MOVIE MEM­OIRS

#7: THE DU­VET DAY FILM — MAGIC BE­YOND WORDS: THE J.K. ROWL­ING STORY

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW - IL­LUS­TRA­TION DAVID MA­HONEY

I WRITE THIS post-hol­i­day, slumped un­der a dog on the sofa, main­lin­ing tea. When you read this you will, in all like­li­hood, be py­jama-top deep in post-christ­mas gloom, blood thick with Brie chug­ging slowly through your ar­ter­ies. It’s prob­a­bly rain­ing out­side, or you may be off sick with a Jan­uary cold, dis­eased tis­sues strewn across the liv­ing-room floor. In any of these even­tu­al­i­ties, I pre­scribe an ur­gent screen­ing of a low-qual­ity made-for-tv movie, ide­ally Magic

Be­yond Words: The J.K. Rowl­ing Story, a woe­fully un­known clas­sic of the genre.

This, as the name makes abun­dantly clear, is a biopic of the world’s most fa­mous liv­ing writer. In the first two min­utes alone, we learn that Joanne Rowl­ing has a sup­port­ive (if un­con­vinc­ingly Scot­tish) fi­ancé, but still wishes her dead mum was here. She has writ­ten a book called Harry Pot­ter And The Philoso­pher’s Stone (thank you, Le­ices­ter Square premiere crowd­mem­ber hold­ing book, per­fectly still, to cam­era), and she’s now very fa­mous af­ter years as a no­body. We then dis­solve into misty flash­backs of child­hood larks with a broom­stick, and Joanne at her school desk, where — from her day­dream­ing POV — we see a class­mate wear­ing round, metal-rimmed specs while her teacher sug­gests that if only she’d just con­cen­trate, she might se­ri­ously con­sider a lit­er­ary ca­reer. All this is seen hi­lar­i­ously through the faintly Dick­en­sian lens of an Amer­i­can writer and di­rec­tor (at one point, we see Rowl­ing sit­ting in front of some stock footage of bu­colic idyll, os­ten­si­bly on a train to Lon­don, when a sage cock­ney nana in a tabard chirps by with a trol­ley-full of liver and tripe). The whole thing is about as tax­ing as a two-piece jig­saw.

In my view, Magic Be­yond Words hap­pens to be the great­est TV movie (The Room of the small screen, if you will), but the genre is truly a spoil of riches. Their ef­fect is as much anaes­thetic as en­ter­tain­ment. Found daily on Chan­nel 5 or fourth-tier cable chan­nels, these are pedes­trian melo­dra­mas acted com­pe­tently by the likes of Lind­say Wag­ner, Brian Dennehy, Pow­ers Boothe or some­one out of thir­tysome­thing. Ac­ces­si­ble 24/7, they wrap around you like a knit­ted shawl on a cold day, and de­mand not even the slight­est ef­fort — ev­ery last sub­plot, dream se­quence and mean­ing­ful look is sign­posted like a fire exit in a care home. The plot, lin­ear and sim­ple, is ar­ranged in an arc one could have drawn around a pro­trac­tor. One need not think when watch­ing a made-for-tv movie, only con­sume it like strained soup, per­haps tak­ing a short nap in the mid­dle with­out con­se­quence — es­pe­cially if, as is com­mon, the film is based on a fa­mil­iar, in­vari­ably unau­tho­rised, true story — maybe the life of Karen Car­pen­ter, the back­stage hor­rors of The Jack­son 5, the dastardly acts of Joey Butta­fuoco, the un­told story of Adolf Hitler (spoiler: it has been told).

My worry is that made-for-tv movies are a dy­ing genre. The truly au­then­tic ex­am­ples I find on my Sky menu are almost all made over five years ago. Nowa­days big, cred­i­ble movie stars are hoover­ing up telly work, thanks to high-qual­ity sub­scrip­tion chan­nels with global au­di­ences and bot­tom­less bud­gets. Gen­tle, clichéd, pre­dictable and com­fort­ing, TV movies re­duce cor­ti­sol, re­lax the synapses and give view­ers a weirdly com­pelling ex­cuse to do sweet bug­ger all.

J.K. Rowl­ing (Poppy Mont­gomery) won­ders whether she’ll ever make it.

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