The most recent Wimsey series, so far as I know (shown in America on PBS’ “Mystery”), starred Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter. It includes Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, and Gaudy Night. I’ll start with the last one because it’s my least favorite.
I first saw the Gaudy Night adaptation when it aired in the United States for the first time. I remember being bitterly disappointed, because the bits that did make it into the screenplay were performed so exquisitely by the actors. But the bits that didn’t nearly make me scream, and do make me pull the book off the shelf to read them before I can rest. (No, I don’t have to search for those scenes within the novel…I just go from one to the next, neat as clockwork…sigh.) I will never understand why anyone could think Gaudy Night could be adapted in three episodes, when it is the richest novel of the whole series.
The screenplay uses whole chunks of verbatim dialogue from the novel, yet missing are most of my favorite things. The romance was sacrificed in favor of the mystery; there was method in their madness; but the little bits of romance they left in were just that much more lonely.
The dog collar was taken out, and the ivory chessmen. Viscount St. George and Reggie Pomfret make no appearance. Harriet spends no time working on Miss Lydgate’s book, so far as I could tell. Jukes is gone completely, though Peter and Padgett’s war stories are replaced by a tiny scene between Padgett and Bunter. The dog collar was taken out, and the ivory chessmen. The dog collar was taken out, and the ivory chessmen. The dog collar was taken out, and the ivory chessmen. [ahem]
There is no Peter sleeping in the punt!!! [ahem, again] That, I could see them cutting, because all of the interesting stuff there is inside Harriet’s head. That whole scene in the punt, in which Harriet realizes and accepts for good and all that she is physically attracted in Peter, is made for print, not for screen. In the novel, it’s leisurely and completely satisfying; we are allowed to linger on things like the hair at the nape of his neck and his ear, which in a camera’s eye would have been strange and off-putting close-ups. To give the director credit, the camera lingers on Peter reviewing Harriet’s evidence book, and then her watching him, and then Peter looking up and their eyes meeting for a moment of realization. It’s gone in seconds. The actors manage to convey the meaning, I think. But it’s not the same.
Thinking more on it, I think there’s no way to make a perfect movie of Gaudy Night. It’s just too beautiful as a novel. There’s too much there, internally and otherwise. So I’m waiting for the virtual reality sensaround version.