Talking Movies

March 9, 2012

Welcome to Greeneland

I wrote some months ago about an impending trip to Graham Greene’s birthplace (Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire) for the Graham Greene Festival 2011, which took place at the start of October. I thought I’d cast a slightly belated eye back over proceedings.

I had won the thriller category of the creative writing awards for my short story ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ and was lucky enough to collect my prize from festival guest speaker Lee Langley, who adapted Greene’s lost 1940s ‘scriptment’ The Tenth Man into a complex and tense film starring Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas in the late 1980s. Berkhamsted is only a half-hour train ride from London, and the festival is always worth the attention of any Greene fans in the Home Counties. The interesting line up of talks and screenings this year included rising film director and screenwriter Rowan Joffe introducing his Brighton Rock adaptation, and the launch by Dermot Gilvary and Darren Middleton of their edited book of critical essays Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene. I sadly missed a lot of the festival’s events but what I did catch was most impressive. Professor Joyce Stavick gave an interesting account of how American military college students responded surprisingly positively to Greene’s prescient warnings about Vietnam in The Quiet American, Lee Langley gave a very funny account of how she adapted The Tenth Man for the screen only to watch her most prized original dialogue scene that for her summed up the whole film get thrown onto the cutting room floor by the director as pointless padding, and Professor Steven Chibnall (fresh from excavations in the archives) gave an imposingly detailed examination of the two contrasting film adaptations of Brighton Rock.

I must though single out Professor Michael Brennan’s lecture on Greene’s creative use of the Manichean heresy, in Brighton Rock and Stamboul Train among others, was a truly stunning piece of scholarship. I’d have to rank this patient explanation of the bizarre beliefs of the Manicheans and careful analysis of just how Greene used this good/evil, soul/body, man/woman set of dichotomies for his own purposes as one of the very best lectures I’ve ever heard. On the basis of this talk alone I’d recommend Prof. Brennan’s new book on Greene to all Greene scholars and indeed anyone working in the wider field of English Catholic literature. Once all the prizes had been given out and the talks concluded it was time for the Bourget-Greene Gala Dinner in the luxurious surroundings of Berkhamsted’s venerable Public School. Despite my complete unfamiliarity with ‘Ed Reardon’ I greatly enjoyed the BBC Radio 4 comedy character’s short after dinner talk spuriously linking himself to Greene throughout his own fictional life. I also greatly enjoyed talking with a number of other Greene fans including Cathy Hogan, a fellow Irish winner in the writing awards. Andrew Bourget, Greene’s eldest grandson and the new and very gracious patron of the Festival, has launched a website intended as the primary resource on the web for all things Greene related – I think it’s a great idea, using a signature concept, and one that deserves all the support that Greene fans can muster.

I think everyone will find that there is one Graham Greene work that speaks to them. For me it’s The Ministry of Fear, for other people I know I could say The End of the Affair or Twenty One Short Stories. Why not find out which one speaks to you?

Create a free website or blog at