Dir. Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Annie Corley, Victor Slezak
It is a surprise that
Iowa could ever hold
these two individuals. Neither have the small town views prevalent in this
pastoral corner of America.
Robert has travelled the world with National Geographic, and Francesca was born
in . Even before she married her
husband Richard (Jim Haynie) and moved to an entire different continent she had
shown a willingness to explore (she met him in Bari, Italy Naples). Robert has an enquiring mind, a
yearning to travel and an aversion to settling down. He can make his own rules,
something that Francesca finds hard to understand: witness her uncomprehending
repeats of his phrase that he “got off
the train” to spend some days in Bari,
just because he liked the look of it. She has that wider world-view, but she
cannot make her own rules. She is tied to her husband and her children.
Choosing her own destiny and leaving with Robert, as she wants, means closing
the door on twenty years of her life. And as she says, she “can’t make an entire life disappear to start a new one”. She may
not feel passionately for her husband (her first description of him is that he
is “clean”), but she feels that he is
a good man, and at the end of the film he reveals that he loves her. But she
is, of course, close to her children, no matter how priggish their grown-up
selves seem to be. In the end she cherishes the love that they have shared in
those brief four days, and decides to stay for fear that should she leave with
him that love would die. She would, obviously, love Robert until the day she
dies, but this is a solitary candle burning bright in the middle of the Iowa farmland. Knowing
that she had that would be the only way to make her marriage survive. Yet there
is still one tension-filled moment when she sees him again, and her hand
tightens on the door handle of her husband’s truck as they stop at the traffic
lights, where it seems that she is about to leap into his arms again.
In comparison Robert has always been footloose and fancy free. Francesca is the first time in his life that he can feel himself wanting to make that leap into commitment. “This kind of certainty”¸ he says, “comes but once in a lifetime”. She jokes that he has women willing to indulge in guilt-free affairs all across the world, but in a way that is what she becomes. It may be more than an affair, but they refuse to feel guilty about it. And he too keeps his candle burning. And her words inspire him to follow his dreams and publish his photographs as art. And what is the title of his book? ‘Four Days’ – and it is dedicated to ‘F’. For almost thirty years they conduct this chaste affair, despite never seeing each other again.
The story is framed as a flashback. Upon Francesca’s death her grown-up children Michael (Victor Slezak) and Carolyn (Annie Corley) come back to
to empty her house. Clues lead them to her journal, where she relates this
story to them. At first they are horrified to realise that their mother had
ever acted this way but in time they come to respect her decisions and feel
inspired by her passion. The film ends with her ashes being scattered off the Madison County , which she had visited with
Robert, and from where his own ashes had been scattered a decade earlier. I
have to say that the flashbacks were much less diverting than those in Fried Green Tomatoes… - though of course
it is the Streep-Eastwood romance that people have paid money to see rather
than the framing device. I also found it a bit distracting how Francesca’s
voiceover would suddenly appear, and then vanish for the next twenty minutes. I
suppose it is needed though, to show how Francesca and Robert’s love stayed
true until death. Roseman Bridge
And as for the leads… well, it’s a love story about people who aren’t physically-perfect twenty-somethings. This is a romance between those who are in the latter half of their life. Eastwood can still pull off walking around topless, even if he has wispy white professor-style hair. And it shows that just because you are edging into middle age it does not mean that you no longer have passions and desires.
What have I learnt about
All learnings are about
Iowa in the ‘60s. Francesca
describes small-town communities to a tee when she talks about the reaction to Lucy
Redfield’s affair; Robert later sees this himself when he witnesses Lucy being
ostracised in the café. There is a gossip network, and possibly a vicious one;
this makes Robert almost reconsider acting upon his attraction to Francesca.
The other side of the community is one of support. Madge (Debra Monk) drops by
to keep Francesca company with cake; Francesca later replicates this act with
The countryside is very rural. Roads are not named, and directions are given with reference to individual families’ farms. For any exciting shopping (such as Francesca’s new dress) you have to go into
There is also a colour divide between blacks and whites. This is not presented
as anything malicious, just an opportunity for Robert and Francesca to go out
to a black roadhouse (‘The Blue Note Lounge’) where they would be assured that
no one who knew her would see.
And then there are the bridges of
. This county, south-west of Madison County Des Moines, is so noted
for its collection of covered wooden bridges that National Geographic would
even send a photographer out to capture them and turn it into a front cover
Can we go there?
The success of the film – and of the original source novel by Robert James Waller – have turned
’s covered bridges into tourist attractions. There were once nineteen in total,
but now only six remain: Madison County Cedar Bridge (itself rebuilt in 2004 after being destroyed
by an arsonist), Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, Hogback
Covered Bridge, Imes
Bridge, and the two featured in the
movie, Holliwell Bridge
and Roseman Bridge,
both of which cross the Middle River. All six
date from the 1870s and 1880s and are wooden plank structures. In the film they seem slightly tattered with pigeons cooing in their eaves. They have been renovated since then. Roseman is the
bridge that Robert got lost looking for; it is where Francesca left the note
inviting him to dinner, and where their ashes were scattered. The Chamber of Commerce have helpfully produced a map detailing locations around the county.
Winterset, the largest town in
, is also the nearest town to the
Johnson farm in the film. It is located about thirty miles southwest of Madison County Des Moines. Town scenes
were shot around Courthouse Square.
The café, where Robert offered Lucy a stool, is really the North Side Café on the square. It has been in existence since 1876, reason
enough for a refreshment stop. Robert Waller wrote portions of his novel in a
booth here. The Blue Note, the black roadhouse, actually had its interior
scenes shot at the Pheasant Run Pub & Grill, which is also located on the
square. (The building used for the exterior is actually a tractor garage on the
Madison County Fairgrounds just outside town). The City Park, just south-east
of the centre, holds the arched stone bridge where Robert and Francesca go for
their romantic picnic (the Park) also holds the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge).
Finally, just south-west of town in the Pammel State Park; Michael and Carolyn sit out
by the Middle River Ford here with their bottle of Jack to read their mother’s
journals. The Johnson farm was actually an abandoned farmhouse in the
north-east of the county that was renovated specifically for the film. However,
it has been closed since it was damaged by arson in 2003, just one year after
the was itself destroyed. I’m
guessing that someone locally really didn’t live the book and the film! Cedar Covered Bridge
While in the vicinity of Winterset, movie buffs might want to visit one further location. The town was the birthplace of the legendary John Wayne. The four-room house in Winterset where he was born is open to the public as the John Wayne Birthplace. Among other memorabilia you can even see the eyepatch he wore as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit!).
Overall Rating: 3/5