Television or film productions of books – especially your favourite novels – can be disappointing. There are bad – even appalling – productions of Jane Austen’s novels. I am not too keen on the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice that appears to be the favourite of most Jane Austen lovers. Colin Firth’s Darcy is not the Darcy of the novel, and Mr Collins is such a farcical caricature of the novel’s clergyman that all the satire of Austen’s pompous hypocritical cleric is lost. That’s to start with. In the class of the appalling, I put the 2008 production of Persuasion, my favourite Austen novel. Whatever possessed the screenwriter to change a crucial part of the story is beyond me.
On the other hand, the most recent production of Sense and Sensibility (2008) with with Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood is the best production of any of Jane Austen novels. It is very true to the novel. Hattie Morahan’s performance is pitch perfect.
I have recently been introduced to Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels. I find them almost as good and engaging as Jane Austen’s – at least the two I have so far read: Cranford and North and South. The television productions of these two books are first class, although Cranford is actually a combination of the novellas Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow.
I’m tempted to say that the television production of North and South (2004) is even better than the novel in bringing out the intense relationship between leads Margaret Hale played Daniela Denby-Ashe, and John Thornton played by Richard Armitage. Richard Armitage said in an interview the part was one of a lifetime. Indeed, he played it as one of a lifetime – a rough. smouldering, tormented mill owner who finds it difficult to control his passion for the cultivated girl from Hampshire who rejects him. Below is the link to a review on the tenth anniversary of the production:
Postscript: It has nothing to do with the quality of the production, but Daniela Denby-Ashe has the most perfectly formed lips of any actress I have seen. The opening scenes display them in mesmerising closeup. I’m sure the producers knew what they were doing here. The reviewer claims the kiss at the end was the best television kiss ever. Women sent the BBC switchboard into meltdown. I was not particularly moved by the scene, although I imagine Daniela Denby-Ashe’s lips were an important motivation for Richard Armitage.