Monday, 1 August 2016

Greene on the Screen

Novelist Graham Greene is celebrated this week on BBC Radio 4 in Our Man in Greeneland in which five correspondents follow in the footsteps of his novels. It's part of the network's tribute to Greene that has been running this year - 25 years after his death in 1991. We've already heard adaptations of The Honorary Consul and The Power and the Glory. Dramatisations of Monsignor Quixote and The Confidential Agent are due later this year.

My accompanying piece of archive material is an edition of the Radio 4 arts magazine Kaleidoscope. Dating from 1984, film critic Nigel Andrews examines the many film adaptations of Greene's work. Virtually everyone of his novels made it to the big screen or, as in the case of Monsignor Quixote and Doctor Fischer of Geneva, were made for TV.

I wrote about this association between Green's literature and the cinema back in April 1983 for my degree dissertation Fiction Into Film: the Works of Graham Greene. I went on to examine The Third Man, Brighton Rock and England Made Me. Here's part of my general introduction:

Greene made most of his novels historically specific so that each can be seen not only to evoke the mood of their particular time but to act as indirect records of world events. As most of the films were made shortly after the appearance of the novels - England Made Me, The Fallen Idol, The Man Within and The Honorary Consul being the only time difference in double figures - both serve as social records, though with differing slants on the world. Indeed it has been said that "if we have an imaginative sense of the violent modern world elsewhere, it is in part because of Greene's writing". That world has extended from Haiti to Vietnam through Mexico and Cuba and across Europe. But it is also a unique world which few of us would recognise: a world filled with little else but criminals, murders, drunkards, adulterers and, perhaps worst of all (according to Greene) innocents. This slice of the world is known as 'Greeneland' and, in many cases, can only be escaped through some kind of spiritual release - though there are more sinners than saints. This decidedly pessimistic outlook on life is an unusual source for film-makers - one might think that the entertainment value would be rather low. But, for a number of reasons (not always clear), Greene's work has proved a popular source. What this dissertation aims to do is look at how Greene's personal 'Waste Land' has been dealt with on film: is it recognisable as Green's original world, how has the mood been created, what has the film highlighted and what has it left out?

And so I continue for about 70 pages (notes and appendices included).

In Greene on the Screen we not only hear from Greene himself, he was celebrating his 80th birthday when this programme was made, but also film directors Peter Duffell and Roy Boulting, playwright Christopher Hampton and author Quentin Falk.  This edition of Kaleidoscope was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 31 August 1984.


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