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Taking a story and making a movie

07 December 2012

Stephen Brown looks at DVD releases that raise some questions


WHEN a film such as The Vow (Sony Pictures, Cert. 12), now out on DVD, says that it's inspired by true events, just be a little wary. Why let facts interfere with a rattling good story? In 1993, a real-life couple, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, had been married only a few weeks when they were involved in a car accident. As a result, Krickitt, the wife, lost all memory of her husband, which has never been regained.

This film turns them into contemporary Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams). While Kim and Krickitt were and are devout people, most religious elements of their tale have been secularised. The "wedding", unlike the Carpenters', takes place not in church, but surreptitiously at an art gallery when nobody is looking. One would search in vain to find a marriage ceremony using the kind of vows that Leo and Paige make. Yet, despite these reservations, the film adds up to something much better than a plain account of the Carpenters' admirable and well-known struggle.

The Vow is indeed inspired by whatsoever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Spiritual themes dominate: enduring love, unbroken promises, repentance, forgiveness, and healing. If these are handled with too much sugar for some tastes, that is clearly a minority view.

First, we are shown a bohemian couple very much in love, making a threadbare living from their artistic pursuits. Babies are being talked about as a snow plough hits their parked car, with devastating medical consequences. When Paige is eventually released from hospital (with barely a scratch visible on McAdams's pretty face), she has to make a choice between going back to her parents, whom she remembers, and returning home with a husband whom she no longer recognises. We keep getting flashbacks to earlier times in their courtship and marriage, but these are Leo's memories, not Paige's. On the other hand, she can recall a happy upbringing, and instantly knows her old schoolfriends.

The dilemma for her is whether to play safe with what is familiar, or risk that the man to whom she is married must be somebody worth while. There are subplots surrounding a previous fiancé and skeletons in the parental cupboard. This is where the husband's vows of life-long commitment come into play. His enduring love (upheld by Christian faith in Kim's case) includes, however reluctantly, the possibility of letting Paige go, letting her be.

She, in turn, has to face up to a legacy of deceit, cowardice, guilt, and hypocrisy. Characters in different ways acknowledge their pasts, affirming whatever was right, and seeking forgiveness for whatever was not. Even so, the film ends inconclusively, perhaps implying that sacrificial love remains a never-ending story. The only closure comes with a final credit telling us that the real-life Carpenters did remake it as a couple. It is just a pity that there is no mention of their Christian faith.

MONTY PYTHON humour was always something that you either loved or hated. Then, in 1979, came Monty Python's Life of Brian, and the divisions ran along new lines. Was the film unacceptably offensive and blasphemous, or refreshingly funny about how easily crowds can make religion out of a mistake?

Containing hints of his The Thick of It scripts, Tony Roche's comedy drama Holy Flying Circus, first shown on BBC4 last year (available on DVD, Cert. 15) revisits the build-up to Life of Brian's UK release.

The original film that nearly 40 local authorities banned in some way followed Brian Cohen, who just happened to be born in an adjacent stable to Jesus and unwittingly is perceived as the real Son of God. Mob gullibility was being satirised; but, because Brian's life so closely mirrors that of Jesus, ending with a mass crucifixion scene where its victims sing "Always look on the bright side of life", one can see what the fuss was about. Thirty-three years later (and the film acknowledges this), religious controversies still persist.

It is hard to know whether this follow-up, with excursions into absurdist flights of fancy, is primarily a homage to Python's surrealistic outlook or a serious attempt (admittedly through jokes) to examine the conflict between safeguarding free speech while respecting religious sensibilities. If it is the former, it didn't make me laugh much. Darren Boyd is an impressive John Cleese, or, rather, as he tells us in an animation-assisted party political broadcast, Basil Fawlty. Even better (because he is the more believable character) is Charles Edward as Michael Palin. The film depicts him as "the nicest man in Britain", but he is tormen-ted by thoughts and crazy dreams brought on by others' taking jokes far too seriously.

Those of a religious disposition who are opposed to the Brian film include someone with Tourette's forever stifling rude words, and the marvellous Mark Heap (Lark Rise to Candleford, Friday Night Dinner) as the nerdish Christian leader prepared to change his mind. Then there is the famous Friday Night, Saturday Morning show that Tim Rice (fresh from Jesus Christ Superstar success) hosted. It is presented here as an ambush laid by Malcolm Muggeridge and Bishop Mervyn Stockwood for Palin and Cleese. Sadly, art fails to inject new insights into something that really happened. The actual debate (see YouTube) is far more interesting than the fictitious account.

The picture's best scene is when the ubiquitous Stephen Fry plays (who else but) God. He walks across the sands in one of Palin's dreams sublimely tolerant of humanity's religious quirks and fragilities: "You see, the trouble is, Michael, this doesn't apply to you, of course, but a lot of people aren't very nice." I did wonder whom He had in mind.

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