Sometimes it can be difficult to watch a film, or TV series when you’ve read the book beforehand. I’ve actually had to take the decision to no longer watch Game of Thrones for this very reason; I can’t just sit and enjoy it without picking up on every difference, at which I exclaim “but that didn’t happen in the book”, much to my partner’s disapproval.
I was though looking forward to watching 8 Minutes Idle, the film adaptation of Matt Thorne’s novel of the same name, since it arrived from Amazon last Saturday. Of course there would be differences – as Matt himself mentioned this to me in a Q & A published on here last year ahead of the films cinema release.
There were indeed a few noticeable differences between the two versions with the film focusing more on one particular plot strand from the novel, that of the relationship between Dan and co-worker Teri. The story though is mostly faithful to the novel: Dan is a twentysomething content to drift through life, but an unfortunate turn of events sees him end up living at his workplace – a call centre.
When it appeared in cinemas earlier this year the film was greeted by rather mixed reviews, such as this one from the Guardian, but I wonder if any of the reviewers had ever worked in a call centre?
A real strength of the book is the descriptions of the minutiae of call centre life so I was especially keen to see how authentic the call-centre scenes were; The call centre both outside and inside is as bland as could be expected from a real-life call-centre. On the occasions where we hear callers the dialogue is incredibly true-to-life, and quite funny. My personal favourite scene is where Dev the ‘Car insurance king’ instantly drops an irate caller who comes on his line (something I’ve done, and seen done, more than a few times). Immediately though he falls foul of his boss Alice.
Alice is superbly played by Montserrat Lombard and represents the archetype call centre manager who manages her charges with a combination of metrics and Machiavelli. At one point she asks Dan to nominate which of his teammates should be fired at pain of facing the can himself. There is a difference between the Alice in the novel, who is slightly more nuanced, but in terms of the film, and in terms of the one figure almost all call centre workers love to hate it’s a great depiction, and is quite worth watching for alone.
Throughout the film there is also a sense of Britishness, or to be more accurate Bristolian-ness. The characters, dialogue and locations are all well used to give the film a sense of place and characters like Teri’s flatmates are achingly familiar. One key theme in the book, which also made it into the film – but seemed to which escape the critics – is the sense of transience in the call centre. Dan remarks at one point about how close he is to being on the street. Call centre life is both transient and precarious: people pass through frequently, leaving without trace and even call centres themselves can be set up and dismantled with ease. The characters in both the novel, and the film reflect this – not least by their housing status: They are not settled suburban types, more rootless drifters clinging onto a toe-hold in the city.