What , no Whistlestop? Why The Girl on the Train should have stayed in bleak backyard Britain

Stopped trains, tepid white wine, sighing passengers Paula Hawkinss bestseller captured a very British world. As the film moves to New York, we look at the dos and donts of relocation

The 8.04 slow develop from Ashbury to Euston, says the narrator in The Girl on the Train as the service trundles to a stop, can test the patience of the most seasoned passenger. The journey is supposed to take 54 minutes, but it rarely does: the requirements of this regulation of the way is ancient, decrepit, beset with signal problems and never-ending engineering works.

Its details like this and the carriage full of sighing passengers that built Paula Hawkins bestseller so appealing: the evocation of an all too familiar world of British frustration and frustration. In this glum milieu, divorced alcoholic Rachel Watson gets a bottle of chenin blanc from a Whistlestop to take the edge off her return journey and the bundle of rags she glimpses from the window takes on an aura of sinister abjection and threat( actually, a not unfamiliar feeling to anyone whos ever rolled on tracks that fall under Network Rails cheerless ambit ).

Too handsome John Cusack in High Fidelity. Photo: Alamy

The new movie adaptation although darknes and stylish loses the thing I savoured most: a very British sense of grime and hobbled aspiration. Swapping the home districts for upstate New York, the cinema follows Emily Blunt as she is whisked from NYCs ritzier burbs on a service that never trundles, still less stops for long unexplained minutes. Can you glimpse any ritzy burbs from a Euston commute? Ive never noticed any, but answers on a postcard please.

And Blunt is barely the mousy wreck I imagined the novels demented protagonist to be. Yes, she brings psychological heft to the role, but shes insufficiently raddled and defeated, to my intellect anyway. Fortunately, her character is English, which helps her to seem satisfyingly alien and bonkers in a world of blah New Yorkers. But the issue was little more than a figleaf over an otherwise ill-advised American retread.

Hawkins, on hearing the action was to be shifted to the US, very sensibly said: Im not really concerned about the repositioning as I think it is the type of narrative that could take place in any commuter town. Nick Hornby said something similar about Stephen Frears 2000 movie of High Fidelity. Its unbelievably faithful to the book despite the fact its been reset in Chicago. The only thing thats changed is the music.

I understand why novelists feel this way: its not just because theyre pleased as punch to have eminent actors such as Blunt, or John Cusack in High Fidelity, bringing their characters to life, but also because, if theyre real artists, they must trust adapters to be creatively faithless. David Mitchell felt that way when Cloud Atlas was adapted by the Wachowskis: his narrative was intriguingly retooled, but it kind of ran and, hey, whos going to complain about their book being being carried out by Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant as some of time-travelling, semi-nude, face-painting warrior?

But the readers may feel betrayed, then disappointed, especially when a grungy locale gets airbrushed and upscaled. Hornby was wrong: Chicago isnt Crouch End and Cusack was too damned handsome to properly incarnate the homuncular hero. Thats the frequent complaint: transatlantic crossings wash off the maggot and bring up sheen.

Sometimes worse things can happen. Take poor old George Sluizer. In 1988, the film-maker made a superb abduction thriller called The Vanishing that culminates with spoiler alerting! our drugged hero coming round to find the psychopath has buried him alive. The final shots are from within the tomb, with the victim urgently scratching to escape, his lighter flickering ever more hopelessly as the oxygen runs out. A marvellous and unremittingly miserable ending.

Grave distrusts George Sluizers remake of his own thriller The Vanishing. Photo: Snap/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Then what happened? Sluizer was invited out to Hollywood to remake his cinema with Sandra Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. At the new denouement, Sutherland is rescued by Bullock who has escaped by clocking the evil Bridges over the head with a shovel. Hollywood Objective 1, Artistic Integrity nil.
US remakings can be better, though. There may be those of you who prefer Niels Arden Oplevs Swedish-language
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to the David Fincher remake. But let me say this: you are out of your tiny intellects as are those of you who prefer the Seattle-set version of Tv thriller The Killing to the Copenhagen-set original.

Perhaps, though, we should simply praise more and rank less. So fine is The Magnificent Seven that its convenient to forget that John Sturgess 1960 western is a remake of Akira Kurosawas 1954 classic, Seven Samurai. Yes, relocating from Japan to Mexico loses a lot: specifically, a village of farmers menaced by bandits in 1586, during the Warring Country period. But we gain so much: not just Elmer Bernsteins Bartk-inspired score, but something very uncommon in Hollywood cinema the idea that victory is far from simple, and can even disguise its opposite.

