Produced by Kim Todd and Derek Mazur; directed by Anne Wheeler Atlantis Films and Credo Group/CBC, 1992. VHS cassette, 117 min., $189.00. Distributed by Magic Lantern Communications, #38 - 775 Pacific Road, Oakville, Ont. L6L 6M4.
Volume 21 Number 6
In agreeing to direct The Diviners, Anne Wheeler must have felt as if she were taking on Canadian society, many of whose members had walked picket lines to protest the book's ban by narrow-minded school boards. Feeling so passionately about a book can make one very protective of it. Anne Wheeler would be premiering this film in a very "tough league."
In reviewing a film it seems unfair to compare it to a book, yet, after much deliberation, I have decided that all is fair in love, war and Canadian icons: if you make a movie out of such an idol then you had best have thick skin. The Diviners, the book, is cerebral. It is about looking for roots, and for self, and it is about the pain of discovering that things are neither what they should be nor what they seem. The Diviners, the film, is about relationships parent/child, husband/ wife, lovers, friends. As such, it does a remarkably good job.
The leads, Sonja Smits and Tom Jackson, are as well cast as could be imagined, and there is a wonderful chemistry between them on the screen. If there is any problem with the portrayal of Morag it is that Smits plays Morag as though she were Margaret Laurence, right down to gestures and wardrobe. Morag isn't Laurence (according to Laurence herself) and it seems a bit of a cheap trick for the director to press the point so strongly.
Visually, the film is beautiful, with shots of Manawaka in wartime as believable as contemporary shots of downtown Toronto. If one hadn't read and loved the book, it would be difficult to be critical of the movie. That being said, the movie could be a worthy education tool for teachers of senior students, but it should be shown only after the book has been studied. Should it be done in the reverse order, the students might miss many of the book's subtleties.
Having first read The Diviners in 1974, the year it was published, I sat back and enjoyed a winsome, evocative film filling in the gaps from memory. Watch this film, use it, but remember — the movie is never as good as the book.
S.A. McLennan McCue taught courses on Canadian women writers in Peterborough, Ontario
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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