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.
Part of Adaption Week
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