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The Stone Angel

CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

The Stone Angel, first editionFirst edition
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First publication

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Approx. 106,000 words

The Stone Angel scene
Ellen Page and Ellen Burstyn have a kitchen-sink confrontation in The Stone Angel.

The taming of Hagar

The Stone Angel (2007): Director Kari Skogland; writer Skogland; featuring Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Page, Dylan Baker, Wings Hauser, Cole Hauser

Great expectations preceded the film adaptation of The Stone Angel, an iconic and iconoclastic Canadian novel. (Take that characterization of the novel as a pun or not, but it's true.) However, as with The Diviners, the earlier film of Margaret Laurence's other greatest book, the results are mixed.

Again, it's not bad. Laurence fans will not be offended. That's the book, all right, up there on the screen as faithfully as possible, except for a few nice tweaks to update it. The characters are all there—perhaps not exactly how you imagined them, but without completely violating your memory of them from the novel, as some other movies made from contemporary books do. And the story arc is preserved in nearly its entirety. It's a short novel that suits filmic compression.

But still it's missing something you got from the book. The grit or sense of life-and-death struggle or something? Maybe the problem is in the character of Hagar, played too pleasantly perhaps by the likable Ellen Burstyn. In her mid-seventies, Burstyn may be considered close enough in age for Hagar (who's supposedly 94), but she just isn't bitter or angry enough in her dotage.

Not really in her dotage either, as far as I can see. By mid-movie she's calmly recalling her life and good-naturedly making new friends. In her memory, she's been as much put-upon by others as having put everyone else through hell. Canadian actress Christine Horne plays the lusty younger Hagar smoothly in these flashbacks.

Ellen Page, who must be about twenty at the time of shooting, also seems too young in the small role of the wild young woman whom Hagar blames for having misled her late and favoured son John. Dylan Baker, seemingly in his forties, is about right though as the long-suffering older son Marvin, somewhat boring in personality but devoted to his mother's welfare.

Some of the most compelling scenes though are provided by Hagar's interaction, both as young and middle-aged woman, with her wastral husband Bramwell. Bram is played through the years by Wings and Cole Hauser, father and son in real life.

Trailer for adaptation of Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel.

Perhaps the fault with The Stone Angel film lies with lacklustre scripting and direction, both by Canadian-born Kari Skogland, an award-winner for her television credits and commercials. Again, no great complaints though. Not too many liberties taken with the material, the characters sensitively explored, with only a few melodramatic moments.

Somehow, despite revealing the mistakes and tragedies of the characters' lives, The Stone Angel turns out to be a feel-good movie, rather than a despairing film. As with The Diviners, you get the sense that watching this movie is good for you, makes you a better, more balanced person. Nothing wrong with that really, but not quite what you seek from the somewhat misanthropic novel of The Stone Angel.

Is it typically Canadian to take the edge off?

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

See also:

Beautiful Losers

The Blind Assassin

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The Stone Angel

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