Decline and Fall in the National Review

Kyle Smith, drama critic of the National Review, has written a favorable review of the recent TV adaptation of Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall. This is now running on what Smith describes as “the superb streaming service Acorn TV, which … is an indispensable addition to the TV menu for fans of both current and classic British series.”

Smith opens the article with a consideration of past efforts to adapt Waugh’s work for the screen and finds that the comedies have fared less well that the “more dramatic works”  such as Brideshead Revisited. Decline and Fall presents an exception to this previous experience:

The TV adaptation gets Waugh’s humor exactly right: pugnacious and genteel, shocking yet understated, viciously deadpan, awash with fondness and cruelty. Somehow Waugh is both vicious and wistful about his days at Oxford, and later teaching at a “public school,” as the Brits call their private ones… [The script by James Wood] shows a real sense for perhaps the most English of humor techniques — the colossal understatement. Adhering to that dry tone throughout instead of seeking to punch up Waugh by making the jokes more visual is exactly the right choice. …  It’s a brilliant exercise in satirical leveling in which everyone in England seems to be drinking from the same well of absurdity. The TV adaptation is so faithful to Waugh’s glorious silliness that it ought to function as a gateway drug to his other work.

The review also discusses several details of the production, the acting and the script and is well worth reading before one watches the TV series as well as afterwards.


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