CLIP 1: WOMEN OF AUSTEN
CLIP 2: MEN OF AUSTEN
CLIP 3: KNOWING JANE AUSTEN FROM HER NOVELS
CLIP 4: KEEPING SEXUAL TENSION ALIVE IN AUSTEN ADAPTATIONS
CLIP 5: PROCESS OF ADAPTING FOR FILM
CLIP 6: THE MOST CHALLENGING AND EASIEST ADAPTATIONS
CLIP 7: FAVORITE SCENE FROM AUSTEN ADAPTATIONS
CLIP 8: IMPRESSIONS OF NORTHANGER ABBEY
CLIP 9: IMPRESSIONS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
CLIP 10: IMPRESSIONS OF EMMA
CLIP 11: IMPRESSIONS OF SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
CLIP 12: SATIRE IN AUSTEN NOVELS
Q: How would you describe Austen's heroines as whole?
A: We meet them usually when they are very young and at this very important stage of life, which determines what the rest of their life is going to be. They are young; they tend to be eager, intelligent, and articulate. Importantly, they are all very honest, often to the point of recklessness, and I find it is very endearing. I find as an older man, I feel very protective towards them these days.
Q: You are recognized for being adept at writing women characters. How did you develop that talent?
A: I have always been very interested in women. I had a very complicated mother for one thing, and I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years trying to work out what she was about. I just always liked, felt interested, curious, and had girl friends — girls who were friends — as well as boys, so it probably comes from something like that. I always used to try to imagine what I would be like if I was a girl as well. A curious thing as an adolescent — why am I a boy and not a girl. But I never went so far as to have an actual sex change.
Q: Do you think that Austen wrote herself into any of heroines and if so which ones?
A: I've been reading her biography quite recently. And it turns out rather to my surprise actually that when she was young, she was very energetic, very flirtatious, loved dancing, and had a number of not exactly flings but little near relationships with guys. I don't think she was as emotionally reckless as Marianne, but I think she might have been a little bit like Elizabeth Bennet because she did have a sharp tongue as well.
Q: How would you describe her male characters as a whole?
A: Jane Austen's male characters, the best of them, are splendidly manly, and very, very different from women. They are reserved, strong, they tend not to talk very much, but when they do talk, it is decisive and sometimes absolutely thrilling when at last they pour their hearts out.
Q: You give the men in some of the adaptations more to do then they are given in the books. Why did you do it and can you give us a couple of examples of how you did it?
A: I do tend to write those scenes that Jane Austen somehow forgot to write. Actually she didn't forget to write them, but she made a rule for herself that she wouldn't follow the men when the women weren't there. She said, I've never been in a scene where two men had a conversation together without a woman present. I have no idea how they'd be. I'd never write a scene for one man on his own. But I think that robs us of seeing the male characters as a whole so the scenes that I add are generally scenes for the men doing manly things — going hunting, going shooting, going swimming, riding their horses — so you get a sense that they have a life apart from when they are being polite to the women in the drawing rooms.
Q: Which of Austen's leading men would you like to share a pint with at a pub and why?
A: Of Jane Austen's leading men, I think Mr. Darcy would be a bit too haughty for me, although I know that he is a great character underneath, but I don't think he would be much fun down at the pub. Oddly enough, I think possibly Henry Tilney, who is very merry, witty, and lighthearted, and I think that he would make me laugh and I think I could make him laugh as well.
Q: Having worked so intimately with her novels, what do you think you know about Jane Austen?
A: I think she is extremely perceptive. I would be a little bit wary of being Jane Austen's friend because I would feel that she would always be pleasant, but she might be making a very harsh moral judgment about me. She might be saying, Mr. Davies was very pleasant and he talked quite a lot but was in fact rather a lightweight character I think she might think. Not really worthy of any of my heroines.
Q: In your Austen adaptations, is there a trick to keeping the sexual tension crackling while keeping the bodices buttoned up?
A: I think we have lots of advantages with novels of this period and particularly Jane Austen because there is always delayed gratification. You know, to touch a man's hand would be an extraordinary thing. A look, a glance, can be so enormously significant. So this is the thing that kind of keeps us going to the end and a kiss is only possible after they have been engaged so that's great. It is much more difficult to keep the sexual tension crackling in a modern novel because there is nothing to stop them from sleeping together in the first reel and then where do you go?
