Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Marchlands - and not cheating the reader/viewer

It is difficult enough for the reader/viewer to avoid confusion when a story flips to and from different time periods, but Marchlands (UK TV) pushed this further with three. The degree to which they interlocked was high and, on the whole, I think it was well done. The concluding episode last week drew in the different strands very well, but it did leave me with one big problem: a cheat. I hate cheats. My definition of a cheat is a scene within a book or drama that show us something that did not actually occur. Marchlands showed us more than one that Alice's grandfather was just innocently walking with her when she ran off, later to be drowned. The concluding episode showed us a completely different scenario, proving the earlier scene never happened (except in his lying head). Implication to throw people off the scent is fair enough in thrillers, but not cheats like this. Such a pity. Also, in the conclusion, I was pretty much unconvinced as to why Alice ended up in the water, let alone drowning. I expected more than an accident.

So far as writers are concerned, I believe it is fair play to misdirect readers - to make them think something misleading by implication (much as a conjuror does) - but a very unfair to describe something (even thoughts) that actually never happened. That is a cheat. I seem to remember Agatha Christie did it in the first book I ever read of hers and that rather put me off her for life, but novelists were still setting the ground rules then). I believe an author has a contract with a reader not to cheat - akin to lying - and I think that should be strictly opbserved. So, Marchlands gets my thumbs down for that cheat - although it kept me gripped. Such a pity after investing all that time.

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