The Siege of Trencher's Farm vs. Straw Dogs (2011) - How loose an adaptation is it?

I just completed The Seige of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams. I also just completed watching 2011 remake of the loose adaptation Straw Dogs (2011).

Fair Warning: HUGE Spoilers ahead.

The adaptation is pretty loose, the whole sexual angle that Kate Bosworth brings into the movie is completely non-existent in the book. There’s also a child in the book, and Louise herself (George’s wife) doesn’t seem to have lived in Trencher’s when she was a kid. She’s from England but not exactly from the place that they have come to stay at for a year.

So, in the book, George, Louise and Karen (8) come to stay at Trencher’s Farm for a year.

Same in the movie, only it’s Amy and David Sumner. To add some more to this, Amy used to live in Blackwater and the farm is called the Wilcox Farm. Amy’s dad used to stay here and she had a thing going with Charlie Venner, the local hunk (played by the creepy-looking, tall Alexander Skarsgard).

The boys on the outside

The character names are quite similar. There’s the huge Tom Hedden (or Heddon), a local drunk who used to be a coach in his day. In the book he has a huge family that’s over-run with work and Janice Hedden is an afflicted daughter of his.

Norman Scutt is different though. Scutt is the one with the brains in the book. He makes all the crucial decisions during the siege itself. In the movies, he’s just a married man with a pregnant wife and he covets Amy.

Chris Cawsey is also different. In the book, Cawsey is some kind of a psychopath who likes killing animals and wants to get his knife into a human being. He is seriously mentally ill and needs help for sure, but in Dando, outsiders can’t come in to help. In the movie, he’s just a normal kid who’s hanging out and idolizes Charlie for he is.

Bert Voizey is a character in the books that I am particularly fond of. One of his introductory lines was incredibly funny and sad at the same time. It was this:

The third man - Bert Voizey - never felt comfortable in this kind of fancy house. Like one of his own ferrets, he had a natural instinct for creeping about in darker corners. He was not at ease with loud, confident people who stared you straihgt in the eye when they talked to you.

We later learn that Bert posions rats for a living and he’s proud of this because most people are freaked out by rats, but he understands them and does doesn’t have to be scared of them. Another line

Bert is missing from the movie.

Bic is a character who’s only in the movie. He’s a pretty 1D character and there’s not a lot to talk about with him.

Finally, about all these male characters who organise and are on the outside, there’s one summarising lines right before they start it:

All of them thought of different things, yet they were all there for the same reasons. They were the men nobody took notice of. They were the men who’d never had any luck. All their lives other people had told them what to do, had insulted them, put them in gaol, sneered at them, kept them poor.

While a lot of this might not really be true, this is what drives them.

The 2 Protagonists

With all of that talked about, we can finally come to the main two characters. George and Louise. David and Amy. It’s important to understand two things, according to me. I was pretty confused about their equation until almost the end of the book and the movie. It’s different in both. So, here’s a good place to branch out.

David / George

He’s an academic and wants to spend some time in a quiet, peaceful country side home so that he can complete a book (script) that he’s working on. Being an academic, he’s this ultra-modern husband character who’s always in control, who never gets angry. This particular trait of his irritates and infuriates his wife to no end. She wants to see some color in him.

He was so damned anxious to keep control of himself. He acted the role of a reasonable steady, dependable husband. In her general state of unreasonable resentment she saw this as an insult; if he was sincere he wouldn’t need to act, to keep such tight control of himself.

It’s also really hard for him to acknowledge the fact that there are some things that he simply can not do. Like when they find the cat’s corpse, he’s almost exactly as disgusted and scared by it as his 8 year old daughter Karen. Louise is the one who has to step up to take care of that particular problem. This kind of un-manly behaviour in an old-fashioned sense that he seems to lack really cuts him deep.

This really comes out when he’s completely realised his situation during the Siege. When he’s realised that he’s the man of the house and he HAS to take care of his wife, his child and the child-like Niles, because, as he puts it himself, They are my responsibility. Although no one tasked him with it, he feels the obligation to take control and ensure that everyone is safe.

