Title: Redemption, Author: Ian Prattis, Genre: Drama, Setting: The Hebrides Islands, Scotland, Pages: 138, Period: Mid-20th century, Best Medium for Adaptation: Feature Film X
A Scottish islander with the tumultuous soul of a poet battles through tragedy and triumph in his search for true peace.
Callum Mor Martin lives on a quiet island in the Hebrides of western Scotland in the early and middle years of the twentieth century. He grows from a fey and precocious five-year-old to a grizzled man in his sixties, and experiences the numerous and often tragic fates of his family and fellow villagers. Callum Mor’s father, a gentle soul who dreams of being a writer, struggles with the unforgiving land to provide enough for his family. He is eventually broken in mind and spirit. Calllum Mor’s sister is driven into an unhappy marriage by their poverty, and his brother is murdered by the man he once considered his best friend. Callum Mor’s dreams of leaving the island to become a writer are dashed by his devotion to his aging mother, and he instead becomes a sturdy fisherman. He tries and fails to win the hand of his beloved, and spends many years as a suicidal embittered drunk. In the end, he is drawn out of his self-imposed exile by a small Glaswegian family who offer him unconditional love and understanding. Although the family is driven off of the island by the cruel machinations of a corrupt businessman, Callum Mor’s spirit is renewed, and he abides in peace, anticipating their return.
In a tiny fishing village on one of the islands of the Hebrides, ten-year-old CALLUM MOR MARTIN steals away from school to join his uncle MICHAEL and OLD ANGUS on their boat as they fish for lobster. Unbeknownst to Callum, his teacher, MISS RACHEL MACDOUGALL, sees him escape and smiles to herself, unwilling to force him to stay in the classroom on such a beautiful day. Callum has a quiet, rare way about him that draws others and makes them want to share their time and tales with him; even gruff old Angus feels a tenderness towards the boy as they break from hauling up lobster creels to share sandwiches. Later in the day, Callum Mor returns home to regale his family with the story of his day. His mother ANNIE, sister MOIRA and brother DONALD dance and play music with him, sharing a joy not often seen in their hardscrabble home. The neighbor COLIN MCFADGEN stops by to join the warmth and merriment, and soon a procession of friends and neighbors arrive bearing music, poetry and whiskey, and a party is in full swing. Early the next morning, Callum Mor’s father ANDREW MARTIN returns home from the pub and smiles to see the remains of the party.
Five years earlier, Andrew works as a crewman on a cargo freighter. Away from home for three-quarters of the year, he aches to spend more time with his family and treasures even the smallest moments at home. However, the Martin’s croft isn’t rich enough to support the family, so he must work away from home. He remembers a beautiful day when the entire family works cutting peat for the winter; afterward, they eat and then bathe in the surf. Andrew knows he can no longer bear to be apart from his wife and children. He gives up his job and struggles to eke out a better existence on their homestead. The land is harsh, and Andrews turns to drink to quiet the desperation in his heart. In the present, Annie greets him, sweetly and sadly.
Several years later, fourteen-year-old Callum Mor is showing Miss MacDougall his friend – a playful young otter. Callum has watched the otter for three months, acclimating the inquisitive creature to his presence and describing him in his writing. Miss MacDougall sees a creative spark in Callum Mor and encourages it in every way she can, including hiking out across the island with Callum Mor to see the otter for herself. On his way home, Callum Mor stops in to see old Colin, who warns that salmon poachers often fish in the mouth of the otter’s loch.
Returning home, Callum Mor passes the still, silent figure of his father, slumped as always in a threadbare chair in front of the fire. Callum Mor’s memory turns to the days of his father’s downfall. Desperate at his inability to claw a living from the land, Andrew at last convinces Annie to sell one of her cows to build a coop and buy laying hens to sell eggs. He works with renewed energy at constructing the coop and installing the bedraggled hens. The same night the coop is completed, a storm blows in and tears the roof away. The entire family runs out into the teeth of the storm to re-secure the roof, aghast at the intensity of Andrew’s fury as he spits epithets at the sky. At last, the storm abates and Annie goes to clean her husband’s bloody and battered hands, but he shoves her down in a blind rage. Soon afterwards, the fury drains from him, and he stands looking at the shambles of the chicken coop. Annie leads him inside and installs him on the chair before the fire, where he remains. Annie tries to find help, but she is told that his mind is broken.
