One of the highlights of the JASNA Annual General Meeting in Fort Worth was listening to Andrew Davies talk about his screenplays, the most famous of which is the 1995 A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. This production was also Davies’s favorite, and he talked about how he did not want to open the drama with the usual “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” Instead, he showed Bingley and Darcy riding full out with Elizabeth admiring them from a hilltop perch. He also talked about Colin Firth’s tortured portrayal of Darcy composing his letter to Elizabeth in which he explained his motives for making his obnoxious proposal. At the start of the scene, Darcy is wearing about three layers of clothes. By the end, he’s nearly down to his underwear.
With the theme of the AGM being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, Davies talked about the 2008 S&S production with Hattie Morahan and Dan Stevens. Like most readers of S&S, Davies understood that Austen’s first published novels has lots of problems, including how to get readers/viewers to like our hero, Edward Ferrars. There’s not much to admire in his behavior, and although his presence is “felt” throughout the story, we actually see very little of him. The screenwriter’s task was to make Edward “likeable” as Emma Thompson had done in her S&S screenplay with the sword-fighting scene between Edward and Margaret. Davies also used Margaret as a way to achieve his end in the scene where Edward (Dan Stevens) takes Margaret for a ride on his horse.
After softening Edward up, the producers thought that Ferrars wasn’t “butch” enough for a modern audience, and so Davies wrote the log-chopping scene (something he had always wanted to do) with Edward wielding an axe in the rain while Elinor Dashwood admires his obvious masculine skills and very wet shirt.
Davies was an absolutely delightful speaker, but his funniest comments were reserved for Emma. More on that in the next post.