The Sense of an Ending: From Book to Screen

The Sense of an Ending is a book I first read in September of 2013, I remember it well as it was one of the last books I read before I made my career change from technical theatre into book publishing.  It’s strange how things like this can stick in your mind.  I remember reading the book, I remember the time frame, I remember the cover, but I actually can’t remember the content of the book in detail.

So when I was invited to an advanced screening of The Sense of an Ending I was hoping it would, ironically as it turns out given the subject matter, jog my memory.  The filmic version stars national treasure Jim Broadbent in the role of the not-so-lovable main character Tony Webster, alongside other acting talent including Charlotte Rampling and Harriet Walker.  Just incase you know nothing about the book or film, here is a short synopsis:

Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), divorced and retired, leads a reclusive and relatively quiet life. One day, he learns that the mother of his university girlfriend, Veronica (Freya Mavor), left in her will a diary kept by his best friend who dated Veronica after she and Tony parted ways.

Tony’s quest to recover the diary, now in the possession of an older but equally as mysterious Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), forces him to revisit his flawed recollections of his friends and of his younger self.

As he digs deeper into his past, it all starts to come back; the first love, the broken heart, the deceit, the regrets, the guilt… Can Tony bear to face the truth and take responsibility for the devastating consequences of actions he took so long ago?

After the film I settled in for a post-show talk with a group of fellow book bloggers, to discuss the film’s adaptation from the Man Booker Prize winning book.  I have to say this was one of the best and most organic chats of this type I have been in, it felt like a book group and everyone really took time to listen to each other’s opinions, which really helped us delve deeply into the issues raised.

Both the book and the film tackle the complexity of first loves, memories and relationships, but does the different medium show the audience different shades of intention?  Possibly.  The film fleshes out characters other than Tony (the book is told just from Tony’s point of view so you have to take his word as verbatim) which allows you too see their motives more clearly and understand them better.  I think Tony’s actions become more unsympathetic because of this, his self-centered and stubborn nature really shows when viewed through the gaze of others.

One thing that the film does really well is linger with its pacing.  It’s something that is used constantly in books but is harder to achieve in film.  To linger in scenes and pauses without making the film feel slow or boring is incredibly difficult, but it has been achieved beautifully here.  It takes a brave director to do this and an even smarter one to get the pitch right.  It has a very book-like pacing that allows you to focus on the characters and gives you time to reflect.

Producing a book to film adaptation is difficult because us book lovers and audience members get a picture in our heads when we read, and a film can never show what we have conjured up inside our minds.  Personally I try not to get too caught up in the details and think they should be viewed as separate things, a straight up reproduction would be pointless.  Of course there were some changes, but nothing that changes the overall feel and main story behind the book, which I believe is exactly what an adaptation should achieve.  It seems the author would agree as he stated “The best way to be loyal as a filmmaker is to be disloyal to the book; I’ve always believed that”

It’s a beautiful, thoughtful film, whether or not you have read the book, and is well worth a watch.  It is out now at cinemas across the country.  Take a look at the trailer to learn more.


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