The film of stage musical From Here to Eternity goes on general release across the UK and Ireland today. Liz Granirer attended a special screening, with the show’s cast and crew in the audience, at London’s Cineword Haymarket.
From the moment the soldiers begin their first group routine in From Here to Eternity, we learn what the year is: 1941. Then we learn who these men are: farmers’ sons, miners’ sons, young men who wouldn’t have found work in Depression-era USA. They think they’ve found a way out of the hardships of the lives they left behind, but the army presents a whole other set of challenges. Through Bill Oakes’ book, Stuart Brayson’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics, we learn what these are: humiliation, physical and mental cruelty, and bully rules. But, as the song ‘30 Year Man’ so beautifully tells us, they have signed up for life and the army is now their family, their present and their future. This is not a musical version of the 1953 film: it is a musical version of the uncensored book that was finally published in 2011, swear words and homosexual prostitution included.
It’s not long before we’re caught up in their lives: the star-crossed love affairs, the punishment for homosexuality, the resentments and dreams of the characters. In fact, with so many storylines and complicated dance and fight routines, it’s easy to forget just exactly how precipitous this moment in history is…
This production is stuffed with toe-tapping rhythm and blues numbers, as well as those with more than a nod to swing. Many of the performances are utterly compelling, particularly from leads Darius Campbell (First Sergeant Milt Warden), Rebecca Thornhill (Karen Holmes) and Robert Lonsdale (Private Robert E Lee Prewitt).
However, with this film version, it takes a little while to stop being distracted by the hairpin-like microphones clipped in everyone’s hair, which are so obvious in close-ups. It also, unfortunately, drags considerably in the middle and, at two hours and 40 minutes long, with a 15-minute intermission, that’s not surprising. It simply goes on a good 20 minutes too long and this may well be one of the factors that led to the stage production closing after a fairly short six and a half months.
Even after First Sergeant Warden shouts out the date – 6 December, 1941 – reminding us that within 24 hours these soldiers will be the target of an unexpected Japanese air attack that forces the USA’s entry into the Second World War, the production isn’t yet even close to the end.
Without taking away from the many truly wonderful songs in this production – ‘Fight the Fight’, ‘Love Me Forever Today’, ‘Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues’ are just a few – and some fantastic choreography – all of which are supremely enjoyable, the length of the production could simply wear an audience out. If you’re a real Rice fan, or you were sorry you couldn’t make it to the West End to see this production, your chance of catching it has come. Just remember to bring a long attention span.