My film adaptation series continues on my Cinematic Syntax with an examination of Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair and Neil Jordan’s adaptation. Surprisingly, this is the first novel I have written an adaptation analysis on and I am not disappointed with the novel chosen. For useful information, I use John Desmond’s chapter on “The Novel” in his book (Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature) throughout the piece, and make it clear that it is necessary to cut when adapting a novel because of the sheer amount of content. A film sticks to an average run-time of two hours, give or take, so it cannot fully contain the immensity of a novel. Without further delay, here is The End of the Affair.
The adaptation of Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair successfully portrays the story’s general themes. Some themes in both versions are the struggles with religious belief and unbelief, the effect of the miraculous, the power of love, and marriage as safety. In an interesting move, director Neil Jordan omits Greene’s references to love and hate inextricably tied as two sides of the same coin. Although the film opens: “this is a diary of hate,” which is truncated compared to Bendrix, who is the main character, and his constant rumination: “So this is a record of hate far more of love…” (1) it does not seem to connect love and hate as much as Greene’s original. In contrast to the original, the film’s ending is reordered with scenes that occur earlier in the novel. Although Jordan keeps Bendrix as a writer in the film, Greene’s novel solidifies the writer’s process, lifestyle, and routine. Greene’s reference to many aspects of writing seems to be his personal meditation on the profession. However, for Jordan’s he chose to visually emphasize the style and sounds associated with his character’s trade (typewriter, zooming into a sheet of paper, and clicking). One of the most notable choices for the novel is its use of the temporal. Greene cleverly switches between different stages of WW2— all shown through various stages of an affair. To comment on this, Jordan uses cinematic techniques to interrupt the present with flashbacks of the past.
An example is when Beatrix walks up the steps in Henry’s home and we see glimpses of Sarah, his love interest and who he has an affair with— Henry’s wife. The glimpses are shown as cuts, achieved through the editing process, of her feet and dress that appear on screen for a few seconds. Using these cuts, Jordan is working with Greene’s temporal precedent but has cinema’s visualism on his mind. Neil Jordan’s film adaptation of Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair is an intermediate adaptation that heavily condenses parts from the novel to fit a film’s average runtime. In John Desmond’s chapter “The Novel,” Desmond outlines about fifteen fundamentals that are commonly done when adapting a novel into a film. In Jordan’s case, the length meant that he had to employ such fundamentals: combining/cutting characters, combining scenes, and pruning dialogue.
For Neil Jordan’s adaptation combining/removing characters was a way to condense and retain attributes while not dividing the story between too many characters. In the novel, Richard Smythe is an atheist, while Father Cromptom is the priest. They are both in correspondence with Sarah, but they are combined into Father Richard Smythe in Jordan’s adaptation. What I felt was lost in translation in Jordan’s version is that it takes away from the dichotomy of Sarah’s struggle with faith. It can be argued that Jordan may have merged these characters because having one character keeps the story from going into too many deviations, but the dichotomy is lost. In the novel, these two characters outwardly portray two antithetical beliefs: the atheist (Richard Smythe) and the priest (Father Cromptom). With having these two characters, Greene may have wanted to show Sarah’s indecision overtaking her by having two men on opposing sides.
With the cinema in mind, Jordan seems to have seen the atheist character as less important than the priest. However, in the novel, Richard Smythe (the atheist) is given center stage with his facial deformation. His deformity is particularly crucial in understanding his worldview because this disfigurement is what he based his unbelief on. Instead, Jordan chooses to have Parkis’ son be the one with the affliction on his cheek. While they choose to affect different characters, both versions have the ailment cured in the end. In the novel, Smythe tells Beatrix over the phone, “Nobody treated my face. It cleared up, suddenly, in the night (157).” The miracle is what causes Smythe to stop preaching his atheist beliefs. For Parkis’ son, his face clears up because of Sarah. Jordan’s motivation behind some of these changes may have been to condense or pick his favorite/resonant scenes to portray the novel’s essence. His motivations tether to both keeping the functions of cinema in mind while respecting the source material. Although there are many changes with these characters, the basic story and themes still get through to the viewer, even if Sarah’s divided feelings toward religious belief isn’t as heavily emphasized. The ending miracle of the removal of Parkis’ son’s deformation still portrays the miraculous. Jordan chooses the close-up of a child’s countenance as one of his closing shots to possibly connote pure bliss after the act.
Another character and scene removed in the adaptation are Sylvia and the funeral procession. In the novel, Bendrix brings Sylvia to Sarah’s funeral. Sylvia, who is not in the film, is a character who is in a relationship with Waterbury (the writer of articles, and competitor of Bendrix, also not in the film). Strangely, at the funeral, Bendrix seems not to want to start a romantic relationship with Syliva; this is evident when Bendrix says that Sarah’s mother “saved him” from Syliva by agreeing to go to dinner. Instead of this interior scene, Jordan chooses to use the funeral as the ending omitting the interior and Sylvia entirely. He focuses solely on Mr. Parkis and his son outside (we know this is the funeral only because there are smokestacks and people in the background dressed in black). In the novel, Parkis encounters Bendrix inside the place of the procession and mentions Sylvia in response to Bendrix asking who the attendees are: “The young lady I do not know, sir.” (131). One can only assume that Jordan felt that including Sylvia would be superfluous, a character who may detour from the dramatic impact of Sarah’s death. Sylvia is not entirely crucial for the plot’s sake, a common reason for removal in John Desmond’s text. The dinner scene with Mrs. Bertrum is omitted from the film. What the film loses is some of Sarah’s family life and backstory and the knowledge from her mom that she was baptized as a Catholic. Jordan may have felt that the backstory was unnecessary and that he could move references to Sarah as a Catholic to other scenes, such as when Parkis says that his boy believed that she was Catholic. Jordan’s biggest change is when Bendrix and Sarah proceed with the divorce and run away together, which causes Henry to hire Mr. Parkis to spy on them. This adaptation removes the scene when Sarah goes home and rests after Bendrix chases her to the church. Jordan’s choice of Bendrix and Sarah reuniting could be tied to traditional Hollywood expectations or possibly Jordan’s desire to make it his own.
