I have recently been pondering the rights of film makers when they turn a classic novel into a movie or TV series. How important is it that they stick closely to the original novel? Is it more important that they appeal to today’s younger generation of viewers (who have probably not read the book anyway) or that they adhere to historical accuracy? I’ve been particularly fretting about hair! In the 19th century women, when they reached the age of going out into society, put their hair up. To have one’s long hair down was seen as intimate, and no ‘respectable’ woman would have dreamed of walking the streets of London or New York with loose hair over her shoulders, or no bonnet on her head.
Film producers these days seem to feel that while all the minor characters can have historically appropriate hair-dos, the heroine must have flowing locks if anyone is to like her! This was the case with Sanditon where Charlotte’s hair was loose and wild in most scenes and this was just one of the many problems of the 2019 adaptation. This story’s featured image shows Rose Williams as Charlotte and Theo James as Sidney in Sanditon. It was also the case with the recent Little Women where all four sisters were badly in need of a hairbrush, and none of them seemed to even own a bonnet. For me it was a major distraction in both films – I knew this was incorrect and it worried me.
And then there’s the new issue of ‘colour-blind casting’ in films. The new David Copperfield is a recent example. While I really enjoyed the film, the casting anomalies did bug me. David is acted by Indian Dev Patel, Agnes is West-Indian in appearance, while her father Mr Wickfield is Chinese, and black Mrs Steerforth has a totally white son. It was all genetically impossible, and again a distraction from the major issues of the film.
Young people I’ve spoken to find the modern hair styles and the colour-blind casting refreshing. But surely historical necessities are being ignored? A woman’s bonnet and tied-up hair were symbols of her restrictions in life – throw away the bun and hat and immediately some of the themes of the novels are weakened. Had David Copperfield really been Indian in appearance, his life in Victorian London would have been very different from the tale Dickens gives us. By casting a black character and then to have producer and all the other characters ignore that actor’s skin colour, is surely turning a blind eye to all the struggles for inequality that people who were not white have endured? Is ‘colour-blind casting’ progressive or regressive? People are not colour-blind (apart from a few born with that condition) and those of us who read and love 19th century novels, and have a knowledge of that era, are very aware of the racial prejudices that were so prevalent then. Is it really ‘politically correct’ to cast in this way? How does it change the novels we love?
Am I being a pedant here? Is anyone else worried by hair on their TV screens? Or racially-impossible family mixes? I’d love to know what you think? Let me know by leaving a comment.
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Header image credit- Rose Williams as Charlotte and Theo James as Sidney in ‘Sanditon’ 2019, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8685324/
Amongst the seven deadly sins, purple represents vanity. It was traditionally the colour for Roman Emperors and royalty, of power and magnificence, with the result that in Europe and American purple became the colour associated with vanity, extravagance and individualism. It is also a challenging colour to use in a poem, as it has only one perfect rhyme – curple (a Scottish word meaning crupper). No wonder Jenny Joseph avoids rhyme!