When reviewing the 2016 film adaptation of August Wilson’s infamous play Fences, Peter Bradshaw likens the experience to “feel[ing] like being told to eat up your healthy green vegetables.” I cannot help but admit I shared the same experience Bradshaw describes, both literally and in relation to the film.
Whilst the film did stay true to the play’s original content, I perceive the film as being an attempt at mimicking the magic and success produced on the stage, and this led to the anticlimax of the motion picture. In the play, the static setting of the house reinforces the domestic turmoil present within the familial unit, and this environment is complemented by the intimate setting created in a theatre. However, such an intimacy did not translate into the film. Despite attempts to add in small moments that exceeded the environment of the home, the setting seemed restricted and cramped.
The limited environment in conjunction with the lengthy dialogue at times felt laborious; but with iconic actors such as Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and the acclaim of the play itself, first performed in 1983, you feel compelled to persevere and remain hopeful that the film will meet such high expectations and do the play justice.
Like Peter Bradshaw, and presumably many other viewers, I recognized the wealth and value in the essence of the play’s content and form, but whilst trying to access that value in the film, I began to recognise the value had not been translated and executed with the same conviction as the play. The film had such a buzz of media attention that its success almost felt predetermined.
I think the real problem in the film adaptation was the decision to stick so rigidly to the play and either resisting or not wanting to experiment with the potential of creative opportunities. For example, the setting could have remained the same, but the film could have shown flashbacks to Troy’s childhood to signify that bitterness exudes from him as a result of not making it as a successful baseball player, whilst also reinforcing the idea of the past constantly defining the future.
The film could have put its stamp on Wilson’s play; instead it feels like a carefully fabricated product that, with the help of a known cast, hopes to achieve the same success found in the play’s stage origin.
To quote David Edelstein: “It’s not cinematic enough to make you forget you’re watching something conceived for another”. In the same way as Troy himself, I do not have to like the adaptation (and I don’t), but out of my love for the play I feel a responsibility towards the play to watch what was merely a cinematic impersonation.