BBC Adaptation of Jean Rhys’s WIDE SARGASSO SEA

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I have finally had the chance to watch the BBC adaptation of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Originally broadcast on October 6, 2006, the tv-film is now available in dvd form in the United States. Produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC Wales, the 90-minute drama was directed by Brendan Masher from a script by Stephen Greenhorn. It stars Rebecca Hall as Antoinette Cosway and Rafe Spall as Rochester. The film was shot in Jamaica.

My expectations, I have to confess, were not high, as the Times had dismissed it when it first aired as a “petticoaty shag-fest.” (Ouch!) “Scarcely ten minutes went by without Rochester and his missus having a sweaty, spicey Caribbean bunk-up,” the Times added, “before descending into recriminations and sulking.” The third lead in the drama, they argued, was Jamaica, “making everyone sweat, sending up swarms of flies, putting a whispering, cat-eyed obi-woman at every window.”

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I did find the review a little harsh. The film, however, cannot be described as a successful adaptation. The fault lies primarily with the script, which omits too many of the details that give the novel its power and appeal. Not enough remains of the complexity of characterization or of the cultural and racial subtlety of the novel to satisfy the viewer who comes to the film as a previous reader of Rhys’ text. The attempts of the cast to speak in Jamaican accents grate on the ear and efforts to add emotional power to scenes through energetic editing can annoy.

“Give me peace,” Antoinette had stipulated as her only condition when she accepted Rochester’s marriage proposal. After an hour and a half, the Times reports, “he had failed so miserably at this that she threw herself from the battlements of cold Thornfield, and left him free to marry Jane Eyre.” I didn’t feel any temptation to throw myself from any battlements in disappointment after watching the film, but I did consider turning it off and finding something better to do with my time.

If you must see for yourself, the dvd is available through Netflix and is for sale at http://www.amazon.com/Wide-Sargasso-Sea-Rafe-Spall/dp/B0014I7AQO

The Times review can be found at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article608191.ece

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