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NBC delivers a glossy remake of classic Rosemary’s Baby

'Rosemary's Baby'

Patrick J. Adams and Zoe Saldana star as Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse in NBC’s two-part remake of ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ premiering tonight.

Nearly 50 years after its 1968 release, Roman Polanski’s big-screen adaptation of Ira Levin’s 1967 bestselling horror novel Rosemary’s Baby still stands as a brilliantly constructed milestone in film horror. The director scored an Academy Award nomination for his taut screenplay, which leavened the suspense with Polanski’s typically mordant wit, and supporting actress Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her unforgettable performance as Minnie Castevet, the sweet little old neighbor who was harboring a big secret.
In contrast, NBC’s two-part remake, which begins tonight and concludes this coming Thursday, feels more like the work of international corporate deal-makers, not artists, with a cast and production that seems to be designed primarily to appeal to as wide a global audience as possible. In fact, arguably the most audacious thing NBC has done with its Rosemary’s Baby is programming it to start on Mother’s Day.
That’s not to say that it’s a train wreck, though. Although this new version incorporates most of the broad tropes of Levin’s book, it transplants the main action from New York to Paris, where American couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Zoe Saldana of Avatar and Patrick J. Adams of Suits) are currently living, following her recent miscarriage. Guy’s an aspiring novelist who is teaching at the Sorbonne for a puny salary while struggling with massive writer’s block. Their lifestyle is changed dramatically one day when Rosemary comes to the rescue of chic Parisienne Margaux Castevet (Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only) during a “chance” encounter.
Warm and effusively maternal, Margaux and her handsome husband, Roman (British actor Jason Isaacs from the Harry Potter films), almost immediately adopt the Woodhouses as their latest project, insisting that the couple move into a newly vacant apartment in their impossibly grand building. What Guy and Rosemary don’t know is that their flat is vacant because the previous tenant, a young pregnant woman, leapt to her death from its balcony.
At a party hosted by Roman and Margaux, Rosemary witnesses, or hallucinates, a handsome stranger having sex with some of the other guests. The man begins to turn up elsewhere in Rosemary’s life, chiefly in her dreams, which carry a new erotic charge.
You know what’s coming, at least in broad strokes. Rosemary becomes pregnant following a hallucinatory dream/nightmare in which the mystery man appears to take Guy’s place in her bed. Not long after that, Guy’s fortunes mysteriously begin to improve. As Rosemary feels a mounting sense that something is terribly wrong, she begins to fret that Guy has made some sort of Faustian bargain with occultists who want to use her baby in their obscene rites.
Close, but no cigar, Rosemary.
The four main performances (you won’t recognize most of the rest of the cast) are all quite good. Saldana, often cast in films as an action babe, gives Rosemary a strength and a quiet resolve that’s a marked contrast to Mia Farrow’s most aggressively neurotic performance in Polanski’s original, and Adams’ Guy very clearly loves his wife, which was somewhat in doubt while watching the more feral John Cassavetes on the big screen.
Making the Castevets younger and sexier also makes dramatic sense. After all, if you’re going to be two of Satan’s most powerful earthly minions, you’re going to want to look the part.
Under the direction of Agnieska Holland (Europa, Europa), the TV movie looks very expensive and captures the feel of a very old and jaded city in which Rosemary and Guy are natural-born outsiders. Unfortunately, the pacing is seriously off, mainly because of the very uneven screenplay by Scott Abbott and James Wong. While some scenes still carry a jolt, others seem to drag on forever, undercutting the tension. Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby clocked in at a fairly efficient two hours and 15 minutes. The NBC remake, if you subtract commercial breaks, comes in at about three hours. I watched the two parts back to back, and still my attention began to wander in several spots. I can’t imagine how much worse it will be for most viewers, who have a four-day intermission inserted due to NBC’s scheduling.
Ultimately, the scariest thing about this new Rosemary’s Baby is that it’s just not all that scary.
Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs.

Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs star in NBC’s remake of ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’

The ‘Prime’ of Miss Geraldine McEwan

Mention The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to most people and their minds inevitably will go to the 1969 film adaptation of Muriel Spark’s novel that won Maggie Smith a richly deserved Academy Award as best actress. At the time, Smith’s win was considered something of an Oscar upset – her competition included such heavy hitters as Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Genevieve Bujold in the lavish period drama Anne of the Thousand Days – but her performance as an Edinburgh schoolteacher whose mantra was “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life” has stood the test of time. By turns funny, imperious and eccentric, Smith’s Jean Brodie is a fascinating portrayal of a mercurial character, and her climactic horrified outrage when she discovers she has been betrayed by a favorite student (Pamela Franklin) is harrowing even today.
For all the acclaim Smith reaped, however, novelist Sparks, who created the character based on a real teacher she had met as a young student at an Edinburgh school, always considered another artist to have turned in the quintessential turn as Jean Brodie: Geraldine McEwan, the endearing British actress who is best known to most American viewers today for her recent work as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. In 1978, McEwan gave an unforgettable portrayal of Miss Brodie in a seven-part miniseries adaptation for Scottish TV, a delightful production that gets its belated North American DVD release this week on Acorn Video.
With so much more running time available, the miniseries is able to explore Miss Brodie and her world far more thoroughly than the 1969 feature film did. Indeed, the first episode takes place almost entirely in Newcastle, England, showing the events and acquaintances that helped lead Jean back to her hometown and a new position at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, where the production was filmed on location. Her young charges also get much more screen time revealing their relationships with family members and friends away from school.
In terms of her approach to the character, McEwan’s performance is theatrical and delightfully mannered (in the best possible sense of that word), yet sensibly scaled down for the small screen compared to Smith’s heaven-storming movie turn. McEwan’s Brodie is, in her way, just as misguided and quirky as Smith’s was, yet you sense a genuine warmth and concern for her “little girls,” as she calls them.
One major caveat: While the Smith movie, like Spark’s novel, encompasses several years, this miniseries covers only the first few months of Miss Brodie’s tenure, so the explosive latter scenes of the movie involving her romantic triangle with art teacher Teddy Lloyd (played here by John Castle from The Lion in Winter) and Sandy, a student at the school, are nowhere to be found. Indeed, while the miniseries ends with a flirtation between Jean and Teddy, the conclusion is otherwise so uneventful that I can’t help suspecting the producers had hoped (unsuccessfully) to get an order for additional episodes.
If there’s room for only one The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in your DVD collection, I suppose Smith’s 1969 film should take pride of place, since it’s an absolutely staggering star turn.
Yet this McEwan miniseries, a three-DVD set that includes English subtitles and a short interview with Spark, is very rewarding as well. When I had the immense pleasure of chatting with McEwan a few years ago in connection with her work as Marple, she confided that the unavailability of her Jean Brodie on DVD was a sad disappointment to her, so I’m very glad Acorn Video has finally remedied that oversight. And if this set encourages you to explore this delightful actress’s work further, you’ll find her Marple episodes as well as her hilarious comic turn with Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne in the incomparable Mapp & Lucia both readily available on DVD from the same label.
As Miss Brodie would say: “Forsooth!”