From Scene to Screen – Edward Ormondroyd’s “Time at the top”

1881Three years ago over at Friday Flash Dot Org, in one of the From Scene to Screen features on the website, I talked about Edward Ormondroyd’s “Time at the top” and the movie adaptation by the same name easily being two of my favorites.

In it, I also shared a picture of my copy of the book below my Ramsing of my favorite number, won in a giveaway from Rukmini’s place. Just perfect together! (See photo to your left here.)

Since the Friday Flash Dot Org website closed last year and I didn’t talk about this book on my blog before, I decided to post today in case you’re up for a little review type reading.

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Edward Ormondroyd’s “Time at the top” and the movie adaptation by the same name are easily two of my favorites from what writing I was introduced to during my young adult years.

From the moment the movie started I was drawn in, even more so when the single line “based on the novel…” came up on my TV screen. Normally, I read the book, then watch the movie, but given that the first time I saw this movie was still in my high school years, back then the sequence did not matter as much as it does now. As soon as the movie ended however, I had “Time at the top” on my wish list of books to purchase.

A book about time travel was definitely something I wanted to read, and the main character, Susan was someone I wanted to read about in her own “setting” in the novel. Susan is someone I could relate to, having lost someone dear to me. She is adventuresome, curious, invested, and filled with a desire to help out her new friends while trying to better her own life – these are traits I wish everyone possessed.

Of course, some things are inevitably lost or changed in “translation” from scene to screen so differences appear throughout the two works when compared. Not many did I find distracting from the book’s original feel, however.

The book’s action and story line take place in the early 1960s and goes back to 1881. The movie’s story line changes slightly, the present being 1998 instead of the 60s. While it is one of the biggest differences, this did not strike me as too distracting from the plot itself. The writers managed to make the change believable. It might be because viewers relate better to movies shot in the present of what their current present is.

That said, I find it particularly interesting that in the book (which was first published in 1963), the author and Susan are talking about how the pace of life is too fast and there seemed to be a longing to more peaceful times where cities were smaller, a longing for fresh air, green open spaces, of seeing the country sky full of stars in a way one has never thought about them before in the city. This longing of a time long gone is something I see my present filled with. Because of this, I’m positive this plays a huge role in the novel’s timelessness, the plot is still compelling and enjoyable whether it was read in 1980, in 1998, in 2011 when I reread it, is being read at the moment in 2016, or will be read in 2088.

At the beginning of the novel, Susan has an odd encounter with an older woman and from helping the stranger she is given “three” as a reward. Three turns out to be how many times she can travel in her apartment building’s elevator to the top, and travel further than the last floor, back to the past. In the movie, she discovers this by accident when a neighbor asks her to take some things to the basement for them.

The main plot line stays the same in both the novel and the movie, as gradually discovering the power of the elevator time machine, Susan and her new friends from 1881 travel back and forth in time and succeed in changing both the past and the future, changing a little piece of history. I really liked how the elevator took Susan back in time into Victoria and Robert’s house, which stands in the same spot as her apartment building stands in 1998; this turns into a constant mark for distance during her travels.

Susan ends up play acting to get what she wants, like Portia from “The Merchant of Venice”. She wants a big house in the country, where it’s quiet and pretty, where birds are singing and there is room for everybody. She believes that with a little luck and a little bit of faith one can change the life they’ve made. She believes that when one feels that hope is awry, things can still turn out right.

“Time at the top” is a book where the author self-inserts himself into the narrative in an adorable way. In the movie adaptation he is portrayed as a quirky writer with pen and notepad in hand, and a little bit prone to ridicule on screen. He sums it up well himself when asked if he doesn’t have someplace he needs to be “Oh no, I’m a writer and keep any hours I want.” (Wish I could say that myself, but I digress.) While on paper the change between first person narrative and third person narrative can be a little bit confusing, I liked his presence overall.

If you haven’t yet, I’ll let you all discover the unusual, very unlike-most-time-travel-books, ending by reading the book or watching the movie. Come back here and let me know what you think!

Or have you already read this book, or seen the movie adaptation? Tell me if you liked each one, what do you think of the two in comparison?

PS: I also credit Edward Ormondroyd for providing my young adult self with my favorite number, 1881. Ever since first watching the movie, I’m truly aware of the numbers 1 and 8, and of their presence in my life.

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2 Comments to “From Scene to Screen – Edward Ormondroyd’s “Time at the top””

  1. It’s so funny you mention you have a number you notice, 1881. For me, it’s 13 and 7 and in any variation like 713, 317, etc. Those numbers seem to make their presence known to me often. An example is when I sit in booth #13 in a restaurant or an agent sends me to check stand #13 at the airport. My kids know this about me and point the numbers out when they see them with me.

    I have not seen the movie you mention and I’m wondering if one of my girls would like to see it. I will share your article with them and see if there’s interest. I understand what you mean about making a movie in present day. That is what the movie people did for Parent Trap–they changed present day from the 60’s or 70’s to the late 90’s which was far easier to relate to–it’s one of my family’s favorites even though it’s not technically a very old film!

    • Yes, my recurring numbers are 1 and 8, in any and all variations possible. They come up, like yours, when I’m at the movies (on the 1st of the month, 8PM showing, row 8, seat 18 – that was the craziest coincidence ever!) and then so on.

      The movie is really sweet, I think your girls would like it, too. It’s appropriate for smaller kids, too, definitely a family movie. Plus, you might see her wanting to read the book after seeing the movie :) That’s always a plus!
      And yeah, I recall watching Parent Trap with my mom when I was a child! Not too old as a film, but I was only around 9-10 years old when it came out.

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