Do Directors Even Read Original Plays?

     What really makes a movie good or bad? Well, to one it has to be the actors chosen to play the characters. This is especially true when adapting from a play or novel. As a reader, one develops a mental image of a character. When reading Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, one gets a strong mental image of both Nora and Torvald. If a director chooses an actor that deviates from this image, an entire movie could be ruined. This is the case in Joseph Losey's but not in Patrick Garland's 1973 film version of A Doll's House.

     Let us first examine Nora. When picturing what Nora must look like, I instantly saw a very petite, beautiful, childlike woman. I imagine her almost floating around the house. She would have been graceful and delicate. When imagining her speech and mannerisms, I envisioned a soft-spoken, well-bred woman. I thought she would have a voice that would just drip with sugar.

     When the movie began and I saw Jane Fonda trying to act out the life of Nora, I was horrified. To begin with, Fonda had none of the delicate physical characteristics I had imagined Nora having. She was tall and rather stout in her appearance. Her voice was terrible. There was no sugar dripping at all. She sounded hateful and very fake through the entire movie.

     While reading Ibsen's play, I found that my mental image of Torvald was very precise. I imagined a gentle, loving sort of "fella." I also saw him as rather petite in stature. He seemed to be somewhat older than Nora. I derived this from the way he treated her. He seemed to always be fluttering around her, babying her. His pet names for her, such things as "little lark" and "little squirrel," seemed so childish. I thought Torvald would have a kind, loving voice. He seemed to be the type of man that would never yell.

     When I first saw Torvald in the Joseph Losey's screen version, I was shocked. Who was this tall, gruff man talking to Jane Fonda? David Warner's appearance was totally wrong. He was too young and too tall. His voice was the complete opposite of what I had heard in my head. This man could barely choke out the words "little squirrel." There was no love in his demeanor. In fact, at times he seemed to be annoyed by his wife's presence. One doubts he will really care if she leaves him. Each time he spoke to her, he seemed to be yelling.

     Let us now contrast these actors with those chosen by director Patrick Garland. I believe he may have actually read Ibsen's play, unlike Joseph Losey. In Garland's version of A Doll's House, the first glimpse of Nora was exactly what I had imagined it to be. Claire Bloom, the actress that portrayed Nora, literally floated across the set. She was completely filled with the love and happiness that Ibsen's Nora had been filled with. She was small in stature and delicate of features. Then she spoke, and her voice was as sweet as the macaroons she was eating. This is the image the Ibsen was portraying in his play. This is that tender, loving creature that holds Torvald in the palm of her hands.

     Then, we saw Torvald, played by the infamous Anthony Hopkins--what a relief! He really was a sweet fellow. He was just the right size, small yet strong. And his voice!--this man knows a "little squirrel" when he sees one. There could never be any doubt to the depth of his love for Nora. I could almost see the love in his eyes. This was the father figure I had imagined Torvald as being. I just know this man would never raise his voice to Nora. At the end of the movie, I felt so sorry for Torvald. He seemed so sad and shocked when Nora left him. This man was going to be ruined by his ending marriage.

     To me, these two versions of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House were perfect examples of the importance of actors. As I stated earlier, this is especially true in the case of adaptations from novels and plays. If the readers already have a preconceived image of a character, this is what they expect to be in a movie. While I am sure a director would never make a movie without reading the play it is derived from, sometimes I really have to wonder if this is not is not the case in some instances.

Shannon Powers

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