Hagar Shipley (Ellen Burstyn) is in her twilight years, and her son (Dylan Baker) is trying to get her into a home. Fiercely independent, possessed of a will that has been both a strength and a weakness (making life miserable for herself and all around her), Hagar fights back. She also looks back on her life, and in the flashbacks (where the young Hagar is played by Christine Horne) we see the tragic relationships that have brought us to the fractious family we see now.
I’m not sure if one can split the world into Stone Angel people and Diviners people, but when it comes to Margaret Laurence novels, I’ve always been of the latter, finding Hagar too hard a character to warm up to. Nor did I find it much easier in the film, though Burstyn does turn in a compelling performance. She is working, unfortunately, with a script heavy on the voice-over (which does Laurence’s prose no favours – much of it simply sounds awkward transposed off the page in this way). There’s a bit too much of the portentous, and a bit too much of a cast enunciating in an overly precise way for my liking.
The environmental effects are very nice. The result is a film that very effectively recreates the sound and feel of the Canadian prairie in your living room. The balance between the front and rear speakers is very well handled when it comes to the score, too. And the dialogue is crystal clear, though that clarity does tend to accentuate the project-to-the-back-of-the-hall deliveries, though this is no fault of the track. A fine job.
The disc looks as good as it sounds. The image is extremely sharp, and is frere of edge enhancement and grain problems. The film deploys an impressively varied palette of colours, and they are beautifully rendered by the transfer. Contrasts and flesh tones are all top-notch. This is an extremely handsome package.
And a handsome package is all it is, as there are no extras beyond some trailers.
A good-looking, honourable adaptation, but that doesn’t make it a fully successful one.