France/UK, 2007, 137 minutes, Colour.
Romola Garai, Sam Neill, Charlotte Rampling, Lucy Russell, Michael Fassbender, Jacqueline Tong.
Directed by François Ozon.
Angel is an interesting case study. But, who is Angel?
She is the creation of novelist Elizabeth Taylor and the central character in Francois Ozon’s adaptation of the novel for his first English language film. Ozon wrote in French and gave it to writer and scholar, Martin Crimp, to translate. Filming was done principally in England, near Bristol.
Ozon has come into prominence since 2000 with such films as Under the Sand, The Swimming Pool, 8 Women and Le Temps qui Reste. Commentators note that he is particularly skilled in writing roles for women, a gift from his gay sensibility. 8 Women starred a gallery of French actresses including Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Ludovine Sagnier, Virgine Ledoyen and the veteran Danielle Darrieux. Under the Sand and The Swimming Pool were vehicles for Charlotte Rampling who also appears in Angel.
But Angel is played by Romola Garai who made an impression on British television in the adaptation of George Elliot’s Daniel Deronda. She has often played supportive women, sisters and friends, in Nicholas Nickleby, Vanity Fair, Scoop and As You Like It, though she did have a more vigorous role in the little seen Dirty Dancing 2.
This time she is no blushing violet. She is Angel Deverill from the grocery store in Norley who has dreams above her station. She says she does not waste time in reading. She wants to be a famous writer drawing on her most fertile and sometimes fevered imagination. Write she does and she achieves her ambition.
It is said that Angel is based on the novelist Marie Corelli and her career at the beginning of the 20th century. She was a precursor of the Harlequin, Mills and Boon style of romantic novel. She was a moralist and not a feminist – which makes her largely unread or unreadable these days.
We watch Angel lord it over everyone, display an unwarranted self-confidence and arrogance, be rapt in her own narcissism yet being attractive as well as appalling.
Angel Deveril is an introverted young woman who judges all things completely subjectively. But, she is a woman of imagination who expresses her feeling and her intuitions in romantic novels. This drives her. When in her teens she sends the manuscript of her first novel to a publisher, she takes to her bed in tormented waiting. When it is accepted, she is so supremely confident that she tells the publisher (a quietly decent Sam Neill) when he raises a few difficulties, that absolutely nothing in it can be changed. He, poor man, is overwhelmed by her and remains that way for almost twenty years, despite the frequently sardonic (and accurate) comments on the books and Angel’s style by his wife Hermione (Charlotte Rampling). Angel weeps with frustration in secret but, once the publisher has relented, there is no stopping her for almost ten years.
Her social life and reputation were all ‘out there’. She was focused in her writing and in the ordering of her life. All was going to plan and she would continue to write for her public until she died. Nobody is allowed to give her some insight about herself, to make her realise that she was so self-absorbed and ambitious that she had very little idea of who she really was. She might well have been shocked to find that her real self was the opposite of the way she lived.
Situations challenged her and drove her back into herself but she tended to see them as attacks on her self-image. She falls in love with a handsome, out of fashion painter (Michael Fassbender), but controls him like a general, even setting up a lavish studio that does not suit him at all. When he is injured in the war and is in debt, she races off to write another novel for him. He fails her in fidelity and in ending his life. She goes into denial and creates myths about him as she does about her origins and her mother’s humble state. While her secretary and companion is in love with her and absolutely devoted, she does not see any of this even though it is pointed out to her.
When she dies, she asks whether her life was worthwhile and had meaning. With the contrast between her real self and her image of who she was, she is so ‘beside herself’ that she cannot really answer.
Ozon has made another insightful film about women, helped by Romola Garai’s fully committed performance. Audiences who enjoy the cinema of Hollywood’s golden age may be reminded of the melodramas from Warner Brothers in the 1940s like Devotion, the film about the Bronte Sisters.
1.The work of François Ozon? His sensibilities, his films about women? Insights into women?
2.The interest of the film, its appeal, the period, the character of Angel, psychological drama?
3.The re-creation of the Victorian era, the Edwardian era to post-World War One? The emphasis on costumes and décor? Lavish and stylish? The interiors?
4.The UK settings, the location photography, the school, the shop in the town, the dreary aspect of the town? The contrast with Paradise and its grounds? London and the offices, the streets, the scenes of London, Parliament? Society events? The musical score?
