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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Davies’

I’ve now watched this Andrew Davies adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s last novel at least three times over the years (it might even be four), and my admiration grows each time. I think it must be one of his very greatest TV adaptations, up there with his takes on Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice and Vanity Fair – and it is yet another one from the late 1990s, a period which saw an extraordinary flowering of classic adaptations. All the cast are superb, with my very favourite performances coming from Francesca Annis and Michael Gambon. For me, Wives and Daughters is Gaskell’s masterpiece, and this is a version which does it justice. Sadly she didn’t live to write the last few pages of her novel, but I rather like the ending this mini-series supplies – though I’ll discuss that at the end!

This mini-series looks beautiful, set in the countryside throughout (apart from brief glimpses of Cynthia in London and Roger in Africa), with endless shots of sweeping green landscapes and country houses. Director Nicholas Renton also made the fine 1998 version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, which has a similar feeling for country scenery. However, like his FFTMC, this isn’t just an idyllic picture of country life – it is made clear how characters are hemmed in and how difficult it is for anyone to escape the atmosphere of gossip and all the little rules governing village society. Wives and Daughters doesn’t deal with changing times as overtly as North and South, but the theme is still there, as is class conflict. The Squire in particular is clinging to the past while everything changes around him.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the mini-series, the story centres on a doctor’s daughter, Molly Gibson, who gains a new step-mother and step-sister, Hyacinth and Cynthia, when her father remarries – and on the tensions within this ill-assorted instant family. However, if you haven’t read/seen it, you’d be best not to read on until you have, as I’ll be discussing aspects of the whole plot – and also, as with North and South, you have a great double treat in store from the book and film.:)

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After watching the Sandy Welch BBC adaptation of Emma, I’ve been meaning to re-watch the older versions I own to see how they compare – and have now got round to seeing the short TV movie scripted by Andrew Davies and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence, which stars Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr Knightley. Here are just a few slightly rambling comments before I get on to the other versions!

After the more leisurely pace of a four-episode version (though even that was much faster than the older adaptations), this dramatisation does feel very short at just 107 minutes. It almost seems as if Harriet is introduced one minute and turning down Robert Martin the next, with Mr Knightley bitterly upbraiding Emma a minute after that. However, despite this fast pace, I felt as if Davies manages to pack in all the key scenes from the novel – it would be fascinating to see how he would have treated the story if he had adapted it at greater length.

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Sorry again not to have been around much – I’ve  just had a couple of days away from home and am still behind with reviews I want to write! But, anyway, here is a bit of costume drama news.

This week’s Radio Times in the UK carries the news that Andrew Davies’ new adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s great series of novels The Pallisers has been axed. Davies says the BBC is going downmarket and now only commissioning adaptations of big-name works – he has also been asked to adapt David Copperfield instead of Dombey and Son, which I’m a bit disappointed about as DC has been done so many times already.

I haven’t found the Radio Times article online, but here is a link to another
report quoting the same comments:
I’m mystified by the quote saying that Davies is now adapting Arnold Bennett’s South Riding Just editing (October 6) to say that today’s Radio Times has a correction pointing out that this novel is in fact by Winifred Holtby – and that it was the magazine’s mistake, not his!  This one has been adapted before, but not for a long time, and I will be interested to see it.

On a happier note, the BBC starts showing the new Sandy Welch adaptation of
Jane Austen’s Emma this weekend – I’m really looking forward to it and also hoping it gets brilliant ratings to give TV costume drama a badly-needed shot in the arm.

ITV’s recent mini-series of Wuthering Heights, which I thought was powerful
although flawed in places, did fairly well in terms of ratings (the Radio Times
claims 4.28 million was disappointing, but I would have thought it was pretty
good during the main summer holiday period) and has also sold to networks all over the world. Possibly on the back of that, ITV has now commissioned Downton Abbey, a major nine-part series scripted by Julian Fellowes about a country house in the Edwardian era and around the First World War, which will be about both the family and the servants, as with Upstairs Downstairs – so maybe costume drama is already starting to bounce back.

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There was an article in the Independent newspaper here in the UK a few days ago  about the forthcoming movie of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, supposed to be due for release in 2010. Apparently Focus Features, which has made quite a lot of costume dramas including the most recent Pride and Prejudice and Gosford Park, is now on board, and it looks as if Sam Mendes is going to direct although Martin Scorsese had seemed interested too.

Andrew Davies is also said to have completed his script…  so it sounds as if it is all going to happen, although there’s no casting news as yet as far as I’m aware.  I’m not sure how a movie from such a huge book can possibly match the 1994 mini-series which I reviewed on this blog a little while ago, but I’ll still be very interested to see it, and just hope Davies’ script isn’t messed around with as much as it apparently was for the disappointing (in my opinion!) remake of Brideshead Revisited.

Also, very welcome news, the article says there is now a lot of interest in further movie costume dramas because of the good reaction Jane Campion’s Bright Star got at Cannes. Since period dramas on TV seem to be an endangered species at the moment,  I’d love to see the movie studios stepping in and making more of them for the big screen.

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After watching the Andrew Davies version of Middlemarch, I was keen to see his other major George Eliot adaptation, Daniel Deronda. Unfortunately, as with so many of the other films I keep writing about, it isn’t available on DVD in region 2 –though  it used to be, and I’m using the sleeve of the deleted DVD as an illustration since I prefer it to the region 1 sleeve. So, once again, I had to buy on import.

DanielDerondasleeve2Watching this not so long after Middlemarch, it struck me just how many similarities there are between the two dramas, and, of course, also between the two source novels. Both have a heroine and a hero who are not romantically destined for one another, but who become friends and whose stories sometimes counterpoint one another.  Both also show the central characters constantly hemmed in and pressured by other people’s expectations.

In Daniel Deronda, Daniel and Gwendolen meet in the series’ opening scene, at the casino in Monte Carlo, and, looking at this beautiful young couple, you might well think they are going to end up together – but, in fact, their stories are about to fork off in very different directions, only occasionally intertwining.

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After enjoying a repeat viewing of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, I decided to re-watch another major Andrew Davies adaptation from around the same period . This time I went for the BBC’s six-episode version of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, made the previous year, with a superb  cast,  headed by Juliet Aubrey and Rufus Sewell… though Robert Hardy actually gives my favourite performance.

Rufus Sewell, Juliet Aubrey and Robert Hardy

Rufus Sewell, Juliet Aubrey and Robert Hardy

This is another production which was originally shown when my children were very young and so I almost certainly failed to take it in properly at the time. Watching it again now, I found myself full of admiration for it, and think it is every bit as good as the Davies P&P – dare I say, maybe even better. It’s been a long while since I’ve read Middlemarch, so  I can’t comment in any detail on how near the adaptation is to the novel, although clearly, with such a long book, large chunks are bound to have been lost or condensed into smaller scenes or sequences of dialogue. In any case, I do think this mini-series, directed by Anthony Page,  is a complex work of art in its own right, creating a powerful picture of the tensions and rivalries within a small community, and within two marriages. 
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I’ve now finished re-watching the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice – and loved it all over again. I also watched the featurette included on the DVD, where producer Sue Birtwhistle discusses how much care was taken with every detail of this production, down to tailoring the costumes to the individuals and even choosing houses for filming which echoed the personalities of the characters living there.

I think all this attention to detail has paid off, together with the leisurely length, in giving the whole production a multi-layered, rich feeling. It’s quite a wrench when it comes to an end and you have to step out of that world and come back to the present – although that final shot, with Darcy and Elizabeth sharing their only kiss, is what viewers have been waiting for right from the start. 

The wedding scene

The wedding scene

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