Though it opened at both the Vancouver and Toronto Film Festivals last year, I’m still stoked about the May 9th Alliance Films limited release of Kari Skogland’s film adaptation of The Stone Angel by Canadian author Margaret Laurence (1926-1987). From the Alliance Web site:
Based on the best-selling novel by Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel is the story of feisty firecracker Hagar Shipley (Christine Horne, Oscar Winner Ellen Burstyn). Her passionate heart has always ruled her head and her choices have put her at odds with family and friends. With her life nearly behind her, she sets out in search of a way to reconcile herself to her turbulent past. Through her reflections we come to know a passionate and rebellious young bride, her love for her two sons, the freedoms she claimed, and the joys she denied herself.
Alliance’s PR-speak sounds as though the film might be a lamed-up version of Laurence’s powerful novel. (I mean “feisty firecracker”? WTF?) You can tell Alliance figures the movie is destined for the arthouse circuit because the Web site tells us The Stone Angel will be “in cinemas” on May 9th.
I love, also, how everyone keeps talking about “Laurence’s best-selling novel.” (They break it up like that too: “best-selling.”) But, check it: the book was published in 1964. Was it a bestseller? Maybe so, but whatever gauges they used to count such things are long gone. The Stone Angel is beyond bestselling. It is important, beloved and, when it isn’t being contested, it is taught in schools.
Kari Skogland is one of Canada’s hottest young directors and was named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2001. Since then she’s put in a lot of miles, including writer/director on 2002’s Liberty Stands Still with Wesley Snipes, Linda Fiorentino and Oliver Platt; director on 2005’s Chicks With Sticks and she is currently in post-production on Fifty Dead Men Walking with Jim Sturgess, Rose McGowan and Ben Kingsley.
But for our purposes, The Stone Angel is the one that matters. Back in October, Variety summed the film up thusly:
A tastefully reverent, fundamentally sincere treatment of Margaret Laurence’s 1964 Manitoba-based novel, a staple for Canada’s 12th graders, “The Stone Angel” plays precisely as expected from a incident-laden, multigenerational and metaphorical book crammed into a conventional running time. Local auds may thrill at this visual embodiment of literary treasure, but the story won’t resonate elsewhere beyond fests and some ancillary.
But, hell: it’s Laurence, right? It’s Skogland. Someone just tell me where to sign; where to stand.
Meanwhile, check my fangirl stats: here’s a review I did of an anniversary republication of The Stone Angel back in 1998. You read that right: a decade ago. Fortunately, the book has changed not at all. That’s the beauty of reviewing classics.