Saturday, December 15, 2012

Philip Sington's "The Valley of Unknowing"

Philip Sington is the author of The Einstein Girl and Zoia’s Gold.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest novel, The Valley of Unknowing:
The Valley of Unknowing, which is usually tagged as a ‘literary thriller’, is an intense, almost claustrophobic story, leavened by the humorous delivery of the narrator, the determinedly unserious Bruno Krug: writer, womaniser, People’s Champion of Art & Culture, and occasional freelance plumber. It has only two leading characters and three supporting characters, one of whom is dead and buried (well cremated, actually) by the end of the first act, and who lives on in the story mainly on account of a troubling legacy.

The tale unfolds in a region of East Germany out of reach of western television (popular nick-name: ‘The Valley of Unknowing’), where self-censorship has become second nature, and where people have turned inward – to their allotments, to their families, to their plumbing – rather than face the reality of how unfree they really are. In form it is essentially a love triangle, with one side of the triangle suffering an untimely death (see above).

Since this is a fantasy exercise, my ideal director would be Alexander Payne. Surely nobody does character-based drama better than him. I loved About Schmidt and Sideways, and The Descendants, all of which were adapted from novels and all of which drew performances of extraordinary depth and detail from their leading men.

The protagonist in The Valley of Unknowing, Bruno Krug, is about fifty years old: urbane yet inwardly insecure, crumbling but attractive, cynical yet thoroughly decent in a small-scale kind-of-way. His journey through the story is a hard one, and probably a hard one to act. (But then have you seen what movie stars earn these days? At least let’s make them work for their money…!) Coincidentally, the star of The Descendants, George Clooney, is the requisite age this year, but Clooney is perhaps too much of a heartthrob to be afflicted with jealousy the way Krug is; and besides, I think Mr Payne is the kind of director who would like to work with a new cast every time. So instead I would go for Robert Downey Jr. You could believe he has demons, you could believe in him as a writer, and you could believe he’d fall in love where he shouldn’t.

Of course, this is assuming an All-American cast. If this were a British cast, I’d be hoping Hugh Laurie would step up to the plate. If he could shed the slight aura of poshness, which he seems to have done with great success in House, Krug might be a role he’d rather enjoy.

The object of Krug’s affection is an Austrian music student called Theresa Aden. Twenty-five-years-odd, Theresa is a complex little package in her own right: pretty, modest but with an inner core of dissatisfaction and self-doubt. Is she capable of betraying a lover in return for riches and fame? Maybe. I have to admit to being slightly out of my depth in this category, but purely on the basis of general on-screen demeanour, I would plump for Julia Stiles.

Finally there’s Bruno’s old friend and editor, Michael Schilling. Myopic Michael keeps just about everything bottled up, but inside he’s a seething mass of conflicting fears. Without him, there’d be no story at all. One strong candidate for this lynchpin role: William Fichtner.

Of course what I’d really like is for a casting director to decide all this, rather than me. I’m told they’re pretty good at it. But then if a casting director were involved, I suppose it wouldn’t be a fantasy any more. (I could probably live with that…)
Learn more about the book and author at Philip Sington's website.

Writers Read: Philip Sington.

The Page 69 Test: The Valley of Unknowing.

--Marshal Zeringue