Once a scriptwriter ‘adapts’ a well-loved, much-studied ‘classic’ for the screen and casting directors and a production team get going on it, then they must expect some pretty close scrutiny from those of their audience who have actually read the book, rather than simply seen the previous TV version (and nine times out of ten there will have been a previous TV version – often within the last decade, which raises cries of ‘why another so soon?’, as well it might).
The latest offering from the BBC, Larkrise to Candleford, has been baffling us all (see, eg, Elaine’s Random Jottings and Maureen’s Random Distractions here and, more generally, here).
Apart from the obvious overlap of actors (and thanks to Elaine for providing a comprehensive list), which turns Cranford/Sense and Sensibility/Lark Rise into a kind of vast, bonnetted, Ven Diagram – can there really be such a small pool of costume-thesps for these casting people to choose from? – the main source of anxiety is the transformation of what is essentially a collection of autobiographical vignettes and vivid accounts of fast-disappearing country ways into a long-running period soap (there's talk of a 'second series' already), with a newly fashioned narrative thread, specially created ‘comedy’ characters and (as Diane so pertinently commented) a complete lack of authentic muck and filth.
It is very wholesome and pretty and easy to watch and will no doubt be essential, cosy, family viewing, here as much as anywhere else, but Lark Rise to Candleford it most certainly ain’t.
Here’s my well-thumbed copy from the 1970s, just to prove that I know what I’m talking about here!
Re mud (and I speak as something of an expert on the subject ) - this is one of the many reasons (but an important one) that the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds version of Persuasion remains one of my all-time favourites. It's gloriously mud-spattered. The characters go for a long walk and the backs of the dresses and the men's coats are filthy. Which rings entirely true. When you consider the effort involved in laundering in those days, it’s very likely that the general condition of the average sprigged muslin dress, let alone cloaks and coats, was pretty grubby most of the time.
And while on the subject of Jane Austen: I’d always considered myself something of a Janeite.
35 years [eek - so many!] years of reading her novels; enthusiastic study of them at school and university; subsequent immersion in biographies and letters; plus annual re-reading (or dipping-into, at the very least) of one or another of her works – oh, and an awful lot of viewing hours of television adaptations, of course . . . Surely I could claim to be a bit of a bona fide fan?
Well, so I thought until I dipped my toe into Internet Janeism and – woah! – my interest is mild to the point of borderline non-existent when compared with the passion for the subject displayed on a zillion or so blogs and websites devoted to the Blessed Jane. A huge number are based in the US. Some are indescribably awful (to my English eyes, anyway – sorry!), but here’s a rather lovely one, Jane Austen Today , which gives a flavour of the best (and links to many, many more).
(Warning: Don’t even think of going there if you haven’t quite a lot of time on your hands, though – it’s dangerously easy to disappear into CyberJane-land and not re-emerge for hours and hours. If you dare to visit and you come back in one piece – do please recount your adventures in a comment here!)