Save us, Andrew Davies! You're our only hope!


Alert Janeite Lisa sent us an article in The Times about Andrew Davies’ appearance at the Hay Festival, in which he reveals some of his opinions on Jane Austen, as well as some plot points for his upcoming adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Now, Mr. Davies is known for a perverse enjoyment in Winding Up the Janeites, so keep that in mind as you read.

Davies, best known for his television adaptations of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, said: “Austen never really had men in her books on their own, or men without women. I don’t think she really understood them. She didn’t draw out her male characters enough.”

Maybe because the main characters of her books are women? Just an idea.

In his latest project, an adaptation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, he plans to remedy matters by hardening up the male characters. “I’ve had to work up the guys to make them stronger,” he said. He has written up the main character, Willoughby, as a “shit”, as he put it.

“I got fed up with that screen version where all the women swooned over him,” he said, referring to the 1996 movie directed by Ang Lee that starred Greg Wise as Willoughby.

In the film, written by Emma Thompson, Willoughby was very much a charmer, just as Wise proved to be in real life. He met Thompson on the set, they fell in love and then married.

He understands that Greg Wise is a real person and Willoughby a fictional character, right? That Greg could be a good guy and play a bad guy in the movies? But then, we soon learn that Mr. Davies apparently is a very literal sort of chap.

Davies will open his BBC drama with a scene from the middle of Austen’s book in which Willoughby, here played by Dominic Cooper, rapes 15-year-old Elisa. Davies says it sums up Willoughby’s true character.

Well, perhaps, but we don’t think it belongs in the first scene!

As we have noted several times, we recently read Fanny Burney’s novel Cecilia, which Jane Austen also read and knew extremely well, and noticed quite a few places in the novel from which Jane could have drawn inspiration for her own novels. (We know that she took the title of Pride and Prejudice from the final chapter of the book; and in Persuasion she refers to a character in the novel, “the inimitable Miss Larolles,” but we found lots of little references and possible points of inspiration here and there.) The connection between Northanger Abbey and Ann Radcliffe’s novel The Mysteries of Udolpho is well-established, though mostly ignored by Mr. Davies in his screenplay. We have formed an admittedly Wild Theory that Jane enjoyed Cecilia and Udolpho very much, but saw some places where they could be improved–and then, in her own novels, did so.

In the case of Cecilia, the villain, Mr. Monckton, is identified as such in his first appearance; we are told he wants to marry Cecilia for her fortune, and is only waiting for his much-older wife, whom he also married for her fortune, to pop off. Cecilia, of course, is as ignorant of this as a babe in the woods, and looks upon Mr. Monckton as a person to whom she can go for advice. The reader, knowing Mr. Monckton’s ulterior motives, also knows that any advice that Mr. Monckton gives Cecilia in romantic matters is suspect, as he is operating not in Cecilia’s best interests but his own.

As we read the novel, it occurred to us that the story would have been much more suspenseful and exciting if the reader did not know Mr. Monckton’s ulterior motives–if we, like Cecilia, thought he was acting in her best interest. When Cecilia would run into a problem and set out to consult Mr. Monckton, the reader immediately knows he’s going to thwart her, even before it happens, which is annoying. Perhaps this thought occurred to Jane Austen as well, and thus in the first two novels she wrote, S&S and P&P, she kept her villain’s infamy hidden from the reader, but with enough hints that the reader does not feel that the author has cheated when the truth is revealed. Not knowing the full extent of Willoughby’s infamy gives the scene in which Colonel Brandon reveals Willoughby’s seduction and abandonment of Eliza Williams so much more impact. It’s subtle and brilliant. That Andrew Davies wants to take it away, in our opinion, tells us more about him than about Jane Austen.

He also plans to have a “wet shirt” scene reminiscent of Colin Firth’s famous emergence from a lake as Mr Darcy in Davies’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In his version of Sense and Sensibility, Davies will have Edward Ferrars – played by Dan Stevens – cutting wood in a forest in the pouring rain.

*falls off chair laughing*

Ah, the snark will wax long in January, we think!

Alert Janeite Alana Smithee sent us a link to an article about the same subject in The Guardian.

Reflecting on Hugh Grant’s ‘floppy haircut act’ in the role of Ferrers, the writer said he felt that Austen, who remains his favourite author in any case, could have done with spending time on a second draft of Sense and Sensibility.

Hugh Grant’s “floppy haircut act” had nothing to do with the novel. Edward Ferrars is kind of a lamer but is rather more interesting and funny in the book than Mr. Grant’s bumbling, stuttering portrayal indicated. We especially like when Edward gently teases Marianne; he gets her number rather quickly.

‘To be frank, the men needed more work, and this is where we are going to be better than the other film,’ he said. The role of Colonel Brandon, played by Alan Rickman in the Lee film, is also to be enhanced, he revealed. He feels that Austen should have given readers more help to understand how Marianne was able to transfer her affections so swiftly from Willoughby to the gruff Brandon.

Oh, yes, save the Great Ignorant Unwashed, Andrew Davies! You are our only hope at ever understanding Jane Austen! What would we do without you?

As a result, Davies’s adaptation will see Brandon, this time played by David Morrissey, riding a lot of horses very fast.

*falls off chair laughing, redux*

Davies said: ‘There are dark subplots there. The duel is referred to by Brandon, and I thought, why should we not see it on screen?…These things are there and Jane Austen wants us to notice them.’

We have no objection to seeing the duel scene (unless it is as risibly dreadful as some of the other stuff described in this article) but if Jane wanted us to see them, she probably would have shown them to us. Just saying.