Decline and Fall Profiled in Independent

The Independent newspaper (still publishing online) has profiled the BBC’s upcoming production of Waugh’s Decline and Fall. The article is written by Gerard Gilbert and contains much of the same material from cast and crew interviews as that appearing in the other papers. Gilbert does, however, express more skepticism than some of the others. This is based primarily on his disappointment with the BBC’s adaptation of the P G Wodehouse Blandings stories which “only served to confirm for me that much can be lost between page and screen, especially humour so reliant on comic tone and use of language as Wodehouse and Waugh.” 

Gilbert also shares scriptwriter James Wood’s fears based on previous Waugh adaptations:

… as Wood points out, none of Waugh’s books have proved particularly attractive to television executives. “In my lifetime there has been a very famous Brideshead in the 1980s that people still talk about now, and the Sword of Honour trilogy was done with Daniel Craig and adapted by William Boyd. And that’s it. It’s not like the drama department where you get another Bleak House every 15 years – the kind of literary churn, Waugh is not part of that at all.” Perhaps part of the reason might be some of the attitudes and language in Decline and Fall would these days be problematic. 

Gilbert recognizes that this production will be a challenge but thinks the carefully chosen cast as well as the experienced Wood (who has the comic series Rev to his credit) may be up to the task.

An unidentified blogger posting on the site Light on Dark Water (26 March 2017, “Sunday Night Journal”) decribes his experience with the Waugh adaptation that perhaps caused the greatest disappointment, at least to Waugh himself. He downloaded The Loved One and watched it with some hesitation: 

Months went by and it remained unwatched. I was seriously considering deleting it but decided to give it a chance. So my wife and I watched it. When it was over, we said “Well, that was strange.” It was funny, but…I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of it, and whether I wanted to recommend it to anyone else. I thought I might watch it again, so instead of deleting it I left it there. Another six months or so went by, and a couple of weeks ago I watched it again. This time I said again, “Well, that was strange.” But it’s also very funny, in a monstrous kind of way. And yes, it is good, quite good on the whole, and so I do recommend it to anyone who likes Waugh.

The blogger goes on to explain that after the first viewing he had reread the book fairly carefully. This made it possible to understand that the adaptation often followed the book, even down to copying the some of the dialogue directly, but then went well beyond it with the plotline in which the Whispering Glades cemetery is to be redeveloped into a shopping mall or something similar after the “loved ones” are disinterred and launched into space. It sounds funnier than it is, but the blogger concludes:

And it all ties together: Glenworthy’s machinations [to redevelop the cemetery] are not an extraneous subplot but are directly connected to the triangle…My only serious reservation is with the treatment of Joyboy’s home life, and his mother. She’s barely present in the book, and seems at worst to do a lot of complaining. The filmmakers chose to make her something of a monster, an enormously fat woman with repulsive habits, and to give the relationship between her and her son a pathological twist. Those scenes are off-putting to say the least, and almost enough to make me dis-recommend the film. So be warned about that, but if you like Waugh and have a taste for black humor in general, have a go at The Loved One.

There are also more postings on the Decline and Fall adaptation. The BT.com site has some background material on Waugh and the novel (“Five things you didn’t know about Evelyn Waugh”). The first episode is favorably previewed on The National Student:

The script is updated and brilliant, featuring some great contemporary references…has the ability to embed you in the world of Waugh. Costumes and locations work seamlessly together, making the programme feel strangely like a period drama. Period comedies are a rarer breed at the moment, so this is welcome… a long overdue adaptation, but the first episode is slightly let down by a slight stagnancy that plagues it. … around 40 minutes in I found myself checking my watch and growing slightly restless. It picked up the pace not long after, but the action of the last few minutes felt rushed after a much slower 20 minutes.

And one of the actors Gemma Whelan, who plays one of the Fagan sisters (Dingy), can be followed on Twitter as she anticipates the series premiere on BBC1 this Friday. 

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One Response to Decline and Fall Profiled in Independent

  1. Peter Dewey says:

    In relatively recent years there has been a rather good TV adaptation of Scoop, also by William Boyd, as well as the film versions of A Handful Of Dust, Vile Bodies & Brideshead. I suppose Black Mischief would be deemed too politically incorrect to adapt successfully, but POMF could work!

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