The Past and “The Way We Live Now”: Andrew Davies’s Screen Adaptations of Pride & Prejudice and War & Peace

Ruxandra Trandafoiu, Carol Poole

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    Andrew Davies is one of the best-known and prolific adapters of classic literary texts in Britain today. Pride and Prejudice (1995) is, to date, Davies’s most famous adaptation - the six episodes gathered eleven million views at the time, with the final episode achieving forty per cent of the market share. It brought a cult following for Davies, launched Colin Firth’s international career and became a source of popular culture references. In 2016, over twenty years later, and after other successes such as Vanity Fair (1998), Doctor Zhivago (2002), Bleak House (2005) and Sense and Sensibility (2008), to name but a few, Davies adapted War and Peace for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), in co-production with The Weinstein Company. In a competitive market, an audience of over six million and a market share of twenty-five per cent was a fair achievement that repositioned costume drama at the heart of British television output. This paper aims to analyse Andrew Davies’s craft as an adaptor by focusing on his strategies of adapting history for contemporaneity. Davies’s scripts allow the past to speak to the present and engage audiences through the domestication of historical experiences, the bridging of social hierarchies and the reconsidering of love and marriage from a modern perspective. The two classic novels share the same time frame, the Napoleonic wars (1793-1815), but the screen adaptations are separated by more than twenty years of significant changes within the industry, so an additional aim for the paper is to investigate how Davies’s strategies evolve and change because of the different cultural contexts the two texts exist in. Particularly, it is interesting to explore what makes British audiences today receptive to a Russian story that explores history for ideological reasons, that would remain largely hidden to contemporary non-Russian audiences. As Davies himself has expressed (De Montford 2016), one way of overcoming this hurdle is to focus on universally relevant stories and themes such as the aspiration for love and happiness, in a context in which globalization, technology and travel have made the world a smaller place and thus more receptive to such stories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)87-110
    Number of pages24
    JournalThe Midwest Quarterly A Journal of Contemporary Thought
    Issue number1
    Early online date1 Sept 2018
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Sept 2018


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