chapter  15
11 Pages

Softening Svengali: Film Transformations of Trilby and Cultural Change

ByLouise McDonald

In Svengali, a British production directed by Noel Langley, the character of Svengali is even more nuanced. His incentives are now selfless: 'to give something back to the world of music', to lay his 'fortune and genius' at Trilby's feet and to protect her from the misery wreaked by a markedly unstable Billee. The blurring of character roles which began in earlier versions of Trilby is intensified; Zoe is an empowered version of Trilby and Anton is an emotionally and economically diminished version of Svengali. Pick contends that the 'Svengali process is a triad in culture between hypnotist, hypnotized and excluded lover'. Harvey's film deconstructs the traditional relationship between the three character types. Anton is a damaged lover more than a Svengalian hypnotist, and pure Svengalian villainy is not located in one unified figure. A new Svengali, directed by John Hardwick, which translates the eponymous central protagonist into the ambitious manager of a Welsh rock band, is due for release.