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Thursday, 9 May 2013



Sue Birtwistle & Susie Conklin, 1995

This BBC/Penguin book accompanied the TV series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. It is lavishly illustrated with photographs, drawings, design notes and sample music scores. The authors are the producer and script editor. 

Adapting a treasured book is always going to be difficult. Andrew Davies was well aware that he wanted the story to be more visual – a lot in the book happens off-stage, is reported. So he purposefully created scenes that did not contain Elizabeth. He observes that ‘the central motor which drives the story forward is Darcy’s sexual attraction to Elizabeth. He doesn’t particularly like her, he’s appalled by the rest of her family, her general circumstances, the vulgarity of her mother and some of her sisters and he fights desperately against this attraction…’ All this is perceived between the lines in the book. Here, in the dramatization, it’s made flesh (in the nicest possible way). In the book, several quite lengthy letters are pertinent – again, Davies re-imagines these visually, to good effect.

There’s a section on casting, which posed a problem as the production was planned to take five months, so actors had to be available for a lengthy time. Another section relates the difficulties of location hunting – ideally finding villages and homes within easy reach of each other – with a map. For example, Angela Horn, owner of Luckington Court, which served as Longbourn, the Bennetts’ house. The crew virtually took over the place and Mrs Horn cried when they left, though was consoled by the thought that she would ‘now have enough money to re-roof the west wing.’ The Wiltshire village of Lacock, owned by the National Trust, became Meryton. Five months of negotiation, then preparations, consultation with the residents, traffic diversions, security etc – all for a week’s filming…

The entire process takes months in the planning stages – more like a military campaign, assembling all the tactical, technical, personnel, and logistics for the duration.

Other chapters cover production design – from furniture to wallpaper, creating the right ambience; costumes, make-up and hair designs; the music and the dancing, both integral to the visual and dramatic scenes; the lighting, where there were practical problems in the old, historic and protected houses.

A section describes a typical filming day, which can last up to twelve hours. Finally, there’s a chapter that covers post-production, including editing, sound dialogue, the effects and dubbing.

This is an excellent book which provides insight into the making of a film and goes some way to explain why such productions are expensive to stage. It's also of help to budding scriptwriters.

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