Friday, December 12, 2014

Miniseries Review - Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn
Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew McNulty, Sean Harris, Joanne Whalley, Ben Daniels, Shirley Henderson, and Andrew Scarboroug
Release Date: 2014
Rating: ★
To Buy

Mary Yellan's mother has died suddenly and she is forced to go live with her Aunt at Jamaica Inn because she doesn't want to take the offered hand of her childhood sweetheart Ned. Life at the inn is brutish and hard, filled with rough men and dangerous living. Mary has every reason to hate smugglers, as they killed her father, but soon she is one of them, part of a network hidden in plain sight throughout Cornwall. Jamaica Inn is a den of thieves and yet, despite her better judgment, she is falling for one of them, the younger brother of her uncle Joss, Jem Merlyn. The only place she knows safety away from the brutes and horse thieves is at the home of the local vicar, Francis Davey, where he and his sister Hannah offer Mary hope that her uncle will be caught and her and her Aunt Patience can forge a new life together. But no one is as they seem and everyone has some dark secret that haunts their dreams.

Seriously, this miniseries is not my fault. When I said I really wanted Jamaica Inn made into a miniseries after I first read it I didn't mean this! Let's go wreck a ship in broad daylight said no smuggler ever! Daphne Du Maurier is probably rolling in her grave right about now, but I'm sure after the Charles Laughton version she has no expectations at all and is used to disappointment. There is just so much wrong going on I was tempted on re-watching this painful miniseries to just do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 type review, but even that would have been too much effort and after a certain point there are so many major gaffe's that my brain shut down and I just tried to lie back and think of England while occasionally bemoaning the unlikelihood that anyone could get that much mud on their dress ever. Seriously. Was Mary rolling in the pig sty?

What is really grating is that this version obviously tried to keep the overall plot in tact to some degree but that it kept making little changes for no reason that kept adding up and resulted in changing everything. Now, I understand that this is an "adaptation" and that purity of the story is changed for a new medium, but seriously, why randomly make Mary have this long backstory with her father being killed by smuggler's but then have the twist that he was a smuggler!?! What does this add? Mary's mother hiding her illness from her daughter... it takes away Mary caring for her mother and showing what a strong independent young woman she is. In fact a lot of the changes chip away at Mary's independence. Instead of her not caring about love and wanting to return home to have her own farm, enter Ned, her love that was left behind that wanted to make a good wife of her. Ugh.

Why you're at it give Aunt Patience more of a backbone, make Joss less of a physically imposing giant of a man, add some new characters for no reason, change Harry the peddler from a creep and a rapist to a nice doddering smuggler. Oh, and why not take all suspense away and have Mary learn about the smuggling at Jamaica Inn in two seconds flat and have her helping out five minutes later! Then throw Jem in every scene you can, make Davey's housekeeper Hannah into his psycho sister, and on and on and on. Strip away everything little by little and what do you have? Three hours of my life I want back... or, by this point, six!

But nothing can ever beat the bad casting and dialect! The casting of Sean Harris as Joss is a joke. You need someone tall, imposing, like Clive Russell is at 6'6". But that is nothing to Sean Harris's mush mouth. I swear, I don't think he's actually saying real words. There's even a good chance he can't speak given the evidence of this miniseries. He is the worse perpetrator, but not the only one by a long shot! All the mumbling and grumbling of the dialogue led to a fair few complaints to the BBC back in April when this first aired, as in thousands of people called to complain. What the dialogue reminds me of most is that scene in My Fair Lady when Henry Higgins is filling Eliza Doolittle's mouth full of marbles and telling her to speak and enunciate and she can't. Everyone in this miniseries must have had a mouth full of marbles, it's the only explanation. The worst result of this is that the scene where Joss bares his soul and tells Mary that he is a wrecker, instead of coming across as riveting and horrific and sad all at the same time, it comes across as a mumbling drunk in front of a fire like a drunken uncle at the holidays you'd ignore. This direction and acting wouldn't inspire the horror in Mary, it would just be shrugged off as just another rant.

Finally, Mary Yellan herself cannot be exempted from the train wreck, or should I say shipwreck (oh naughty) that this miniseries is. She's supposed to carry the narrative on her shoulders and instead she spends all her time moaning and looking like she's constipated or drugged or both. Perhaps she's on drugs for her constipation? This role is yet another step in the downward trajectory that is the career path of Jessica Brown Finlay. Let's see where she went wrong. Firstly she's on like the most popular television series ever and she quits. Strike one, you don't leave Downton Abbey. Then she goes on to "star" in the cheesy television adaptation of the Kate Mosse book Labyrinth which was abominably boring and didn't even show up in the US till two years after it premiered in England to lackluster reviews. Next she stared as the fair damsel in the box office flop Winter's Tale, which didn't even make back one fifth of what it cost to make it and got an astonishingly low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn't know a movie could get only 13%! Oh, even better, top critics gave in only 10%! And then, oh joy of joys, came Jamaica Inn! Here's a hint. If you're going to leave a big show get something bankable as your followup, like Lily James and Cinderella. It's Disney! Oh, and she didn't have her character killed off so she can come back to Downton Abbey whenever she wants!

But underneath all that mud. Seriously, what's with all the mud!?! This adaptation got a few things right. Mainly they hired Matthew McNulty. A regular face for fans of Bill Gallagher's shows Lark Rise to Candleford and The Paradise, he is perfectly cast as Jem Merlyn. I defy anyone to make the phrase "come to market" sound sexier then he did. Also the duality of humans and their male and female aspects that Du Maurier wrote extensively about in the book was touched on with Mary crossdressing, which I thought was a nice touch. If only they had stayed true to the spirit of the text and stopped mumbling about things that didn't matter perhaps this would have been watchable. As it is you're better off turning off the volume and just pretending it's a nature documentary with lots of pretty scenery that occasionally muddy people walk through.


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