Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Through the Shadow, on Globo (Brazil)

How do you adapt Henry James’ Turn of the Screw for Brazil? You make Peter Quint look somewhat like Coffin Joe and give him the name “Da Silva.” It truly is a scary combination. As you would hope and expect, a naïve governess finds problem children and gothic horror in Walter Lima Jr.’s Brazilian coffee plantation take on Henry James in Through the Shadow (Atraves da Sombra), which airs tomorrow night on Brazilian Globo.

Laura is an innocent convent-trained teacher, who has seen little of the world. She is a bit freaked out by Afonso, the uncle and absentee-guardian of his brother’s two children, but she still accepts the position as their guardian. Elisa still lives in their late parents’ remote plantation manor, while Antonio is enrolled in a prestigious boarding school, but we can all predict an imminent expulsion in his future, right?

Although Elisa is welcoming, the newly returned Antonio is seriously bratty. He is a bit younger than many film versions of brother Miles. However, he is a serious Hellion, especially since there seem to be a sexual component to his mischievous gaze. It turns out he had a close relationship with Bento Da Silva, the former groundskeeper, who corrupted Laura’s predecessor. Rather alarmingly, Laura seems to be seeing the top hat-wearing cad on the roof and in the shadows, but only she seems to see him. The isolation and her weird behavior give the other servants cause to start questioning her sanity.

The James novella inspired scores of adaptations, including Jack Clayton’s classic
The Innocents, Dan Curtis’s popular TV movie, and the not-so memorable The Turning, so there is always room for one more, especially from Brazil. In this case, the coffee plantation, with its heat and the openly lusty field hands, make for an appropriately evocative setting.

Virginia Cavendish develops Laura beyond a merely prim and repressed governess, making her much stronger and more credible than the milquetoast heroine of
The Turning. Domingos Montagner’s Afonso is big and sweaty, like he just strutted out of a Ken Russell film. However, young Mel Maia and Xande Valois really distinguish the film, because they are massively creepy as Laura’s charges.

Da Silva and his ghostly lover probably get less screentime in
Shadow than compared to just about every other adaptation. Lima Jr. definitely stays true to the source novel’s gothic identity, but he concentrates more on the atmosphere and the repression than actual scares, but that is certainly a legitimate approach to the material. This is probably the most humid Turn of the Screw to date, but it is also a pretty strong and highly watchable one. Recommended for fans of the classic novella and Brazilian period dramas, Through the Shadow airs on Brazilian Globo tomorrow night (2/1) and its streams in the U.S. on Freevee.