Austen allegro

After the excellent Middlemarelz, Andrew Davies has turned his attention to another classic novel Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice. , Despite taking liberties with the opening, this promises to be

. ) another cracking costume drama, 1

says Catherine Fellows.

It is a bit galling to find the television serialisation of Jane Austen‘s novel. written almost entirely from the point of view of women. begins with an invented scene based on a conversation between two men. The opening credits against close-ups of buttons and I bows give way not to girlish giggles and interior shots of Longbourn the claustrophobic. female- dominated home of the Bennet farrrily but to the pounding of hooves and decisive. masculine voices. The heroes of the story gallop across the llertfordshire landscape, pull up to a halt. and Bingley (Crispin Bonham-Carter) declares to Darcy (Colin Firth) that the huge. stately pile before them is i

original and judging from the opening two episodes at least. he has omitted remarkably little. His dialogue is almost word for word. and the vitality that Davies injects is nothing nrore than the text demands. The Bennet sisters are depicted cavortirrg outside. rather than bickering over their needlework. which helps make them convincing as flesh and blood women and avoids potentially static scenes. And the sequence in which heroine Elizabeth Bennet bucks decorum and strides through muddy fields in her long skirts. arriving all flushed and windswept. is exactly as Austen wrote it. down to the excitement which Lizzy arouses in the rnenfolk.

The only mildly sensational innovation is a fleeting


- “‘1' 9

Bow belle: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth with Colin Firth as the dashing Darcy

Elizabeth and her sisters are and losing the feminist

context of the novel. which makes Pride and 7 Prejudice so much more than a wittily told love story. Elizabeth is spar'ky even by today's standards. and

her sardonic put downs are to die for. but it is her limited experience and prospects that make her spirit truly remarkable.

To return to the opening: in the novel. but not the series. the arrival of an eligible bachelor in the neighbourhood is presented as an event of little objective significance. lt's seen from the perspective of a family of young women cooped tip at home. with finding a husband the only possible escape route. Austen sends up to great comic effect the

not much. btit he‘ll take it anyway.

The man responsible for this ad libbing is Andrew Davies (of .l’lfl/(lft’fillll't'll fame). In the accompanying book Making nj‘l’ride and Prejudice. published this month. he pre-empts criticism from purists by stating his aim to offer an interpretation nothing more and to make entertaining. accessible television. He hopes. by injecting a bit of physicality. to avoid the woodenness of previous televisual attempts. and to point up the central role of sexual attraction in Jane

Austen's story.

But for the nrost part. Davies has been true to the

glimpse of Darcy in the bath. which adds a bit of texture and period detail and does no harm. Despite the provocation from the recent biography. which suggests that Austen had an incestuous relationship with her sister. the television adaptation resists the temptation of allowing Lizzy to slip into bed beside lier sibling Jane. who is striken with a fever. Basically. this is costume drama at its best. and there is amplejustification for all the llounces. furbelows and linery given the Bennet girls‘ obsession with bonnets. bows and balls. But the main danger is in emphasising how contemporary

overblown importance Mrs Bennet places upon the arrival. but the humour is double edged: she also conveys how ridiculous and how wrong it was that women should have so little else to get excited about. Austen establishes at the outset the harsh social realities that her women are constrained by only then does she let them out of the house to go galivanting around the countryside. Surely it would have been wise to have taken this particular leaf out of her book‘.’

Pride and Prejudice begins on Sunday 24 .S'ep/ember at 9pm on [38(72.

umnmnmnillll Brutafly honest

Paul John Ferris reckons ‘environmental reasons’ turned him towards a life of crime, which sounds like a fancy way of saying ‘it was society what made me do it’, but one thing Ferris would never do is get his grammar wrong, as Chapter and Verse - a profile of the notorious Glasgow criminal - makes clear. There’s an icy logic to his articulate explanations of the violent code of honour which governs the East End’s organised crime fraternity.

In short, he’s no ned though Ferris


Chapter and Verse: John Mchcar questions the shadowy figure of Paul John Ferris

does subscribe to a rather Old Testament view of retribution. ‘l’m neither a gangster or a bully,’ he tells interviewer John McVicar, himself no stranger to violent crime in a past life, ‘but that doesn’t mean you’ve to let people stand on your toes, for if they do that you’ve got to jump on their neck and break it.’

In 1992 Ferris was the defendant in Scotland’s longest ever murder trial after the shooting of Glasgow godfather Arthur Thompson’s son ‘Fat Boy’. Ferris was acquitted, but his alleged accomplices Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon and Bobby Glover were killed. After the trial finished the Daily Records headline screamed ‘Free - but he’s a dead man’ amidst rumours of a contract out on Ferris’ head.

Chapter and Verse could seem like special pleading to be left alone by a

man in fear of his life, but the film’s director Gus Macauley is convinced that Ferris has a ‘mission to explain’ the motivation for the criminal way of life. ‘Paul Ferris is extremely brave in coming forward,’ says Macauley. ‘lle wants people to make their own judgement and there are so many questions to be asked from opening a door like this.’

Using dramatic reconstructions and surveillance camera footage, Macauley has made an uncomfortable film which acknowledges the perverse fascination of extreme violence, but suggests that society will have to listen to criminals like Ferris sooner or later. (Eddie Gibb)

Chapter and Verse, which Is part of the Battered Britain season, is on Wed 27 Sept at 11.55pm on Channel 4.

The List 22 Sept—5 Oct I995 79