Despite this tragedy, the poultry business is successful and through Annie’s tireless efforts brings in enough money to keep the family afloat. Moira leaves the islands as soon as she’s able and loses touch with the family, while Donald joins the merchant navy. He has just returned a week ago for his first shore leave, and hasn’t been able to accept that his father is still sick. Back in the present, Callum Mor goes to bed with a prayer for his father on his lips. Sometime later, Donald returns home from the pub and stands before his silent father. He unleashes a drunken tirade of rage and abuse. Callum Mor and Annie rush out to calm Donald, and find that Andrew has died during the night. Later that year, Donald returns home again, bearing news that Moira has married a middle-aged insurance company manager and is living comfortably in Glasgow. She receives Donald coldly when he goes to visit her. Callum Mor’s bond with the otter has deepened, and he spends many hours watching the lively creature frolic and play. One evening, he tracks the otter out to the ocean shore, where he notices a dinghy gill netting; these are the poachers Colin warned him about. He spots the otter and is at first overjoyed, but the animal does not stir when he approaches, and he sees that its neck has been broken. He runs in a rage towards a poacher standing on the shore and attacks the large man, whom he later learns is called BRETT MACVICKER. One of the men on the boat stops Brett from beating Callum Mor: it is Donald, his brother. They take Callum Mor on board and move away from the beach to avoid capture by the constables and gamekeepers. Brett’s sympathy for the boy’s sadness is such that he orders Donald and the OTHER POACHER to turn around and retrieve the otter’s body. They bury the otter at sea, and explain that its death was an accident when it was caught in the nets. Later, Brett arrives at the Martin croft with a puppy for Callum Mor.
In the following months, Brett becomes a role model for the boy. He teaches him to fish and hunt all over the islands. Annie and Miss MacDougall are both distrustful of the dangerous Brett, and warn Callum Mor and Donald about him. Despite her misgivings, Miss MacDougall is lured by Brett to a party at his home, where he seduces her. Although she initially consents, he physically batters and emotionally degrades her, and the seduction becomes something akin to rape. She leaves bruised and disgusted. Donald finds her on the path home and returns to Brett’s home to attack him. In the brawl, Brett’s home is set alight. Brett lets the place burn because he wants to leave Scotland for good. He warns Donald that someday he will hunt him down and kill him. Later that year, Miss MacDougall tells Callum Mor that she’s getting married to an EDINBURGH NEWSPAPER EDITOR and he’ll have a job with the paper and place to live if he wants to leave. He’s overjoyed at the prospect but stays with frail Annie, unwilling to leave her all alone. Instead, he joins his Uncle Michael’s herring boat crew and grows to be a strong young man and one of the most skilled fishermen in the islands. During this time, Brett tracks Donald down in Montreal and strangles him, and is in turn hung for murder.
At twenty-two, Callum Mor fosters a relationship with Colin’s niece CATRIONA and impregnates her. He wants to marry her, but she refuses, fearing he doesn’t truly love her. She travels to Glasgow and has an abortion. Callum Mor tries to reconcile with her, but she leaves the island and his life. He doesn’t tell anyone about Catriona but he is changed for the worse and begins a long slide into depression. His decline reaches its nadir when he returns home one day from fishing to find Annie slumped by the gate, having died peacefully of a stroke. Callum Mor explodes in a despairing rage and begins to drink heavily. He continues to drink himself into oblivion every night for many years, throwing away his previous life. He rows out into bad weather to fish, challenging the ocean to finish him off. Callum Mor’s boat is swallowed but he washes ashore unhurt. Several decades later, a grizzled fifty-eight year-old Callum Mor is alone in his messy house. His drinking days are done, but he leads a simple, rough existence. He has avoided almost all contact with the outside world until the day his long-estranged sister Moira comes to see him. She and Callum Mor reconcile their differences. Moira is accompanied by her devious stepson JOHN MENZIE, who wants to buy part of the Martin land to build a shellfish factory. Callum Mor perceives that Menzies is driven by greed, not a desire to help the struggling economy of the island, and he refuses to sell the land.
