Skip to main content

I wish the world were a newt!

Jeeves and Wooster
1.4 The Hunger Strike

The Hunger Strikeand the season finale are effectively a two-parter, and give Exton to stretch and allow the interweaving plotting of the novels a chance to take effect. That would be because he’s adapting Right Ho, Jeeves, Wodehouse’s second full-length Jeevesnovel. It bases itself around Brinkley court and the trials and tribulations Bertie must face at the behest of his Aunt Dahlia, unwanted felicitations of love and finally the machinations of Jeeves in order to resolve the situation.


Exton shows due fidelity to the source material, which includes one of the best scenes in the series (adapted from one of the best scenes in the books) as Gussie Fink-Nottle, thoroughly-sloshed and dull of love for Madeline Basset, presents prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School. This has been foisted upon him by Bertie (on pain of no future servings of prize chef Anatole’s dinners), who in turn was pressed with the task by Aunt Dahlia.


But that is yet to come, for The Hunger Strike concerns itself with one of Bertie’s less-than-bright schemes; the titular activity is not such a stinker in theory, but when applied en masse it has understandably undesirable consequences, thus hoisting Bertie by his own petard (“Jeeves is not the only one with a brain. On this occasion, I’m your man”). Bertie advises three different parties to abstain from Anatole’s heavenly dinner in order to sell how individually upset they are to their other halves.


Bertie’s attempts to forestay a visit to Brinkley Court falls apart when Aunt Dahlia informs him that Angela (Amanda Elwes, who emphasises her disdain for Tuppy perfectly, in one of only two appearances along with the next episode) has broken up with Tuppy Glossop (Robert Daws, once again wonderfully short-tempered, obnoxious, and food-fixated). Bertie is instructed to visit in order to help her with his “loathsome friends” (that would be Tuppy and Gussie).


His plan finds him advising Aunt Dahlia to starve herself in order to manipulate a concerned husband Tom (Ralph Michael, who would return in the final season) into lending her the money to keep her rag Milady’s Boudoir afloat (she lost the money he previously gave her at gambling). These two episodes are Brenda Bruce’s last appearance as the character, and she is instantly the perfect fit for the character; she is certainly the actress who comes to mind when I think of the Dahlia in the series, so I’ll have to pay attention when I get to the subsequent runs. As Bertie notes to Jeeves, aunts are noted for their strong opinions, “Aunt calling to aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps”.


Tuppy is on the receiving end of a cavalcade of abuse from Angela, whom he has belittled over an incident with a shark (“probably a flatfish”). He is referred to as the “blasted Glossop”, a “lump of dough”, and “always thinking about food” (to which he responds “I am not devoted to food!”); it is because of this that Bertie persuades him to reveal his love and adoration for Angela by abstaining from eating.


As Tuppy comments, pushing away dinner cooked by Anatole is “pretty extreme” and the plate of sandwiches Angela presents him with in the next episode is the natural follow-up to the climax of the episode in which the famished Tuppy raids the larder at night for steak and kidney pie. He is duly discovered, and Angela comments that he needs “three or four good meals during the night. It keeps him going until breakfast”. Daws is quite marvellous playing a great pig, his mouth stuffed full of food (a porcine apple is lodged there at one point), and Robert Young shoots the various trips to the larder in the spirit of great bedroom farce, with a series of near misses until the accumulation of events explodes in a flourish of discovery.


This episode introduces both Gussie and Madeleine (Francesca Folan). Madeleine was played by three different actresses, but it is Elizabeth Morton in the last two seasons who really gets her off to a tee. Folan isn’t quite wet and simpering enough, although we’re more than informed of the necessaries of how she believes the starts are God’s daisy chain.


Gussie, we are informed, is “just the sort of chap Madeline would scoop up with a spoon”. Bertie tells Tuppy he held feelings for her during a recent Cannes trip (which isn’t true; he’s attempting to avoid accusations that he has intentions towards his cousin Angela); his response that she is not, in Tuppy’s expert evaluation, “a weird Gawd help-us”, is on the chivalrous side, as she most certainly is. Madeline, as ever mistakes that “same dumb, yearning look in your eyes” as Bertie being thoroughly smitten with her.


