We want to clear up a few rumors and misapprehensions we’ve seen bandied about the Intartubes the past couple of weeks.
1. Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park were two hours long when they were broadcast in the UK and only 90 minutes on the Masterpiece broadcast and Region 1 DVDs!
Those three films were all broadcast at 92-93 minutes (this is according to the Region 2 DVD cases). They were never two hours long. Ever. Even in script version. (We shall comment on that presently.)
1b. They would be so much better if we could see the whole thing!
From someone who has seen the “uncut” versions: Afraid not. Really. 🙂
2. Andrew Davies did a hack job on Mansfield Park and Persuasion!
Andrew Davies had nothing to do with writing the scripts for those two films. He also had nothing to do with Miss Austen Regrets, which has yet to be broadcast. The PBS press releases were confusing; we had previously corresponded with one journalist who claimed in an article that he wrote the scripts for “the four new films,” so we made bold to write her a friendly note correcting her error. She wrote back insisting, “That’s what the press release said.” It didn’t, but she thought it did. So there’s a lot of confusion on this point.
Don’t blame Masterpiece for the first three films only being 90-some minutes long. That’s what they bought. Blame ITV. Though why anyone thought 90 minutes was sufficient time for any of these is beyond us, and why limit the running time of a TV movie anyway? Why not make it a two-parter? Two 60-minute episodes? We can speculate, a little bit. We have a copy of the original script of NA, which is 89 pages long. The generally assumption is one page of script equals one minute of running time. The script that we have is nearly the one that was shot; minus one scene in which Catherine walks in on Henry while he is bathing and plus the visit to Woodston, such as it was. The apple-picking scene was not in the script, but there is a similar “montage of General-free fun at NA” sort of thing in there. But generally it is the same.
Cub Reporter Heather L. has a good history of the long journey from page to screen of this particular production in her NA review at Remotely Connected. The script came into our possession while it was owned by Miramax and seemed dead in the water. (Our understanding is that it was being seeded around the Internet to raise interest amongst Janeites. We’ve been complaining about it ever since. 😉 ) There were a few false starts, but nothing really positive until after the success of P&P05 and the resulting resurgence in interest, at least among the entertainment Powers That Be, in Jane Austen.
So we’re not sure why the script was written to be 90 minutes. It could be that Andrew Davies felt that the best length for the film. It could be that was the length he was originally given by London Weekend Television. In that case, one could hardly “blame” Mr. Davies for the length of the film. However, if he was unhappy with that length, why wouldn’t he then rewrite it to be, say, two 60-minute episodes? So we presume it’s exactly the length he thought it should be.
Further speculating (we stress that this is SPECULATION, but it makes an awful lot of sense): ITV bought one script at 90 minutes. It therefore would make sense that it would contract for the other two films in its planned series to be approximately the same length.
We also have comments on record from Mr. Davies that the BBC originally wanted his new version of Sense and Sensibility (which is getting good reviews, but many thought was a little too short for a TV series) to be four 60 minute episodes, but he thought three was better. Why? When Pride and Prejudice, a novel of similar length, required 6 50-minute episodes, or five hours? And even his Emma was 107 minutes, which is a little better (but still too short–the theatrical film is 120 minutes).
So, while we can’t place direct blame on Mr. Davies for Persuasion and Mansfield Park, it is clear that there is a pattern with him of contracting Jane Austen’s novels to short films–perhaps shorter than they should be–and we can speculate that the length of his script for NA dictated the length of MP and Persuasion, all of which, it is generally agreed, would be improved with at least an extra half-hour. One of the selling points of the ITV “Jane Austen Season” was that “each generation deserves its own Jane Austen adaptations.” Too bad this generation gets the short-attention-span versions.