Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

I'm not a pedant when it comes to book-to-screen film adaptations. I understand that plotlines and characters have to be changed and even excised in the translation: they are two very different mediums and what works on the page doesn't necessarily work on the screen. But so long as the essence, the spirit of the original text is maintained there shouldn't be too much of a problem.

But for those who have read, and loved, Elizabeth Knox’s novel, The Vintner's Luck, you’d best avoid director Niki Caro’s adaptation. Caro (she directed Whale Rider) has not only excised characters and storylines, she has removed the central relationship – between the vintner, Sobran, and the angel, Xas – which made the novel the beautiful tragedy that it is. Without this central story, The Vintner’s Luck is just another period film (set in Napoleonic France), albeit one about the art of winemaking.

And try as they might, Jeremie Renier, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Gaspard Uliel and Vera Farmiga can’t even produce a good cask wine let alone a vintage drop from the bare vines of a story they have been given.

Some books are “unfilmable”; their plots and characters don't easily lend themselves to a cinematic rendering. The Vintner's Luck is one of my favourite novels and while I originally deemed it unfilmable (mostly because one of the main characters is an angel with the white-feathered wings, and films with angels usually don't work), I also longed to see the film version. As the adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

I'm not sure why Knox would approve an adaptation of her novel, or why Caro would want to direct it, without that central story. Without spoilng the secrets of the novel, it could be dubbed 'Brokeback Vineyard', and without studio money (and thus interference), Caro really had no reason to baulk at the homosexual themes.

But she has, and her cowardice has reduced what could have been an ambitious failure to a failure of no distinction (although Farmiga's wardrobe makes an impression!). Do yourself a favour and read the book.

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