Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Rachel Papers (1989)

Has there ever been a good adaptation of a Martin Amis novel? 

Seriously, one that does his talent justice?

Money with Nick Frost? No way. Dead Babies? God no. This? Nah.

In fact the closest thing that comes to matching his original source matter is the little recreation of some of Money he did as himself with Mel Smith as John Self in a documentary in the 80s (it's on youtube, check it out, that looked like it had potential)

The Rachel Papers the novel came out in 1973 and concerns the egotistical and precocious Charles Highway and his relationship with Rachel Noyes, a girl he believes is perfection, in the months before he goes up to Oxford.

The Rachel Papers was adapted as a film in 1989 and starred Dexter Fletcher as Charles and Donovan's daughter, the rather gorgeous Iona Skye as Rachel. It was made by first time feature director Damien Harris (son of Richard and brother of Jared who appears here) and is a product totally of its time. Now, in some ways that actually quite a neat and interesting enhancement to Amis' novel; with Charles being fully conversant with the latest computer technology and even making a video with friends and family highlighting the reasons why Rachel should go on a date with him (one of the most amusing moments in the film) but in others it is simply, as many have pointed out, a British Ferris Bueller - complete with breaking the 4th wall and talking direct to camera in a way to convey the novel's diary style prose. It's also certainly dated, screaming late 80s but if you're a bit of a nostalgia buff that can actually be more of a help than a hindrance, though it does ultimately neuter some of the timeless quality of Amis' writing.

It's funny how the unlikeability or frustrations and irritations of a character can be tolerable on the printed page but far less so on the screen, as such it's easy to see why Dexter Fletcher (long before he became the talented director he has recently become) was Marmite at the time. Odd though that the controlling aspect of DeForest - Charles' American rival for Rachel's affections - the thing that makes him unlikeable in the novel gets somewhat lost in translation here in the direction of the film and James Spader's performance whilst the morally bankrupt nature of Charles' character, certainly towards women still shines through.

If you like your 80s teen movies I'd say The Rachel Papers is a film worth checking out,  just to see how the British handle the subject matter (though obviously I'd recommend Gregory's Girl a thousand times over before this because that's a uniquely Scottish take on the genre whereas this seems to ape much of the US conventions and feel somewhat diluted because of it - except in the surprising steamy sex scenes I hasten to add! Besides which, Gregory's Girl is just a brilliant film, worth watching no matter what) but I'd recommend the book far more. Though let's face it, any film that has my music idol John Martyn's Head & Heart on the soundtrack (with Iona Skye singing tunelessly along to it) can't be all that bad can it?

Nowadays, I guess The Rachel Papers is worth watching to see the likes of Fletcher, Harris, Jonathan Pryce, Claire Skinner, Lesley Sharp and briefly Gina McKee in their younger days but ultimately the thing I associate it with most is this little bit of trivia...

On the 15th June 1991 at around 3pm, former Great Train Robber Buster Edwards was working his market stall on Mepham Street, London where he sold flowers, when a young man ran past and stole two bunches of nasturtiums. Edwards reported the theft to the police and when asked if he could identify the youth replied "It was that lad out of The Rachel Papers" Edwards had seen the film just days before and was able to correctly ID Fletcher as the thief. 

Buster Edwards, market stall holder and former Britain's Most Wanted

Arrested and charged, Fletcher appeared at Horseferry Rd Magistrate's Court a week later where he pleaded guilty and explained the flowers were for his then girlfriend and Press Gang co-star Julia Sawalha. He had lost his credit card that day and so, unable to pay, he chose to steal instead.  He was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a fine of £30. He subsequently apologised and compensated Edwards.

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