misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

An Andrew Davies interlude: My Jane Austen Movies book

Dear friends and readers,

To anyone who might read this blog and several to come. Like listservs, both my blogs are partly for me places where I can work out my thoughts and feeling:  in the case of literary, film art criticism, to discover the nature of what I have read, seen, heard, and what these can be said to mean, how they function, and why they give pleasure.  This is what I intend to do with this blog for a series on Andrew Davies' movies and the Austen movies I manage to study at night over the coming summer.


Jan's first sight of Diana on her horse in the wood near Sennacharibb (I will write up my notes on this movie early next week)

I returned to my Jane Austen movie book some time in April, first re-seeing the S&S films, reading over a few blogs from last summer, then again rewriting parts of the completed prologue (S&S, Caroline de Lichtfield and archetypal patterns) and four chapters I've done (the 1971, 81, 95 S&S and I have Found It), and then at last turning to a fifth chapter on Andrew Davies', Anne Pivcevic, and John Alexander's 2008 Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.   What I feel is this fifth chapter is too repetitive when I again try to contextualize it against the others. It's too obsessive; I also found my notes are getting excessively long which usually means there is a secondary discourse to the main one I want to present so large that I am squeezing it into notes (the margins of the chapter or essay).

I want to make my book interesting and original and the problem with Davies's adaptations of Austen is he is fearful of offending and his adaptations of her work are on the surface among the least interesting in content or technique.  Nonetheless, they partake of his genius and I particularly love his 2008 S&S and his 2007 NA.  I concede the intelligence and subversion of his 1996 Emma.  I have to admit despite its spectacular beauty and subjective techniques, its extraordinariness such that it excited what Dudley Andrews called "the fever of an infectious film," the content of his 1995 P&P is among his blandest. 

Well, one way to suggest what is valuable in the 08 S&S would be to write two chapters on the 2008 S&S, one where I set Davies' Austen movies in Davies's oeuvre and call this an interlude; and the second where,using comments and previous work by Alexander and Pivcevic, I set this typically Davies film, the 2008 S&S also in the context of post-feminism and non-Davies Austen movies to show it is not Brontesque. 

A description of my book thus far:

For each chapters I contextualized the movie by movies by the same film-makers using the same techniques.  Now if in previous chapters, one of the central three film-makers had a large oeuvre, it never came near Davies' in size, scope, availability. I'm up against the enormous number and variety of Davies's film oeuvre. I can try to make a virtue of a necessity here. So I've been having a fine old time reading for the first time a number of eponymous books which are remarkably good and chosen by Davies for his films, and then I watch the movie with an alert attentiveness (that phrase is one I made up).

From April till now:

So what have I covered? I began with the film adapted from E. M. Forster's Room with a View, and discovered that Forster's book is a partial  rewrite which critiques Austen as narrow towards sexual awakening in a young girl, and that Davies realized this and thus when he remade the Merchant-Ivory film he took into account this is an Austen movie reworking Northanger Abbey.

I then went on to read Winifred Holtby's South Riding and watch Davies's 2010 South Riding once.  I need to re-watch the film and get a good book of criticism on the novel and/or Holtby. I've read John LeCarre's The Tailor of Panama and re-watched Davies's brilliant adaptation twice, before and after reading. Also a good book which contained a fine exegesis of the novel, Tod Hoffman's Le Carre's Landscape.  

I've watched all of Davies 10 part mini-series, the 1984 Diana, and have finished reading the novel and a book of criticism on Delderfield, Sanford Sternlicht's R. F. Delderfield.  Ive read about half-way through Allan Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty, and have watched all three parts of this film of deep alienation and strong critique of our society today and the way homosexual men are treated.  I began Anglo-Saxon attitudes by watching the ironical and hard movie and now I must read the book. I've one more movie and book to go:  Joanne Briscoe's Sleep with Me (with Jodhi May) and Davies's film adaptation (also starring Samantha Harker) House of Cards

At the same time partly for my teaching I reread Andrea Levy's Small Island and re-watched the really fine film adaptation directed by John Alexander, Small Island (2 parts, 84 minutes each) and at least went through my notes and stills for Anne Pivcevic and Gwyneth Hughes's Miss Austen Regrets.

In a real sense I've been studying Davie's movies since early January for the paper (however mangled by the dullard editor), Trollope and TV that I wrote most of and is to be published in a volume on film adaptations of 19th century texts is heavily dependent on an analysis of Davie's He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now.  And between February and April I re-saw and took down the structure and saved stills from Davies's Daniel Deronda, and at least re-watched and wrote my daily postings to the listservs (as a way of making coherent notes) Davies' Little Dorrit and Bleak House. I just love both of them, but especially Little Dorrit with the moving performances of Tim Courtney, Matthew MacFayden and Claire Foy.

I am also keeping up my slow study of an Austen movie, an hour or more each day. Right now I'm in love with Sandy Welch's 2009 Emma.  I will be blogging on Emma either before or after I've written a blog summing up my findings about Davies's Diana.

I am trying to get beyond Cardwell by regrouping Davies works, recategorizing so as to re-see:. I've decided on two larger categories:  the romance, and within that this set of Austen movies may be understood.  The larger social vision. Gothic, film noir and such like become moods within these larger categories.

