A case of low fidelity as Hornby's novel translates awkwardly to film

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The Independent Online

The familiar Victorian houses of north London are nowhere to be seen, the pub has been replaced by a bar and the everyday blokeishness of the central character has been replaced by a suntan and muscles that were honed in Hollywood. But for all that, it is still High Fidelity. Just.

The film of Nick Hornby's bestseller opened in America yesterday after a premiÿre in Los Angeles. But many British fans would be hard pressed to recognise Rob Fleming in his new incarnation as a Hollywood heart throb portrayed by John Cusack.

In the novel, Rob is a thirty-something, middle-class record shop owner who realises, through the process of breaking up with his girlfriend, that he is actually in love with her. But in the Disney version, Rob has been transported from Crouch End to Chicago and spends his formative years in clapboard houses and on baseball diamonds.

He goes to a funeral in an all-American town, complete with white picket fences, rather than Amersham, and his girlfriend is played by Catherine Zeta Jones, who speaks with an American drawl.

The allusions to the climate are still there but Rob's conversation is punctuated by "Gee, dumbass" and "Goddamit, Mom, that's some cool shit" instead of the more laconic phrases familiar to readers.

The film's producer, Tim Bevan, who worked on Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill, and its British director, Stephen Frears, believe that High Fidelity doesn't have to be set in London.

"It works beautifully," Frears said, "but people are furious about the switch. They consider it a peculiarly British novel. It's not, but they come up and tell me - loudly."

Hornby is said to be delighted with the finished result, which was scripted by John Cusack, D V Devincentis and Steve Pink, the team which wrote Grosse Pointe Blank. "It was an easy transposition to make and we had Nick's blessing," Cusack said.

Charlotte Tudor, of the film's distributor, Buena Vista, said: "Chicago has the same feel as north London, there is a vibrant music scene, a lot of the action is set in smoky bars and, of course, there is the climate.

"But everyone, including Nick, felt that geography was not the central issue. It has a universal appeal and John said it was a film about men and their relationships to women and to themselves so the setting didn't matter.

"It is a faithful adaptation of the book and has definitely kept the essence of the original." Brits will have a chance to judge for themselves when the film opens here on 21 July.