Friday, 19 April 2013

Enchanted April

The rather heavy-handed Miramax trailer

We were just re-watching the 1991 film Enchanted April, which is very worth seeing.

The story concerns a group of four women who rent an Italian coastal castle, San Salvatore, in the early 1920s. All have problems:  Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot have unsatisfactory marriages to men who don't appreciate them (Lottie's husband is a humourless Pooterish social climber, Rose's an aimable buffoon); Mrs. Fisher is an elderly woman who hides her insecurities behind infirmity, name-dropping and a waspish manner; and Caroline Dester is a rich society beauty who's feeling burnt out by the meaningless of upper-crust life (her male friends are straight out of the Drones Club). The four go to the castle, and its atmosphere helps resolve their separate angsts, even winning over Lottie and Rose's husbands when they too visit.

While the scenery is beautiful (surprisingly and evocatively reminiscent of a number of southern English cliff and undercliff locations) and the characterisation perfect, the plot is minimal: there's a little conflict beyond bickering over rooms and personal space; a little romance, but not wildly so; and a little wry and gentle social comedy. But the mix somehow works perfectly. It's seems no accident that the mansion's name means "saviour", and perhaps the central thrust of the story is what San Salvatore does to people: it seems akin to the benign house in John Buchan's Fullcircle: Martin Peckwether's Story, in which an unpleasantly earnest young intellectual couple move into a Restoration mansion and become altered by it, until their attitudes become those of its amiable originator (see previously Life and death in Bludleigh). Enchanted April has a strong theme of regeneration and change, as in its anecdote - reprised in the closing credits - concerning a walking stick left in the ground sprouting into a tree.
Mrs. Fisher thought highly of this story, and often spoke of it. It was about a cherrywood walking-stick. Briggs's father had thrust this stick into the ground at that spot, and said to Domenico's father, who was then the gardener, "Here we will have an oleander." And Briggs's father left the stick in the ground as a reminder to Domenico's father, and presently—how long afterwards nobody remembered—the stick began to sprout, and it was an oleander.
- The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1922
Castello Brown: image by Stan Shebs, reproduced from Wikimedia Commons
under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The filming location for San Salvatore was Castello Brown above Portofino, a much-modified 16th century fort that's now a house museum. Elizabeth von Arnim - check out her interesting life - who wrote the novel the film is very faithfully based on, visited (and wrote the book) there in 1922. As she died in 1941, many of her works are out of copyright including The Enchanted April (Project Gutenberg #16389)

See also Project Gutenberg: Von Arnim, Elizabeth, 1866-1941.

- Ray

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