Jordan pruning dialogue is apparent in the exchange with Father Richard Smythe— Father Crompton in the novel. The tension in this scene is there, as Bendrix takes out his “hate” and frustration on Father Crompton. In the novel, Father Crompton is described by Bendrix as, “Ugly, haggard, graceless with the Torque-mada nose, he was the man who had kept Sarah from me.” (145). The novel has Bendrix blame Crompton for Sarah’s death: “It was his church that she had walked in the rain seeking refuge and ‘catching her death’ instead.” This moment does not appear in the film, and Jordan truncates the scene and trims the argument that Bentrix has with Crompton. In the film, the main argument begins with Crompton saying it is a shame that Sarah is not having a Catholic burial. The argument gains steam when Bendrix asserts Sarah was not a good woman and that she “put the blinkers on any man. She deceived you, father, her husband, and me. She was a consummate liar.” In the novel, there is an entire section of dialogue between Henry and Father Crompton completely removed altogether, and the film seems to emphasize Bendrix in this scene heavily. The novel is fairly balanced between the three characters. It goes between the situation and Bendrix’s thoughts:
“‘She was a good woman,’ Quite suddenly I lost my temper. I believe I was annoyed chiefly by his complacency, the sense that nothing intellectual could ever trouble him, the assumption of an intimate knowledge of somebody he had only known for a few hours or days, who we had known for years… I said, she was nothing of the sort.” (150).
The novel has many of Bendrix’s internal thoughts, which could not be recreated in the film medium without excessive voiceover. To avoid heavy reliance on narration and boring his audience, Jordan cuts the internal monologue. He decides to show the action straight, closely following powerful lines of dialogue from the novel: “She could put blinkers on any man, ‘I said, ‘even on a priest. She’s only deceived you, as she deceived her husband and me. She was a consummate liar.” (150). Even though this dialogue is kept, the next exchange is completely removed: “I wasn’t her only lover—” (150). The reference to Sarah’s other affairs is removed from the film in favor of snappy and memorable lines of dialogue that are sure to be memorable for any audience member. Jordan keeps the line: “I’m not in pain, I’m in hate. (151).” The internal battle of faith shown after this scene, the stomach pains resolved in Parkis’ son, and Sarah’s children’s books are all omitted or changed by Jordan. To keep the adaptation from becoming too literary, I believe Jordan chose to remove parts of dialogue and only keep the most striking lines. The cinematic medium cannot show all Maurice’s thoughts, so Jordan ends the film with a scene indicating this problem. The last scene of the film leaves us with Maurice Bendrix at the typewriter, and we are shown an extreme close-up of the sheet of paper with the last lines from the novel. Jordan makes us believe that we witnessed the first-hand account of events in the film, and further elaboration, or Bendrix’s thoughts, will be in the written version. As an adaptation, Neil Jordan’s version of The End of the Affair does the novel justice in the average runtime Jordan had to work with. Even though some scenes or characters were removed or combined, Jordan still got across some of the essential themes even if condensed. For example, the miraculous in the novel is done with at least three characters— Parkis’ son, Richard Smythe, and Maurice surviving the V1 explosion. Ultimately, Jordan chooses to end with a memorable close-up of Parkis’ son and his newly clear face and joyous expression.
The film is an intermediate adaptation of The End of the Affair because of how many times Jordan chooses to condense, rearrange, and remove, which ultimately reduces the source material’s scope. Jordan has some points of departure from the text, like when Bendrix and Sarah run away together with divorce imminent. Even with this change from the novel, Jordan still retains a similar ending to the original. He goes off course more toward the end but never departs enough to go further than an intermediate adaptation. His way of combining/cutting characters, combining scenes, and pruning dialogue contribute to a creation reflexive of a director aware of his medium while critically selecting from a source of rich textual possibilities. As a conclusion to both versions, Maurice Beatrix becomes the most reluctant Catholic, like author Graham Greene, and indicates a belief in God’s existence.
“The Novel.” Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature, by John M. Desmond and Peter Hawkes, McGraw-Hill Education Create, 2006, pp. 83–126.
Greene, Graham, and Gorra. The End of the Affair: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. Penguin Books, 2004.
— Christian Mietus, Blog Editor.
Christian is a Senior at Lewis University who is an English major and a minor in Film Studies and Russian Language and Culture. In 2019, he received the “Dr. Stephany Schlachter Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship Award” for his collaborative piece “Assimilation through Sound.” Additionally, his poem “The Japanese Photography is Covered in Dust” is forthcoming from City Brink Magazine. In his free time, he appreciates and dissects cinema as well as consistently rating and reviewing it. Some of his favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavettes, Ingmar Bergman, and Kenji Mizoguchi. He also appreciates different art forms, such as music and literature. Christian hopes to continue expanding his skills as a writer and to encourage others to do so as well. He writes about film for the JFR blog, so check out Christian’s Cinematic Syntax.