Saturday, February 8, 2020

Jack Belford (Character Reversal Done Well)

So I shared this video on Twitter a while ago, and I was so excited at stumbling across this collection of scenes zeroing in on one character of Samuel Johnson's massive novel. I read Clarissa in college as part of my Independent Study. But I only knew about this book after I saw the adaptation on PBS.

Considering the amount of material the screenwriters had to wade through to get to the core of the story, the final result is very, very good. What stood out the most for me - because this is the only character who undergoes a massive reversal - was Jack Belford, who's Robert Lovelace's best friend and fellow rake. Granted, there are other side characters who redeem themselves in the end, but from what I remember, they were pretty superficial at best.

The adaptation, though, not only whittles down the plot to the most necessary components, but also reduces the cast of characters in such a way that Belford's change finds completion in a pretty tragic way. This video (all 24+ minutes of it) showcases the character's shift from villain to avenging angel.

Warning: spoilers for the entire mini-series as well as the novel.

The final scene with the duel is only recounted in the book as something that occurs elsewhere and is reported by one character to another. In this adaptation, Belford replaces Clarissa's cousin as the one to avenge her honor, and this decision of the screenwriters is pretty damn perfect: from best friend to enemy and then victor at a very high cost.

Belford's redemption is dearly bought, and I absolutely love the idea since the extremity of his change isn't the same in the book where he's constantly overshadowed by the much more devious Lovelace (Note: that one scene in the stairwell at the 15:52 mark with Belford standing up to Lovelace is my favorite part in the series).

The focus of the novel is also Clarissa Harlowe, so her goodness and purity throughout her ordeal is the story's moral center. Her character is so constant (even with her occasional flaws) that she's the least interesting of the lot.*

But that's an 18th century sentimental novel for you, and I read it as a cynical student from the 20th century. So, yep - all hail Jack Belford (TV version).

* I really get Henry Fielding poking savage fun at another one of Johnson's sentimental novels (Pamela). Between the two writers, I'm all for Fielding and his wicked sense of humor.

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