Social networkers think Judge William Lee is an insufferable, pompous tweet.
"I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never heard of. And I fail to see—just because I do not happen to be a 'somebody'—why my diary should not be just as interesting."
Though I hadn't heard of it before, the back cover of the DVD informs me that The Diary of a Nobody has never been out of print since it was first published in 1892. Written by brothers George and Weedon Grossmith, it is considered a classic work of humor. Television adaptations were previously made in 1964 and 1979. With this latest filmed version of the book, it may be tempting to ask how the work is relevant in an age of blogs and tweets? Is there entertainment value in a late-nineteenth century diary when any "nobody" has the ability to instantly publish his or her daily comings and goings?
Facts of the Case
Mr. Charles Pooter is a middle-aged, lower middle-class city clerk in London. The Diary of a Nobody is his chronicle, from April 1891 to July 1892, of his otherwise unremarkable existence. An old-fashioned man with high social aspirations, Charles documents daily petty issues, minor humiliations and personal successes. Unseen but prominently featured in his diary are his wife Carrie, their son Lupin, friends Mr. Gowing and Mr. Cummings and his employer, Mr. Perkupp. Four half-hour episodes are contained on one disc:
• Episode One: Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pooter move in to their new home. They endure the regular trains that rush by their house, discover red enamel paint, enjoy a night at the theater and attend a ball at the mayor's mansion. This episode introduces all of the supporting characters and establishes Charles as a pompous fellow who takes things much too seriously. He also takes great pleasure in bad plays on words. "I wish now I had left those side dishes…aside," he laughs at the remembrance of indigestion.
• Episode Two: The Pooters' son William returns home after being dismissed from his job at a bank and now wants to be called Lupin. The family goes on vacation and Charles tries some new fashions. Later, they throw a party in their home attended by Lupin's new friends, a comedy theater troupe, and Mr. Perkupp.
• Episode Three: Christmas cheer is disrupted by Lupin's breakup with his girlfriend. Charles is incensed after receiving an insulting Christmas card from an anonymous sender.
• Episode Four: Charles acts on an investment tip from Lupin that goes sour. Mr. Perkupp gives Lupin a job but soon regrets it.
I began this review by asking how this fake diary holds up in our blog-saturated times. I'm not a big reader of famous peoples' published diaries and I'm even less of a fan of personal blogs. The thing about great works of fiction is that an author has crafted a story that supports a theme rather than indulged a series of random thoughts into text. There is definitely a theme and purpose to the story of Charles Pooter's daily life and it's as plain and universal as this: Though he's an unremarkable man, his life is not insignificant. He's imperfect but he's a decent person. Despite being old-fashioned, unimaginative, and often putting on self-important airs, in the end I was rooting for him to succeed in whatever small way he could.
Hugh Bonneville (Lost in Austen) does a great job as the solo performer in this show. He's on screen and delivering lines for the entire two hours and it looks effortless. Appropriately, it's a performance that isn't showy but has the right amount of reserved energy that Charles Pooter would exhibit. Bonneville gives his character the extra dimensions that aren't evident in the text of his diary entries. The way he ponders his faulty recollections of a previous night—did he drink too much?—or gives further thought to his son's ideas help to make Charles more than a caricature of a little man with a big head.
Adapted by screenwriter Andrew Davies (Brideshead Revisited) and directed by Susanna White (Generation Kill), the action of The Diary of a Nobody is heavily dependent on Bonneville's performance and his telling of the action. It is quite an accomplishment that the episodes don't feel formal and "stagey" but move through scenes at a comfortable pace. Scenes are situated in a few interior spaces that are decorated with plenty of attention to detail. When Charles addresses the camera to recite another diary entry, it feels like it happens in a natural point in time. That is, it makes sense that he might write something down after returning home from a party or he would steal a quiet moment during his working day to record a thought at his desk. Without actually staging the events Charles talks about, the scene direction still lets us follow him in something resembling a chronological narrative.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture transfer is very good. There are no image defects to speak of, the amount of sharpness is quite pleasing and the colors look natural. The stereo soundtrack is just fine. There are no subtitles so it's a good thing the dialogue is crystal clear.
The only extras are a series of text screens containing biographical information on the Grossmith brothers and actor Hugh Bonneville's filmography.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hugh Bonneville's performance is a treat and the script is a delight but it's hard to deny that one actor reciting lines for two hours can test a viewer's patience. The production is wisely divided into four episodes so there are natural breaks. Even though the total running time merely adds up to one feature-length movie, I don't recommend a marathon viewing session.
This comedic slice of domestic life in the 1890s is still entertaining and meaningful. A terrific performance by Hugh Bonneville makes the pompous Mr. Pooter easily relatable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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