A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 147 – The Norman Conquests: Living Together

The Norman Conquests: Living Together – July 25th, 2010

Tonight we’ve got the second installment of The Norman Conquests. Like I said yesterday in my review of the first part, since it’s the same cast and the same time period and the same story, there’s a lot that I’ll have already covered, so this might end up being a shortish review. Quick refresher: Annie lives in the country, taking care of her elderly mother. She’s sweet on the local vet, Tom, but he’s rather clueless. She’s going off on a weekend away and her brother, Reg, and his wife, Sarah, have come to take care of Mother. But Annie’s planned her weekend with her sister Ruth’s husband, Norman. All six end up staying at the house for the weekend and chaos and seduction ensue. The story is told in three installments, each in a different room.

The cast is still fantastic and so is the writing. We’re in the living room this time, and we start out with Norman already there, sitting with his suitcase and glowering as Sarah makes pointed remarks that would be confusing if we didn’t already know what was going on. Reg has a board game he’s invented and wants to try out. And then we get right into the meat of it, with a discussion about relationships and fulfillment with Norman and Sarah. This time we get the story from Norman, about how he and Annie were going to meet secretly behind the post office and have a nice relaxing weekend together. From Norman it sounds so very romantic and pleasant and not a problem at all. Until Sarah points out the complications, what with Norman being married to Annie’s sister and then there’s Tom.

This does have one of my favorite bits about Tom. Annie describes dealing with him as being like running uphill in roller skates. “Everything with him is ‘aaahm…’” It’s a running gag that we reference every so often. It also lets us into more one-on-one conversations, like Tom and Norman, with Norman giving Tom “advice” on dealing with Annie. It’s about as bad as one might expect. The conversations between Norman and Tom that make up the majority of the Saturday portion of the movie are truly fantastic. There’s a great dynamic there, made all the better by knowing what’s going on with Norman and Annie and what Annie wants from Tom. It’s also great seeing such a great deal of Tom Conti doing Norman alone, because he really is fantastic.

What’s really fun, watching this after watching the first, is seeing some the entrances and exits from Table Manners from the other end. Reg shows up out of the blue, takes a waste basket, then leaves. We know from the first section that Reg showed up at the behest of Sarah, so watching it play out is hilarious. Given the conceit of the trilogy, with the three movies taking place in three places, obviously there are references made to things happening in other locations and part of the novelty is seeing them broken up. What happens in each room touches on the others but the focus is in that one place.

Part of what that one-location focus does is make you look at things from different angles. Watching Ruth in the first movie, she’s rather a caricature. Fiona Walker does an excellent job with her, making her a sympathetic person instead of just a shrill harpy. But then in this movie, when Ruth shows up and sees what’s going on with her husband and Annie and then Sarah too later on, she’s given a few scenes to really play her character. Not the caricature, but the woman who’s married to Norman and loves him even though he’s utterly impossible. It’s a far different view of her than Table Manners offers, but at the same time it doesn’t contradict anything we’ve already seen. The same goes for all six characters. Each new scene adds a layer of depth as well as plot.

There’s still plenty of humor, much of which in this one is from the after-effects of things that have gone on elsewhere. It really would be a bit confusing to watch this one before Table Manners, but I guess it could be done. But there’s some good standalone stuff too, like Norman calling Ruth while totally sloshed on the deadly homemade dandelion wine, and poor Reg and his board game. I’d really like to play Reg’s game. And there are some serious bits, like an altercation between Annie and Sarah (over Norman, of course) that we never get a hint of in the first movie, and then Ruth and Norman talking late into the night. We also get even more information about Mother, who never appears on screen but is a solid presence through much of the trilogy. It all serves to make everything more solid. Everyone in the movie has their faults, but really the only ones I don’t end up feeling a bit bad for are Sarah (aside from feeling bad that someone so utterly unsuited for dealing with this family is now so firmly entrenched in it) and Norman. Of course. We’ll see how I end up feeling about everyone tomorrow.