Classic remake The Magnificent Seven. Photo: Rex

As Yul Brynner rides off past the tombs of his fallen comrades, he reflects: Only the farmers won. We lost. Well always lose. These lines echo those from Seven Samurai showing that, for all the changes, The Magnificent Seven was true to the sources spirit. Indeed, Kurosawa liked the film so much that he apparently sent Sturges a sword( of course, he may have guessed the film was so bad he wanted Sturges to perpetrate seppuku , but it seems unlikely ).

Often, its invidious to choose between remake and original: like PM Dawns Set Adrift on Memory Bliss and its source, Spandau Ballets True, both should exist in the best of all possible worlds. Peter Moffats 2008 BBC series Criminal Justice inspired Steven Zaillian and Richard Prices no less wonderful new Tv drama The Night Of, transferring the action from Britain to New York, but retaining much of the storyline. Both Con ONeill in the original and John Turturro in the retool play lawyers struggling with horrible eczema of the foot and theyre both wonderful.

US remakes are too often regarded as ideas-free, money-grabs on rich European originals a perspective that suits hubristic types who consider America as populated by culturally rapacious airheads. Few would defend the 2003 remaking of The Italian Job, which change much of its best vehicle chases from Mediterranean corniches to Los Angeles. But I would , not least because the 1969 original is ridiculously overrated and the remaking features not just better action sequences but a performance from Mark Wahlberg in the Michael Caine role that no one has properly appreciated. Why there isnt an Oscar for Musclebound Suffering at the Wheel of a Stupidly Small Car is beyond me.

Is John Simm more convincing as a ruthless hack in conspiracy drama State of Play than Russell Crowe is in its Americanised incarnation? Is the Washington House of Cards better than the Westminster one? Heres another poser: is Steve Carell better in the US Office than Ricky Gervais is in the original? Im not sure, but what I regret losing is the opening credits that featured Slough in all its bomb-worthy glory to the voice of the Stereophonics singing Handbags and Gladrags. Americans cant do dismal quite like the British.

Tyneside to Stateside Michael Caine in the original Get Carter( 1971) and Sylvester Stallone in the 2000 remaking. Composite: Franchise Pictures/ Metro/ Allstar

Which brings us to The Get Carter Question: Tyneside or Stateside? One of the great pleasures, for me, of find Michael Caine as the cockney hit man roaming the north east to hunt down two brothers killer is the bit where he chucks a crook off a brutalist car park in Gateshead. None of these cherishable local details remain in the 2000 remake starring a risibly moustachioed Sylvester Stallone, who plays a Vegas mob enforcer terminating Seattle hoods who whacked two brothers. Caine, god love him, was even inveigled into a cameo, but even his imprimatur cant rescue a remaking that the New York Times called so minimally plotted that is not merely does it absence subtext or context, but it also may be the worlds first movie without even a text.

Naturally, when it comes to remakings, Alfred Hitchcock is in a class of his own. His 1956 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much is a retooling of a 1934 movie of the same name by one Alfred Hitchcock. Some lovely details get excised. Gone is the ending in which, for the final shoot-out with the rozzers, the criminals return to their lair a temple to a sun-worshipping cult in Wapping. Instead of those barmy scenes are new ones that are no less preposterous. Can it be true that Doris Day helps foil an assassination attempt on the “Ministers ” in the Royal Albert Hall? And that, in reward, he invites her to sing leading to a very loud and very wrong rendition of Que Sera Sera?

Mangled Edward Woodward, left, in The Wicker Man, 1973, and Nicolas Cage in the 2006 remaking. Composite: Warner Bros/ Allstar/ Rex

Finally, its worth saying that when Hollywood mangles a masterpiece of European cinema, it sometimes does so with such gusto that the only thing to do is stand up and applaud. Im thinking of Neil LaButes 2006 version of Robin Hardys 1973 The Wicker Man, which changed specific actions from a Hebridean isle overrun by worshippers of a pagan Celtic deity, to an island off Washington state where descendants of witches who fled the Salem trials have holed up to practise crazed paganism.

While I procured Edward Woodward being burned alive at the end of the original everlastingly upsetting, Im still smiling at the memory of the remaking. If theres a funnier demise in cinema, I dont care to hear about it. Nicolas Cage, allergic to bees, has his head shoved into a enclosure full of them. No , not the bees! he screams, in a performance that induces his histrionics in everything from Wild at Heart to Face/ Off seem understated. Not the bees! Aaaaghhh!

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Leave a Reply