So you know that I like to read the book before I see the movie, and this holds true for television as well. I've been watching Masterpiece Theatre (it must have been here that I developed my devotion to the English accent) for decades, and -- although it might be easy to quibble with the "masterpiece" status of some of their more recent offerings -- I still try to read the book first. So, when I saw that this Sunday's feature is Framed, based on the book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Imagine my delight to see that we owned the audiobook. It went right on hold and into the ears.
I read Cosmic earlier this year and really enjoyed its whimsy and true suspense, but what is most lovable about both it and Framed is its portrayal of a fractious but loving family. Team Hughes (Dad, Mum, Marie, Dylan, Minnie and baby Max) run the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel (garage) in the tiny village of Manod in Northwest Wales. Manod used to be a fairly bustling place, as everyone was employed in extracting the shale from the nearby mountain. But the shale is gone, men and their families are leaving for economically greener pastures and Dylan -- at age nine -- finds himself the only boy left in Manod; there's no one to play football (soccer) with. More ominously, Dad announces that the Snowdonia Oasis is falling on hard times as well, and that Team Hughes needs to strategize how to increase profits.
Dylan keeps the garage logs -- noting down which cars stop at the Oasis and what they purchase there. So, he's the first to observe when the quiet of Manod is disrupted by a series of white vans passing by the Oasis and heading up the mountain. The family soon realize that they can cater to the individuals driving the vans and expand the Oasis' offerings to snacks and fancy coffee. One driver stops and, admiring Dylan's new chickens -- Donatello and Michelangelo (named after two of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) -- invites him up the mountain to see what's going on.
This man, Lester, is heading a major crisis project: Unending rains in London have flooded the National Gallery and Lester has brought all its masterpieces to be stored in the mountain at Manod. Sixty years earlier, another curator did the same thing -- protecting the artwork from the London Blitz (Cottrell Boyce reports that learning this was the inspiration for the novel). When Lester learns the names of Dylan's chickens, he assumes he is a fellow art lover and shows him some of the stored works. Dylan knows nothing about art, but in the interest of "customer service" he pretends to -- aided by his smart younger sister Minnie.
Eventually Lester -- who would really rather not have to share the country's masterpieces with his fellow, read unappreciative, countrymen -- is convinced to show some of the paintings to the citizens of Manod. The drab, depressed village is transformed by viewing the art, although Lester can't see that. But when Minnie and Dylan decide that one of the works, Van Gogh's Sunflowers -- easily substituted with a paint-by-numbers version -- will be just the thing to get the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel out of debt, Lester quickly starts paying attention.
[And here is the point where Blogger lost the rest of my post, which was -- of course -- the most erudite, scintillating prose ever committed to the internet, never to be resurrected.]
Framed is a romp. The Welsh setting is so vivid, and the plot feels fresh. The novel has the potential to be some didactic bore about the redeeming power of art, but Cottrell Boyce doesn't go there. Instead he stuffs the story full of interesting, funny people who may or may not be changed by what they see, but who cares, because they are already fun to know.
The novel is read by Jason Hughes. He has a lovely lilting Welsh accent that is so charming to listen to. He does a great job creating individual voices for all the different Manod-ites, most notably Tom -- the slightly dim adult hired hand at the garage who's the chief Turtles fan. And while Hughes sounds a bit too old for Dylan's voice, he has completely grasped Dylan's innocence. He's very good with the novel's girls: Minnie, the criminal mastermind; Marie, an adolescent with body issues; and a bully who goes by the name of Terrible. They all sound girlish without being femmy and Hughes is outstanding at Marie's frequent adolescent outbursts. You can almost hear the door slam.
Throughout the story, amidst the musical Welsh inflections, Hughes easily slips into the character of Lester -- smooth as silk. The voice grows deeper and more resonant, the vowels go clipped. The transitions in and out of character are seamless; I would go all jello-y when the voice appeared..
Jason Hughes plays a detective on the television program Midsomer Murders, which I recall watching fairly faithfully when I had cable. I stopped watching before Hughes joined the cast, but I'm tempted to take a gander (if only to hear the voice). Except, for goodness sake: There are 16 seasons of this! This seems excessive, particularly when you realize that each episode is pretty much like the one that came before it. I guess we like to cuddle up with something familiar in these uncertain times.
Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Narrated by Jason Hughes
Harper Children's Audio, 2006. 7:00 (unabridged)