Merry War, or Keep the Aspidira Flying (A)
Released in England as, "Keep the Aspidistra Flying - referring to a house plant that thrived on neglect, and playing on the communist slogan, "Keep the Red Flag Flying," "A Merry War" introduces Gordon Comstock (Grant), who's by all means very neglected, but trying to find a way not to be.
Resembling Orwell's long face, with deep eyes and overgrown brows, Grant's Comstock also has the writer's bleak outlook. We see him quit an advertising agency job because he wants to be a poet, although, along with everyone else, he needs money. Working next in a run-down used-book store in the slums of Lambeth, he faces his ad agency boss' point: "Isn't there enough poetry already?' Dusting a bin of reduced-price books, Gordon sees a book of his own poems, discounted to three pence.
His life is made bearable by a beacon: Rosemary (Bonham-Carter), an artist at the agency, who loves and believes in him. But Gordon is too broke to take her out, even for tea in the general desperation of the Depression. A serious, focused young woman, Rosemary is Gordon's rescue from bleakness, and has her standards. Avoiding his landlady, the would-be lovers haven't consummated. When at last they do, Rosemary gets pregnant. Yet she tells Gordon, "You're a poet, and a free man.'
At the library, Gordon asks for books on pregnancy. "Not for the general public!' the librarian answers, in shock. "I'm not the general public,' he replies, "but the father of an unborn child.' Reading the book, Gordon turns to a page with the engraving of a fetus, and realizes what he must do. As his boss says, "Poetry and advertising use the same words, just in different order.'
Called "Orwell's only comedy,' "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" has his sardonicism: "The public are swine; advertising is a stick rattling inside a swill bucket.' Gordon realizes he can't escape advertising. "I was called 'promising' by the Times Literary Supplement,' he tells his publisher. "I know,' is the reply; "I wrote it.' "A Merry War' is a good adaptation of Orwell's novel, especially for anyone who can romanticize working in a used-book store. Finding the way back to responsibility might not be as romantic, but offers other rewards.
Alan Plater, based on the novel by George Orwell
Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Wadham, Jim Carter
1940s London; Depression; extramarital affair, George Orwell
English Reviewer's Name:
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