Andrew Davies Explains It All


Alert Janeite Victoria let us know that Andrew Davies is in Melbourne for the Melbourne Writers Festival and had a chat with The Age.

”I DON’T OBJECT TO THAT sort of slightly cartoonish description of me as ‘the man who sexed up the classics’,” says Andrew Davies blithely. We sit beside a desk strewn with books; the real centre of operations, source of scripts for half the television adaptations you can remember, is next door. At 71, Davies is rosy-faced and avuncular, but he certainly has quite a glint in his eye when we get on the subject of racy subtexts in the perfectly respectable books he has adapted. “I think that so often it is there, but people don’t recognise it, particularly in Jane Austen,” he says. “But I am certainly keen to bring it out.”

Isn’t it nice of him to reveal these hidden parts of Jane Austen for us? *rolls eyes* Actually, we think many readers DO recognize that there is sex (or more properly sexual tension) in Jane Austen, but we also understand it’s part of a much richer whole.

Our visual literacy, he argues, gives us different expectations from the readers of 19th-century novels. Even with Austen – “someone I admire to idolatry” – he will make up not only dialogue, but whole episodes illustrating something she may dismiss in a single, regal sentence. In Sense and Sensibility, for example, she signalled Eleanor and Edward’s destiny simply by stating that a “firm attachment” was clearly developing between them.

“And I can’t help feeling,” says Davies, “that that’s a bit of a cheat, you know. What sort of attachment? How did it happen?” Edward was shy, stilted and a bad reader of poetry; Davies, for one, could not see what Eleanor saw in him. “So really, we have to delve into those private scenes that Jane Austen doesn’t write, just so the audience can be convinced that this chap is interesting and nice enough to fall in love with. Otherwise the audience is going to be saying, ‘I don’t get it.”‘

It’s also quite possible that Jane Austen did it that way for a reason. But figuring that out is not really the job of the screen adapter, we suppose.