If Folan isn’t the best Madeline, she nevertheless spews forth appropriate Madelinisms; “Oh, look. The little bunnies. How still they are” (referring to stone rabbits); “Oh, Mr Moon is ever so shy, he keeps hiding behind the clouds”.


In contrast, we’re blessed with the first and best incarnation of Gussie Fink-Nottle here, in the form of Richard Garnett. He’s the personification of one who gets “over-stimulated when he comes to the city” and Garnett’s ruminations (“Oh Bertie, life would be so much simpler if we were newts”, to which Bertie responds “Yes, well I’ve said the same thing myself a hundred times”; “I wish the world were a newt!”) Predictably, Gussie’s declaration of love to Madeline goes awry (he discusses the marked sexual dimorphism in newt species instead) and his response has the resigned apologetics of John Merrick (“Everybody’s been very kind. No complaints. No complaints at all”). Gussie’s teetotalism will be intrinsic to the next episode, but here he is inveigled into joining The Wooster Diet so as to impress upon Madeline that he is pining for her.


The resulting rejections of his cooking cause the sensitive Anatole to quit. Bertie advises Jeeves that Anatole is foreign, and therefore excitable (“I shall bear that in mind, sir”), but such assurance doesn’t wash with Aunt Dahlia. She banishes Bertie (“This is all your fault, Wooster”), who to be fair has just destroyed a chandelier with Tom’s shotgun, so setting up a grand finale in which Bertie is the subject of all-round opprobrium that serves to provide his salvation from unwanted entanglements.


There are no piano recitals from Bertie this episode or next, presumably because there was too much intricacy of plot to squeeze in, but the interplay between Fry and Laurie over Bertie’s white mess jacket is a delight (“I assumed it had got into your wardrobe by mistake, sir, or else it was placed there by your enemies”). Jeeves’ putdowns are effortless; replying to Bertie’s suggestion that women tried to catch his eye he snubs with “Presumably they thought you were a waiter, sir”. The doomed battle Bertie engages in over the jacket sees him bringing it along even though his valet conveniently forgot it (“Er, which way up does it go, sir?”)


This episode and the following are about as good as the first season gets in terms of sustaining a plot for the duration. It helps considerably to have a narrative that fills the 50 minutes, rather than having to pick-and-mix. And, in Right Ho, Jeevesand the burdens of Brinkley Court, Exley draws on one of the best Wodehouse plots.


Featuring:

Aunt Dahlia (1.2, 1.4)
Tuppy Glossop (1.1, 1.2, 1.4)
Madeline Bassett (1.4)
Gussie Fink Nottle (1.4)
Anatole (1.4)
Tom Travers (1.4)
Angela Travers (1.4)

Brief Appearances:

Barmy Fotheringay Phipps (1.1, 1.2, 1.4)
Oofy Prosser (1.1, 1.2, 1.4)







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's going to emasculate our nuclear deterrent and bring the whole damn country to its knees… because of his dreams.

Dreamscape (1984)
(SPOILERS) I wasn’t really au fait with movies’ box office performance until the end of the ‘80s, so I think I had an idea that Dennis Quaid (along with Jeff Bridges) was a much bigger star than he was, just on the basis of the procession of cool movies he showed up in (The Right Stuff, Enemy Mine, Innerspace, D.O.A.) The truth was, the public resisted all attempts to make him The Next Big Thing, not that his sly-grinned, cocky persona throughout the decade would lead you to believe his dogged lack of success had any adverse effect on his mood. Dreamscape was one of his early leading-man roles, and if it’s been largely forgotten, it also inherits a welcome cult status, not only through being pulpy and inventive on a fairly meagre budget, but by being pretty good to boot. It holds up.

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Hercule Poirot. I do not slay the lions.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
(SPOILERS) Sydney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express could scarcely be called the pinnacle of his career, but (Sir) Kenneth Branagh’s latest version of Agatha Christie’s (probably) best known novel (in the world) invites new found appreciation of its merits. Ken’s film is a bauble, and like much of his work in cinema, it’s big and showy and overblown and empty. You need to fill that space with something, but unfortunately neither his Poirot nor Michael Green’s screenplay does the job.