Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Monday, May 12, 2003  

This (Sunday) evening on PBS, Masterpiece Theatre presented the first half of the television miniseries of Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Having decided that I was going to watch it, I should have made more of an effort not to keep comparing it to the novel; but time after time I ended up saying to myself, "That's not how it happened in the book, at all."

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it. It was quite watchable, with a neat pace and brash style, bouyed by spirited performances and a great soundtrack. Unfortunately, to facilitate plot development, much of Smith's wonderfully sharp and spiky dialogue ends up on the cutting room floor. And there are the obligatory material changes from the novel: the Chalfens become, inexplicably, the Malfens; Samad's great-grandfather Mangal Pande undergoes a name change as well. Most interestingly, Magid is made to see his father kissing the school teacher Poppy Burt-Jones, and this is the reason he, and not Millat, is the son chosen to be sent to Bangladesh.

In essence the transformation from book to TV series works, and probably better than it would have than to a movie. White Teeth is so much a novel of its time that it somehow seems right that it should be brought to the screen, its motley cast of characters brought so colourfully to life. (And Zadie Smith, a writer of her time, was there herself, an extra in the New Year's party scene.) Looking forward to the conclusion next Sunday.

posted by Jonathan | 12:30 AM 0 comments


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