July 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Norman Conquests: Living Together

July 25, 2010

The Norman Conquests: Living Together

I want to try and review this on its own merits. I’m trying to see it as a separate work that can stand on its own and not simply be a supporting work or sequel for the first play. It’s my understanding that all three plays are intended to work individually, but I don’t really have a way to judge. The events and comedy of the first movie are so memorable that they imprint themselves upon your brain and inevitably color your impressions of the other two.

Maybe I’m wrong about them working independently. As I watched this tonight I did see that there was an attempt to introduce the plot and characters from the first play, but it felt more perfunctory. More of a quick brush up to get the audience up to speed so that the action could get started, rather than the careful and well crafted laying out of the plot that takes pace in Table Manners. I suppose that somebody could come in to this one and figure out what was going on, but they’d have to think it through and figure things out from context. I’m actually really curious now to know just what kind of experience this play would be were it not bookended by the other two.

Be that as it may, I find as I compose my thoughts tonight to review this movie I don’t particularly feel like re-iterating the whole plot of the story or the character summaries. The story is pretty much the same, with Annie and Norman’s aborted tryst to East Grinstead and all the family friction as the three siblings and their spouses (and Tom) find themselves trapped together.

What this movie does, when viewed with the first one, is provide greater depth to the drama of the plot. There’s still some great comedy (like Norman’s phone call during Reg trying to explain his game to Sarah, Annie and Tom) and some memorable and oft-quoted lines for me and Amanda, but more than that it provides a bit more of a glimpse into the machinations of Norman.

That’s part of what’s so clever about this trilogy. You get a sort of surface glimpse of things in the first production, but the more you see of what’s going on in other rooms the more your understanding of things changes. After the first movie I come away with a sense that Norman is a bit of a hopeless romantic who can’t help it that he flings himself wholeheartedly at every woman he meets. But as the same events unfold in this film, and as you see more of Norman working his charm on all three ladies, you do begin to get the impression that he’s rather more conniving than you might have given him credit for. Particularly when he blatantly manipulates the helplessly naive Tom.

You can’t help feeling sympathy for Tom here. He’s so clearly out of his element when dealing with people. You can kind of picture the quiet simplicity of his relationship with Annie when all these other people aren’t around. Annie is the only person who really appreciates that he just wants to be affable old Tom without the pressure of having to figure out how knock-knock jokes or board games work. (The scene of Reg attempting to tell a simple knock-knock joke to Tom here is simultaneously painful to watch and one of the funniest parts of the play.) Then again, you can also see why Annie would be so vulnerable to Norman’s charms when Tom is so patently oblivious. She confides to Norman that Tom is often want to stare off in thought when faced with a question and say only “Ummmm.” Amanda and I often laugh and imitate that ruminative look and tone of voice. A noncommittal “Ummmm” does sometimes seem to sum things up.

The other thing that sticks with me from this movie is the board game that Reg has invented and wants so desperately to try out. It sounds an awful lot like Scotland Yard which is a game I’ve had great fun playing with my family in the past. Tom also mentions a mountaineering game that Reg brought once that involved Sherpa cards and oxygen tanks. It’s a little sad, because Reg has these clearly brilliant games that he’s crafted all on his own but he has nobody to play them with. Sarah is so concerned with her social standing in the community that she would clearly be mortified if he attempted to bring one of his games out when her friends are visiting… and I get the impression that Reg doesn’t have many friends of his own. One wonders how he retains his constant good humor.

Ultimately I feel that there are bits of this movie that feel quite a lot like a sequel. I will say, for example, that things in this movie are left somewhat unresolved. It even ends on what might be a cliffhanger with Reg actually leaving mid-sentence in pursuit of Sarah. You get a deeper feel for the characters and what’s going on in their lives, and you see a little more of Norman’s scheming. But not everything is neatly tied up. That’s left for the trilogy’s rousing conclusion tomorrow night.

July 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment