Let the games begin


The Official AustenBlog Titanium Spork A season of Jane Austen adaptations on both sides of the pond begins tomorrow with the broadcast of a new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility on the BBC. The Times has an interview with Andrew Davies; the author amused us with her skepticism.

Ah, yes, the famously impudent manner in which Davies invents minor characters to “round out the plot” of the sacred Austen canon, and to make it work better as a screen dramatisation. He does the same by adding sequences that he hopes will give body and motive to the story. These are, of course, the bits that everyone remembers.

Perhaps his former career as an English teacher and university lecturer (at Warwick University) has given him the authority to rewrite Austen, as if she were one of his undergraduates whose work needed sprucing up.

As. If.

Darcy coming out of the lake was Davies’s most famous sexing-up moment; in this latest Austen adaptation, he has the rather weedy Edward Ferrars (played by Dan Stevens) feverishly chopping wood in shirtsleeves and a downpour. It’s a bit like a Georgian Abercrombie & Fitch advert.

Does he hope drenched period beefcake will once more get the ratings soaring? Of course, though he claims some of the more eye-popping moments happen by accident – the firm axe coming down on the pliable wood, and so on. And in the rain, for goodness’ sake. “I never thought about it as a Freudian metaphor,” he says. Oh come on! “I’m shocked,” he says, delighted. “It just happened to be pouring with rain.” Just as the wet-shirt scene with Darcy just “happened”? “That wasn’t deliberate either.” What? “I didn’t think he would keep his shirt on. I never thought a wet-shirt scene would be such a turn-on.”

(Incidentally, we think we stumbled across the wellspring of The Pond Scene a week or two ago. Let’s just say our John Thorpe jokes haven’t been as far off as some might think.)

The Western Mail also has an interview with Mr. Davies that covers much the same territory and gives us a clue as to the marketing frame that has been chosen.

Restrained and rational Elinor, and the wildly romantic, impulsive Marianne are respectively played by newcomers Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.

“It’s thrilling to have such young, vibrant talent as the Dashwood sisters – and to have actresses much nearer their ages,” enthuses Davies.

“The sisters are 16 and 18 in the book, and 17 and 19 by the finish. Now Emma Thompson gave a great performance in the movie, but she was too old. And I think it was really just hope that casting Alan Rickman would do the trick for Colonel Brandon.

We’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating: Kate Winslet was 18 or 19 when she made S&S95. Charity Wakefield is 25, so presumably was 24 when she made this film. If that’s all you got, look out.

“Nobody who reads the book ever remembers that this schoolgirl gets seduced and has a baby.”

No, really, we can read. Really.

Davies is clearly happy with the space afforded by a three-part adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, the first episode of which transmits on New Year’s Day – perfect chocolate-box telly after all the festive exertions of late.

“Jane Tranter, the head of BBC Drama, asked me if I could get four hours out of it, and I said I’d try, but it makes a very natural three hours, in truth,” says Davies. “We did six 50-minute episodes for Pride and Prejudice, but there’s more story there. And the speed of narration gets quicker on television, almost every year.”

And yet there’s room for duels and seductions! Oh, there better not be anything important or interesting left out.

“Edward is dull, he’s hesitant. And Colonel Brandon just seems old, serious, and not very glamorous. Jane Austen doesn’t really convince us that Marianne would move from being so crazy about the young Willoughby to suddenly being in love with Brandon.

“So those two guys needed a lot of work, they both needed to be made to look much sexier, really. We needed to butch them up! Otherwise you’ll never believe that our lovely young heroines would fall for them.”

Interestingly, we very clearly remember sitting in the theater watching S&S95 for the first time. When Alan Rickman rode up, came up to the door, and sat watching Marianne play the pianoforte, we thought: Oh good, they made him sexy! Because we liked Colonel Brandon in the book very much. Because (it bears repeating) we can read.

“This is partly why I continue to do so well. The producers go, ‘This is a famous book, we’ve got Andrew Davies, that’s two parts of the equation – get a sexy-looking cast and we’re on our way’!”

*buries head in hands*

The Telegraph has an article focusing on the cast on the last day of shooting.

Thanks to Alert Janeites Belle de Jure and Lisa for the links!