Archives for posts with tag: Jane Austen

Adapting a novel for television is normally straightforward. Yes, you may want to update the language so as not to be un-PC and it is wise to cut any weak subplots (or add new ones to stretch out the series of more episodes than the material gives you), but overall the work is one for you.

So how then do you approach adapting an unfinished novel? It can be hard enough with a good author to guess how the final few chapters are going to go, but when you have less than half a book you are faced with countless questions.

This is the issue facing Sanditon, an incomplete Jane Austen novel that only had around 50-odd pages completed. It does help that Austen stories fit a clear pattern, but even so, it is quite a challenge. Yet perhaps it is also strangely liberating – the final destination of the characters are in the screenwriters hands and, so long as it feels like it fits the pattern, should not upset fans too much.

Sanditon focus on the story of Charlotte Heywood, a country girl invited by a wealthy family to the new seaside resort of Sanditon, which is being built around their ears. All the stereotypes of Austen are there – the dangerous young man (Edward Denham), the imposing matriarchal aristocrat (Lady Denham) and the brooding hunk (Sidney Parker).

The plot is therefore obvious – Charlotte is to initially dislike Sidney, with a mutual feeling in response, before some tragedy brings them together and makes them see each other in a new light, with other obstacles (not least the social order) getting in their way of being together.

To be fair, it is done well. Two episodes in and we are the still not liking each other stage, although Sidney has appeared naked in front of Charlotte, which is one of many things I’m not convinced Austen would have included. I doubt many viewers would have complained though, especially as Poldark has come to an end and Theo James clearly knows his way round a gym.

But it is the subplots that are more interesting. Firstly, the plotting of Edward and his sister Esther to sully the reputation of Lady Denham’s ward Clara in order to gain her inheritance. This also is very forward compared to traditional Austen, with its references, albeit coded, to hand jobs. It almost feels as if the book has been confused with some kind of Regency version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The other is the heirless Miss Lamb, the daughter of a sugar plantation owner and a former slave. Cynics might see it as deliberate casting of an ethnic minority. I personally think it adds to the battle of social orders Austen often included in her novels. Miss Lamb is hating England and her guardian Sidney. A friendship is forming with Charlotte though, which gives her another reason to throw her in the path of our hero.

Perhaps the best thing is to pretend this isn’t an adaption at all and is an entirely new creation. It allows us to hang those questions about its sincerity to the original text out to dry. Instead, let us wallow in everything and enjoy this slightly more edgy period drama. Not everything has to be authentic.

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As an avid reader, I always get nervous when a book is being adapted as a film or TV programme. Often the joy of books is found in the little details which rarely get transferred to screen, as condensing a 400-page novel to two hours of viewing means only the broadest of sweeps are included. I have been left disappointed on several occasions as a result of this, in particular with Sky’s adaptations of the Discworld novels a few years ago.

Death Comes to Pemberley does not come with this baggage though, as I have not managed to read the book. On the plus side, this meant no expectations or disruption to how I imagined things. On the downside however, I also had nothing to measure it against, so I have no way of knowing if the tone and atmosphere of the show matches the writing of P. D. James. All I could go on was my experience of the characters in Pride and Prejudice, to which Pemberley is the sequel. Even then, the failure of these characters to transfer could have been as much the fault of James’ as it was of the screenwriter.

Thankfully, on that point Pemberley did not disappoint. Lizzie Darcy is as strong-headed as before, her mother as neurotic, Lydia as childish and Wickham as wicked. The only transformation of character is in Mr Darcy, who has become softer-edged (although still commanding), which is one that Austen had suggested at the close of the original novel anyway. Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys play the couple brilliantly, with a love that is open, tactile and (shockingly for the puritans) erotic. Mr Darcy’s reversal to his pre-marriage self as the stress of the events mounts is moving, as you watch him distance himself from his wife emotionally, and most heartlessly, physically, refusing the touch of her hands.

Another joy were the flashbacks, not only to scenes in the novel but those that occurred before and in between the two stories. A particularly telling one was one from the Darcy’s wedding celebrations, where Lizzie overhears local gossips mocking her lack of fortune and chastising Darcy for allowing his heart to rule his head. It is clear that the marriage is not fairy tale, and the snobbery that echoes in Austen’s book did not end when the story did.

The plot, I have to say, was a little like wading through treacle at times. There seemed to be a lot of sub-characters who didn’t have a purpose until the final episode of the three. Of course, such is the way with some mysteries is that you have to persevere and hope for the payoff. Although the revelation of the murderer was an anti-climax it satisfied, and everything was tied up neatly. This was never going to be as bizarre or bloody as something like Luther. Although there was the horror of the gallows and a bit of blood, it was essentially no more distressing than a sedate Miss Marple. Even if the plot never seemed to reach a top gear, the characterisation kept you watching. It was a nice little Christmas treat, and that was all it ever intended to be.