TV-ing it    4                                                                                                                                                                  Posted 10th August 2013

"Too Far to Go" was an hour-and-a-half film for television, a distillation of John Updike's short stories about the marriage of Richard and Joan Maple. And it was brilliant. Starting at the point where they have decided to break up, it traces through flashback not so much the reasons as the inadequacy of the reasons to explain what has happened to them.

The grief of it relates not to what they have done (the infidelities, the small betrayals) but to what they have almost inadvertently failed to do - to care enough for the frail ideal with which they started out. By the end, it's not what they have become that hurts but what they have failed to remain.

Not the least remarkable thing about the film was how it minimised Updike's weaknesses and emphasised his strengths. He has always been such a determined microbiologist of middle-class American life that often his tendency to make a symphony out of a casual cough can be wearing. He sometimes gives the impression of hunting butterflies with a howitzer.

But this adaptation by-passed the verbiage to show him as the poet of middle-class manners, the Dante of that genteel hell where pain comes on a silver salver and people exchange gift­wrapped insults like monogrammed thumbscrews.

Michael Moriarty of the Dead Sea eyes was perfect as middle-class suburban man, so numb with convention that he doesn't know he's hurt anyone else until he feels the pain their reaction causes in him.

Blythe Danner as Joan Maple gave what is certainly one of the best performances I have ever seen on television.

The telly may eat anything but it does regurgitate some things beautifully.

(To read the next post in this series click here.)

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