Directed by Lasse Hallström, starring Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Scott Glenn, Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans and Rip Torn.
Based on E Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ‘The Shipping News’ is one of the most eagerly awaited screen adaptations of recent years. With the director of ‘Chocolat’ and ‘The Cider House Rules’ at the helm and an impressive cast in tow, expectations run high. Alas, the film is barely out of the starting blocks when it is apparent that the literary intellect of the book is jettisoned in favour of an unabashed dumbing-down to suit a wider audience.
Kevin Spacey plays the inept misfit Quoyle who, after a serious of personal tragedies, is persuaded by his no-nonsense aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) to move with his daughter Bunny to his ancestral Newfoundland. Despite zero journalistic experience he lands a job as a reporter on the local paper while slowly uncovering details about his family’s past in the area. Through a sluggish narrative that seems directionless, we are bombarded with watery metaphors that are predictable and pretentious. The film attempts to hone in on a coterie of kooky town characters at the expense of the story and meaning. The broody landscape mirrors Quoyle’s inner insecurities including his lifelong fear of water – a constant presence in a hamlet surrounded by the sea.
Perhaps the most distracting element of the film is the hugely miscast Kevin Spacey as the bumbling Quoyle. Judi Dench’s performance is a consolation and Julianne Moore is oddly compelling as the fey Wavey Prouse who falls for Quoyle. Throughout the entire film it is difficult not to hope that the literary tale that captured the world will surface at some point. Sadly it doesn’t and the result is a soggy, pallid version of the book.
While Hallström has been criticised for his inability to omit the feel-good factor in recent work, it would be unfair to lay all the blame for this production at his feet. With such an epic template in the literary version, it was always going to be difficult to translate to the big screen. It’s hard to say who will champion ‘The Shipping News’ as most who have read the book will be disappointed and those who haven’t will find it an empty tale missing many components.