This week’s Daily Mail carries a feature article (“Love and Waugh”) by Andrew Preston on the BBC adaptation of Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall. This appears in the Mail’s “Weekend Magazine” and involves interviews with several members of the production’s cast and crew. After a summary of the novel’s plot, the lead actor Jack Whitehall who plays Paul Pennyfeather provides some personal background to explain his particular interest in the novel:
‘We see the 1920s on screen a lot but not with the wit this piece has,’ says Jack. ‘It’s like an anarchic Downton Abbey. The comedy is so sharp it feels modern, and its targets are still relevant. I think it really works for an audience now.’ …Whitehall remembers enjoying the book as a teenager at his public school, Marlborough College, having been given it by his father Michael (the former theatrical agent for Judi Dench and Daniel Day-Lewis, and Jack’s deadpan partner on the BBC chat show Backchat). ‘It’s my dad’s favourite book because it’s so close to his own life – he left school and didn’t know what to do, so became a teacher at a minor public school in the middle of nowhere. He was made head of games with no games experience, and head of geography even though he hadn’t done a degree and knew nothing about geography.’
After a discussion of the involvement of American film star Eva Longoria who plays Margot Beste-Chetwynde, the interview shifts to James Wood who wrote the adaptation:
‘Evelyn Waugh clearly adores Margot – he’s on the side of anyone who’s entertaining even if they behave appallingly,’ says James Wood, who created the hit BBC comedy Rev with Tom Hollander, and who has adapted the book for the BBC. ‘It’s the most brilliant comic novel and all the things he’s mocking are still in our lives, from ridiculous architects to the whole high-society bunch of twits who turn up for Margot’s party. One’s a government minister who’s a sort of Boris Johnson figure who keeps putting his foot in it and has nothing but contempt for the general public. Then there’s the ineffectual prison governor, wonderfully played by Jason Watkins. When we got the rights to adapt the book, all that Waugh’s grandson Alexander said to me was to make sure it’s really funny.’
As noted in a previous post, the three-episode series will air on BBC1 starting 31 March. Here’s a BBC trailer from the internet.
In another celebrity tie-in, BBC News online mentions that George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and soon to be editor of The Evening Standard will be working for Evgeny Lebedev, Russian owner of the Standard. According to the BBC’s Amol Rajan, who wrote the article, Lebedev:
is fond of Evelyn Waugh and 20th Century literature generally (full disclosure: I was for several years Lebedev’s adviser, and then his editor at the Independent). I imagine Lebedev will like the idea of reviving quaint, romantic 20th Century ideas about the relationship between politics and newspapers.
Lebedev is no doubt aware that Osborne was a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford which inspired Waugh’s Bollinger Club in Decline and Fall.