15 October 2004 | cheesehoven
Chaucer for chimps
This BBC adaptation of Chaucer's exquisitely bawdy Miller's tale is a truly dispiriting experience. I doubt that Chaucer's name would even be remembered let alone revered as the father of English literature if this shoddy updating is the only evidence that most people had to go on.
Chaucer's original is one of the great stories of the middle-ages; bawdy, irreverent, but ultimate life-affirming. The adaptation has converted this timeless work into contemporary banality. One cannot even call it hackwork, so badly is it done. One of the most important aspects of Chaucer's story was that the cuckolded husband has a bizarre notion that the world is nearing its end (and we don't know many people like that, DO WE, gentle reader?), and in anticipation of the coming flood, has gerry-built a boat in his attic which he has taken to sleeping in on the advise of Nicholas who is tupping his wife. Thus, when Nicholas' arse it burnt by Absolon, and he cries out 'water, water' the tale reaches a great comic climax with the husband waking up and, believing this to be a cry that the flood is coming, cutting the boat loose and falling down the stairs and bashing his head. This is a part of Chaucer's beautifully crafted story (ie one of the main points of it) that is absent from this version. I wonder why, since we hardly lack muttonheaded messianic figures and Nostradamian nincompoops in our own times any more than in Chaucer's. Perhaps the makers worried about offending a religious minority (the minority here being not christians, who are an easy aunt sally for them, but new-agers). Actually, I think that the literarily-lobotomised adapter removed it because it was not realistic (in a soap opera sense) and therefore not relevant to its target audience. It is a strange decision. The real lowpoint of this abysmal work, however, was the dialogue; some of the flattest I've heard. It was like Chaucer re-written for the batwatchviewer, every other line being a reference to some aspect of contemporary pop culture. The actors do what they can with this dreary stuff, but it has been drained of all the life that Chaucer, good man that he was, had taken the trouble to put in there.