Q: Your work is often described as remaining true to the original work while also enhancing it with new perspectives. How do you strike that balance between staying true to the material but also making it your own?
A: It's a kind of instinctive thing I think when I am adapting. I am always conscious that I am writing for an audience today and I also try to be true to the author but also my own reading of it because every reading of a book in a way is somehow different according to how old you are when you read it, the age you read it in, all those kind of things. I often take notice of what critics have said about it, not in order to copy them; usually in order to disagree with them you know, because they say, It is like this and I say, I don't think so, I think it is like this. I used to teach Jane Austen, and in a way doing what I do now is a bit like doing those lectures in which I say This is the way I see it. Don't you see it like this? I have got millions of dollars worth of visual aids and actors to prove my point.
Q: So much of Austen's writing revolves around her character's inner lives. Is that a challenge for you to bring to the screen?
A: It is one of the difficult things when you're making an adaptation of a novel because novels very often are about characters' interior lives. How do you do it? Occasionally, I will actually dramatize the fantasies, but you can only do that in a kind of comic way. An awful lot depends on the casting and the performances of the actors, and you have to hope for the best. Even with the best there are things that are left out, and that is why I hope people will go and read the books and see the bits that we weren't able to convey on the screen.
Q: Having done Pride and Prejudice and Emma several years ago and Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility more recently, was there anything you brought from your earlier experience that helped you with the later ones?
A: Yes, I think having done Pride and Prejudice helped enormously with the ones that I did later on. I think if I hadn't done them, I might well have made a bit of a botch of Sense and Sensibility, which was a difficult one to do. You do learn what works and what doesn't, and it gave me the confidence to do things like invent scenes where I felt they were necessary to bring out the true meaning of the story. I think there are more invented scenes in Sense and Sensibility than in any other adaptation I've done. Of course, that might mean that it is the least successful adaptation. We'll just have to find out.
Q: Which of these four adaptations was the most challenging?
A: I think perhaps that Emma was the most challenging because it is an enormously complex book and in two hours I had to write a story that is a love story, but also a mystery, a kind of detective story — the subplot between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax and Emma's terribly wrong guesses about Jane Fairfax. She leaves loads of little clues in the book and I had to feed in those clues and do all that at the same time as telling the main plot, which is the story of how Emma gradually comes to see that Mr. Knightley is the man for her. But it was great fun wrestling with those difficulties.
Q: Which of the four adaptations was the easiest?
A: I think perhaps the easiest for me was Northanger Abbey because it is one of my most recent ones so I've kind of got the hang of it now I feel, and Northanger Abbey is a relatively simple story to tell. The only difficult bit was really trying to convey Catherine's imagination and what all these gothic horror novels were like. So what I did was actually dramatize them and put them on the screen so we can see what is going on in her head.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene among these Austen adaptations?
A: My favorite scene — awfully hard to choose. I think I might have to say it is that scene in Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and Darcy are gazing at each other across the piano. It is the moment in which I think she realizes she is deeply in love with him and she just gives him this wonderful look and he thinks, Great, at last and we think, This is so wonderful. Yeah, I think that is my favorite.
Q: What are your overall impressions of Northanger Abbey?
A: Northanger Abbey is the story of a very innocent girl who knows very little of life going first of all to Bathe, and then to a haunted abbey, at least she thinks it must be haunted. She is a girl who hasn't had much experience of life, but she has read lots of gothic horror novels and so she has got a very fevered imagination. She is trying to choose between two admirers — one of whom is a lot more honest than the other and she has got to work out which is which. And also, she has got to realize that her fevered imagination is really leading her astray. But she is so centered in a kind of moral goodness and a good instinct for doing the right thing that she kind of makes mistakes but she muddles through and she makes the right choices, and we get a lovely, happy ending.
Q: What are your thoughts on adapting Pride and Prejudice?
A: Pride and Prejudice did have some problems in it and I was relatively inexperienced in writing adaptations when I did that. The main problem was that the first half of the book is wonderful. It is almost like a play. She writes all these wonderful dialogue scenes and you can in effect just kind of copy it out and edit it a bit. In the second half of the book, everybody goes off in different directions and writes each other long letters and you get hardly any action at all between the characters. I really had to pull all the stops out and kind of dramatize the letters, have flashbacks, all that kind of thing. Then, by the end of the book the dialogue scenes come back and it is all easy.
