Wyrd Sisters (Cosgrove-Hall, distributed by Acorn Media, 1996)

 

Soul Music is longer.

Soul Music has better extras.

Soul Music has a better cover.

Soul Music has more music, and some of it isn't bad at all.

That being said, Wyrd Sisters is a far more successful adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel than its older sibling was. It is more engaging, more enjoyable, and simply a better flick. That being said, it suffers from some of the same flaws as Soul Music, most notably an animation style reminiscent of Dr. Katz, Licensed Therapist.

The story is about what one would expect from Pratchett's all-out assault on William Shakespeare's greatest hits. Egged on by his emphatically unpleasant Duchess, the evil Duke Felmet assassinates the rightful ruler, King Verence of Lancre. The bad news for Felmet is that a loyal retainer carries off Verence's baby son and deposits the boy in the hands of three local witches: the no-nonsense Granny Weatherwax, the excessively jovial Nanny Ogg, and the well-meaning Magrat Garlick. If you're sensing bits of both Hamlet and MacBeth here you're not wrong, though Felmet's reliance on his court jester adds a Lear-ish note to the proceedings. Making matters more complicated, the witches fob off the baby on a band of strolling players (along with some eminently practical gifts of the fairy godmotherish persuasion) while Magrat and the Duke's jester manage to fall both in love and all over one another. Meanwhile, the very land of Lancre is lobbying the witches to rid it of Felmet (who hates the place, burns down more than his fair share of cottages and doesn't show the proper respect to witches), a task made more difficult by a whispering campaign the Duke is mounting to turn the populace against the witches.

And then someone gets the bright idea to cement Felmet's reign and the kingdom's new antipathy toward witches with a play showing how things "really" happened. It doesn't take a literary scholar to figure out which theater troop gets tabbed to do the honors and, needless to say, all hell promptly breaks loose as soon as the curtain goes up.

The things that elevate Wyrd Sisters are easy to discern, and they start with the script. The characters' dialogue is noticeably, for lack of a better word, Pratchettian. The full text is here, or at least the characters' speeches give that impression. For lack of a better way of putting it, the characters are given the dialogue to let them be themselves. Nobody's best lines have been hacked or slashed, everyone gets the time to develop properly, and everyone from loopy witchy-wannabe Magrat to the lunatic ghost of the late King Verence gets a moment or three in the spotlight.

Hand in hand with the script is the superb voice acting. Jane Horrocks' Magrat is delightfully off-kilter, doing her best to deal with both the increasing demands of her witchy role and her infatuation with the equally sad-sack jester. Christopher Lee once again makes a magnificent Death, even if Death can't remember his lines. The rest of the cast is a bit more nearly anonymous (due once again to Acorn's habit of not listing parts next to actors in the credits), but from top to bottom they get the peculiar patter and timing of Pratchett's language. The dialogue feels like dialogue, not like scripts being read, and in literary adaptations that's a rare enough thing.

Credit is also due to director Jean Flynn, who improves immeasurably on the work done in Soul Music. The pacing of Wyrd Sisters is just right, allowing the dialogue to flow naturally. The scenes flow into one another rapidly, with nothing lagging and nobody staying on screen too long. Some of this is, of course, due to the excellent source material, but Flynn deserves credit as well.

Wyrd Sisters is not a masterpiece. The animation is far too clunky for that. It is, however, a faithful, enjoyable rendition of the book, and neither Pratchett fans nor newcomers will find much cause to complain.

 

[ Rowan Inish ]