The Scottish writer William Boyd once borrowed a quote from Henry James — “Never say you know the last word about Any Human Heart” — and crafted an entire fictional life out of it.
Boyd’s 2002 novel Any Human Heart, written as a posthumously edited series of diary entries, purports to be the “intimate journals” of a minor 20th-century writer named Logan Mountstuart. his obscurity is offset by his incidental elbow-rubbing with the likes of Picasso, Hemingway and James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
By weaving his narrator’s literary forays, peccadilloes and foibles into the tapestry of popular history, Boyd transubstantiated his printed words into flesh and blood.
Like James Joyce’s Ulysses (which spans only one day, not a lifetime), Any Human Heart was presumed to be unfilmable on account of its intricacy and scope.
But early last year, channel 4 in the UK announced a four-part tV adaptation of the novel. Boyd himself had been responsible for the screenplay, and the prospective cast was impressive: Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City), Gillian Anderson (X-Files), Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter, Iris), to name a few.
The miniseries has since had a swift exhibition. it aired in England last autumn and was quickly rebroadcast stateside as a threeparter on PBs. now it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray.
No matter what form the miniseries takes, it proves two things. one, that Any Human Heart is indeed unfilmable. and two, that filming the unfilmable can still produce worthwhile results.
Something essential is lost when Logan is presented visually instead of through his own words. the film compensates with a leitmotif of three men — the “selves” of Logan in young, middle, and old age — on a sun-drenched shoreline. For the most part, it works.
and although the compression of detail makes it play like brief interludes between tragedy (or bedroom romps), at the end there is the sense of a life lived in full.
a replacement to the novel? no, far from it. But a fine companion and
a solid drama in its own right. n