Q: Let's talk about the infamous wet, ruffled shirt scene in Pride and Prejudice. Did you have any idea at the time that Colin Firth would become such a star after emerging from that pond?
A: I always thought that Colin Firth would emerge as a star, but I didn't think that it would be that wet shirt scene that did it. I always thought of it as a scene about social embarrassment — two people having a polite conversation without referring to the fact that one of them was absolutely dripping wet. I was very surprised when it seemed like half the women in England had posters of Colin Firth in his wet shirt in the kitchen to cheer themselves up when doing their domestic chores.
Q: What are your overall impressions of Emma?
A: Emma is an interesting one because Jane Austen said of the heroine, "She is a heroine who no one but myself will much like." And you can see why she said it because Emma is so arrogant and snobbish. She treats other people like toys, or pieces on a chessboard. She moves them around saying, You've got to go with that one, and you've got to go with that one as if they've got no will or taste or imagination of their own. The only person she has got any respect for really is Mr. Knightly and she never thinks that she herself will fall in love with anybody. So she has got some hard lessons to learn in the book. There is also this very intriguing detective story in it about what is the mystery with Jane Fairfax. Emma gets almost everything wrong in the book and that's one of the things she gets most disastrously wrong. It is very interesting for the viewer to kind of work out and see if they can stay ahead of Emma in the story.
Q: You start Sense and Sensibility with a seduction scene. How did you decide on that scene as the starting point and how did it set the tone for the rest of the adaptation?
A: Starting Sense and Sensibility with a seduction is going to make people sit up and blink a bit. Is there a seduction in Sense and Sensibility, they are going to say. Well, yes, there is, but it is kind of buried deep in the subplot. Of course Jane Austen would never write it as a scene; somebody tells it in second hand, but it is a very important event and chronologically it happens roundabout the same time as the story of the family having to leave their home which is where Jane Austen starts it. So, I thought let's put it right at the front as a kind of teaser and also to give viewers a sense of the danger of this world because Marianne comes that close to getting seduced herself a little bit later on in the story. We think of Jane Austen as very genteel but often in the subplots there is underage sex, there are elopements, there are seductions, there are betrayals, there are teenage pregnancies. Really, all those things happen in Sense and Sensibility but people tend to forget about them somehow.
Q: What are your thoughts on adapting Sense and Sensibility?
A: With Sense and Sensibility, I think there are some big problems with the male characters in the book, the ones who get the girls in the end. I think these problems are there in the book. I think it is her least successful book in a way. It is an awful thing to say, but I think she should have done another draft. What she should have done is make Edward more interesting. The other thing she didn't do was convince me, at any rate, that Marianne, the very romantic one, could make the change from being passionately in love with Willoughby to being happily in love with Colonel Brandon. She never quite did that work in which we see Colonel Brandon winning her heart towards the end of the book so there was work to be done on the men.
In effect, what I felt I had to do was butch the men up a little bit. I wrote for Edward quite a number of scenes where he is riding horses and being manly, and being physical, and I actually wrote him a log splitting scene in which he takes his jacket off — it is like a scene out of a Western or something — with a great big axe to relieve his feelings because he can never say what he feels because he is trapped in this engagement. So there he is splitting logs, and Elinor comes and finds him and says, Well, why are you doing that? The servant will do that. He says, I like this work. It helps me to relieve my feelings. So that helped a lot I think. With Colonel Brandon, I wrote a falconry scene in which he's got this great hawk coming down and clamping on his wrist and he strokes its feathers gently so that shows power and gentleness at the same time just as Marianne is coming across the field to see him, and we are supposed to imagine that yes, he will stroke her feathers tenderly like that as well. So I hope these things work, and anyway, they are things to look out for when the thing airs.
Q: Do you have a favorite character that she satirized?
A: There is a whole bunch of them in Sense and Sensibility — rapacious, greedy, relatives; grumpy Mr. Palmer and his wife who finds him so delightful. Jane Austen takes delight in showing all these. It is very interesting that nearly all the existing marriages we see in Jane Austen are brutally satirized and she rarely shows a wholly happy one. But we just have to hope that the marriage of the hero and the heroine, which of course happens right at the end of the book, is going to be just as happy.
ANDREW ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS!
Masterpiece gave you exclusive access to ask Davies anything. We picked ten of our favorite questions and posed them to Davies. Read Andrew's answers...
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