Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Lady, Come Down

This isn't the movie version for copyright reasons, but an extremely good cover of the song by Daniel Mitchell and Jacob Gooden, from their own filmed version of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Clare and I are great fans of Oliver Parker's 2002 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (see the Internet Movie Database). It's a charming interpretation, with a strong cast, perfect costume and setting, and a deal of creative expansion that opens out the play as a movie, in ways unexpected without being obtrusive: for instance, Cecily's Pre-Raphaelite-inspired daydream sequences such as this scene inspired by Millais's The Knight Errant (see also The Beautiful Necessity blog); Gwendolen and Jack getting tattoos (thoroughly authentic for the period); and a relaxed and upbeat ragtime-jazzy soundtrack by Charlie Mole, including the duo serenade Lady, Come Down sung by Colin Firth and Rupert Everett.

A quick Google of reviews suggests people either love or hate this film. Personally, I think it's excellent theatre as well as a good film; isn't it a staple of adaptation to subvert a text, or bring a creative spin to it, through staging and design? Its angle is to bring great warmth to what can be played as a very cynical take on the nature of relationships. For example, the vivid Pre-Raphaelite sequences portray Cecily's fictional journal-keeping as the act of someone with a rich and culturally-informed inner life rather than a gormless fantasist. And it even provides a rational reason why Gwendolen is so set on marrying a man called Ernest.

I didn't realise until we got the DVD that the lyrics of Lady, Come Down are actually by Wilde, from his poem Serenade, concerning Helen of Troy and Paris:

(for music)

The western wind is blowing fair
Across the dark Ægean sea,
And at the secret marble stair
My Tyrian galley waits for thee.
Come down! the purple sail is spread,
The watchman sleeps within the town,
O leave thy lily-flowered bed,
O Lady mine come down, come down!

She will not come, I know her well,
Of lover's vows she hath no care,
And little good a man can tell
Of one so cruel and so fair.
True love is but a woman's toy,
They never know the lover's pain,
And I who loved as loves a boy
Must love in vain, must love in vain.

O noble pilot tell me true
Is that the sheen of golden hair?
Or is it but the tangled dew
That binds the passion-flowers there?
Good sailor come and tell me now
Is that my Lady's lily hand?
Or is it but the gleaming prow,
Or is it but the silver sand?

No! no! 'tis not the tangled dew,
'Tis not the silver-fretted sand,
It is my own dear Lady true
With golden hair and lily hand!
O noble pilot steer for Troy,
Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
This is the Queen of life and joy
Whom we must bear from Grecian shore!

The waning sky grows faint and blue,
It wants an hour still of day,
Aboard! aboard! my gallant crew,
O Lady mine away! away!
O noble pilot steer for Troy,
Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
O loved as only loves a boy!
O loved for ever evermore!

- Oscar Wilde, 1881, via

Colin Rudd's version of Serenade is a rather nice straight folk arrangement; I'm not sure about the Darwin Prophet one.

- Ray

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