In this month’s issue of Sight and Sound there’s a letter from the producer of Enduring Love, Kevin Loader, rebuking the magazine for concentrating so strongly on his film’s deviation from its source material. He urges them to judge the movie solely as a cinematic experience; a fair request but a difficult one given that this film is based on Ian McEwan’s well-known and much admired 1997 novel, perhaps the writer’s strongest work prior to the recently Booker-shortlisted Atonement.
University lecturer Joe (Daniel Craig) is in the middle of an idyllic picnic with his artist girlfriend (the glorious but under utilised Samantha Morton) when they get caught up in a freak incident with a hot air balloon. The day ends tragically leaving Joe juggling feelings of guilt about his role in the resulting accident. He’s still struggling to deal with what happened when he’s approached by Jed (Ifans), a rather odd man who was also present when the incident occurred and feels they’ve developed some sort of special bond as a result.
It quickly becomes clear that Jed is fairly unbalanced – his desire to have his love reciprocated rapidly becomes obsessive and the already fragile Joe begins to descend even deeper into paranoia and depression as a result, pushing away his lover and alienating his friends.
Adapted by Joe Penhall – the writer behind the acclaimed stage productions of Blue/Orange and the recent Dumb Show – Enduring Love is an initially intelligent reworking of McEwan’s novel that unfortunately ends up as an, admittedly tense, retread of Fatal Attraction, replacing the book’s ‘is-this-all-in-his-mind?’ ambiguity for more standard stalker fare.
The writing is at its strongest when Joe and his friends (the ubiquitous but reliable Bill Nighy, the luminous Susan Lynch) indulge in their vaguely pretentious wine-fuelled dinner party chatter about the nature of love, but loses its grip when the film veers into straightforward thriller territory.
Daniel Craig is wonderful as a man gradually coming apart, Morton is her ever expressive self and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent boasting both Nighy and This Life‘s Andrew Lincoln (who, for trivia-philes, also starred together in Penhall’s previous collaboration with director Roger Michell, Blue/Orange.) Rhys Ifans gives an equally strong performance as the deadpan loner Jed but he feels desperately miscast and, with his blonde mop and scruffy attire, it’s impossible to completely shake off the image of him standing on a Notting Hill doorstep in his pants.
The opening sequence is memorably handled and Michell successfully piles on the suspense, providing a couple of genuinely shocking moments, but this is undermined by his characters, who act in an increasingly frustrating and unbelievable manner – the addition of an intrusive score doesn’t help.
To go back to Loader’s letter, it’s not the deviations from the book that annoy so much as the formulaic nature of all they’ve supplied instead. On paper Enduring Love was original and resonant, on celluloid it just isn’t in the same league.