Friday, December 30, 2016

TV Movie Review - Frenchman's Creek

Frenchman's Creek
Based on the Book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Tara Fitzgerald, Tim Dutton, James Fleet, Mika Simmons, Anna Popplewell, Jack Snell, Yorick van Wageningen, Danny Webb, Rupert Vansittart, Michelle Wesson, Michael Jenn, and Anthony Delon
Release Date: April 25th, 1999
Rating: ★★
To Buy

London isn't the safest or the sanest place to be and Lady Dona St. Columb sees this. Her husband has always been a gambler and he backed the wrong horse in supporting the current King. James II is on his way out; it's a foregone conclusion that his son-in-law William of Orange will soon be King of England. Therefore Dona decamps back home to Cornwall and Navron. She thought the country would be safer, but the Cornish Coast is rife with soldiers and apparently riddled with spies. Loyalties and religious beliefs are questioned by all. Soon Dona is in the center of this conflict owing to her servant William and his true master, the spy Jean Aubrey. William and Aubrey have been using Navron as a safe house while the nearby creek is perfect for housing Aubrey's boat, La Mouette. Dona is caught between a rock and a hard place, she doesn't want to look like a traitor, but who should she be swearing fealty to anyway?

The more she learns about Aubrey the more she realizes how similar they are. Dona certainly has more in common with this spy then with her fellow aristocrats. Soon she is no longer just sheltering fugitives but actively participating in their schemes. It's high adventure to stick it to the insufferable boors like Lord Godolphin and Rashleigh. As she sees it wasting three hours of her time is equal to them losing a prize ship. But at the end of this grand adventure she must return home and she is surprised by the arrival of her husband and his lecherous friend Lord Rockingham. The arrival of these two, with a full compliment of guards indicates that Aubrey's freedom is in great peril. He is now all Dona thinks about. In such an unsettled time danger is around every corner and a word spoken by even the most innocent could spell doom. Can Dona secure Aubrey's freedom? If she is successful will she sail with him into the sunset or take up the mantle of her previous life? Only time will tell.

This adaptation gives the distinct impression that one day someone was watching The Last of the Mohicans and went, "YES! That's what we want! Guys with long hair jumping off things and two forces at war and a love story!" Then someone else went "Well, how about adapting Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek? It's set almost a hundred years earlier but we can make it work!" Conveniently forgetting everything that Frenchman's Creek stands for and making it the swashbuckling adventure they fantasized it to be. Gone is the journey of one woman's discovery of herself, a period piece that is relatable to this day, and in it's place is a rather silly movie that probably has more in common with the oft maligned Cutthroat Island than with it's source material. I mean, the title "Frenchman's Creek" doesn't even make sense anymore! Because in the book the creek is the Frenchman's hideout, here it's the house he is using and the ship is just moored wherever.

Of course this all made sense to me when I saw that the writer just happened to be the executive producer of the TV show Homeland. A show that specializes in overwrought drama that forces every aspect of life to revolve around politics and religion. I think that the rule of thumb for a happy family gathering during the holidays of not talking about politics and religion should apply to adaptations where the source material doesn't support the addition. You don't randomly throw politics and religion into a story making a time-shift needed!!! Which makes it so obvious to me that this was adapted by a man. Because the politics and the religion justify Aubrey's actions and give him morals. In the book he's a freakin' pirate, but by making him a spy, oh, everything he does is just fine. How many times do I have to yell it that this is the story of a woman! It's not Aubrey's story, it's Dona's!

To change everything to make the male more important? Just no. Du Maurier would be furious. I'm furious! She wrote strong female characters and Dona is basically made into a prop for Aubrey. She's just there to faun over him not as a means to finding out her purpose in life. This all starts early in the movie by changing WHY Dona leaves court. This creates a seismic shift in her character. In the book she leaves court out of disgust at herself and the courtly antics of those hanging around Charles II, the King BEFORE James II. To make her flee even for an ounce of danger!?! Um, how does that work with the life she then takes on? How can she be a spy if she can't handle a few disgusting suitors? All the changes just don't make sense to me. I keep asking myself "why" over and over again. Because if the people behind this thought that no one would watch a faithful adaptation of a book with great characters but little plot I'm totally confused because that's basically what Downton Abbey was and that was like the biggest hit ever.

But what really effected me the most was that this adaptation was chock-a-block with violence. Which had two results. One, I hated it, and two, it was another way in which Dona was downgraded. I'm really not one of those people harping on and on about there being too much senseless violence. I don't think video games make people kill. I'm just wanting to make it clear I'm not one of those people before I say, WTF!?! I lost count at how many people died. In the capture of Lord Godolphin and Rashleigh's ship the spies are blowing up and running through people like there's no tomorrow. If Mr. "Homeland" had wanted to show the morals of Aubrey how about keep it like the book? Aubrey doesn't kill ONE SINGLE PERSON in the book. What this does is place a spotlight on Dona killing Rockingham. In the book this single death packs a massive wallop whereas being just one death among so many it completely loses it's significance. Throw in that mass murder at the end and Dona's children beating Satan out of a dog, and Dona once again doesn't matter much.

And once again I have to point out that this isn't the fault of the actors. Yes, it was fairly obvious there was a strata among the acting abilities in the cast, Aubrey was laughably bad, but the good still shown through the muck. Actors going about, trying to do the best with what they were given, so that sometimes you see what it could have been and you become sad that this is what you have. Yet I did try to latch onto what was good, what worked. Tara Fitzgerald and Danny Webb brought their A game. You could actually see something of the book Dona and William that made them sparkle a little like Dona's ruby earrings when they were onscreen. When I read the book I was utterly unconvinced that Tara Fitzgerald could not pull off Dona, despite being such a fan of hers. This adaptation of Frenchman's Creek showed that she was 100% the right choice. Now if they had just stuck to book Dona this would probably be a glowing review! But my heart belonged with James Fleet as Dona's husband. He has this awesome James Fleetness that makes you just always love him. I don't know if it's because of Vicar of Dibley, but I truly think there's something great in his soul that makes this likability always shine through even when an ass. Of course Dona went back to her husband! There really wasn't a choice to jilt James! He made the boorish role of Harry his own and in doing so made this his movie.


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