Sunday 21 March 2010

The Deep End

The Deep End is a 2001 movie starring Tilda Swinton which is sometimes described as a re-make of a James Mason film called This Reckless Moment. In fact, both are based on The Blank Wall, a novel by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.

I haven’t read the book, but I was first alerted to Holding’s qualities as a crime writer by Ed Gorman’s blog, and it turns out that her other admirers included Raymond Chandler and the legendary critic Anthony Boucher. She started out writing romances, with titles including The Invincible Minnie, before turning to novels of suspense, apparently as a way of making more money after the Wall Street Crash. She died in 1955.

As for the movie, I have to say I was underwhelmed. The basic premise is that Tilda plays Margaret Hall, whose son is in a relationship with an unsavoury older man. When the older man dies, and her son is implicated, Margaret tries to cover things up, only to become embroiled in a blackmail scam.

The raw material of the story is strong (the book and the James Mason film were successful) but I did find it difficult to care much for either Margaret Hall or her son, and in a story like this, it is almost always essential to have some form of empathy for the main characters. The production values of the film are high, and the Lake Tahoe area looks attractive, but I am afraid this was a thriller which thrilled me much less than I had hoped. I would, however, be very interested to learn the views of other Holding fans about her best books.


Anonymous said...

Martin - I'm sorry to hear you were disappointed in the film. It's always a shame when a movie doesn't live up to the promise of a book, isn't it? I have to admit I'm not really familiar with Holding's work, so I can't offer a well-informed opinion. I do know that her work ranks very highly among other writers in the "hardboiled" sub-genre. The very little I've read, I've thought was quite good - polished and suspenseful. But again, I'm not well-informed enough to be a good resource.

lyn said...

Martin, Persephone Books have reprinted The Blank Wall. I enjoyed it very much, the 1940s setting, the characters. I thought it was very suspenseful, a great read. I've seen The Deep End but don't remember much about it. I think the small-town setting of the book & the time period made it more believable that the mother would go to such lengths to help her daughter.

seana graham said...

I actually liked it quite a lot, though it's been some time since I've seen it. I may have been swayed too much by the visuals, though. And I do like Tilda Swinton.

Deb said...

Unfortunately, not all of Holding's books are still in print. However, one publisher (Stark House? can't remember) has released several new editions of her work--packaging two novels in each book. I read DEATH WISH and NET OF COBWEBS last year. Both very good at describing the American upper-middle-class pre-and-post-WWII world. I haven't read THE BLANK WALL, but THE DEEP END changed the gender (and sexual orientation) of the endangered child. I don't know how faithful the rest of the story is to Holding's original.

vegetableduck said...

I've never seen the film (have met to), but the book is considered her best and I thought it was good. The film did, as mentioned, change the sex of the child, giving it a gay spin; other than that I don't know what changes were made. I tend to think Holding was somewhat overrated by Chandler and Boucher, who really praised her highly. Another by her that was pretty good was The Unfinished Crime, but there are better suspense works from the period, it seems to me.

As for her characters, no, they don't strike me either as especially sympathetic, but then one could say the same thing about those in Francis Iles!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. I am certainly keen to explore Holding's work further, and I'd be interested to read some of the other books she wrote.
Curt, of course you are right about Iles!