Charles Foran, writing in The Walrus (subscription required), previews the TV adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s St. Urbain’s Horseman, which airs Sept. 19 and 20 on CBC. Foran also describes Richler’s involvement with the film industry, which not only provided inspiration for his novels – for example, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (in which Duddy breaks into the film business), St. Urbain’s Horseman (the protagonist of which is a mid-level director), and Cocksure (which features a transsexual movie mogul who has sex with himself) – but paid the rent when Richler, struggling as a novelist in London, worked on countless screenplays. Apparently, Richler considered it hack work:
From the start [Richler] was adept and unpretentious, holding few illusions about any relationship between movies and art. “Even under the most ideal circumstances,” he wrote in an essay from the period, “film is not a writer’s medium.”
That said, Richler didn’t hesitate to work on a screenplay for St. Urbain’s Horseman shortly after the novel’s publication. After a couple of years and dozens of drafts, the project stalled – at which point Richler whipped up a script for Duddy Kravitz.
Foran’s final analysis of the three-hour miniseries is that it is “an honourable attempt to film a sprawling novel.” His critique springs from the truism – which Foran describes at length – that movies are rarely better than the book, at least when it comes to literary fiction.
Interestingly, The Walrus’s current theatre coverage (subscription required) also relates to literary adaptation – namely, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s staging of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, which opens in Ottawa on Sept. 21 after a month-long stint in London. Apparently, this collaboration was somewhat less tortured than the thirty-year genesis of St. Urbain’s Horseman. According to the article, director Josette Bushell-Mingo “sends Atwood an email every second day.” Bushell-Mingo continues:
“Margaret says, ‘You can call me.’ And I’ll be bloody taking her up on her offer. We’re going to get a webcam in here so I’ll be like, ‘Hey girl…’”
No word on whether that webcam – or perhaps a LongPen service – was ever installed, but you can read a favourable review of the production here.