by H. R. F. KEATING
WHAT'S FOR THIS
WEEK? How about a really burning issue? Like: Jolyon, long 0 or short? And, oh dear, there are more than a few people for whom this is a burning issue. When the Forsyte Saga team took the irrevocable plunge for the long 0 The Times ventilated the whole subject. Big deal.
But now that Donald Wilson's adaptation of Galsworthy has been with us for three weeks, one sees why all the fuss was kicked up: there is nothing else to fuss about.
The story trundles on from one incident to another, mildly storm-tossed music points every moral, and costumes and settings, but not the idiom, are impeccable. And that's the lot. Births, deaths, love affairs. revelations, all are utterly sedate.
It is possible, of course, that the real Forsyte Saga is different. Until tomorrow (and repeat on Tuesday) we shall have been with, not Galsworthy, but Mr Wilson's ingenious recon struction of what happened to the Forsytes before their chronicler began on them.
And it is all of a dreadfully painstaking obviousness. So much so that one is almost delighted at the occasional production slip-ups, oddly glaring for a filmed series where such things are generally avoided. We even once had Jolyon with the 0 short. Yes, really.
Still, we have 23 more 50minute slots to go. However, if the next few continue as fearfully predictable, I shall switch off—long 0 or short— for ever.
Perhaps I am hard to please, but I must also state that I am no friend of the unpredictable either. I have in mind the recently ended three-part adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour. This was done by a fair old master-craftsnian, the late Giles Cooper, and it certainly brought the book very vividly back.
But the total effect to me was upsetting. A critic cannot wander too far from what his personal reactions tell him. And so, well knowing the work has been highly praised, I beg to register my belief that it is a failure. Please somebody come and hold my hand.
All the same, even if I am the only one to say it, it still seems to me that both serial and book send out strong signals all the time as if a message of depth and subtlety is being transmitted, but when we take off the earphones and read over what is written on the scratch-pad all we find is a few words of distressing banality.
Of course, Waugh had a magnificent gift for seeing some people as unforgettably funny characters. We got our plentiful ration of them in Sword of Honour. The splendid Uncle Peregrine, as played by Basil Dignam, stands out particularly.
But, rubbing shoulders in uncomfortable proximity to such characters, come other figures conceived in quite different terms, sometimes simply naturalistic, at others as a wild variety of differing grotesques.
The whole effect on me was of wandering through an in explicable, gloomy half-world. lit up from time to time by pointed jokes like flashes of mauvish lightning, and full of unlikely encounters, odd, unmotivated changes of mood, and friends turning without rhyme or reason into foes.
This sounds a fair description of what wartime life was like in reality. And if it is, shouldn't I be hailing Waugh as a master recreator of a past era?
I don't think I should. To begin with, , wartime life was like that only to a certain extent, to the extent well caught by another high-class chronicler, Anthony Powell. in "The Soldier's Art", the latest instalment of his saga. When, incidentally, are we to have the continuing story of Nick Jenkins on the box?
Powell is equally full of curious chance encounters, sudden obliterating deaths and a sense of pervasive discomfort. But with him they all hang together. They are all viewed through the one pair of specs. Evelyn Waugh seemed to me to change from rose-tinted to binoculars, from horn-rims to opera glasses in a totally bewildering way.