powell examines and skewers the lives, loves and superficialities of England's ruling classes through the eyes of two outsiders - the detached, observing narrator, Nicholas Jenkins, who like Waugh's Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, is alternatively intrigued and repulsed by what he sees, and Kenneth Widmerpool, the pudgy, awkward misfit, who is constantly the butt of everyone's derision but later gets his revenge. Widmerpool is quite simply one of the most wonderfully complex and original fictional characters ever created. A Dance to the Music of Time is a big time committment but a completely absorbing and rewarding one. However, if you only have eight hours at your disposal, the DVD of the 1997 British mini-series is finally out! This is a very good adaptation with abundant opportunites for some of Britian's greatest actors to play up to their characters' eccentricities with typical aplomb. The cast is fabulous - John Gielgud, Alan Bennett, Miranda Richardson (as a terrific vamp), the very fetching James Purefoy as Nicholas and one of my favourite British actors - Simon Russell Beale - in the role of Widmerpool, a part he does brilliantly. Beautiful costumes, Oxford and stately home scenery and Noel Coward's Twentieth Century Blues - one of my favourite songs - wafting in the background; there's just nothing better than to escape into this world after a stressful day at work.

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