5.The credibility and plausibility of the plot? Victoriana? Victorian dreams? The place of women authors? The popular style of novels – later Mills and Boon style? The blend of drama, romance, melodrama – like the novels that Angel wrote?
6.Angel, her name? The feet of the girls going to school? Angel as different? In class, reading her story, the romance of her story? The teacher rebuking her, humiliating her? Her relationship with her father and mother? Her snobbery against her aunt? At home, her situation, wanting to write, saying she did not read, staying within her imagination – and her fluency?
7.Her arrogance and snobbery, living in her world of make-believe, dreams? Her ambitions to be a successful and famous author? Treating her mother as a servant? Her sarcastic and wounding words? Her being completely narcissistic, self-confident? Her writing, sending off the novel to the publishers, wrapping the package, her mooning in bed, the letter from the publisher, Theo and his offer to publish? Her mother and her aunt not comprehending Angel’s ambitions and skills?
8.Travelling to London, her style, hair, hat and dress? The meeting with Theo, talking with him, self-confidence, refusing to make any change, acknowledging her lack of experience? Her weeping because she thought she was being rejected? Theo and his being agreeable, her not weeping, taking a stand? Theo taking her on the tour of London? Her meeting Hermione, her brashness, her poor manners at the table, her not even thinking that there was anything wrong with her? Talking down her home? Success, the book in the shops, her prolific writing?
9.Angel’s success, Theo supporting her, attracted to her? Hermione’s comments and her irony? Money, signing autographs? The decision to buy Paradise? The car stopping and her watching it? Her memories of the past, her aunt working there? Buying the house, redecorating it and Hermione’s comment about her taste? The arrival of Nora Howe-Nevinson? Her offering her service? Nora infatuated with Angel, putting her on a pedestal? The meeting with Esme? Her immediate attraction to him? The event, talking about art, her expensive purchase of a painting? Esme and his ridicule? Her life at Paradise, her mother being there, offering to do the work, Angel not wanting her to be a servant? Using the servants? Hermione’s visit? Nora and her work? Angel and her decision to visit Esme, talk, disbelief about his art, her disdain, yet her reaction and attraction? The painting that she liked – and paying four hundred pounds? Asking him to paint her portrait? Her plan for the launch of the book and the painting? Esme upset, leaving, his return? The unveiling? His talk with her about painting her portrait, not knowing anything about her, trying to get to the truth? The visual impact of the painting – and the dark side of Angel?
10.The honeymoon, international travel, joy? Nora’s joy in being there but Esme’s comment about her being in love with Angel?
11.Paradise and the studio? The effect? Esme and his work? His social concern and drab paintings? The war, his enlisting, Angel upset, the miscarriage? Her forbidding people to tell Esme? Angel cutting him off? Esme on leave, with his mistress, Nora and Theo seeing him? Esme checking whether Nora had seen him?
12.Angel and her getting older, continuing to write, the money, wilful and cocksure? Hermione’s reaction? Comments on the books? Her pursuit of Esme? Taking Nora for granted? The social whirl and her mother?
13.In London, the news of her mother’s illness, waiting? Going back to her mother’s deathbed? Her sadness? Her relationship with her aunt? The later interviews with the journalist – and creating a myth about her origins and her parents?
14.The character of Theo, a good man, nice, believing in Angel, believing in the success of her books? Helping her, the social background? Esme going to him for money – but none being available?
15.Esme’s return, his leg? Angel writing for Esme? To get money, his gambling debts – which is exposed as a lie, the support for his mistress and her son? Esme’s pessimism, hanging himself? The funeral, his mistress attending? Angel and her decision to visit the mistress, the mistress being sensible, common-sensed, Angel having found the letter, bringing it back to the mistress? Seeing the son that she never had?
16.The journalist, the interview, the tour, the discussion about Esme and his work, the paintings becoming popular as her novels declined in popularity? The discovery of the letter, her anger, ousting the journalist? Her visit to the mistress? Her pining, wanting the truth from Nora about Esme’s behaviour?
17.Angel’s death? What had she achieved? Her being popular because of the fashions? Her illness, her death? Her question of what if …? Nora’s reply?
18.Angel’s life in retrospect, a magnificent dream, an illusion, disillusionment? Love, self-love, loving another, emptiness or fulfilment?