Decline & Fall: DVD Extra Features

The Acorn TV DVD of the BBC’s Decline and Fall adaptation has 15 minutes of extra features. This is for sale in North America. These include interviews with several of the cast and crew falling into 3 tightly edited 5-minute segments: Satire, On Set and Adaptation. Among those interviewed are the director Guillem Morales and the screenwriter James Wood as well as the principal cast members. There are also a “photo gallery” and subtitles. Here are some highlights which may be of interest:

In the first segment, Eva Longoria who plays Margot stresses that, although the story is a comedy, because it is satire, the roles must be played seriously, not as slapstick. David Suchet who plays Dr Fagan notes that he was most looking forward to the Welsh Silver Band scene which has the funniest line in the book. Unfortunately, although he doesn’t mention this, that scene does not come across on the screen because much of the comedy depends on Waugh’s satirical written description of the band and the Welsh. Suchet gets a laugh out of the line, however.

In segment 2, Morales explains that because the comedy depends on the characters and their dialogue, other aspects of the film needed to be realistic. This included the settings which were in many cases locations. But in the case of the King’s Thursday country house interiors, where most of Episode 2 is filmed, the sets were constructed in the studio. James Wood sees the three episodes as taking place in three distinct worlds, having in mind the school, the country house and the prison.

Finally, with respect to the adaptation, Jack Whitehall thinks the script adheres very closely to Waugh’s book. James Wood noted that this was only the third Waugh novel to be adapted for TV; the others he mentions are the 1981 Granada TV Brideshead Revisited and the Channel 4’s Sword of Honour adapted by William Boyd. (He seems to be unaware of the BBC’s 1960s B&W multi-episode TV adaptation of Sword of Honour and the London Weekend’s 1987 two-hour adaptation of Scoop for ITV and PBS, also written by William Boyd). Both Wood and Morales made the point that because so many readers know and love the book, they had to be careful to meet their expectations. There was little need to update the story since the targets of Waugh’s satire such as college rowdies, incompetent prison wardens and ineffective schoolmasters are still around today.

Unfortunately, there is no running commentary of the cast and crew to accompany the  film such as was made for the anniversary edition of Granada’s Brideshead Revisited. Those were popular in the early days of DVDs but have perhaps fallen out of fashion. Acorn Media is also selling the DVD in the UK and this seems to include the same extra features.

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