Enduring Love (15)

A fall from grace

No film I've seen this year begins as enthrallingly as Enduring Love. The director, Roger Michell, is working from the blueprint of Ian McEwan's 1997 novel, whose first chapter is a miniature of accelerating suspense and panic.

The scene is an idyllic summer's day, with two lovers picnicking in a field. Joe (Daniel Craig) is about to open a bottle of champagne for his girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton) when the sunlight behind them is eerily occluded by a hot-air balloon bobbing along the ground, out of control. Inside the basket is a terrified boy, outside his grandfather desperately trying to drag the craft to earth; instinctively, Joe and several passers-by dash towards the stricken balloon to lend a hand. "We were running towards a catastrophe," writes McEwan, "which itself was a kind of furnace in whose heat identities and fates would buckle into new shapes."

Re-reading the chapter reminds you how much help the film-maker has already been given by McEwan's precise visualisation of the scene, including a steepling crane shot that winds us with the horror of a man falling to his doom. Michell nails the solid physicality of it very convincingly, but then is obliged to negotiate the trickier terrain of the psychological derangement that the accident has broached. Joe, feeling guilty about letting go of the rope to save his own life, has almost forgotten the man, Jed (Rhys Ifans), who was involved with him in the rescue attempt, but Jed hasn't forgotten Joe; indeed, he believes that some "connection" has been made between them, and starts hanging around outside Joe's flat and dogging him.

Michell and his screenwriter Joe Penhall have quite a thematic load to unpack here, and to do so while cranking up the sense of dread - the signature McEwan mood - requires an adroit handling of contrasts, that mingling of the ordinary and the ominous that Hitchcock mastered so well.

At first they hit the mood spot on. Joe, a college lecturer and proud rationalist, initially dismisses Jed as "harmless", a God-botherer who has trouble coping with what happened in that field, though it's Joe himself who checks the rope burns on his palms and obsesses over how the tragedy might have been averted. Only gradually does Jed's presence impinge - there's a brief quiver of trouble ahead when the camera peers through a crowd at Joe eating in a restaurant, and it suddenly dawns that its point of view is actually Jed's, watching him. Rattled, Joe turns on his stalker. "You're mad." "They said that about Jesus," Jed replies. "They also said it about a lot of mad people," Joe counters.

Where the film begins to founder is in its decision to close off the avenue of misunderstanding between Joe and Claire, who in the novel doesn't believe that Joe is being persecuted. This glitch in communication tossed overboard, she becomes merely the unfortunate witness to Joe's steepening decline from distracted to maniacal, shaken awake in the middle of the night to listen to Joe's gabbled theory about stalkers and curtain-twitching - a theory that will fly right over the head of anyone who hasn't read the book. The bleary look on Morton's face doesn't say "I'm worried about you", but "Please let me get to sleep, you hysterical bore", and you can't help sympathising. After all, it doesn't take a rationalist to know that Joe could best deal with Jed by contacting the police.

Instead, the film grinds through some humourless set-pieces that illustrate the story's theme - the thin partition dividing love from madness - yet draw one dramatic blank after another. The cat-and-mouse edginess feels morose and inert.

As has been the case with previous McEwan adaptations, the prospect of caring about any particular character is remote: I've almost entirely forgotten Campbell Scott in The Innocent, and the only frisson of pleasure I recall during The Comfort of Strangers was the moment Christopher Walken winked after punching Rupert Everett in the stomach.

Craig has the lean, muscled look of a model (or an actor), but doesn't seem a man plagued by ideas, and Joe's dark night of the soul looks more like a weakness for public tantrums. Ifans, who could be auditioning for the role of Wurzel Gummidge's weird cousin, has a gentleness that's initially endearing, but thereafter becomes as much of a pest to us as he is to Joe. Hopes are raised by the sight of Bill Nighy playing one of Joe's "normal" friends, only to be dashed as the film appears to lose track of him.

What's odd about Enduring Love is a nagging sense that it's actually quite respectful of the book. True, Joe's profession has been switched from science journalist to lecturer, and Claire, a literary academic in the novel, is awarded the more visually appealing job of sculptress. Yet in the plotting of a relationship that gradually splinters under stress, the film feels true to McEwan's ideas about the psychopathology of desire and the ambiguity of "enduring", which can mean both "everlasting" and "suffering". The difference, however, is palpable: this film is very unlikely to spook you.

Michell has to his credit the best Jane Austen adaptation of the last 10 years in Persuasion, and plainly doesn't feel cowed by the difficulty of translation from page to screen. Fearlessness isn't enough, unfortunately. No film this year has begun more enthrallingly - and few have ended so disappointingly.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones