About the Film
Having established himself as the leading adapter of classic literature, (Middlemarch, Moll Flanders, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Vanity Fair, Wives and Daughters), screenwriter Andrew Davies most recently turned his attention to a 20th-century master with Kingsley Amis's Take a Girl Like You, a comic take on the 1950s mating game.
Screenwriting credits aside, Davies was a natural choice to adapt Take a Girl Like You. "I was about the same age as Jenny Bunn in 1959. I'd just left university, I'd got my first job as a teacher just like her, and I went to all those jazz clubs. I also had a lot of firsthand experience of the mating rituals of the period, although obviously from the other side of the gender fence."
Davies also had firsthand experience of Kingsley Amis, having known him socially and professionally. "I first met him at a party in the early '70s.... I'd had a few drinks and was feeling rather overconfident, so I went over and said hello and told him that I liked all of his novels except for the latest one, which I think was Girl, 20, not one of his best. He'd had a few drinks as well, so he rounded on me and said, 'What on earth makes you think that I should want to be told the opinions of some shag like you? You probably haven't even read my novels!' I said, 'l have, I have!' So he announced that he was going to give me a short examination. He asked me a lot of questions about his work, and I got all the answers right, and he just changed completely. He put his arm around me and dragged me around the party introducing me to everyone. 'See this young shag here? He's read all my novels, and he knows what's in them!'"
With such a history, Davies was the first choice when producer Gareth Neame was looking for a screenwriter to adapt Take a Girl Like You, originally published in 1960. "BBC One wanted to produce more 20th-century material; we wanted to pick something well known and highly regarded. Kingsley Amis works well on TV; his stories have a strong narrative drive, great dialogue, they're funny, and they have something to say. Lucky Jim would have been the obvious one to do, but we chose Take a Girl Like You because it's got so much to say about relationships between the sexes at a period not that distant from our own. 1959 is recognizably modern, but the manners and morals were still quite different. You're just on the cusp of the '60s, when everything changed. The late '50s were a time of real conflict and turmoil."
Finding himself without a copy of the novel, Davies ventured into Dillons [Bookstore] to buy one. "I took the book up to the counter, and the young boy who served me said, 'Do you mind me asking if you've ever read this before?' I told him I'd read it when it first came out, and that I might be adapting it for television. He was amazed. 'Really? But it's so shocking! I mean, he more or less rapes her! You surely can't have that ending now.' I just said, 'Well, that's what we were like back then, mate.' But it made me realize that this is a really shocking book, particularly for modem sensibilities. I'll be very interested to see how it's received....
"The whole impetus of the story is the suspense -- basically, will Patrick get to shag Jenny or not? Will he seduce and abandon her, or will she get the wedding ring that she's after? They both want each other, but they want different things from a sexual relationship. Ultimately, though, there's no getting away from the fact that the seduction is a near-rape. We're not asked to approve of it; Amis himself makes disapproving noises in the book."
"I don't think we could have told this story 10 years ago," says Neame. "Even now, when political correctness doesn't have such a stranglehold, we're all aware that this is a very contentious issue. It's meant to be provocative -- Amis intended as much. Before the book came out, his publishers wrote to him objecting to Patrick's behavior: He effectively rapes Jenny, and he beds his headmaster's pregnant daughter. They couldn't understand how Amis could have his hero doing such despicable things. But Amis stuck to his guns; he wanted to tell the truth."
While Davies got to work on the scripts, Neame and director Nick Hurran concentrated on the casting. "I had Rupert Graves in mind for the role of Patrick from the word go," says Neame. "He has all the charm, the good looks, the twinkle in the eye, but he's also got a dark side. He has to be believable as the kind of man who could do these things and get away with them."
For the role of Jenny, Neame wanted a new face. "Jenny walks into town and everyone goes, 'Wow! Who's that?' And we wanted to create the same sensation on screen. We needed someone that hasn't been seen much before. We looked through hundreds of photos, and Sienna Guillory's was the one that stood out. She looks very sexy, but also fresh and innocent."
Location shooting was completed in six weeks, with a further two weeks in Shepperton [Studios, London] for interiors. "We've gone to town on the period detail, and I think we've got it right, although someone will doubtless spot something that wasn't absolutely spot-on for 1959. The big location stuff is incredibly atmospheric: a jazz club that we've shot in the crypt of a London church; a strip club; a school chapel that we shot at Charterhouse; and a cricket match on a village green."
A carefully chosen selection of modern jazz adds extra period authenticity. "In the late '50s, you were either into traditional jazz, which sounded like New Orleans in the '20s, or modem jazz, which was much more avant-garde," says Davies. "I still have a lot of records that I bought at the time.... They've aged amazingly well. They still evoke that sense of cool that we had in the '50s, something that just doesn't exist today. There's also a sense of ferment, of a society breaking down and on the cusp of enormous change, which is so suitable for this story."
"I really hope that this is part of a general resurgence of Kingsley Amis's work," says Davies, "because he's one of the few indisputably great writers of the last century. I've been rereading a lot of his books, and I have to say that he's so much better than most stuff around. Every line of Amis is clever, funny, sly, tongue-in-cheek. Take a Girl Like You really stands up to the old classical series treatment when you do it with care and spend a decent amount of money getting the details right. It's got good complex characters, a strong story, and something to say for itself. And from an adapter's point of view, it's an easy job because the dialogue's so great. It's like Jane Austen -- you just prop the book up in front of you and copy it out!"
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