onsdag 15 september 2010

Where have all the costume dramas gone? The blinkered head of BBC drama took them every one

I still haven't got over it. It was almost a year ago that I found out, in an article about Andrew Davies, that the BBC had axed his upcoming adaptation of "Dombey and Son". I had so much been looking forward to this adaptation: no-one does them better than Andrew Davies, wo had already adapted "Bleak House" and "Little Dorrit" so splendidly. Finally, I would be able to show my family and friends what my ongoing Carker-obsession was about. I couldn't expect them to read the novel, which, truth to tell, is uneven. I couldn't expect them to watch the existing "Dombey and Son" TV adaptation from 1983. It's wonderfully cast: Julian Glover was surely born to play Dombey, and as for Paul Darrow as Carker - yum. Nevertheless, the adaptation creaks horribly, somehow managing to retain boring stuff like Mrs Chick's soliloquies (very well acted, but what of it? They're still boring!) while disposing of the whole subplot involving Carker's siblings, his discarded mistress and the latter's creepy mother completely. I'm glad I have it, but it really is for hard-line Dickens fans only. Whereas only imagine what Davies could have done with such material! One of the many wonderful things about his "Bleak House" and "Little Dorrit" adaptations is that they are both pacy and contain so much of the original plot lines. He would have made something eminently watchable of a plot involving dysfunctional families and dark erotic drama. Maybe he could even have found a way to deal with The Awful Plot Twist.

We may not be entirely bereft, of course. There are rumours that Davies has been told to do an adaptation of "David Copperfield" instead. But we already have a perfectly good BBC adaptation of "David Copperfield" which has not aged perceptibly. In fact, there are quite a number of "David Copperfield" adaptations out there, so there is no pressing need to make a new one. I'll still watch it when it comes of course - IF it comes - but I would have liked a "Dombey and Son" adaptation better.

So why am I whining about this now, one year afterwards? Simply because I've read a summary of the dramas that will be aired on English TV this autumn, and it looks less than promising. Yes, there are some costume dramas, but they are predominantly set in the 20th century and based on novels by authors such as D.H. Lawrence. Of the great Victorian novels with their thrilling, epic plots there is no sign. All this, of course, is entirely in line with the BBC drama head's ambition to "broaden" BBC's outlook, if by broaden you mean abandoning the 19th century entirely, since regrettably the BBC has now run out of Austen books to adapt to death. The BBC seems to have some sort of trendy aversion to "bonnet drama", but it's not the bonnets that make Victorian novels exciting: it's the characters and the plot. I doubt they will be able to find something equally meaty period drama-wise elsewhere. Meanwhile, ITV is putting on a lavish series set in the Edwardian era and scripted by the reliable Julian Fellowes. That should be fun. Not quite Dickens, but at least it's not D.H. Lawrence.

More on cossie dramas another time: I have to get ready for a yoga class. My first and, I suspect, my last.