I don’t think it’s any secret that I found this season of Masterpiece Classic to be incredibly disappointing. It started out strong with Downton Abbey (which will thankfully be returning next year), and then it was a long, sad slide downward, ending with the abysmally bad, cliche ridden South Riding. A critic, in his review of South Riding, commented that sometimes it feels like the powers that be are scraping the bottom of the literary barrel in their feeble attempts to scare up some novel more than 50 years old to adapt. Remember the days when the British miniseries on PBS were actually based on classic novels? I miss those days. Anyone out there truly think South Riding is a classic?
Yes, I know that PBS isn’t solely responsible (or possibly even responsible at all) for what gets filmed and adapted, so maybe I should be addressing this little tirade at BBC or any one of the myriad British production companies out there who seem to be suffering from a fundamental lack of imagination. I believe I mentioned before that it feels like these people don’t know what to do with themselves if they don’t have a Dickens or Austen novel to adapt. They’ve gone through Austen already (and filmed a highly unnecessary new Sense and Sensibility that paled in comparison to the Ang Lee film), and Dickens has been done to death over and over and over again. But next year is the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth, so of course they’re going to go back to him. What are they choosing to adapt? Great Expectations.
WHY? We already have an excellent, fairly recent adaptation of Great Expectations that starred Ioan Gruffudd and Justine Waddell, with Charlotte Rampling as Miss Havisham. It was true to the novel, the casting was great, and it was only made in 1999. Why do we need another one? It’s like Jane Eyre–no, we don’t need another film version, thank you very much, we’ve got lots. Move on to something new, for heaven’s sake.
Oh, and you know who’s playing Miss Havisham this time around? Gillian Anderson. No. Just…no.
I guess the people who make these decisions never bother to move past the Penguin classics display at their local bookstore. So, is there a suggestion box somewhere? Can some of us perhaps interest you in a different novel? I for one would love to see Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Shuttle made into a film or miniseries. The Shuttle, set in the late 19th century, is about two wealthy American sisters, one of whom marries into the British aristocracy. The younger, headstrong, independent, fairly awesome sister later comes along and drags her sister out of a miserable marriage, fixes up the aristocrat’s estate, and catches the eye of a pair of earls. It’s perfect–lovely costumes, interesting characters, a strong central female role. It’s practically tailor made for Masterpiece. And it’s even by a well-known author (you may be more familiar with her works geared towards children: A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, both old favorites of mine).
Or how about some of Edith Wharton’s novels? Not The Age of Innocence, of course, which already has a perfect adaptation, or The House of Mirth, which has a movie that proves the novel is pretty much unfilmable, but how about The Children, or The Custom of the Country?
Or, if you really must keep re-adapting the same things, what about all those Henry James novels that were filmed back in the ’70’s? Talk about worthy material that could use an update. See? This isn’t so hard–branch out!
So, powers that be, I’m begging you: try something new. There are only so many ways you can film a particular story before every adaptation starts to feel the same, which means the newer ones start to feel like knockoffs of the older ones. I know that’s how I felt watching the newer Sense and Sensibility, and as much as I love some of the people in the cast of the new Great Expectations, I’m not expecting it to be better than the one I already have tucked into my DVD collection.
What do you think, readers? Are you happy with the choices PBS et al have been making? What would you like to see onscreen?