The Penelopiad, the film

What stood out to me the most in The Penelopiad is the artistic, visual and lyrical way it is written. I think it would be amazing to make a movie-adaptation of this novel. While I was reading, I was really reminded of the movie director Baz Lurhmann, in particular his movie Romeo+Juliet (1996). His very unique, eclectic, funky, and modern retelling of the famous play by Shakespeare is similar to the way Margaret Atwood retells the story of the Odyssey. They both have vibrant imagery, interesting music, a modern setting and eccentric characters. 

Both The Penelopiad and Romeo+Juliet are set in modern time yet they still rely heavily on the respective texts they originate from. Atwood’s characterization of a modern-day Penelope is credible, relatable and human. Even though it is the 21st century, the story retains the original emotional force of the myth, which would make for a great movie plot. The Penelopiad also has a big musical component, with chorus lines, rhymes, tunes, sea shanties and more, like there is in all of Baz Lurhmann’s movies. 

The novel’s linear storyline also works perfectly for a film, yet in particular there is a lot of striking imagery and scenes that give it a very theatrical feel. For instance, the scenes involving water (story of Penelope’s mother), and the dreams, like the maid’s ballad of the golden boats, are all very ethereal and dramatic, which would be really interesting to translate into film. 

The 12 characters of the maids I find especially intriguing and really want to know what their singing would sound like. Is it like the song “Lovely Ladies” in Les Misérables sung by the women from the brothel or more like the sirens from the Odyssey? 

Regardless, I think Atwood does a fantastic job at giving the maids flair and personality of their own. They are certainly not always loud or flamboyant, but in their own subtle and silent way they express a lot of unsaid things. For example in the chorus line “A Wily Sea Captain” it seems like a very classical, traditional song in praise of their master, yet in reality, it is full of insults and sarcastic comments mocking Odysseus. 

To me, the maids are powerful forces not to be reckoned with in The Penelopiad. They do as they wish, recklessly and spontaneously, like suddenly breaking into song, simulating tv courts, or putting on dramas impersonating their queen. Their creativity and boldness would be fascinating captured as characters of a film. What do you think the maids would look, sound and act like if they were in a film adaptation?

2 Thoughts.

  1. Very interesting points here! I hadn’t thought about this book being ripe for a film adaptation, but when you mention it, it makes sense, what with all the various kinds of narratives and songs the maids perform. There is a lot of room for artistic interpretation for anyone who would translate this into film. What do I think they would sound like? I think it would differ based on the different interventions they have. Some are more playful (though, as you note, sarcastic), others sombre, and there would be different sounds and scenes for each.

    One interesting thing is that they aren’t individual characters at all in the book. Penelope does talk about Melantho, and she shows up as a separate person in at least one of the songs, but she still doesn’t have her own personality. They are a kind of homogenous unit rather than individual (or actual?) people. I’m not yet sure what to make of this.

    On another note, can you activate a plugin that allows commenters to receive an email if there is a reply to their comment? Go to “plugins” on the left on your dashboard, and then the plugin called “subscribe to comments” (or something like that). Click “activate” on the right. Then, if someone wants to be notified if there is a reply to their comment, they can check a box after their comment to get an email!

    • I agree that they the maids are not individual characters, but rather one unit with the same attitudes and personality. It is interesting Atwood chose to portray them like this. I am also not sure what to make of this since it kind of dehumanizes the maids, even though they ask the reader not to treat them as mere symbols.

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