Over the weekend, I enjoyed two quite different things which had more in common than I first noticed. I mean, saying that, they were both fictional things being performed by actors, and they were both loosely based on actual events. Murders, even.
The first was The Christchurch Murder, an Allegra-produced Radio 4 drama which tells the story of the notorious Parker/Hulme murder in 1954 in New Zealand. The murder of a mother by her daughter and a friend, both in their teens, also formed the plot of Peter Jackson’s 1994 weird and hypnotic Heavenly Creatures.
This version, though, was written back in 1988 by Angela Carter, and apparently inspired some of Jackson’s own adaptation. Carter died in 1992 aged 51. Until this past Saturday, the Carter screenplay had never been produced. And so it was fascinating to hear it played out on Radio 4 twenty years after it was written.
But what was almost as fascinating as the story itself was that this was a screenplay on the radio. I’ve listened to a fair amount of drama on Radio 4 but this is the first time I can recall listening to a screenplay, complete with directions. It was a bit like watching a film with audio description on.
It made for a very multi-layered experience: we had the directions (such as “She enters the room, noticing all the pictures on the mantelpiece. There is no picture of the wedding.”), then Carter’s narration, and then well-acted dialogue and Foley effects playing out alongside. The murderous teenagers are played terrifically by Dolores Carbonari and Erin Wallace in a giggly, chilling fashion.
It was interesting to hear the subtle differences between Carter’s and Jackson’s adaptations. And the less subtle: name changes, and a complete lack of the fantasy elements that make Jackson’s film so unusual.
The second was Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, which I had seen before many years ago, but had all-but forgotten. It was a gripping watch. The dialogue is rich and fast and funny and unsettling. In fact, the whole film is very unsettling, and it has that great vibe of just waiting for someone to get caught out.
But, inevitably – because my brain cannot sit still for five minutes – what really fascinates me is the production. Those long, unbroken takes. The wide, linear set. The view out of the vast window – as artificial as it seems, but as carefully as it is made to show the passing of time. The way how, on the one hand, we are shown a whole scene as if it were a play, and on the other the camera trundles along behind two characters having a private conversation which we are privy to.
It’s all very clever, and it makes for a gripping narrative.
The film also looks pretty glorious, in a sort of muted, early-colour-film way. I believe it was Hitchcock’s first colour film, and the idea of him using such a film to experiment with long, uncut takes – including one over ten minutes, which I believe was about the limit of the film reel at the time – all brings to mind Christopher Nolan chucking gigantic IMAX cameras into scenes that were otherwise deemed impossible, and getting stunning results.
It’s always interesting to see a play that’s been turned into a film but, in the case of Rope, it seems like Hitchcock actually went to more effort to keep it feeling like a stage play than he would have if he’d filmed it as a more ‘traditional’ film with A/B shots (or do I mean reverse angles?) and so on.
Rope is currently showing on Mubi, a fantastic movie streaming service which values quality over quantity.
Every day they add a film of note and keep it online for a month. This means you always have thirty films to choose from, and they’re generally really great. There’s a scattering of films you know and love, a few you know you need to see but haven’t yet, and a decent amount that you’d probably never come across any other way. Pro-tip: the app works really nicely on the Amazon Fire stick, but it’s available on loads of platforms.