Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Enchanted April

We had a beautiful weekend and all the red buds are in bloom.  But now the weather has gone back to freezing and I can't wait for spring to be here to stay. 

So, I watched Enchanted April.  I watch it every year usually at the beginning of March, just when the weather is starting to break and there is a hint of spring in the air but spring won't be here in full force for a few weeks.  It helps me get through those weeks.  (I also usually watch Bull Durham to get in the mood for baseball season, but it's too early for that.)

Starring Josie Lawrence and the always wonderful Miranda Richardson, it also has a great performances by Joan Plowright and Polly Walker.  The director is Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) but much credit for the success of this film must go to the screenwriter Peter Barnes and especially the cinematographer Rex Maidment for the juxtaposition between the grey, rainy London in the first half of the film and the sunny, wisteria filled Italy of the second half of the film.

The film is based on a novel by Elizabeth von Armin written back in the 1920's called The Enchanted April.  As far as I know it is still out of print but my local library has a copy and I read it a few years ago.  The film is fairly true to the novel and, in fact, is somewhat more believable than the novel.  I'm not sure why this is true and it may just be my own deficiency as a reader in being able to form adequate pictures in my mind.  But the story is about the transformative nature of beautiful surroundings and, since just watching the film each year transforms me, I find that the film works slightly better than the novel.   After all, it is one thing to describe rainy, cold London and warm, sunny Italy and another thing to see it.

Also, an essential part of the story is that Lottie Wilkins "sees" things as they should be and she makes it so.  And the portrayal of Lottie by Josie Lawrence is so perfect that I completely believe that Lottie "sees" things that are as they should be.  For instance, in the novel:

But Mrs. Wilkins was not listening; for just then, absurd as it seemed, a picture had flashed across her brain, and there were two figures in it sitting together under a great trailing wisteria that stretched across the branches of a tree she didn't know, and it was herself and Mrs. Arbuthnot -- she saw them -- she saw them.  And behind them, bright in sunshine, were old grey walls -- the medieval castle -- she saw it -- they were there ...

There is something pedestrian about this "sight" whereas Josie Lawrence adds her intense gaze and affirms that she sees it.  It is going to happen.

The story is simple; it takes place after World War I.  Two middle class married women (Rose Arbuthnot and Lottie Wilkins) live in the same London suburb, belong to the same church and the same London woman's club, but they don't really know each other very well.  They find that they are both sick and tired of the cold dreary February London weather as well as their own lives and they decide to plan a trip Italy for a month of sunshine.  They see an advertisement for a wisteria draped castle and decide to rent it.  They do not intend to take their husbands. Rose is emotionally estranged from her husband and Lottie's husband is somewhat overbearing. 

The two women cannot afford the castle on their own however, so they advertise for two other women to share expenses with them.  Unfortunately they receive only two applicants and must accept both of them.  This is part of the "magic" of the film - that four so different women end up together sharing a house in Italy.  The other two women are Lady Caroline Dester a beautiful spoiled flapper who is bored with her single life:  

Lady Caroline came to the club in Shaftesbury Avenue, and appeared to be wholly taken up by one great longing, a longing to get away from everybody she had ever known.  When she saw the club, and Mrs. Arbuthnot, and Mrs. Wilkins,  she was sure that here was exactly what she wanted.  She would be in Italy - a place she adored; she would not be in hotels - places she loathed;  she would not be staying with friends - persons she disliked; and she would be in the company of strangers who would never mention a single person she knew, for the simple reason that they had not, could not have and would not come across them.

The fourth woman is Mrs. Fischer, a lonely old lady living in the past who frowns on "modern" ways.

Although the women have little in common with each other, each of the four women seeks transformation and finds it in the Italian sun.  The two husbands, who also end up in Italy, also are transformed. 

It is a bit of a fairy tale but sometimes we need a fairly tale in the last cold days of winter.   And even if you don't believe in magic, it's always nice, when the weather is bad wherever you are, to think of Italy as it looks at the end of April.