Page 10, 6th June 2003

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Page 10, 6th June 2003 — A very peculiar adaptation of
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A very peculiar adaptation of

Brideshead

Media Matter

Nick Thomas

Regular readers of this column will know that I have scant regard for the writing of Andrew Davies, apart from that wry comedic masterpiece of some 15 years ago, A Very Peculiar Practice. His adaptation of Vanity Fair was screened way back in 1998, hut it still infuriates me to think about it. And I could barely even watch his "updating" of Othello, in which the Moor was the first black Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and had been promoted over Iago's head instead of failing to promote him; a crass vandalisation of the Bard with not even an attempt to complement the majesty of the original language with a decently literary modern script.

Su trenchant have I been, in fact, that you might have got the impression that I have something personal against the man; but let me assure you this is not the case. True, the very mention of his name is enough to make struggling young screenwriters spit blood, especially if some producer has preferred his pitch to theirs, even though he costs exactly seven-and-a-half times as much, but I am not one of them, and have no axe to grind. Never met the chap, and for all I know he could be a real sweetheart with whom I could fundamentally disagree about the discipline and ethics of screen adaptation in an atmosphere of the utmost cordiality. So, lest I give the false impression of vendetta, I had resolved not to write about him again.

Then I opened Saturday's Times, and learnt that Davies has been commissioned by Warner Brothers to write a movie script of Brideshead Revisited, and that the film will make no reference to Charles Ryder's conversion to Catholicism. He was quoted thus: "With Brideshead Revisited,I have completely changed the ending, which is pretty outrageous. I think what I like is the idea that I'm going to annoy people."

He must be a very happy man. If annoying people is what he likes, then my reaction alone should be enough to make him skip down the street in full song, distributing largesse to passers-by. When the film comes out he will probably be zapped into a permanent coma by sheer pleasure overload.

What on earth is he thinking of? What does he think is the job of a screenwriter? As any decent journalist would have done, Jack Malvern, who wrote the Times piece, approached the great and good John Mortimer, author of the 1981 television version of Brideshead, for a quote, and he obliged splendidly: "You have got to enter the feeling of the author, not the feeling of yourself. The story is about someone who has ideas that are more important than personal happiness."

uite so. Sir John might have added that if you remove the Catholicism from Brideshead you are left with a story that doesn't really addp to much; that Waugh was a pretty loathsome man whose one redeeming feature was his attempt to atone for being a bad Catholic, which he felt keenly; and that while Brideshead is his overtly devotional novel, the themes of innocence, temptation, decadence, redemption and loss form the backbone of everything he wrote. Without these, the Davies film will have to lead on sexual ambivalence, frustration and failure, and some jolly pretty locations. It will not, in the proper sense, have a story at all.

I am not, of course, supposed to write about film, so forgive me for exceeding my brief; but at least I can return to this column's remit on a happy note. For if Andrew Davies is filling his time with Hollywood commissions, it might mean that some of our better young television writers start getting some work at last.




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