A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 148 – The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden

The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden – July 26th, 2010

Let’s start off with a quick disclaimer: If you haven’t read about the first two movies in this trilogy, you really might want to go back two days and start with Table Manners, then go on to last night’s Living Together before you read this. At least if you’re unfamiliar with the concept and plot. Because as I’ve mentioned, these three plays/movies are the same story over the same time period, in different locations. And as this is the third one, I’m going to go ahead and assume by now anyone reading is familiar with the whole situation, with Annie and Tom and Norman and Ruth and Sarah and Reg, and the infidelity and a weekend spent stuck all together.

It strikes me immediately that this movie does about as good a job setting up the story as the first one does. It’s really quite forthright about it all, whereas the first one has a whole thing between Sarah and Annie, with Sarah wringing it out of Annie that she’s going off with Norman. Here we’re introduced to Annie and Tom and get a rather good look at their relationship, such as it is, before Norman himself shows up and we get the entire plot from him and Annie. There’s a good deal of talking in this one. Granted, there’s a lot of talking them all, but this one seems to have a number of fairly deep conversations going on, shedding a lot of light on the inner workings of the characters’ minds.

I know that makes it sound as though this is more serious than the other two, and it is, a tiny bit, but there’s still plenty of humor. I think what this third one makes clear is just how buttoned up everyone is in the other two. So very much happens in this one. Not only do we get to see a conversation between Ruth and Tom that’s alluded to in Table Manners, but we get to see both how much Ruth downplayed it and the eventual disastrous consequences. And that’s just one example. Again, we get to see a lot more of Ruth (who, I admit, is my favorite character next to Norman, and she’s far more likable in the end really), and a bit more of Norman’s seduction of Sarah. There’s really a whole lot that goes on during the first night when Norman’s completely sloshed that’s never mentioned later. Sure, we see him getting the silent treatment at breakfast the next morning but not the entirety of what came before.

It’s that sort of gradual unfolding of events and dawning of understanding about what’s gone on and who’s said what to whom and when that makes this whole trilogy so much fun. This one, being the last, has a lot of consequences of actions and words done and said indoors. I’d be curious to see the reaction of someone seeing the movies in reverse order, but this one really closes out so many storylines, it seems a shame to see it before getting the wind-up from the others. Especially since there is a real end to this one. It’s as much chaos as the rest of the trilogy, of course, with everyone yelling and Sarah feeling faint and Norman eyeing all three women, but there’s a definite sense of closure to the weekend.

I find myself amused that we watched this over a summer weekend. It wasn’t intentional that we start on a Saturday and end on a Monday, like the trilogy does. It happened by accident because on Friday we went to put in the first movie and our VCR threw a snit, so we put it off a day. But it seems somewhat fitting. I really wish I could share these movies with everyone I know. I want to buy copies for friends, or arrange an all day marathon viewing. It’s not like it’s something you can pop in to watch quickly in an evening after dinner or something. It’s a major time investment. And finding copies in the US isn’t as easy as putting it on your NetFlix queue. But if you can find them, it’s so very worth the trouble and time. The acting is superb, the writing is fantastic, and it’s a unique experience to see a story told this way. I know Alan Ayckbourn, the playwright who wrote them, has done the same thing with other plays – I read about one once without realizing it was the same guy and thought “This sounds a lot like The Norman Conquests.” It’s a gimick, sure, but at least with these three he’s truly made it work.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden

July 26, 2010

Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden

At last we reach the rousing conclusion of the Norman Conquest trilogy! As I watch this now it seems pretty clear to me that it does NOT work as a stand alone presentation. It is built very much on the events and emotions of the first two plays. For example there’s the strange juxtaposition of the first act with the second. The first act ends with Norman storming into the house with the solid intent of staying for the weekend rather than doing Sarah the favor of slinking off in shame. The second act starts with Sarah and Reg dragging a stumbling drunk Norman out for a breath of fresh air. If you don’t already know the events that transpire in the first two plays this makes no sense at all, and no attempt is made to explain it.

As such I shan’t attempt to review this as its own entity. If you are embarking upon this review then you should prepare yourself beforehand by reading my reviews of the first two, or else you might become lost since I’m not going to waste any time trying to explain who everybody is and what’s going on. I don’t think the movie does.

There are a lot of things I really like about this movie. It’s not my favorite of the three – that would be Table Manners, because it does such a great job of introducing everybody, and because it has that great breakfast scene – but it is an essential part of the whole. Not the least because it resolves so many of the untidy bits from the first two movies. But I’ll get to that later.

To start at the beginning I will say that it’s great that the movie is bookended (sort of) by Annie and Tom. I mentioned yesterday that I could sort of imagine what their lives were like when everybody else was not around to make them so complicated, and this movie starts out showing us just that. Indeed it’s the sort of emotional underpinning of the whole film. You need to see the two of them together to understand what’s right between them, and what’s wrong. And then through the chaos of the rest of the movie you get a resolution of that relationship. An awkward and fumbling resolution, but then it would have to be, wouldn’t it. It involves Tom, doesn’t it. You have to love the poor lump.

Another thing to really love about this film is the way it lets the character of Ruth take center stage. It sort of speeds through the events of Saturday and rushes straight on to Sunday, when Ruth has arrived on the scene, so she gets a lot more screen-time to make her own nature clear. In particular there’s an absolutely wonderful scene between her and Tom that provides a lot of honest laughs, and sets up one of the most painfully awkward parts of the entire movie. Ruth is whip-smart and has all the jaded practicality of Annie but without any of the self doubt and pain that comes of being so lonely and bearing the brunt of the responsibility of caring for Mother. Her only flaw seems to be that she’s so bewilderingly fond of her outrageous husband. It must be very difficult to be Ruth and have honest affection for such a difficult and irrepressible man.

Everybody gets a little chance to show their character briefly here. Like individual bows after the encore. There’s Sarah being a general busybody. There’s Reg spontaneously inventing a game on the spot (which really made me grin.) There’s Annie being generally conflicted. There’s Ruth being wonderful but failing somewhat in her attempts to patch things up between Annie and Tom. And there’s Tom being Tom and Norman being Norman. By this time they all feel like old friends, and it’s fun to see them just being themselves.

Having spent the last three nights with this little cast of characters it’s almost too bad to not be spending any more time with them. I want so much to know what happens next and how things work out. Yes, there’s a resolution of sorts, but it feels like there’s still a lot of tension not addressed. And I just want to spend more time with these people. I find that I really do care that Ruth and Reg and Annie find some happiness in their lives.

Let me end by saying that I surprised myself by suddenly trying to read a lot more into the movie right near the finale. There’s a great shot at the end of the movie that has Norman confronted by his three conquests simultaneously. The way the shot is framed is very cool. It occurred to me at this point that if I were the sort who were prone to analysis there might be a lot to read into this film viewing the three women as aspects of women-kind in general. Maiden, Mother and Crone and all that. Though come to think of it part of the whole point of the plays is that Annie is anything but a maiden. And Sarah has plenty of Crone in her to go with the Mother aspect. Oh, well. I know exactly what her reaction to such romantic and erudite analysis would be. “Oh, balls, Norman!”

July 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment