misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Andrew Davies's odd heroine's texts: Wilderness and Harnessing Peacocks

Dear friends and readers,

I've been watching some of the lesser or relatively unknown Andrew Davies's movies, which may be defined or categorized as romance, and find that as a group they show some of the same general patterns we find in his better known or "major" work; at some point two males clash, implicitly or explicitly over a particular woman; Davies delves transgressive and homosexual sexuality with sympathy.  They all center on a woman or women characters in the way of heroine's text novel.  They take an odd or unusual point of view on the stereotypical matter of the source material; sometimes this is found in the source, sometimes Davies strengthens or adds more. He is unconventional in these; they are not written by super-respected household names, which taken together may account for their lack of popularity.

This is part of my project and Jane Austen movies book. I spent a long time studying his 1984 Diana out of Delderfield in the same spirit.

I'm writing this blog to bring togethe some materials connected to Davies which are transgressive and strange:  I liked Wilderness, a highly unusual wolf story, a love of animals story, about human and animal loneliness and non-conformity;  Harnessing Peacocks with its defense of heroine's need for survival and hero's fallibility. Danvers's novel is pro-animal (it's a story of a women who turns into a real wolf, not a werewolf), pro-environment and a heroine's text. I loved Davies's movie which improves on the book. Harnessing Peacocks overturns stereotypes & brings out how families can be adversarial.

Wilderness:  Alice (Amanda Ooms) talking to Dan (Owen Teale):  two lonely people

Wilderness, an apparently gothic novel by Dennis Danvers, has as its heroine Alice White (played by Amanda Ooms in the film), a woman who has kept herself shut off emotionally because of a shameful secret. When she meets Dan (Owen Teale), they fall in love and she decides to tell him who she really is--a werewolf. Of course he doesn't believe her, and their resulting soul-searching is painful to share. Alice's main concern was to be believed and, more important, accepted; so when Dan rejects her wolfness as nightmare she reacts as it were in response to explore her animal half, to be loyal to her wolf within her. Matters are complicated by Alice's inept psychiatrist , Luther Adams (Michael Kitchen) who begins to want to dominate her emotionally and sexually and is titilated by her stories of herself, and by Dan's ex-wife, who decides at this crucial time that she wants him back.  Dan allows his ex-wife to lure him into a night of love-making which she tries to use to persuade Alice that Dan loves the wife.  Not so.  Dan realizes he loves Alice and goes to an expert in animal studies and wolves for help:  Jane Garth (Gemma Jones); also to the psychiatrist who Dan seems to realize is useless. The characters are all well rounded; we even get a glimpse of the pompous psychiatrist's empty home life. In no way a horror story, this book is a justification of animal life as valuable, of living free in nature as a good. Jane Garth loves her wolves that she studies and sees them as creatures who need companionship with one another.  In fact Davies's film and novel send up psychiatry.

Micheal Kitchen as the actually unwell Luther Adams

Again Michael Kitchen plays the apparently sweet kindly man who is dangerous (as in Davies' Falling)

Some thoughts on the film:  it's a kind of female gothic where a librarian woman (played by Amanda Ooms who spends a lot of time with no clothes on in ways that are not titillating) turns into a wolf each month at he full moon; it's not a horror film and she is not a deliberate killer -- unlike say other killer women movies since Fatal Attraction (1987). At the close Alice just chooses to go into nature, much better than people; Gemma Jones a wolf expert in the film and book. A very hard role to play because it's prosaic; she is an animal studier, not a witch in a turret, and yet she's in Scotland living in the edge of a wild in a castle like building.  After all Davies is a quiet strong feminist I now think.

I also found an excellent article on Dennis Danvers's Wilderness.  By Peter C. Coleman and called Alice and the Wolf: Exploring Dennis Danvers's Wilderness,COLLOQUY text theory critique, 12 (2006). © Monash University. www.colloquy.monash.edu.au/issue12/coleman.pdf , Coleman shows that the novel is a pro-animal one, environmental, and basically eco-feminist - the first clear sense of what is meant by this was taught me in this article.  Alice doesn't turn into a werewolf but a wolf. That's quite different. I want to call attention to Danvers's ending as opposed to Davies. Danvers ends his book on a fairy tale: he suddenly gives Alice an aunt who also turns into a wolf when the moon is full, and Alice leaves her job (she is not a librarian but a travel agent and takes uncredited courses in university) to go live with that aunt in far-away Scotland.  Mary Shelley had her Frankenstein retire to Scotland to build his monster.  Well the aunt decides she will be a wolf full-time and Alice imitates. But then when her lover-friend, Erik comes to seek her, she changes her mind and decides to marry him and they live happily ever after on the aunt's money in this retired place, with her becoming a wolf once a month.

