DRAFT For all that happens in H.E. Bates’ story and John Irvin’s film A Month by the Lake, Lake Como might as well be “Lake Coma.” Bates’ original story includes a lovely picnic in the summer of 1937 meant to enhance the slow-paced relationship of the middle-aged English spinster Miss Bentley and the earnest bachelor Major Wilshaw, who is aroused (if that’s the best word) while watching Miss Bentley eat a fig: As the major watched Miss Bentley quietly peeling a ripe fig and then sucking the light pink flesh from the broken purple balloon of skin he made up his mind that he would, somehow, get her to walk with him, after lunch, farther up the mountainside.
Shy about sexuality, Bate’s is effusive about food: “For the picnic lunch, there were piles of cold pork and salami, pink stacks of ham, two dishes of pâté, a whole Bel Paese, large nests of hard-boiled eggs, much bread and two baskets of fruit, mostly green and black grapes, with a few last blue figs and big butter-coloured pears. There were four flasks of Valpolicella to drink, with white vermouth for those who preferred it, and mineral water for the angels [children]. Irvin’s picnic blanket is chock-a-block food so neatly arranged that it resembles a still life painting. Unfortunately, the camera never gets close enough to differentiate the foods.–And Miss Bentley does eat a fig.
Features image: John Irvin. A Month by the Lake (1995). Screenplay by Trevor Bentham and Josep Llurba based on H.E. Bates’ story (1964). A picnic on the grass with Vittorio Balsarei (Alessandro Gassman), Miss Beaumont (Uma Thurman), Major Wilshaw (Edward Fox), Signor Bonizzoni (Carlo Cartier).
See H.E. Bates. A Month by the Lake and other Stories. New York: New Directions, 1987. Also Picnicsonfilm.org.