Anticipating the broadcast of the second episode of the BBC’s adaptation of Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall, media publicity has begun to build up. The Daily Telegraph has provided a preview of that episode in its TV choice column:
The best of the laughs come early on while Pennyfeather is still in Wales attending the marriage of the dissolute Captain Grimes (Douglas Hodge) to the daughter of headmaster Mr Fagin (David Suchet). There follows some slightly treadworn lampooning of the pretensions of the privileged classes as Pennyfeather negotiates 1920s high society, but happily it’s not long before he’s heading for choppy waters again, thanks to his lamb-like blindness to the source of Mrs Beste-Chetwynde’s fortune.
The Telegraph has noted a very real problem for the BBC adaptation. Once the action in the novel moves away from Wales, there are no more easy laughs for the scriptwriters. Parts Two and Three of the novel are not only much darker, they contain much less dialogue that can easily be translated into a dramatic setting. To extract humor from the darkness and interior monologue that characterize these pages presents a real challenge, but the BBC team may be up to it if they continue the momentum developed in Episode One.
Several sources (including the BBC program guide) have reported that, following next Friday’s broadcast of Episode 2, two of the cast members (Jack Whitehall and Gemma Whelan) will appear on The Graham Norton Show, also on BBC One, at 1030 pm.
Constance Watson writing on the internet news site HeatStreet expresses hope that the success of the BBC adaptation will bring more fans to Waugh from among younger generations. That phenomenon was certainly at play in the increase in Waugh’s popularity following the success of the 1981 Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited:
These days, Waugh often falls foul to bores (or politically correct prudes), quick to claim that he is a racist, a snob and suchlike. … Such remarks are not altogether unfounded. The snobbery, apparent in so much of Waugh’s work, alludes to times past and worlds forgotten … The script (written by James Wood) is very true to the book in terms of dialogue. In its original form, Decline and Fall is quintessential Waugh. … shrewd, precise and, above all, incredibly funny. The BBC adaptation is not any of these things. Instead it is light, sweet on the eye – it is beautifully shot, despite the exaggerated doom and gloom of Llanabba school in the hidden depths of Wales – and a nice and easy choice of television programme for a Friday evening.