This three-act version of Coup de Grâce is based on my film script, which is, in turn, based on my novel of the same name.
But in this adaptation, many changes have been made.
Firstly, in order to make it more accessible for the everyday reader, I have changed it from the precise screenplay format that is required by film industry professionals. It is now very easy to read.
Secondly, the story line has been fundamentally modified - especially the ending which has been altered to make it more visual - and it now has a completely different denouement from that in the book.
I only realized after I’d started of course, that once you take a hatchet to a novel with the intention of removing large chunks of it (in the hope that one day it will become a ninety minute movie) there are many unforeseeable consequences.
For one, the story went off in a different direction, and this required the elimination of several major and minor characters who appear in the novel, as well as many of the incidents that I had used in an attempt to create the ‘spirit of place’ in France before, during and after the two World Wars. However, when this was done, some holes were left in the narrative, and I immediately saw that I now needed to add several new scenes, and to introduce a few more characters, both for continuity and to propel the story forward.
At this time, I also became interested in the ‘heroic’ nature of survival, and some of the traits of the two main characters in the novel have been swapped. I hope this makes their decisions and actions more logical and convincing in this version.
I have been working on the novel and the screen versions of Coup de Grâce ever since I arrived in France ten years ago. The idea first came to me when I stumbled across a roadside memorial near my home in a small town in Gascony. It marks the spot where a young boy was shot by the departing Germans a few months before the war ended, and I felt perturbed that such barbarity could have taken place in this idyllic part of France just over sixty years ago.
Although this book is a work of fiction, everything - well almost everything - is based on actual events. It is graphic and crude and violent, and it contains, I hope, not a jot of romanticism. Several of the incidents were described to me by older French people I have met - some are taken from descriptions I have found in resistance museums and on war memorials - and others are from books, magazine and newspaper reports I have rooted out.
The twin themes of the story are, I suppose, collaboration and resistance. These are complicated issues, and there were many shades of both. For those of us - like me - who have never lived in an occupied country, they can be especially difficult ideas to unravel. But through some of the fictionalized events described, I hope I have been able to provide an insight into how complex and dangerous the dark years of Nazi occupation were for the people of France.
However, although my sympathies are categorically and wholeheartedly with the French, it would be folly for anyone to believe that evil attaches itself exclusively to one side in any conflict.
In war there are no winners, and in Coup de Grâce In Three Acts, good does not triumph over evil - the price for treachery is seldom exacted - and brutality is meted out equally on both sides in the struggle for Liberation.
Without belaboring the point, I hope the unrelenting anti-war theme, as well as the idea that prejudice is universal, come through loud and clear.
Ray Johnstone La Petite Galerie Mézin France February 2010