I’m fascinated by the process of turning a book into a film. Dan Weldon’s just written the screenplay for his mother’s 1980 novel, Puffball. Although it’s difficult to believe I’m now in such distinguished company as Fay Weldon, she’s a fellow Quercus author and we had a lovely chat at the preview of the film on Friday night at The Rich Mix. She then joined Dan, actress Rita Tushingham and legendry director Nic Roeg (the man who made a film featuring Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Diaggio and Joseph MacCarthy and still labelled it “Insignificance”) on stage for a Q&A, followed by a sneak preview.

Puffball opens with a city couple beginning a major renovation project at an unspecified rural Irish location. For the generation brought up on Grand Designs, the sense of doom in the audience is immediately palpable. Never fear though – main character Liffey (played by Kelly Reilly who has a great line in hats) is both architect and project manager. With that and a large crew of Polish builders, even Kevin McCloud might expect the build to run smoothly.

Naturally, it doesn’t. That’s mainly due to the mystical forces at work in the area, focused on the thousand-year-old Odin’s stone, a mystical site so powerful even Liffey and her boyfriend Richard (Oscar Pearce) get carried away allowing their passions to get the better of them. Though not without using a condom – after all, she is an architect. But modern rubber proves no match for ancient magic and soon Lifey discovers she’s pregnant.

Roeg’s small (and impressive) cast, is largely divided into warring pairs. Rita Tushingham’s Molly clearly has “gifts”, but they’re weighed against those of her grand daughter Audrey (Leona Igoe). It’s Miranda Richardson, Audrey’s mother Mabs, whose jealously of Liffey and desperation for a son lie at the heart of the locals’ resentment of Liffey (whose boyfriend Richard comes to blows with Mabs’ husband Tucker played by William Houston). The local doctor (Pat Deery) is good as gold and helpful to all, but his assistant, Mabs’ sister Carol (Tina Kellegher) makes sure everyone knows what’s going on at the surgery. It seems that to get on with your partner in the film you have to share the same DNA, and only Audrey’s younger sisters, the twins, live in harmony. Cleverly, having foreign builders means they don’t need to be involved, so the odd one out in the film, the one character able to control his destiny and come and goes at his own choosing, is Donald Sutherland’s Lars.

Lars is head of Liffey’s architectural practice, but his supposed Scandinavian roots imply there may be more to him than that – is he the modern day personification of Odin on Earth? The twinkle in his eye as he gazes at Liffey suggest he’s had more to do with her pregnancy than might first appear, even if the fatherhood of the unborn child is the main source of tension throughout the film.

By the end the house is finished. I don’t think Kevin McCloud would be much of a fan – it lacks the soul and stamp of individuality that any grand design needs to be carried off successfully. Might the same be said of the film? Maybe, but I’d say the jury’s still out on Puffball. And I would like to read the book to see how Dan developed his mother’s work. Roeg’s films have a habit of growing in importance as you slowly digest all that surrounds them, much like the giant puffball mushrooms of the title (which feature a little too heavily in the film’s scene-setting moments). I don’t know if they’re edible or not, but I’m going to chew this one over for a while before reaching a firm conclusion.
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~ by keithmansfield on July 12, 2008.

2 Responses to “Puffball”

  1. Puffball’s are edible, and quite nice and fleshy too!

  2. Are you Ray Mears in disguise? Good knowledge…

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