During the summer Cindy Fazzi gave us a quiz to try – are you a literary snob? I love to read (anything and everything – almost) but I also love a good literary adaptation; radio, TV, film – they all suit. But Sunday night’s BBC adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover got me thinking – am I an adaptation snob?
The programme in question (1 ½ hours for the entire book, so yes a tall order) wasn’t so much a dramatic adaptation as a complete re-interpretation for ten-year-olds (who should be in bed anyway) – you might not remember the first world war, so we’ll show you a trench; and look, this is a Coal Mine children. It also played so fast and loose with the plot details it might have been penned by the late, great and largely unknown D.H. Lollipop (creation of satirical comic writer Sue Limb). Events were added or altered, extra characters squeezed in and then there was the ending, which was so far over the top as to perhaps conceivably be a knowing nod to one of the alternative Blade Runner endings – the one where they drive off to the hills. This one involved Mellors driving m’lady away in a brand new open-topped motor. All we needed was the Nottinghamshire landscape. Anyone who knows the book (yes, and not just those bits) will know the real ending is far less conclusive, much more equivocal. Why does that need changing?
On the other hand does it really matter? Am I just being an adaptation snob? This weekend I also watched an old ITV version of Persuasion. The music was lovely, the actors very good-looking (that of course is another kettle of fish!) and the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable. Jane Austen endings are always happy, so no problem there. But no – according to the purists reviewing this version on Amazon, the fact that Anne ends up in the house of her dreams, her childhood home, is impossible and ridiculous and you’d know this if you’d been following the intricacies of the plot or had read the book. And then there’s the added ending (and it is ghastly) to the film of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley – according to my DVD, only tacked on to the American version of the film. Mr Bennet in his office, totally at his ease, and true to the book, is for some reason not sufficiently dramatic or obvious for our cousins across the pond. Insulting or what?
I’m sure you know other examples. There’s John Le Carre’s The Russia House for instance – the protagonists are waiting to be reunited at the end, or if you prefer in the film version (with Michelle Pfeiffer), waiting no longer. I remember a Jane Eyre TV adaptation, with Damien Lewis look-a-like Toby Stevens as Mr Rochester, that showed him literally holding the baby for a happy family photo – along with Jane and the entire household of faithful servants – as the credits rolled. Must confess I rather liked that one. Reader I married him, had his baby and here’s the photograph to prove it.
So as usual I’m in two minds. These are only books after all, but I suppose I do think there needs to be a certain amount of faithfulness to the plot and I certainly believe audiences can cope with uncertainty, sadness and even tragedy if that’s what the author intended. Don’t know if you have your own examples of dreadful changes to endings or ridiculous plot changes. Or have you come across an ending made more inconclusive, more sad? That would be interesting.
In the meantime I have a new game – adapt the plot or alter the ending to make suitable easy viewing for the whole family, no nasty bits, no loose ends. Here are some examples of doing a D. H. Lollipop:
Anna Karenina spots a poster for a telephone helpline on the way to the station.
The March sisters take part in an innovative childhood vaccination programme – Beth first of course.
Feel free to add your own.