Films based on the novel by William Trevor:
Joe Hilditch (Bob Hoskins) caters to runaway Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) in 1999 film, Felicia's Journey.
Slow character build in tense tale
After all the bitching on this site about movies that change the story, mood or characters of books for the worse, it may shock you to hear a complaint that a film is too faithful to the original. Yet that seems to be the problem with Atom Egoyan's adaptation of William Trevor's gentle thriller Felicia's Journey.
The 1999 movie, starring the always great Bob Hoskins and the young Irish actress Elaine Cassidy, follows the narrative points of the novel, except for a certain compression through the use of flashbacks to lay in Felicia's back story in Ireland and some cleverly introduced new material on the past of Hoskin's character, the English catering manager Hilditch. It's a respectful character study, just like the book, with a slow story buildup to tense moments of peril that give way at the eleventh hour to an unexpectedly relieving conclusion—also just as in the book.
But perhaps it is too respectful. Screenwriter-director Egoyan shows a flair for dramatic invention with the many little touches he adds to get across the plights of his characters in a visual medium, but he seems reluctant to cut scenes that work best in the printed medium, or at least to cut them in length. The movie is two hours long. In the book this leisuredly pace is fine—we expect it. We read to absorb the fine details, to gradually acquire rounded pictures of the characters. Movies however have to move.
Not that I demand slam-bang action. I understand that the ratcheting up of tension, the gradual dawning of the viewer that something is amiss with the seemingly placid Hilditch, and the tightening of the metaphorical noose around Felicia, are part of the appeal of this kind of film. But I couldn't help but wonder how Hitchcock would have handled this. I'm sure he could have heightened the mystery while shortening the scenes, building suspense while commanding intense viewer involvement.
Okay, I can't really know how Hitch would have done it and there's no reason why Egoyan should have followed the master's approach. All I know really is that I admired the film's earnestness and the performances throughout, while wishing all along they would hurry up.
Hoskins particularly is admiration-worthy. His Hilditch in the early scenes is wonderfully nuanced, with an overly civilized British diction and a thoughtful gentleness with his underlings at the catering plant, drawing our sympathy for this somewhat old-fashioned but kind, middle-aged, momma's boy. As the story progresses we find out exactly how much of a momma's boy he was and his soft-spoken manners take on a sinister edge.
Cassidy as Felicia is not at all the figure I imagined from the novel. She's more attractive, more sympathetic and smarter. Felicia is no longer the central character that she was in the book, but Cassidy has still managed to erase the novelistic Felicia from my mind, replacing her with this memorable characterization.
Perhaps Felicia's Journey is one of the rare film adaptations you're better off seeing before you read the book. Part of my impatience may have come from knowing where the story was going.
Others who may not have read Trevor's novel seemed to love the film. In Canada, home for the Armenian-born Egoyan, Felicia's Journey is revered as one of our best films, despite having been shot in Ireland and England.