His 7 Austen movies are:

P&P 1995
Emma 1997
Bridget Jones Diary 2001
Bridget Jones Edge of Reason:  2004
NA 2007
Room with a View 2007
S&S 2008

To which I'll add

Wives and Daughters 1999 (as an honorary member so like the Austen ones is it fundamentally)

The subset of romance, or psychological melodrama, very closely related which I feel would not be contested and I could deal with are:

Daniel Deronda 2002
Little Dorrit 2008

This is not to say these are the only kinds of romance Davies writes.  He writes very dark ones too, ironic sexy ones:

Othello 2001
Tipping the Velvet 2002
Falling 2005
Fanny Hill 2007 (though here we see the character types who appear in Austen transformed so Alison Steadman [aka Mrs Bennet] is a mean brother madam while Samantha Bond [aka Miss Taylor and then Mrs Weston] is a kindly one)
Sleep with Me 2009

Now the other type, the broad social perspective ones which have pockets of Austen matter and character types.   There is no hard and fast demarcation.  Social vision films -- broad perspectives -- have romance plot-designs; romance plot-design suggest a larger social vision (classes mostly for the characters) within which they occur.

The key to recognition of Austen matter and romance here is to understand that the male character types are as central or maybe more so as the females in Davies's Austen films.

Diana 1984
Anglo-Saxon Attitudes 1992
Middlemarch 1994
Dr Zhivago 2002
The Line of Beauty 2006
South Riding 2011

Again there are many films with this broad canvas which do not particularly relate to the Austen matter.

To Serve Them all My Days 1980
House of Cards 1990
Moll Flanders 1996
Vanity Fair 1998

Then the question is, how much does he break away and what is the vision he is breaking away on behalf of? And I have to use the concept of an Austen matter.  It's true that one could group the films as classic novel or heritage film adaptation, but since 2005 and Higson there has been a lot of cross-over between adaptations of modern novels and book (historical, pseudo-historical) and historically-based (semi-fantasy) films. This does allow for break-aways from generic conventions and ideology.

Some thoughts specifically on LeCarre, Boorman and Davies's The Tailor of Panama. I watched The Tailor of Panama for a second time and the feature twice more.  The team or officials have turned the book into a kind of How I learned to stop worrying and Love the Bomb, only minus some of the more incredible (literally) and memorable sayings, e.g., the general who worries about his body fluids.  The story becomes an absurdist satire on militarism, anti-totalitarianism, colonialism -- seen through the lens of what is implicitly a homoerotic relationship.  Andy and Harry are not homoerotic in LeCarre.  It's to the point they go dancing together as a feint (supposedly) to talk; they are also put in a brothel to talk -- again not in the book.  This homoerotic undercurrent is central to Davies's films about young privileged men who discover now they can't just simply get away with the crime..

Startlingly we are told that LeCarre had a hand in the script, Boorman had a hand in the script, and the screenplay is beautifully well-written.  But Davies's name is never used!  Was that an agreement. He is first billed. (I know that Hitchcock got Winston Graham to agree to allow his name never to be put on the films where his books were adapted; apparently something Hitchcock demanded of all his source books and for which he was willing to pay good money).

For further specifics on Michael Dobbs's novels adapted and Sleep with me, see Davies's Social and Erotic films.

Due to Davies's strong use of flashbacks and the importance of these plus voice-over in many recent films, I've also read Maureen Turim's Flashbacks in Film. Turim's book is not just an analysis of the use of flashbacks from the beginning of the 20th century to the present time, in her individual analyses she goes over how the particular movie or genre works in itself. So when she discusses flashbacks in film noir, one learns that film noir may be profitably regarded and understood as the male version of psychological melodrama;  film noir a male protagonist caught between desire for femme fatale and "good woman;" pessimistic, devoted to abjection; psychological melodrama, the psychic life of the female at the center provide plot-design (often using flashbacks); flashback part of promise of restoration. Neither confirms positive values for real as both focus on psyche as agent of evil, causing destruction of self and others.

More broadly:  I've noticed a revealing pattern in many movies made from medium-status (I'll call them) 20th century fiction: the young man who comes from middling people, not working class but gentry, sometimes fallen on hard times (Delderfield's Diana and To Serve Them All My Days), sometimes merely struggling (H. E. Bates's Love for Lydia), sometimes just different or lower and outsider because the family he becomes involved with is so super rich (Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty, Waugh's Brideshead Revisited).  Whether the paraphernalia is Edwardian with big gothic houses, or modern super rich London townhouses, what happens is he's awed, he is slowly taken in but treated implicitly as an inferior, he's downright despised and over the course of the movie proves himself.  The end of the movie is not happy though: most of the time he does not get the girl and ends up alone and somewhat bitter. Or she dies (Diana).

The big house and its family are rotten most of the time in some fundamental way.

This motif of fringe male circling around the rot of the super-rich is striking. It's not common in Victorian novels. The novel need not be realistic. One finds it in male formula fiction.  For example, Le Carre who mocks the obsession in English novels with Duchesses in Absolute Friends (a novel which focuses on betrayal, a central theme for Le Carre) nonetheless tells the same story in say Tailor of Panama: Harry is Jewish, automatically an outsider and was in prison; now he flutters about the super rich and their paraphernalia; at the end he is either destroyed or taken back into his middling family (depending on which ending you prefer).

Now Davies has an eye for precisely this paradigm. He chooses book after book which shows it. But it's not his theme alone. Love for Lydia is not a Davies choice, nor was Brideshead.  He also loves to have homoerotic sex or people in his films. He will add them when they are not there or not clearly there (Diana). He makes a modern fable of great power in his Line of Beauty from the story of how homosexuals are scapegoated and thrown out when all other far greater and uglier deeds are condoned, indeed homosexual sex is ruined by the despising of it (this is Simon Raven's great theme).

My husband was unable to download Davies' trilogy of House of Cards for me (so I bought a used DVD, cheap), but he did find and downloaded the film adaptation of Faber's Crimson Petal and White. Now this is the female protagonist's story and I shall be interested to compare the treatment of say Delderfield's character Diana with Faber's Sugar.

Tags: 18th century films, andrew davies, jane austen films

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