The first time I saw Nicole Kidman, she was the alpha female in an Australian girls' school in John Duigan's 1991 film Flirting, the sequel to his The Year My Voice Broke from four years earlier. Kidman was billed third, and her character didn't even have a last name; what she did have was a fearsome presence and a spectacular pair of legs, wonderful things to have, but not necessarily what I'm hoping for in the movie version of the TV sitcom Bewitched, which opens this summer.
Samantha Stephens, after all, wasn't just your standard TV hausfrau; she could do Incredible Things. For a squirrelly little kid like me who never imagined himself with so much as a temporary girlfriend, a "card-carrying, broom-riding, house-haunting, cauldron-stirring witch" was exactly the ticket to suburban happiness, and that doofus Durwood, or whatever his name was, simply wasn't worthy of someone like that. Someone like me, I was sure, would know how to treat her right, and possibly might be able to do so without cheesing off her mother.
Not that any of this mattered, since I was still squirrelly, not too long out of the projects, and just the idea of living in spiffy digs like 1164 Morning Glory Circle was out of the question; finding my very own supernatural sweetheart, of course, was never going to happen.
The very character of Samantha Stephens was a significant departure from that era's sitcom practice. Think Lucy Ricardo or June Cleaver: both had distinct personalities, but neither one of them would ever infringe on her TV spouse's solid, upright, sensible image. Sam was different; it was obvious from the very beginning that she was the brains of the operation. Darrin may have been a perfectly competent advertising executive, but dealing with the ways of witches was way out of his league. Once I discovered that women were far beyond my comprehension, a process which took far less time than it should have, I found myself adopting a Darrinesque stance: I would focus on what I knew how to do, and I would hope that I didn't mess up my relationships too badly. This practice has served me consistently, if not well, since the 1960s.
The new film of Bewitched is playing metagames: Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), finding himself cast as Darrin in a new film of Bewitched, demands a no-name actress in the female lead, and somehow an actual witch is cast. I've seen this device before, least ineffectively in The French Lieutenant's Woman, and I have my doubts about how well it will come off. But more of a concern to me is Samantha herself: will I now, as I did then, want her for my very own supernatural sweetheart? This is more of an issue than you'd think: I went into just this side of panic mode when I discovered that the single book I most cherished from my adolescence, Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, was being filmed. That, at least, worked out favorably; Romola Garai was the perfect Cassandra.
Hey, wait a minute. In Sol Saks' original concept of Bewitched, the witch was named Cassandra.
Now I'm really worried.
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Copyright © 2005 by Charles G. Hill