THE CONTINUITY GIRL is centred on the supposed discovery of an uncut print of Billy Wilder’s celebrated film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). It begins in the run up to 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, when Gemma MacDonald, a London-based Film Studies lecturer of Scottish heritage, is tasked with presenting the new print at a festival screening in Inverness. She seeks out April Korzeniowski, the movie’s Californian continuity supervisor (NB—in reality, this role fell to Elaine Schreyeck, whose remarkable career deserves another and quite different book). We then switch to 1969 and learn of the affair that develops between April and a young English scientist, Jim Outhwaite. Jim is a member of the Loch Ness Research Group, and thus a dedicated seeker of evidence for the Loch Ness monster.
But in life, as in a Billy Wilder movie, nothing goes to plan and nobody is quite who they seem. While men are landing on the moon and the 1960s approaches its bitter, gloriously sound-tracked end, fault lines begin to appear between the director and his stars, between Jim and his colleagues (and their wives), and between lovers brought together by extreme circumstances. It’s a long wait for golden time to alight on Urquhart Castle, and when it does, the moment must be snatched before it’s gone…
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was a commercial and critical flop in its day, but has since developed a dedicated following. It is a favourite of both Kim Newman and Anne Billson, two film critics who are also Sherlockians, and writers of genre novels with real bite. Mark Gatiss claims the film as an inspiration for Sherlock, the phenomenally successful BBC TV series he co-created with Steven Moffat. And the satirical novelist Jonathan Coe has written extensively of his obsession with the film, most notably in his essay ‘9th and 13th’. It even makes an appearance in his latest novel, Number 11. Of The Continuity Girl, Jonathan says: ‘[Patrick Kincaid’s] book sounds delightful—I am always happy to encourage anything which creates interest in this wonderful film.’
Excuse me,’ Jim said, ‘do you mind if I borrow your paper?’
‘Not at all, young man,’ said the Watson actor. He picked it up from where he had dropped it by his chair. ‘Be my guest,’ he said, handing it up. ‘You following the moon mission, too?’
He was a thick-set man of about forty, with a real moustache and a receding head of tightly curled hair. His smile was natural and there was a light of genuine interest in his eyes. Jim felt the power of personality in a way he’d never felt it before. ‘I am, yes.’
‘It’s wonderful to have some good news in the papers for a change, isn’t it?’ Now that he wasn’t in character, it was possible to detect something in his voice that was neither English nor Scottish. ‘I suppose you’ve been interested in space since you were a nipper, eh? H.G. Wells and all that…’Read more...
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