The Rehearsal (2016) vs The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

The Rehearsal (2016) MIFF Review


Set at a tertiary level drama school in New Zealand, The Rehearsal follows Stanley (James Rolleston) a handsome and apparently very talented student as he finds his way into life as a drama student, surrounded by the bold and brash. Meanwhile, he starts dating a high school student, Isolde (Ella Edward) whose sister has become the centre of a scandal, as she was caught having an affair with her married tennis coach. This affair becomes the centre piece to the group devised work that Stanley is putting together with his group.

I don’t quite know what this all was. For me, I couldn’t tell if there was some irony in the fact that Stanley was supposed to be such a new talent as he appeared to be a terrible actor. I don’t know if James Rolleston is a fabulous actor playing a terrible actor, or if he is just a terrible actor, or if he was just very badly directed. Or extremely well directed, if he was supposed to be terrible. But given that I found a lot of the rest of the acting melodramatic to the point of being tedious, I suspect he’s just not that great. The film is based on a book by Eleanor Catton who also wrote the mammoth novel The Luminaries which I struggled to get through, and now I really want to read the source material to see if it will give me some hints about what the film was supposed to be. Perhaps there was more to it than I could read into it… but perhaps not. Either way, I disliked most of it and hated the end.

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton – Book Review


It really is amazing just how different source material can be to a film. I did a very brief google search to see how Catton feels about the film, I can’t imagine she’d be all that pleased. I felt like the film perhaps attempted to explore some of the themes of youth and sexuality, but took away the key aspects. Reading the book actually made me quite cross about the film in some ways. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The book tells of a saxophone teacher who has conversations with her students and with the mothers of her students about many things, but most related in some way to sex or sexuality. Such is the beautiful and cunning writing of the book, that I am almost not sure if the saxophone teacher was a real character, or a voice in a rehearsal for a show about the scandal. The scandal is that a girl was caught having an affair with her music teacher, he has been fired and other students in the school are going to counselling. The student’s sister, Isolde is attracted to Julia, an older student at her school, but there is a lot of talk about Julia being lesbian amongst the other students, and then Isolde seems to be in a relationship with Stanley. We meet Stanley early on and follow his time at the school, but he seems a far less important character – a boy who is so unsure of himself that he is always performing – or trying to figure out how to play the role of himself.

The key thing that I found making me angry as I read the book is that the book seems to be a lot about female sexuality, about teenagers and even older women trying to figure out what sexuality means to them. But the film, while possibly attempting to question the place of sexuality in youth, misplaces the focus onto Stanley and his relationship with Isolde. In the book, the relationship is barely there, in the film it is a key focus. And then there is betrayal and the idea that people have to make decisions – that’s stuff the film put in as a focus that is not even in the book. And why was the scandal taken out of the school and from music to tennis? There must have been a reason, but it takes away from the whole issue of the school’s culpability and response which again is a key focus in the book.

I can’t say that I actually particularly liked the book, although Catton’s writing is beautiful, and if I ever meet anyone who speaks as her characters speak, I expect I’ll immediately fall head over heels in love, but I just increasingly loathe the adaptation. Even the wonderful role that Kerry Fox played is very removed from the book – she is a hugely significant figure in the film, but one of several unnamed middle players in book.

I almost want to see another film adaptation of the book that actually follows the themes and story that Catton set up. Almost.


The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – Book Review


Ah, thank goodness it’s over! Sorry, that’s a terrible way to start a review, especially of a book that I quite enjoyed. But as someone who is yet to totally succumb to the e-book revolution, an 828 page tome is just too bloody long.

Set in New Zealand during the gold rushes of the mid 1800s, it follows a series of characters whose fates become entwined and tangled. There is a whore, found passed out from opium in a suspected suicide attempt. A recluse found dead in his hut with a hidden fortune. A politician, the first to come across the body. And just so many more characters. It is a complex web of lies and deceits, and even at the end, I do not know who knows what, and who has come out of it better or worse.

Catton won the Man Booker Prize for this in 2013, and while I find that the Man Booker winners can be touch and go for me, I absolutely see why this won. It is beautiful, evoking the time and place in a way that is extremely romantic and yet filthy and realistic. The characters are complex and it is fascinating to see the lies they tell to each other and to themselves. But it was just too much book for me.

This book is a commitment to reading. If you can set aside time to let the story take you away, to become completely drawn in, it will be a book that you cannot put down. Unfortunately, for me it felt like homework; like the book that I had to finish before I allowed myself to have any reading fun.

Should I give up on the big books? Here – check out Wendy’s blog on Brick Sized Books.