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The Stone Angel novel

Margaret Laurence author

The Diviners movie

The Diviners novel


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The Stone Angel
(2008, DVD)

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  2007 The Stone Angel
dir. Kari Skogland; writ. Kari Skogland; featuring Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Page, Dylan Baker

The Stone Angel

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 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. Her whole life in memory she was as much put-upon by others as putting everyone else through hell. Canadian actress Christine Horne plays the lusty younger Hagar smoothly in these flashbacks.

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

Perhaps the fault 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.

But 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

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© Copyright 2009 Eric McMillan. All rights reserved.

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