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Revolutionary Road - the film

After putting in a paltry two and a bit hours at the British Library this morning I packed up my laptop, having had enough of Victorian Manchester, to go and immerse myself in post-war Connecticut and watch Revolutionary Road. And I am so pleased to report that I wasn't disappointed, because there's always the chance with an adaptation - even more so when the adaptation is from a novel in which the prose style is so crisp and spare and relies so much on the inner existential angst suffered by the characters.

Set in 1955 it focuses on the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a young married couple who had believed for so long that they would be able to live different lives than their parents - that they were above the hum-drum conformity and monotony that becomes so especially prevalent in the fifties and which gives birth to the 'organization man' and the suburbs. This is shown well as the direct reference is made to Frank's deceased father, who had worked at Knox Machines for nearly twenty years as a salesmen, and it is clear that Frank considers himself a failure for having had to follow him into that same company. Yet there is no reference made to April's parentage and the faint ghosts that hover over here, included in the novel. However, whilst the film stayed very near true to the text, and Kate Winslet's performance managed to convey, without hysteria, the increasing anguish she feels at her suburban housewifery stultification, it is perhaps played out more fully instead by the more conventional neighbour, Milly, who is nothing if not fragile, earning her a strain of masked repulsion from her husband, Shep, who is in love with April.

I can understand the safe pairing of Winslet and De Caprio, but wonder whether De Caprio was right for the part of Frank. He got the conceit right, but he didn't get the 'face' right - the problem with De Caprio, like Jude Law, is that he's just so baby-faced so that, when Winslet, in an early scene, holds him and tells him he's a man, it doesn't feel quite right. His thirtieth birthday is celebrated and I'm sat thinking, thirty? Try twenty-two, max. However, what Mendes did succeed in getting across was Frank's desperation as the film came to its end and it felt that Frank was suddenly looking to April as a child would it's mother - please don't leave me!

Kathy Bates was perfectly cast, in my opinion, as Mrs. Givings the estate agent. Yet the star of the film had to be Michael Shannon as her 'mad' mathematician son, John Givings. There can be seen a trend in the early sixties, (Yates wrote Revolutionary Road 1960) to feature the 'mad-man as truth-teller'. J.G. Ballard did it exceptionally well in his short story of, I think 1961,
The Subliminal Man, in which the 'mad-man' is considered mad only because he's the only one not conforming to the conspicuous consumption gone mad dystopia, referred to by John Givings as being 'the empty hopelessness' - featured so well as the hordes of organization men, suited identically, march to the commuter station, and march off the train and to their identical buildings. John Givings was a genius touch by Yates and perfect casting by Mendes and hopefully we'll be seeing more of Michael Shannon as a result. There's an interview with him on YouTube here.

The overall feeling was one of futility - yet the idealist part of me thinking, it was all down to Frank - falling to risk his own failure - and his and / or April's success - in Paris, for his empty and hopeless copywriting promotion at Knox. Yet whilst many would no doubt look at Frank as the main character - it is, ultimately, April's story. It is a post-war suburban rendering of Yates' hero Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Yates begun the story knowing the tragic ending was ultimately hers. It is also a critique of capitalism as it was then emerging and as we now experience it in it's advanced, and so far disastrous, phase, but to go into Yates' influences of De Tocqueville, Flaubert, Scott Fitzgerald, and give a thorough leftist reading, would turn this into the disseration I did on this very novel four years ago, and not a review. Here's the tip - go see it. Preferably alone. There's also news that what is considered his second great book, The Easter Parade, is also in production. I wouldn't want to miss that either - just a shame that Mendes isn't directing that too.

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