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BBC Four Cinema - Andrew Davies Profile

16th December 2003

ANDREW DAVIES TALKS TO CLIVE ANDERSON

Profile
Ripping bodices, heaving bosoms, bopping in breeches and cavorting in carriages - it's all in a day's work for Andrew Davies, British television's acknowledged master of literary adaptation.

The screenplays of Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, Wives and Daughters and Tipping the Velvet have all come from his golden pen. In fact, last year, this classical colossus bestrode the networks and almost entered a ratings battle with himself, when the BBC's Daniel Deronda was, until the last minute, scheduled against ITV's Doctor Zhivago.

The visceral over the intellectual

Born in Cardiff to two schoolteachers, Davies has spent much of his own career in the classroom, and was still lecturing at Warwick University when the success of his campus satire, A Very Peculiar Practice, convinced him to take up writing full time in 1986.

Davies' ink has flowed ever since, and hardly a television adaptation has appeared without his name in the credits, and much of his popularity can be explained by the writer's obvious favouring of the visceral aspects over the intellectual.

Happy to help the hype, Davies promised his audience such "filth" in the Sapphic frolic, Tipping the Velvet, that some viewers actually felt let down. The writer feels it is his responsibility to find "the moments of best drama in the books" and bring them effectively to the screen.

Master of the art of adaptation

The most celebrated of these is still the moment that Colin Firth claimed victory in the all-Pemberley wet frilly-shirt competition and burst the bubble of sexual tension between his Darcy and Jennifer Ehle's Miss Bennett. One set of American women became so addicted to this scene, they ended up forming a self-help group.

Purists have criticised Davies for his unashamed stripping down and sexing up of these novels, accusing him of eschewing the more complex social and political milieus in favour of rompings and ratings. And, at £200,000 a throw, they feel he's making a lot of money for what amounts to recycled rope.

But Davies claims he is merely filling in the gaps that earlier authors were forced to leave out by the delicate conventions of their time. He may have mastered the art of adaptation, but Davies remains equally confident that "these authors would have made their sex scenes much clearer, had they known they were going to be read in 2003".


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