sat 13/07/2024

Any Human Heart, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Any Human Heart, Channel 4

Any Human Heart, Channel 4

A long, strange trip for Logan Mountstuart in this William Boyd adaptation

The Matthew Macfadyen incarnation of Logan Mountstuart, with Hayley Atwell as Freya Deverell

Any period drama that crops up on Sunday nights is now automatically billed as a potential replacement for Downton Abbey. Any Human Heart has duly been described thus, but isn't.

Converted into a four-part series from William Boyd's 2002 novel, with a screenplay by Boyd himself, it's the story of the writer Logan Mountstuart, whose long life spanned the major events of the 20th century while bouncing around between various continents and relationships. In accordance with the timespan and the authorial notion that every individual becomes several different personalities en route to the grave, Mountstuart and other characters are played by different actors at different phases of the narrative.

I haven't read Boyd's novel, but I'm sensing that chopping and bending it into shape for television may not have done it too many favours. Constructing a kind of subjective biography from Mountstuart's copious journals, as the elderly Mountstuart (Jim Broadbent) looks back over his life after learning he suffers from heart disease, may be a fruitful literary ploy, but when boxed in by the specifics of time, place and appearance demanded by television, the space for imaginative playfulness is diminished.

Perhaps having three Logan Mountstuarts is a literal reflection of the "multiplicity of self" theme, but you can't miss the resounding jolt when one actor suddenly turns into a different one. It helps when the incoming one is Matthew Macfadyen, whose middle-aged Mountstuart is far more sympathetic than his brittle and supercilious younger incarnation (Sam Claflin) who we see plotting feverishly to lose his virginity while at Oxford in the mid-1920s, but it's a bad sign when the director has to smuggle in a quick flashback shot of the younger man to remind us who we're looking at.

Also, the nature of the piece leaves it at the mercy of history's nodal points, as its characters pinball around the timeline of real-life events which underpins the story like a subway map. Hmm, it's 1929 - it must be time for the Wall Street Crash. Sure enough, we see Mountstuart's widowed mother being schmoozed by a dodgy financial adviser who sings the praises of investing in American stocks. Next thing you know, Mrs Mountstuart has lost everything in the maelstrom of suicidal stockbrokers. Before the end of episode one, we were receiving baleful warnings of rising German anti-semitism, and the closing credits left us with Logan on a train bound for the Spanish Civil War, where there was good money to be made as a war correspondent.

wallisYou begin to wonder if Logan is a pseudonym for Zelig. When he travels to Paris to meet his university friend Been Leeping (James Musgrave), he finds himself drinking absinthe with a wildly unconvincing Ernest Hemingway in a bar full of writers, with Hemingway insisting that he send him a copy of his novel. He's introduced to future James Bond creator Ian Fleming (more of whom in future episodes), and chivalrously steps aside on a Biarritz golf course to allow the Prince of Wales (a tongue-in-cheek Tom Hollander) and Wallis Simpson (coolly impersonated by Gillian Anderson, pictured right) to "play through", as golfers call it. I shan't be surprised if future episodes find our equivocal and promiscuous hero standing on the grassy knoll in Dallas or onstage at Live Aid.

It's true that Logan likes to repeat his dead dad's aphorism about life being "just luck in the end", but all this happenstance and serendipity has a fatal effect on any seriousness the yarn was supposed to contain. Maybe they've saved it for later. And one other thing - why do we never see writers in films and TV programmes doing the hard slog of writing something?

I shan't be surprised if future episodes find our equivocal and promiscuous hero standing on the grassy knoll in Dallas or onstage at Live Aid

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I found this a shallow experience.There were too many fleeting glimpses of people, whose characters were empty and unsympathetic.

I love any period drama. Although this was not the best.

I thought brilliant

Read the book, then comment.

Christ - we have to read every source text before being allowed to form any opinion on screen adaptations? If only I'd known.

I saw a comment from Matthew Macfadyen about turning books into TV programmes - "You have to remember it's not the book that you're shooting, but rather the scripted adaptation." In other words, the screen version has to work on its own terms.

Surprised to find that Boyd had done the adaptation. All that music to create *mood*, such short scenes, no real sequences, characters like the wife introduced without any attempt to offer more than a single dimension - just like every other character in fact. Lots of awful soft porn, especially that cliche of couple stumbling into a flat laughing hysterically while disrobing lover. Excruciating to act and looked it in this one. It all points to Boyd surrendering to a dumbed down storytelling ethic, a lack of budget and belief in the ability of the audience to identify with characters and go with them on their journeys.

Having said that, i haven't read the book. But this reminded me of his masterpiece The New Confessions in its narrative timesweep of fictional characters interacting with history and real people. Boyd at his best is a wonderful writer. But if TV has to work on its own merits, which is surely right, then this was insubstantial and sexed up to appeal to someone who doesn't demand much but wants telly to wash all over them like a Radox bath. It got more interesting when Sam West and Ian Fleming turned up. Are we really requires, a la Lip Service, to make allowances for 'fail' first episodes? The first episodes of Brideshead, of Edge of Darkness, of Jewel In The Crown, of State of Play, of House of Cards, of A Very British Coup were sensational.

The book is fantastic. The adaptation just can't cope with the sweep of time and history in the book. As a result events are telescoped into fragmented brief scenes, whereas in the book they are full and rounded episodes. It is a pity but it just doesn't do justice to a great novel. And the actor playing Logan is hopeless - just doesn't seem to get the character, playing as a stiff upper class bore, which is the absolute opposite of the character in the book. Don't waste your time finding out the story on TV, get the book and you won't be able to put it down.

actually the best things about it were Jim Broadbent and the actor playing Hemingway who at least seemed to have a bit more of an internal life than the others.

The screen adaptation is a great shame. The book was tremendous, one of my favourite novels ever and Boyd's finest, but this pallid adaptation offers, at best, a spot of eyeball ravishment of a Sunday night and one or two good performances (Gillian Anderson shows her superb range yet again). The first episode was a clunker, the second a little better, but the whole thing is dreadfully rushed, and we don't get inside Logan's head at all. I hate the pseud-mystical flashbacks to toddler-Logan, and the ethereal watercolour-washed glimpses of the three men: they are a substitute for proper story-telling, endeavouring to give 'depth' and failing miserably. I will sit through the next two episodes, as I have to KNOW what is being done to the book, but I fear I shall be doing it with a heavy heart, and that I will want to erase my memory of the Any Human Heart TV version as soon as it is over.

Forrest Gump springs to mind-bad-awful-boring

Beautifully done, don't have any bad comment. Pleasure to watch 'Any Human Heart' just wish there was more series like these.

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