The TV Critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, David Weigand, has written a quite favorable review of the BBC’s adaptation of Decline and Fall which will debut tomorrow in the US:
Biting wit and a farcically frothy plot make “Decline and Fall” a delight. The three-part miniseries, available Monday, May 15, on Acorn.tv, is so much fun, you’ll be disappointed when the third episode is over. James Wood has done a beautiful job adapting the novel of the same name by the singular Evelyn Waugh. In fact, it was Waugh’s first published novel, and those who know his work will find familiar themes in the Acorn adaptation.
The series will be available on the Acorn TV subscription service to stream over the internet. A subscription is required but there is also a free one-week trial period available. The Chronicle’s review concludes:
The performances are exquisite… The story is post-Dickensian, with a heavy reliance on coincidence and characters who are over the top in one way or another. The whole confection turns on how blindly trusting Paul Pennyfeather is. He only sees the good in others, even when the bad is looking him straight in the face and taking undue advantage of him. All the better for our endless amusement.
The Wall Street Journal carries a feature-length story about the reception of the BBC TV series in the UK: “Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Decline and Fall’ Resonates After Brexit: The social divide in the first TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s dark satire struck a chord in post-Brexit Britain”. The story is by Tobias Grey and opens with this:
Post-Brexit Britain is on the Waugh path. The first television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical debut novel “Decline and Fall” has been hailed by British critics for how its depiction of a deeply divided country resonates today.
Grey explains that the series drew large audiences in Britain (4 1/2 million viewers watched the first episode) even though it was distinguished by its high drama and humor from other lighter weight costume dramas (e.g., Downton Abbey) covering the same early 20c period. The Brexit link is tied down by the depiction of the Bollinger Club in episode one, where the defenestration of a pig’s head is added to Waugh’s story by the production team. This is a clear reminder that David Cameron and Boris Johnson were members of that group’s inspiration, the Bullingdon, given that such a prank became a major scandal for the Cameron government a few years ago. Cameron and Johnson went on to engineer the cynical Brexit vote, never dreaming that it would carry. But like the toffs in Waugh’s story, they were prepared to ruin things for the next generation by their own self-indulgent actions in their own.
Another addition to Waugh’s story along the same lines occurs in episode two where a gossip columnist infiltrates Margot’s party disguised as a shiekh and proceeds to troll for copy. This echoes the real life exploits of Mazer Mahmood who similarly used a disguise to gain access to events for over 20 years, dredging up stories from unsuspecting guests for the tabloids. He was finally stopped when he was sentenced last year to 15 months for conspiring to pervert the course of justice. The scriptwriter James Wood admits to the addition of such contemporary in-jokes but explains that few were needed since Waugh’s “book feels like it was written for today.”
UPDATE (15 May 2017): The original story mentioned that the WSJ article was behind a paywall but a reader has kindly forwarded a copy of the full story in which Grey forcefully makes points overlooked by other journalists such as those noted above.