Andrew Davies: I’m not allowed to write weak female roles
WHEN writing a period adaptation for 2018, a writer of course must include a blossoming love story, a sumptuous cinematic backdrop, and a plot both engaging and familiar enough to readers of the book not to inspire complaints.
It must also have one other ingredient, according to screenwriter Andrew Davies: a strong, independent woman.
Davies, Britain’s foremost television adaptor, said it is now “compulsory” to have a leading lady capable of fending for herself, as he jokes he now finds himself “pleading” to write a “really droopy, soppy girl” just for a change.
The writer is behind this year’s BBC adaptation of Les Miserables, starring Lily Collins as Fantine, Ellie Bamber as Cosette, and Olivia Colman as landlady Madame Thénardier, taking their own starring roles alongside Dominic West’s Jean Valjean and David Oyelowo’s Javert.
His previous hits have included the recent BBC version of War and Peace, the original House of Cards, and the infamous Pride and Prejudice television adaptation starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy.
In a BBC Four docu- mentary, entitled Andrew Davies: Rewriting the Classics and due to air on Dec 30, the writer reflected on how times have changed through his career, beginning with the inclusion of “strong women” characters.
“Now of course it’s compulsory,” he said. “Drama networks are run by strong women who like to see themselves reflected. “I often find myself pleading ‘can’t I write a really droopy soppy girl’ and they say no, they’ve got to be strong and independent.”
His version of Les Miserables will feature some structural changes, producers said, making it “more of a thriller” in Javert’s dogged pursuit of Valjean.
“I can remember my thoughts reading it for the first time,” said Davies of the book. “He [Victor Hugo] set the chronology in rather an odd way, and I like to be able to straighten it out.”
The programme will also detail Davies’ spirited conversations during the process of writing and filming his previous hits, from the
“I often find myself pleading ‘can’t I write a really droopy soppy girl’ and they say no, they’ve got to be strong”
now-famous dispute over whether Colin Firth should be nude for Pride and Prejudice’s ‘white shirt scene’ at the lake, to his spiky letters now kept in the De Montfort University archives.
A folder, described by one academic as being filled with “arguing letters”, includes one missive from Davies to an unnamed television executive reading: “Surely you know by now that writers are fragile creatures and while I may appear as sensitive as a God damn toilet seat that is not in fact the case.
“So it’s not a good idea to dismiss a script I’ve worked very hard on as very much a first draft. You’re not very good at reading scripts.”
A handwritten note at the bottom adds: “On the advice of my agent, this letter was never sent.”
Speaking of his future, which will include an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A
Suitable Boy, Davies told documentarymakers: “I might just be on a sort of gentle decline into decrepitude. And there’s a lot of writers who will be very glad to see my career come to an end.
“They’ll say: let’s give him another reward and tell him to climb into his grave and give more work to the rest of us.”
Andrew Davies: Rewriting The Classics will be broadcast on BBC Four on Dec 30.
Olivia Colman as Madame Thenardier (left), Lily Collins as Fantine (right) in Andrew Davies’ version of Les Miserables and Lily James in War and Peace (below).
Andrew Davies has made structural changes to Les Miserables