(Ed's note: Josh has kindly offered to cover the new four part Channel 4 adaptation of the novel 'Any Human Heart', providing reviews that will undoubtedly be bolstered by his study of English at university.)
Words: Josh Blacker
'Any Human Heart': Episode 1
SYNOPSIS: "Jim Broadbent, Matthew Macfadyen and Sam Claflin take the lead role in William Boyd's funny, moving and ambitious adaptation of his best-selling novel, exploring one man's tumultuous and unpredictable journey through the 20th century" (Channel4.com)
'Any Human Heart' opens with a recurring dream that an old Logan Mountstuart (here Jim Broadbent) can't get his head around. A small boy in a boat, observed from the river bank by three figures. Logan thinks it might represent a soul passing through time, and that, perhaps, is the crux of this series. The three figures are, in close-up, Logan Mountstuart at different stages of his life - “I'm always different people”, Broadbent narrates, only to be echoed by Matthew Macfadyen and Sam Caflin. It is perhaps a laboured device, but it gets the point across.
Struggling to walk across a field without his stick, and clutching his chest in pain, it seems Broadbent's Logan doesn't have long to live. And what's a man to do in such a situation but look over his life? Each pile of his diaries and papers he moves about and inspects releases another visual or auditory memory, and we plunge for most of this first episode into a younger Logan's life at Oxford in 1926, trying to lose his virginity, until marriage and a child causes Macfadyen to take over.
Logan is a writer – hence all the diaries in Broadbent's Iberian home – but when we meet him as a young man, his biography of Shelley takes second place to trying to lose his virginity before his friends do. As the older Logan is haunted by memories of the past, so too is the young man haunted already, by his late father and the promise he made to join the family meat business. The inheritance, however – and an encounter with Hemingway in Paris – render fulfilling this promise and abandoning dreams of being a novelist impossible. Logan's first work, 'The Girl Factory' is a roaring success – and as his life takes off, so does the story.
How close the series is to William Boyd's novel I don't know – but Boyd himself wrote the screenplay, which is reassuring to an English graduate like myself. Though the acting at times from some of the younger stars isn't quite as polished as it could be, this first episode suggests the series is going to be a visual feast. The 1920s are lavishly depicted, with shooting in the Norfolk country and grand dinners in stately homes, without ever becoming over the top. While most scenes are filmed in a quite unremarkable way, there are some simply stunning shots, and Logan's dream scenes have a particular poetic quality.
There are women, there is sex, and there is drinking – but ultimately this is going to be a study of relationships, not debauchery. The elderly Logan has all his papers sorted into piles, each representing the women in his life. But there are other relationships, too – we catch a glimpse of the Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson for instance, creating a rich tapestry of context with which to compare and contrast Logan's own progress in love and life.
Episode 1 of 'Any Human Heart' is available on 4od, and Episode 2 will be aired at 9pm on Sunday 28th November.