Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Million Thanks for Millicent...

Note: This post contains a spoiler of the 2003 movie.

In my review of P.J. Hogan’s film of Peter Pan, I express great pleasure at the added character of Aunt Millicent. She’s a revision, actually, of the maid Liza in the original play and the novel. I’ve already explained the brilliance of Hogan’s tweak in the post, see there for more.

There's another reason that Aunt Millicent is terrific.
She’s the solution to something Barrie had never been able to work out.

Anyone heard of the “Beautiful Mothers Scene" that used to be in the play? [Barrie constantly made changes up to and including opening night and beyond, as well as each year.] I know Andrea Jones (author of Hook & Jill) has… but for those of you who haven’t: It takes place when the Darlings return and the Lost Boys come with them. What happens now, of course, is that the Darlings adopt the rest of the boys. What Barrie initially tried to do is match up a “new” mother for each boy. I put “new” in quotes because it varied. In some incarnations of this scene, a group of lovely young ladies just shows up on a gut level, aching and yearning to be a mother and sensing boys who need a home. In another, Wendy has Peter Pan go out and search for each of the boys’ true mothers, bring them to the Nursery to claim them and return them home. If I recall right, in another there’s a sort of ad placed. But as charming and heart-warming as this idea (in any form) is, it just doesn’t blend in quite right -- and Barrie knew it, for he settled on the Darling adoption.

That’s where Aunt Millicent comes in…

Part of her reason for being there had been to take Wendy away from the Nursery, to have her under wing, to guide and mold her into adulthood. Obviously, it wouldn’t just have been for Wendy’s benefit (or detriment, depending on how one views it) but for Millicent’s as well. In subtext, she wanted to care for a child.

Cut now to the arrival of the Darlings with the Lost Boys. All of the boys are there - except one. Millicent looks on with tears of joy at the happy reunion. Again, her subtext shows through. Enter Slightly. He’d says he went to the wrong door, and so, arrived late…and now he didn’t have a mother. In an interesting and delightful use of fairy magic, Tinker Bell whispers and/or blows a kiss of sorts to Millicent. “Is your name…Slightly?” she asks. Slightly is amazed, of course. Millicent insists that she is his mother in a Barriesque moment.

Thus, this fascinating new character of Hogan’s also fulfills the Barrie-generated notion of a mother awaiting a boy with open arms, or finding a long lost child.

Hooray for Aunt Millicent. Brava, Lynn Redgrave for a magnificent performance.
Bravo to Hogan for working her in so seamlessly.


Anonymous said...

I think I'm going to have to watch that movie again.

All I remember is that each time I've watched it so far (and it's been at least twice--in theaters and on DVD), I DIDN'T like Aunt Millicent, and not because I'd never seen her before (I wasn't familiar with Barrie's version of Peter Pan then).

But now I'm beginning to think I was too hasty--it seemed to me that the "20 Beautiful Mothers" idea was kind of awkward and anti-climactic (not quite sure if that was why it was cut out, but it seems as good a reason as any--maybe in a movie rather than a play?), but once that was gone, the deal about Liza declaring she was Slightly's mother didn't make sense. I mean, why would the Darlings adopt all the Lost Boys except him? Hence Barrie's decision in the book to have them adopt ALL the boys. The problem was, that further diminished Liza's role, and I liked Liza--I liked her personality and thought it a shame I hadn't seen her thus depicted.

But now that you've made mention of this subtext in the P. J. Hogan film that I didn't see before (I'm not always good at finding that, I admit it), I'll have to watch the movie again with that in mind, and see what I think of her after that. It certainly does sound Barrie-ish when you explain it that way.

Thanks! ^_^

Peter said...

In part, you're not supposed to like her. After all, she's bossy, she's somewhat fierce and she's self-righteous. The Darling children have every right to be "scared" of her. But she obviously has a soft spot - for instance, she may push George into being more assertive at work and going to the party - but she only does it to better him, out of love.

She's just as dimensional as any character, with the exception of (sorry) Liza. I can't get around Liza's main function from the play of allowing the actress playing Pan to reattach the flying wires when s/he hides behind the curtain.

And lastly - bossy, fierce and self-righteous also describes Pan. Interesting parallel, no?

Anonymous said...

True. I guess it's just that, once I read the script of the play (and MAN, was that a trip back in time--as though I'd never heard of the story before!), I liked the idea that Wendy WASN'T going to the Neverland with Peter as an escape from growing up.

In other words, I liked the contrast between Wendy and her mother: on the one hand, Wendy liked to pretend to be her mother, knowing that someday she would "become" her mother--yet the fact that she goes off with Peter without even considering her mother's feelings (and yet not doing it out of resentment of having to "leave the nursery" or anything like that either) shows how much of a child she still is. That further emphasizes how much she "grows up" later on.

That being the case, I guess my feelings were that, if "bossy, fierce, and self-righteous" were what Wendy didn't like and wanted to escape from, why did she go off with Peter in the first place? Not a whole world of difference except that he's a child, and a boy, and magical (maybe that's enough? I don't know....), and that further seems to make Hook's role redundant, even though they tried to increase it here (especially in his relationship with Wendy).

I don't know--I guess it just comes down to the fact that the 2003 film is an entirely different animal than any version of Barrie's original story.

(As for why I liked Liza, I guess it's partly because I'm a complainer myself.... *blushes* Besides, she was based on Mary Hodgson just as many other characters took inspiration from real-life figures, and I liked the idea that, even though those two didn't get along, he still "gave her a child" in the end, and redeemed her....)

Peter said...

Jeepers! It's been quite a while since I saw the text of the play! I'd plum forgotten that the Aunt Millicent scene is merely the Liza scene. My goodness.

Well, it makes me enjoy it all the more since Hogan tweaked Barrie directly as well.

For all in all, I still prefer Aunt Millicent. Regarding Wendy going of her own free will and not trying to escape growing up...certainly that's true. Pan knows very well that she's a mothering type, so he also entices her with other delights. Wendy's at the cusp, as it were, and at least in the Neverland she could try out both sides of fence. For her and the boys, a "normal life" won out.

But, that's why there's chocolate and vanilla. I still love Aunt Millicent. :)

Anonymous said...

Heh--I was surprised as well when I finally got my hands on a copy of the play's script. But yeah--different character, same conversation. Not unlike the whole "Red-Handed Jill" thing, eh? ;)

Anyway, I like your use of that phrase: "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla." I enjoy talking about Peter Pan with someone who's the same kind of fan I am, so who cares about a few minor disagreements? ^_^

Anonymous said...

I watched the movie again, and I really should have given Aunt Millicent a second chance.

This time I laughed at what she said, because her lines were so "Barrie"-ish, like about novelists not being highly thought of--isn't that just the kind of thing Barrie might have put in himself if he thought about it? A little self-deprecatory humor? ;)

And I did this time appreciate how she's thinking about the family's reputation above all things, which wasn't unprecedented in the book--"death is better than gossip"?

I really should have given her another chance because I've even read passages by Barrie himself that I didn't care for at first, but am coming to appreciate on his terms instead of my own.

Thanks for persuading me to look at Aunt Millicent again in a new way, and to see how she really does belong! ^_^