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Dance to the Music of Time, A

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					Dance Music Time film. 9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
        Over Stuffed, But Full of Plums, March 15, 2008
By
Stephanie DePue


This review is from: A Dance to the Music of Time (DVD)
"A Dance to the Music of Time," (1997) is a four-part British Broadcasting Company
television serial based on 20th century English author Anthony Powell's 12-volume
literary series of the same name: (the initial volumes have since been combined into four
`movements,' as the publisher calls them.) The author always denied that "A Dance" was
a roman a clef; still, even to me, many characters resemble figures well-known at the
time, and more knowledgeable readers would probably recognize even more. Also, the
narrator, Nick Jenkins's life, closely parallels the writer's.

Powell's written series must be considered one of the masterpieces of 20th century British
fiction: it is little-known today, and doesn't get the respect it deserves, perhaps because,
in addition to being closely observed and intricately plotted, it can be hilarious. Book and
TV series more or less parallel Evelyn Waugh's much better-known and more popular
"Brideshead Revisited," book and BBC-TV series, in their drawing room wit, the social
class and lifestyles of their characters, and the between-the wars period of time in which
they're largely based, but "Brideshead," of course, particularly the TV serial, is much
more admired; it's surely more engrossing. The filmic "Dance" carries the burden of those
12 books, published over 20 years real time, more than 3,000 pages in total, at least 400
characters, in its relatively brief running time. Each book gets only around 40 minutes.
Script was written by Hugh Whitemore, an able playwright and screenwriter, but if you
don't already know the books, you will probably have trouble following this series. It's
got its advantages, however. Among other things, the Beeb threw a lot of money at the
screen for "A Dance." It boasts a star-studded cast, wonderful clothes, jewels, cars and
interiors, and was made on location. The big ballroom scenes feature not only crowds of
beautifully garbed extras, but historically correct bands and orchestras making music to
swoon for. Furthermore, as it was made for BBC4, the Beeb's experimental arm, it boasts
the occasional full-frontal female nudity, too.

Part I begins with our narrator, Nick Jenkins, at what the English prefer to call a public
school: Eton, shortly after the end of the first world war. We meet his two best friends,
Charles Stringham and Peter Templer. Also Kenneth Widmerpool, outcast at the school,
with whom they will continuously come into contact later. Jenkins is played by the
handsome young James D'Arcy, who has only become a bigger star over the years. His
Uncle Giles is played by Edward Fox: Simon Russell Beale does a remarkable job as
Widmerpool. As Jenkins moves on to Oxford, we'll meet Allan Bennett as Sillery, one of
the more powerful dons there.

In Part II, we suddenly meet James Purefoy as the somewhat older Jenkins; also, a 95-
year old John Gielgud playing the best-known novelist of the age, the supposed-to-be 60
year old St. John Clarke. Zoe Wanamaker plays Audrey McLintock, a mover and shaker
in the artistic circles Jenkins frequents. The depression has hit; many characters have
moved leftward politically, some all the way to the Communist Party; Widmerpool has
begun his irresistible ascent to power, prestige and wealth. World War II is casting its
shadow forward. But, by and large, most of the younger characters are having enjoyable,
busy sex lives, running off with each other's husbands, wives, and, perhaps, goats....

Part III finds us in wartime. The insufferable Widmerpool continues his rise in the world,
and comes to dominate the show more and more. The war seems, to this viewer, to aid
that unpopular man in dispatching a couple of his old enemies. He will marry Stringham's
beautiful but very "difficult" niece Pamela Flitton, well-played by the beautiful young
Miranda Richardson. Jenkins establishes his literary career, and meets the girl of his
dreams, Isabella, of a family based either on the well-known literary Longfords, or
Mitfords: I'd guess the Longfords, but you'd have to know more than I do about these
people to be sure.

Part IV is the weakest of the series. The makers have fooled around with Powell's
timeline, trying to stretch things out to more contemporaneous times, and have also
suddenly foisted John Standing, as Jenkins, and Joanna David, as Isabella, upon us: nor
does Standing look much like his predecessor in the part. All parties concerned have a
good time with the craziness of the 1960's; rebellious youth, hippies and swamis make
hay. Widmerpool has achieved wealth, power, and prestige; he's been made a life peer -
as has Sillery -- and chancellor of a major university. But has he achieved contentment?
Well, that’s always the $64 question, isn’t it.

				
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