This avoids the real issues and gives us a false ending. In Davies version by contrast has the woman Alice returns to is not an aunt, but a woman who does animal studies -- rather like Jane Goodall or Gildikas I'm getting to see, or Sy Montgomery whose Walking with Apes one of my intelligent students labelled eco-feminist. The animal studies woman is played ably by Gemma Jones. And his Alice chose to remain a wolf.  She is more comfortable that way. It's a very strange feel.

The novel does have the wolf's point of view -- whole stretches are an attempt to give the wolf's thoughts.

This is anti-lycanthropy and shows up some of the pernicious uses of the gothic.

I recommend Coleman's article, Davies' film and also Danvers; novel. It was his first, written late in life, but he has not done anything so unusual since (alas).



Hebe (Serena Scott Thomas) and an older unconventional man who defends her (John Mills)

Her son

Harnessing Peacocks out of Mary Wesley's novel.  Very weak for Davies.  Wesley is superficial. It's the story of a young girl who gets pregnant from one night tryst when she got drunk and didn't know who the father was.  Her rich relatives are narrow, nasty, insist on an abortion. She flees. 12 years later she is supporting herself as cook, companion to rich woman, and upper class kept woman (inside a syndicate we are told). This is all she can do. She has been trained for nothing. Shall she starve? and her boy?

I can see Davies trying for a film which is epitomizing and expressionistic rather than realistic, for there is so much detail that is improbable or not explained realistically at all.  Hebe Rutter (surely a half-joke name, Hebe a goddess who ruts) of a strong woman whose beauty (Serena Scott Thomas plays the role) makes her numinous to all, as well as her sexual freedom but it doesn't come off because there's no depth to the scenes. It may be the material is implicitly so painful (family life for the most part seems filled with vexation, irritation, betrayal) but to end on this blissful couple reunited with their child with the excuse for the man he was drunk when he impregnated her won't do no matter how kindly is Peter Davison as a star.

He turns out to be the innocent father

A brief look at Mary Wesley's work since watching Davies's adaptation of Harnessing Peacocks. On one level, she's a example of how never give p hope. She lived an unconventional life, refused to pretend to emotions she didn't have and when her second husband died, found herself near destitution on what she got from his social security. By her past history (access to privileged upper class people and super-rich first husband) she had been able to get two children's novels in print in the 1960s, and at age 70 she wrote a genuinely iconoclastic novel, Jumping the Queue. She did not want it publicized widely and the sales were slow, but somehow it caught on. Among her iconoclasms was the open insistence that war is fun for some, gives opportunities and advantages you get no other way; this was part of the basis of Camomile Lawn, which was a successful film adaptastion (mini-series) with a star cast. Eventually she had an advance of 100,000 pounds on a novel and now lives well -- reclusively.

On another, the realities she chooses to expose are very hard to put in realistic fiction, since realism depends on everyday probabilities that we think we see. Davies's film adaptation of her _Harnessing Peacocks_ is just unbelievable. I think the problem is that she is unwilling to put before us the hard cynical psychology that goes into this kind of behavior when it's successful and neither is Davies.

Anyway here's an interestingly written life -- if you can find it.

Title: Mary Wesley: the septuagenarian British novelist has led an uncompromising life
Known As: Farmar, Mary Aline Mynors; Wesley, Mary Aline; Wesley, Mary Siepmann; Wesley, Mary
British Novelist ( 1912 - 2002 )
Author(s): Clare Boylan
Source: Publishers Weekly. 237.27 (July 6, 1990): p51.


I wish I had time to read the source books of all Davies's movies, and then compare each movie to its book. I can't do that and write a chapter on Andrew Davies's Austen movies this summer. He just has made too many films.  But I can read these books over the next year as time permits. So I'm now reading Sarah Waters's Tipping the Velvet, which I like very much. Last month I read Alan Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty, which I think a particularly fine and artful book, more excellent than Waters's because hers is a softened fantasy wish-fulfillment historical romance while Hollinghurst tells us hard truths about people, our time, the political world.  Crude and poorer I read at least some of Joanna Briscoe's Sleep with Me, and I never finished Mary Wesley's Camomile Lawn which may be in feel and shallowness like Harnessing Peacocks, and lack of knowledge of anything but a segment of a rich upper class British world, a kind of Elizabeth Jane Howard books manque real understanding of the way most people live,depth, or insight into the workings of people's minds. For Davies's Tipping the Velvet, deeply humane with overt lesbianism, I decided to make a separate blog and refer the reader to a number of articles on Waters's use of Victorianism to bring up important questions about women's sexuality today. Soon I'll try Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

Tags: adaptations, andrew davies, costume drama, female archetypes, film adaptation, gothic, romance, women's art, women's novels

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