Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1965)



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Credited cast:
Winifred Dennis Winifred Dennis ... Mrs. Weaver
Marie Hopps Marie Hopps ... Mrs. Penn
Alfred Lynch ... Gordon Comstock
Anne Stallybrass Anne Stallybrass ... Rosemary


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Orwell's entertaining and authentic but orphan book
5 February 2008 | by trimmerb1234See all my reviews

Just two film/TV productions have been made of "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" and the more recent of the two is so distant from the tone and the point of the original book as to scarcely count as a version of it.

This 1965 black and white BBC television version is the only one true to the book and it is a fine production particularly with its two leads: the late Alfred Lynch as Gordon Comstock and Anne Stallybrass as his long-suffering and loyal girlfriend, Rosemary.

Gordon Comstock is a writer and would-be poet who makes a comfortable living as a copywriter for an advertising agency. The problem is that a thought is making Comstock increasingly uncomfortable. The thought is that he is wasting his talents and his life prostituting them in return for a worthless cause. In this production Comstock gazes out with loathing from the café window at the bill-board opposite. He is looking at his own copy-writing creation: a meek, smug and compliant, smarmy-haired character: "Corner Table", who daily "enjoys his Bovex".

Money, Comstock comes to believe, is at the centre of everything and nothing, from art to love, is not inevitably poisoned by it. Only by leaving his well paid job and living in relative poverty will he be free, he believes, of money and free to write the great poem.

But having left his job, rejected money and now able to see clearly how impoverished was the work for which he had once been well rewarded, he finds that, perversely, Money looms even larger in his life. This time though it is the lack of money that is the trouble - the endless petty and mean calculations - deciding which day to have a cigarette, the excuses he must make to avoid social drinking (he cannot buy his round and is too highly principled to accept drinks from others). He convinces himself that it is Money - his lack of it - which stops his girlfriend Rosemary sleeping with him. Finally, having at last faced down the great beast Money, he discovers that he is no more able to write The Great Poem than before.

The story is largely autobiographical and, like "Down and Out in Paris and London", reflective of Orwells masochism and hair-shirted earnest intellectual Socialism of the '30's and '40's.

Orwell had difficulties with his publisher when he used real brand-names - or even ones that sounded similar and he was forced to write entirely fictional versions: "Corner table enjoys his Bovex!".

And perhaps this is why only the BBC which neither carried advertisements nor then cooperated with commercial sponsors could tackle this rather glum book and attack a hand that didn't feed it. Unsurprisingly few advertisers or sponsors would care to be associated with an authentic film or TV version of the book so it has remained an orphan only to suffer awful abuse at the hands of the makers of the recent film version - a fate which would have come as little surprise to Comstock, or his creator, Orwell.

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