Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Part of Adaption Week
teotabk Using his relationship with the married Catherine Walston as a springboard, Graham Greene crafted a novel exploring love, hate religion and jealousy. It’s a story of a writer, Bendrix, who becomes involved with Sarah, the wife of a civil servant, Henry, during WW2. When Sarah suddenly breaks it off without explanation, Bendrix grows bitter and later hires a private investigator to discover why. The investigator purloins her diary, which Bendrix reads and finds the reason for their breakup was a promise made to God, by the hithero agnostic Sarah. Rejecting this, Bendrix makes plans with Sarah to resume their affair, but she dies before they can follow though.
The 1999 film was perfectly cast, with handsome Ralph Fiennes as Bendrix, a luminous Julianne Moore as Sarah & Stephen Rea as her cuckolded husband. Much of the dialogue and plot points were taken directly from the novel, as was the dark & rainy setting, with cellos and string instruments accenting the mood. However, there were a multitude of little changes that, while true to the spirit of the book, did influence the viewer. The main one being making Bendrix a nicer person. The written Bendrix is nasty and manipulative. His bitterness has consumed him to an almost juvenille pettiness of hatred. “…I looked at hate like an ugly and foolish man whom one did not want to know.” In the film, it’s severe jealousy, puzzled at the betrayal, but not the outright cruelty sometimes displayed in the book. He is also more affluent in the film, living in a nice flat, instead of the bedsit of the book.
We get to know Sarah through her diary entries in both versions, though Greene has her religious conversion embarrassing her, where in the film it’s a goal she strives for. She quickly dies of pneumonia in the book, but cancer in the movie, with Bendrix caring for her, another difference from the novel, where he doesn’t move in until after her death.
The biggest difference between the two mediums is the last part. The movie adds a vacation to Brighton for the reunited couple, a few sun filled days of bliss before the results of the medical test bring doom. The novel goes on for some time after Sarah dies, the immature Bendrix hooking up with a lady he meets on the subway, arguing with various people, lending Sarah’s mum money and generally becoming even more repelling. Much better is the film‘s ending, where a sad and brooding Bendrix angrily types a letter to God, whom he supposedly doesn’t believe in, as yet more rain pours down outside his window.

Penguin movie tie-in 1999 (orig. 1951) 192 pp. ISBN 0-14-02.9109-1

10 comments on “The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

  1. ElleJay
    July 20, 2009

    Hi Jackie,

    I loved the brooding darkness of the book and Graham Greene’s writing. When it came to seeing the film I did not like was the tinkering of the screenwriter. It was my greatest hate when the context and especially the ending of the book was changed so dramatically in the film.
    You said that making Bendrix a nicer person in film was a good thing but it missed the point of the story and the exploration of the human condition that Greene does so well. He wanted you see how love and obsession destroyed people, he also was looking at how religion can change people. For the first hour of the film I thought they had done a reasonable job of getting the atmosphere of the book and an outline of the story, then for the ending I was on the verge of walking out. I was so angry with the adaptation that it ruined what I thought was a really good piece of writing.
    Then again with adaptations you have to look at what the writer originally was writing about, what was their original message, and then what the adaptation is trying to say, do they have a hidden agenda. With classic novels it is easier as there is no sign posts that people will know or relate to other than human emotion and social stereotypes, with modern classics it is harder as people will remember the times in which the story is set or know from interviews with the writer when the book was first published along with the reviews that outlined what the writer was saying, this then becomes baggage to the book and will be in the memory of the reader, so when it is adapted this not always taken into consideration and can make or break the film for the viewer.
    It is the hardest thing in the world to convert a book into a film and I know that there has to be some artistic licence given to situations, missing characters etc. In this case the casting was the best I have seen, special mention to Ralph Fiennes who epitomised the brooding character from the book.
    Thanks for making me review my thoughts on this adaptation. I probably would not see the film again, but reading the book again is something that I might do in the autumn.


  2. Moira
    July 20, 2009

    I thought that Fiennes/Moore/Rea version of the book had a lot to recommend it, catching the atmosphere of its original perfectly. I’m not sure why they included the Brighton sequence though … unless they thought it needed something to lighten the rain-soaked gloom. Nor am I sure why they chose to have her die of cancer rather than pneumonia. Sometimes – and this is one of those times – I wish screenwriters would trust their source material more. I could have done without the trendy graphic bonking too … it’s not necessary. Less is definitely more in that respect, as far as I’m concerned.

    Making Bendrix a more likeable character is also something film-makers can’t seem to resist – it’s as if they’re afraid that without a simpatico central character audiences will lose interest. Perhaps they will … but not this film’s target audience, surely?

  3. Christine
    July 20, 2009

    As a general matter, I think film makers feel forced to make their characters more likeable. This film is guilty of that. So are some others I can think of. Perhaps it is a need to appeal to a wider (and perhaps lower) common denominator. The protagonist needs to be attractive or people won’t care and if people don’t care they don’t tend to like the movie. Reading is so much more individual. A reader can take one’s time. If you get sick of a character, you put the book down for a bit until your curiosity gets the better of you. Or you are hooked on the way the book is written and the ideas without having to care much about the characters themselves. I’ve read some great books where I haven’t liked the characters at all! A film is more visceral and, to recoup its investment, must be more emotionally appealing.

  4. rosyb
    July 22, 2009

    I remember not liking the characters in the film very much. I thought it was very atmospheric though. I think it was a film that kind of lost me gradually as it went along. Perhaps it was a slightly difficult dilemma to share for me.

  5. Eva
    July 24, 2009

    Am I the only one who thinks (for 10 years now) that Sarah in the film died of consumption?

    I’ve only read the book once (after watching the film) and I think it is time to revisit it. With a more sober eye now I can see that the changes made can be very annoying, but they didn’t really bother me at the time. I tend to think the novel and the film as two completely different pieces, each with their own merrits. On a side note, Nyman’s score is absolutely haunting. I make a point of listening to it when it rains…

  6. rosyb
    July 25, 2009

    I was just saying over on the Helen FitzGerald/Sergio Casci piece about the themes that have cropped up this week: one major one being that film often makes the characters more sympathetic characters than books – this ran through this piece, Jean Brodie piece, Wuthering Heights and even, a little bit, Brokeback Mountain. And yet it is said that publishers want books with sympathetic likable characters these days too. Is this therefore to do with the different requirements of books and films – or the requirements of large audience-getters versus “works of literature” that may be admired and on syllabuses but not have to attract the reader through likable characters?

  7. Jackie
    July 25, 2009

    Eva, that’s a good point about consumption & very possible, it makes a lot of sense with what the film shows. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. Maybe because consumption is so prevalent in 18th & 19th Century life that TEOTA seems too modern for it. I agree with you about Nyland’s score, it is like a rainy day in music.
    Rosy, I think authors can take more liberties with their characters because they are aimed at a smaller audience, at least theoretically. Plus, there’s not a million scriptwriters altering the story, just the author & editor. I don’t think it’s always playing to the commonest denominator, especially in the case of Bendrix, who was definitely NOT a romantic leading man in the novel, I was quite put off by him. In the film, he’s more understandable.

  8. Dinah
    January 7, 2011

    I remember the original film in 1955 starring Deborah Kerr. Van Johnson and John Mills. Van Johnson was not a good choice for the part of the lover so the film was not that good. This later version was laboured and miserable but the actors were not to blame and gave it their best shot.

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