Later that year, Callum Mor is disturbed by a knock on his door. A young hiker called TOM HAGEN is seeking shelter for his family from a storm. Callum Mor is reluctant but feels pity for Tom’s wife SIAN and their young daughter CATHERINE. He lets them stay the night and swiftly bonds with the family, emerging from his self-imposed isolation. They invite him to visit their home outside Glasgow that winter. When Catherine is lost in the hills during a sudden snowstorm, Callum Mor finds her and saves her from hypothermia. The family purchases a home on the island from John Menzie. Despite Callum Mor’s warnings to not trust John, Tom makes only a gentleman’s agreement on the ownership of the home, and Menzie arrives shortly to evict the Hagens. Callum Mor offers to help the Hagens build a home for themselves on his land, and they are overjoyed. Frustration soon sets in because Menzie and his ally, REVEREND MOYNIHAN, use their contacts to spread distrust of the newcomers. The Hagens return to Glasgow, despite Callum Mor’s assertion that the people of the island will regain their compassion over time. As he watches the ferry depart, carrying his newfound family away, Callum Mor is calm with the certainty that they will return. In the following weeks and months, one by one, the people of the island remember themselves and contribute to the construction of the home, moved by the quiet, ephemeral power of Callum Mor’s love and hope.
Comments/Suggestions for Adaptation:
REDMPTION is a lyrical and moving tale of struggle, love, loss, transformation and hope. Its starkly gorgeous and remote island setting creates and reinforces the central themes of struggle, family, community and wonder at the beauty of the world, and its rich cast of characters offers numerous gripping interludes that brim with complex interpersonal drama. The book is short, but there is more than enough material here for a satisfying full-length film adaptation. If handled with the same care and grace as the novel, a film could be highly successful. The novel’s period and setting deftly capture a rural way of life that is rapidly vanishing from the western world; one ever present theme is that of economic hardship and encroaching industrialization versus the wild, natural beauty of the islands. If budget restrictions are required, a contemporary version of the story would not require major changes so long as those elements are carefully preserved. However, an adaptation would be best served by maintaining the mid-century trappings, which lend authenticity and the nostalgic mystique of a childhood forever lost.
The story centers on and is always connected to Callum Mor, but he is surrounded and influenced by a fantastic cast of family and fellow islanders. They provide a deep well of material; their conflicts and intrigues move the plot forward and offer a vast array of powerfully emotional individual moments. The story arcs of Andrew, Annie, Moira, Donald, Miss MacDougall, Brett and Catriona offer particularly beautiful and interesting counterpoints to one another and to Callum Mor. The characters’ hopes, desires and difficulties intermingle in a sad and realistic tapestry of human existence.
The narrative’s tone is generally quiet and introspective in the vein of Jarmusch’s BROKEN FLOWERS, but it is frequently punctuated by storms both literal and metaphorical. These interludes are capable of taking a potential adaptation to the heights of such grand romantic drama as THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Callum Mor and his people face many conflicts throughout the story, from poverty, mental illness, unwanted pregnancy, and battles with nature itself, to sexual assault and violent physical confrontation. A potential adaptation would have no difficulty keeping any prospective audience’s rapt attention on the action at hand, even as the deeper, more subtle messages of compassion and faith carefully unfold. Only the ending, if anything, could benefit from slightly less ambiguity; although the final scene of the villagers erasing their shame by building a home for the Hagens, compelled by Callum Mor’s peaceful faith, is an effective and striking image.
REDEMPTION would be well-suited to adaptation as a feature film. A film should retain the novel’s relatively complex web of conflicts, personalities and emotional undercurrents. If the book’s strengths are preserved, an adaptation has the potential to be a successful, intimate and intensely moving tale of human tragedy and triumph.
Strongly Consider X
Consider with Development