"A Dance to the Music of Time is a series of twelve novels by the English author Anthony Powell, a fictionalized version of his own life that invites comparisons to Proust's In Search of Lost Time. The running time of seven hours for the adaptation, therefore, is not surprising given the enormous scope of the project, which charts the life of its semi-autobiographical protagonist, Nick Jenkins, from his schoolboy days through to his old age in the burgeoning cultural revolution of the 1960s. This series was first shown on TV in 1997 when I was living in Australia, and so I have had the opportunity to watch it three times already. I can therefore say with some authority that this is perhaps the best literary adaptation that I have ever seen. The first episode can be a little off-putting, as characters seem to keep bumping into each other at random, but you soon realize that this is not a silly device on the part of the novelist, but an accurate reflection of the incestuous nature of the upper class in England at this time (or really, any time). The production is sumptuous, and the acting is universally good. Stand out performances include Simon Russell Beale, the victim/villain of the piece (he will be fixed in my mind forever as the definite image of Widmerpoole) and, coming later in the series, Miranda Richardson in brilliant form as Pamela Flitton, a twisted maneater. Richardson, who too often gets cast in shrill, nasty roles, is in top form here, chewing up the scenery with seductive viciousness. You don't really need to read the novels to follow what is going on (although I recommend them highly), and the first episode, simply because it has to set everything up, demands a certain level of attention. But overall I love this adaptation, and I'm glad that I can finally own it on DVD."
Ted L. Reinert | New York, NY USA | 10/29/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"A valiant effort, but a forlorn hope: Anthony Powell's wonderful 12-volume series "A Dance to the Music of Time" simply cannot be told, nor its essence captured, in eight hours: briskness is antithetical to Powell's purpose. The plot is consistently interesting throughout the books, but the atmosphere, personality and social history conveyed in them are really what make the books worth reading: they are very nearly everything. These things take time to make themselves be felt, yet this production scurries through the story like a blinkered Atalanta, never stopping to pick up the golden apples strewn at her feet. Inevitable comparisons have been made to "Brideshead Revisited," whose author was a great fan of Powell's work (hardly surprising, since Powell's prose is often reminiscent of Waugh's), but whereas the "Brideshead" series spent nearly eleven hours to dramatize a single 350-page book (which works out to a leisurely 32 pages per hour), this newer series attempts to dramatize twelve 300-page books in a scant eight hours -- that's approximately 450 pages an hour, a pace that would cross the eyes of the world's fastest speed reader. While Powell's tone and concerns are closely related to those of "Brideshead"'s, this series has more in common with Evelyn Wood than Evelyn Waugh. It is hard to imagine trying to follow the plot of this series without having first read the books . . . more than once.
Still, the production is often quite beautiful (though there are a few scenes that look as if they were shot on the cheap); the acting is generally excellent, with a few really wonderful performances -- Sir John Gielgud zips through his role amusingly; so does Edward Fox, who pops up several times in the first few hours; as Charles Stringham in the war years, Paul Rhys is particularly memorable and has what is probably the best scene in the entire series. The author's alter-ego, Nicholas Jenkins, is played by three utterly dissimilar actors; he somehow manages to grow several inches shorter upon leaving school and then abruptly ages 30 to 35 years about six and a half hours into it. As the odious, ubiquitous Widmerpool, Simon Russell Beale is the only main character to play his role from beginning to end. It's a lovely, funny performance. It must be noted, however, that he is hardly believable as a 17 year old and looks even more bizarre in the final hour, as he capers about in an obvious rubber baldpate, but these errors cannot reasonably be scored against him.
The greatest shame, I suppose, is that after this expensive, lengthy (but not lengthy enough) and unsatisfactory dud, there is probably no longer any chance that these books will ever be given a proper dramatization. "
Hard to follow but well worth it by the end
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 10/08/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In 1997, British televiewers watched a 4-part miniseries titled "A Dance to the Music of Time," based on 12 novels by Anthony Powell. This 415-minute series is now available in a boxed set of 4 DVDs from Acorn Media.
It follows the career of Nicolas Jenkins (played by James D'Arcy in the first three episodes) from his college days in the period between world wars to the 1960s. The strange title represents the dance-like meetings and re-meetings of the central characters as the political, artistic and social life in England undergoes radical changes. (The cast of characters is huge and it is very hard to keep track of them.)
I did not like the first episode for the most part, since I found nearly all of the characters uninteresting and not very likable. The one exception was the overweight, pathetic Widmerpool (Simon Russell Beale), who can't keep up physically or socially with the others--but he is the one who rises to positions of power while the others drink, marry the wrong people, or try to do the right thing while the rest couldn't care less.
Things improved for me by the second segment. Along the way, what there is of a coherent story is enlivened by memorably outrageous characters like Pamela Flitton (Miranda Richardson, of "Black Adder" fame), who manages to be all of the Marx Brothers at once in putting her betters in their place. Richardson's performance alone is worth the price of the set.
I cannot find out why the main character and his wife are played by different actors in the last segment, since all the other members of the cast are aged to show the passing of time. John Standing is a fine actor, but the changeover is disconcerting.
There are cast biographies as a modest bonus feature.
"Fancy meeting you here!"
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 01/16/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Adapting all twelve volumes of Anthony Powell's Proustian roman fleuve must have been no easy task, but this 1997 multi-part adaptation by Hugh Whitmore just doesn't come off, despite its excellent cast and production values. There's none of the intellectual soliloquoys of the narrator, Nick Jenkins, that made the books hang together, and the incidents here seem drab and disconnected; it becomes almost impossible to see why certain incidents stand out for the characters more than others, and there's no sense of narrative drive at all. The story encompasses three different milieux that seem widely disconnected--the world of Mayfair parties of the 20s and 30s; the military doings of the war years; and the vaguely leftist literary sphere of the 50s and early 60s--and none of them seem to have much to do with one another. Characters keep drifting back in to the life of Jenkins at the oddest places to remark on the coincidence of their meeting and to de-brief him about their and the other characters' doings, which seems more and more forced as the series runs on.
This is one of those casts where almost everyone working in theatre in the British Isles seems to make an appearance, from Eileen Atkins to John Gielgud to Zoe Wanamaker. Four different actors play Nicholas Jenkins, adding much to the overall sense of confusion (especially since they look nothing like one another): the actor who plays him the longest, James Purefoy, is superb at conveying Nick's likability and his blandness. (It's hard to believe Purefoy, who has exhibited such virile charisma as Rawdon Crawley and Mark Anthony elsewhere, can seem so neutered here.) Simon Russell Beale has received much just praise for his performance as the series' most memorable character and anti-hero, the oily Kenneth Widmerpool. He is upstaged--unfortunately--only by Miranda Richardson, turning in yet another jawdroppingly hammy performance as Widmerpool's eventual wife Pamela. There's a kind of fascination to Richardson's work here (as in DANCE WITH A STRANGER and SLEEPY HOLLOW); she holds nothing back and "acts" all over the place, demolishing almost every scene she's in."
OUTSTANDING once you get through Disc One!
Volney Hill | New Orleans, LA USA | 09/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is perhaps my favorite set of novels. Given that, I was very skeptical as to the dramatization of Powell's 12 book "cycle." It is brilliant! HOWEVER: since there are at least 20 personae to keep up with, Disc One is almost entirely squib outlines. Think of these as random memories from Nick Jenkin's youth that are robustly completed in the series' remaining five and a half hours. For an additional bonus, read the books afterward - they are perhaps the best use of the written English vocabulary. Pullulate and palimpsest - what great words!"