From Page to Screen: The Sense of an Ending

About the Book: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The book is both a reminiscence on adolescent friendships, early romantic relationships and their aftermath and an exploration of the unintended consequences that can flow from actions. In this case, it is the events set in train by the main character’s reaction to a romantic disappointment. The reader becomes aware early on that the narrator, Tony, is being selective in the events he recounts, either consciously or subconsciously. At one point, he admits, ‘I told her the story of my life. The version I tell myself, the account that stands up.’ So key themes explored in the book are truth, memory and storytelling.

Read my review of the book here.

About the Film: The Sense of an Ending (2017)

The Sense of an Ending is directed by Ritesh Batra from a screenplay by Nick Payne based on Julian Barnes’ novel. The film stars Jim Broadbent as Tony, Charlotte Rampling as Veronica, Harriet Walter as Margaret and Emily Mortimer as Sarah Ford.

More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film

The film largely follows the plot of the book but chooses to put more focus on some characters, for instance, Tony’s daughter, who does not appear in person in the book at all. In the film, Susie (played by Michelle Dockery) gets quite a bit of screen time and we see Tony supporting her in the latter stages of her pregnancy. I can only assume this was done to give his character more humanity but to my mind the whole point is that Tony finds it difficult to read and respond to other people. Young Tony’s visit to his girlfriend Veronica’s parents is close to the book and I liked the way the director emphasised the allure Veronica’s mother, Sarah, might hold for a young man, as this helps to make sense of later events.

Presented with an actress of the stature of Charlotte Rampling, it’s not surprising that the film expands the meetings between Tony and Veronica in later life. I felt the characterisation of Veronica downplayed the anger she displays in the book.  I thought Harriet Walter’s performance really captured the essence of Tony’s ex-wife, Margaret, as portrayed in the book and she communicated Margaret’s affectionate exasperation with Tony perfectly.

I enjoyed the flashback scenes to Tony’s schooldays and adolescence and I thought they had a really credible period feel. The director uses an imaginative technique at several points that allows us to see Tony reassessing events in his past and seeing them from a new perspective.

The Verdict

In the book, Tony muses: ‘How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?’ Adjusting, embellishing and making cuts are clearly all part of adapting a book into a film. Some of the changes I could understand, others less so.  The film is well-crafted with good performances but I don’t believe it is completely successful in communicating the essence of the book.

What do you think? Have you read the book or seen the film?

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