One last thing about him that he himself seems to not have track of is the fact that his wife expects him to be an old-fashioned husband. A husband who beats her when she disobeys or does something that he disapproves of, as masochistic as it sounds, I don’t believe that Amy / Louise is masochistic. I think it’s the responsibility wearing of. George says that it was his wife who took care of everything when they moved to England. He wished he had done it, but doesn’t seem to resent it too much. As soon as they are there though, Louise is probably worn out from all the work that it must have taken to move a family of 3 from the US to England. And perhaps she had this belief that once they were there, George would take control and she could go back to being the person who followed rules instead of having to make them. THAT is the equation the couple share and THAT is the central question in the movie.

When someone is trying to get into YOUR house and hurt the people that YOU are responsible for, TO WHAT LENGTHS WOULD YOU GO TO PROTECT THEM? DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU TO KILL, if that’s what it took?

It’s like all those childhood fantasy situations that kids often put themselves in and try to think about what they would do if they ever were there. eg: Man to man, a gun in each hand, would you talk or would you shoot first and hope to God your aim was right? eg: You are up against a guy who’s obviously physically stronger than you, would you try to outwit him or would you fight him anyhow, in your naive belief that the good people win?

It’s a delightful book to read, if you really have the stomach for it. There’s a lot of confusion and there’s a lot of pages that don’t tell you a lot about the story, but that’s simply because you gotta love George and Louise if you must understand WHY George goes to such lengths to protect Niles.

Amy / Louise

While the male protagonist is somewhat similar between the two, the female protagonist is completely different. There are some strands that are common between the two, but more than that, it’s really hard to puzzle out what else is common.

Amy, played by Kate Bosworth, was the high school sweetheart. She always wanted to get out of Blackwater. She finally did and went into the world and did an NBC show that everyone in Blackwater watched. She’s larger than life for all of them, she’s the girl who made it. Everyone in Blackwater respects her. But I think that’s not the primary emotion they feel when they see her, the primary emotion is resent. Everyone resents her for having left her hometown. They resent her for coming back to town with an outsider and behave like she’s one of them. Go to the baseball game, go to the church, with an outsider. No one takes well to that. Least of all, her high school boyfriend Charlie.

Amy herself is miffed at the want of passion in her husband. She dresses ridiculously for her early morning runs, she wants her husband to take charge and ask people why they were staring at her. I would actually go as far as thinking that the fact that attracts her to Charlie more than anything is that if she were married to Charlie then NO ONE would have the guts to say or watcher her like they do. It’s only because she’s married to this Harvard Academic, who’s never gone hunting, that she’s being stared at and she has lewd comments passed on her.

Her outrageous stunt in the movie where she flashes to Cawsey, Scutt, Bic and Charlie is one of the least subtle ways to strike a match. While Charlie’s been getting that vibe, he’s not yet decided anything but after this scene, where he is clearly surprised and shocked, he realises that she wants her (and in that moment, she probably did want him) and decides to take things into his own hands. The rape follows. Surprisingly, Norman is in on this also and I don’t really know why Charlie lets him, but I guess it’s some sort of punishment for Amy going out of Blackwater and marrying and coming back.

Louise, in the books, is a different character. A caring mother, all she is miffed with is the lack of passion. The line in the David section, where she wants him to show some passion, it’s clear that she thinks all of George is an ACT, an act he puts on for the world, an act that he himself hides his true self behind. She wants to get at him, she wants to provoke him into showing some color.

The first time George can bring himself to slap her, during the Siege when she’s acting insensibly and not doing what he tells her to do, she uses the word relieved right after being hit. That’s what she wanted him to do. She wanted him to TAKE CONTROL, so that she could stop feeling like the one who was making all the decisions. This is some kind of post-moving-to-England trauma stuff where the move was so stressful that all she wants to do now is lie around and not do anything, while her husband takes care of the house.

Louise is most certainly not as simple as that and I have oversimplified the matter. But, that’s what I take away from her character. I think every reader would have their own take-aways for a character like her!

Minor differences