Old Wine, Not Very New Bottles
Everything old is new again; I can’t read another novel set in the Blitz unless somebody brings something new to the party, and I’m getting tired of books set in the mid-19th century. And yet there are still many stories to be told.
I saw Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Viceroy’s House’ yesterday, about how India’s partition came about, with a few tartly-scripted dialogue nods to the Brexit line of thinking. Yes, it’s a bit of a soap opera and not exactly David Lean, but at least it was from a personally-invested Indian director (although I wish she had told us more of that story) and it’s a tale with which I was fairly unfamiliar.
Enjoying something original and not entirely vacuous is what separates a thinking person from, say, Zoella, but we live in a time of trigger warnings and fan service, which all point to a deepening faultline of old-school conservatism running through society.
After a certain age you expect to things to repeat themselves, although we’ve never seen a politician as frighteningly stupid as Donald Trump holding a major office. So I’m reading novels on too many over-familiar subjects, but the UK market is surprisingly buoyant and there are a lot of highly original books around.
I still believe that Bryant & May are originals – I can’t think of anything with similar characters except perhaps Charters & Caldicott, Launder & Gilliat’s cricket-obsessed detectives who started out in ‘The Lady Vanishes’. But that might just be my prejudice. Charters & Caldicott appeared in a number of films, including ‘Dead of Night’, and even had a brief run as a TV series.
So why don’t the Bryant & May books get made for TV? They’ve just been turned down for the seventh or eighth time, I forget which.
I think they pose an unusual problem. On the page they’re left-field and well, peculiar, but when scriptwriters get their hands on them they become more procedural and flattened out. Their quirkiness is constrained. What I need is a writer who thinks as laterally as I do, and is prepared to be more daring and experimental on the screen. Now that’s something I’d like to see.