An­drew Davies: I’m not al­lowed to write weak fe­male roles

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Han­nah Fur­ness ARTS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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

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