Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas #6: "Shadowlands"

What's this?  Another "Shoulda Coulda Woulda" already?!  My reasoning will become clear in the next couple of months when I tie a few things together in a retrospective look at Meryl's entire film career.  Before I can do that, however, I need to tackle a couple more films I wish Meryl had ended up doing.  1993's Shadowlands was not on my radar until a few weeks ago when I read a great article from last year by Michael Burge.  After a little digging, I discovered that Meryl was indeed considered for the lead role of American poet Joy Gresham, which ultimately went to Debra Winger.

Of course I had to watch the film before I decided to write about it.  What makes the possibility of this film compelling is that it too (like The Remains of the Day and Thelma and Louise) was made during what Burge called in his article Meryl's "wilderness years," a term I love and am going to steal.  It also could've seen her team up with Anthony Hopkins (again), an onscreen chemistry which I'm certain would've worked exceedingly well.

In this film (unlike The Remains of the Day) we actually get a payoff for the couple, in that they officially express their feelings for each other and end up together.  As stated, Meryl would've played real life poet Joy Gresham, who after her divorce emigrates to England with her son, where she befriends well-known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis (Hopkins).   The two enter a marriage of convenience in order for Joy to attain English citizenship.  After her diagnosis of bone cancer, however, the two make known their true affections for each other and officially tie the knot "before God."

This film provides some great acting opportunities.  Debra Winger does a great job, having received an Academy Award nomination.  Like Winger, we probably would've seen Meryl with a bit of a New York accent, and a fun, mildly imprudent personality which contrasts well with Lewis's reserved demeanor.   One of the more challenging areas includes her interaction with her son, and their grappling with her inevitable death.  Part of me thinks that director Richard Attenborough knew how effectively Winger plays the part of a terminally ill mom saying goodbye to her son, considering another of her Oscar-nominated performances in Terms of Endearment.   That's a role up to that point we really hadn't seen from Meryl.   I'm sure it would've only fueled the criticism of Meryl's most prolific detractor, the late Pauline Kael, who wished we could see her "giggle more and suffer less."  I'd just assume see her in the best role, regardless of how funny or serious it is.  Another one missed.


  1. Hey Jeff, thanks for this piece, and for the link to my post on Streep.

    I included "Shadowlands" in it because I remembered a media sound-bite from Meryl Streep from the early 1990s in which she bemoaned being unable to secure an audition with the film's director Richard Attenborough. Whether this was true or not, I have never been able to ascertain.

    She would have made a brilliant Joy Gresham, which would only have been more compelling due to her closer physical resemblance to the poet than Debra Winger (who I thought was great, by the way).

    And I didn't make-up the phrase "Wilderness Years" - I don't know who did, but perhaps it's an Australianism, because it's used quite often over here to describe a challenging time in a person's life?

    Great blog, keep up the good work.

    Mike Burge

  2. PS I look forward to your entire-career retrospective - there are too few out there.

    When you write about "A Cry in the Dark", check-out Lindy Chamberlain's autobiography "Through My Eyes" as it contains some background detail to the production of the film and some photographs I have not seen published elsewhere. If you can't find a copy I am happy to send you some transcripts if you like.


    1. Thanks for the comments, Mike! After reading your piece I did a little searching and found that on imdb it's listed that Meryl was evidently considered for the lead in Shadowlands. Regardless, it's fun to speculate that she was at least interested and aware of the role at the time.

      I agree about the physical resemblance of Streep over Winger for the role. Shame on Attenborough. And thanks for the clarification on the term "wilderness years." Now I'll feel less guilty about repeatedly using it and forgetting to cite you. :)

      My retrospective is going to do the unthinkable and look at a sort of "revised" version of Streep's illustrious film career, and what it could've been had she subsequently been cast in these "shoulda coulda woulda" roles. I'll take a particularly close look at the early 90s and hope to cover which films I would replace and with what. Should be fun.

      I appreciate the suggestion of Lindy Chamberlain's autobiography and offer of assistance in acquiring transcripts. I'll have to see if I can find the book here in the States. Stay tuned for the retrospective! All the best.


  3. Hi Jeff, Michael again (I can't seem to click on anything to give my name as anything other than "anonymous").

    I like the idea of the "unthinkable" ... the only other shoulda-woulda I can recall is the Meryl Streep/Glenn Close production of a never-made film about Elizabeth 1 (Close) and Mary Queen of Scots (Streep) titled "Mary Stuart" which was announced for production in July 1997 to film in the Summer of 1998.

    The two actresses gave a press conference for the announcement, which was probably part of the production fundraising process, but the plan seemed to be shelved as quickly as it was made.

    Both actresses were also to co-produce, which I think Streep has rarely done (I think she was a producer on "First, do no Harm").

    As late as April 1998 production was still going ahead, but Streep pulled-out and was replaced by Isabelle Huppert around August of that year, before the production was shelved.

    Presumably Streep had a scheduling conflict with the production of "Music of the Heart", which she came to very late in the pre-production process.

    Many film buffs confuse this production with the Cate Blanchett movie "Elizabeth", which was not part of the prior film plan in any way, although it was produced in 1997 and may have had a negative impact on the attempt to get another Elizabeth-themed movie up at that time.

    Have fun


    1. Hi Mike,
      Your name comes up as "burgewords" in my thread so I know it's you. I vaguely remember something about Meryl doing a film about Elizabeth I, but I wasn't aware that it was different from the Cate Blanchett film or that Glenn Close was to play Elizabeth and Meryl Mary Queen of Scots. I checked it out and evidently it was to a be a film of Frederich Schiller's play (which I think Janet Mcteer recently did a run of). It was never actually made and yes, probably tough to do now especially after BOTH Blanchett films, the second of which included Mary of Scots.

      You're right, the only thing Meryl has ever produced was "First Do No Harm." She's rather open about the fact that she waits for projects to come to her. Her desire to produce a film like Mary of Scots reminds of her recent statement that she wants to do a film with Kathy Bates about American suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. That would probably be even tougher to get produced!