So what has become the preeminent vehicle for a motion picture: the television mini-series; or full feature-length movie that opens in theaters? I vote for the mini-series.
The feature-length film everybody seems to be raving on about is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; its acclaimed mini-series equivalent seems to be Netflix’s The Crown. It’s hard to compare a movie that runs two hours to a mini-series that runs sixteen. And yet a mini-series like The Crown quietly and convincingly achieves a power of narrative and characterization that a movie like Three Billboards can only aspire to. The problem now is that we’ve become spoiled by the many hours of subtle yet powerful mini-series filmmaking that leaves feature-filmmaking in obvious, arch and all-too-quick forward movement to leave a lasting impression.
In The Crown, there is nearly an entire hour-long episode devoted to Winston Churchill’s developing a complicated, gritty rapport with the man who has been hired to paint his portrait. There is much back and forth between the prime minister and the artist, all of it fresh and provocative. Whereas in Three Billboards, while Frances McDormand’s grief at losing her daughter is all too palpable, she gets bound up in many narrative twists and turns to the point where we don’t actually learn more about her as we go along; we’re just trying to keep up with the onslaught of dramatic events. And then when the daughter whose untimely death has prompted much of what happens in the movie, appears in a flashback, the dialogue feels way too pointed. McDormand refuses to lend her daughter the car and the daughter warns that she might get raped if she has to walk home. And McDormand’s reply? She may very well get raped. And then the daughter actually does get raped – and murdered. This obvious foreshadowing in this viewer’s eye is just bad writing.
Claire Foy, the actress who plays the young Queen Elizabeth in The Crown does a remarkable job conveying how difficult it is to be held up and revered as a role model while knowing that her life and her relationship with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is greatly flawed. The filmmakers allow the camera to rest on her face that reflects everything she is feeling more than words can do – and this, after all, is the potential power of cinema. In Three Billboards, the camera never has the luxury of lingering too long on McDormand’s face because she is always racing to keep up with the narrative.
If you enjoyed this post then you also may be interested in a fine historical novel published by Delphinium Books – The Mapmaker’s Daughter.