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Tony Grist

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Adaptions [Nov. 8th, 2005|11:11 am]
Tony Grist
The BBC is running a series of Shakespeare retreads. The first was a version of Much Ado set in a TV news-room- with Beatrice and Benedick as news-readers and Hero as a weather-girl. I'd have been interested if it was only the setting that had been modernised, but none of these new versions keep Shakespeare's language- and without the language you haven't got Shakespeare. His plots- most of them borrowed from history books or the pulp fiction of his day- are the least thing about him. So what's the point?

I feel something similar about the current dramatization of Bleak House. The gimmick is that it's being done as if it were soap opera- in speedy half hour chunks. I watched an episode to get the flavour- and can report that Gillian Anderson is looking lovely. There's an honourable tradition of doing Dickens on TV- I remember a 1950s Oliver Twist so violent that my dad went and stood in front of the screen to shield my infant eyes from corruption- but the publicity and reviews for this particular version have narked me. We're being told that Dickens himself would have been writing soaps if he were alive today- even that this version improves on the original; Well, "cobblers" to both those suppositions. This version is fun (I suppose) but- as with the Shakespeare- all it really gives us is Dickens's plot- and no-one reads Dickens for his plots.

Shakespeare and Dickens are writers- the two greatest writers in English. What matters about them is the words. The choice of words, the way they're put together. The poetry, the jokes. That's where the magic is. Consider the opening of Bleak House (the fog thing)- that great kedgeree of brilliant descriptive writing, surreal wit and angry satire- and try getting the same effect in a TV studio with dry ice and yellow spot-lights. Can't be done. The new "Shakespeare" plays and the new "Dickens" dramatization may (lets give them the benefit of the doubt) be fine bits of work in their own right, but anyone who supposes they're getting the full Shakespeare and Dickens experience from them is being short changed.

[User Picture]From: sorenr
2005-11-08 05:30 am (UTC)
I could see how one might argue that Dickens and Shakespeare would be writing soaps today. Shakespeare was an entertainer, and Dickens normally published his novels in suitable chunks, complete with cliff-hangers and everything.

However, they did not live today, and as a consequence they didn't write soaps. And I agree that their writing is really not compatible with this format either. If you want to do a news-room comedy that's inspired by Willy S., then by all means do so, but don't call it an adaptation if it's a re-writing. There are two rather good examples of how one can update Shakespeare (these taken from the teen-flick genre for no specific reason, other than they jumped to mind); one is the Baz Luhrman Romeo and Juliet, where language and lines is kept intact, and the other is 10 Things I Hate About You, which doesn't even keep the title from The Taming of the Shrew and whose audience was probably mainly unaware that the teen rom-com they were watching was actually a Shakespeare re-hash. The latter might not have been a great film, but at least it didn't try (in any major way) to pull "points" on the fact that it had stolen its plot-line from Shakespeare.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2005-11-08 05:42 am (UTC)
I was thinking of Kiss Me Kate...

I never thought of 'technically'. Serials, I suppose, were different from what we now call 'soap operas'.

Maybe, soaps are a derivative of Dickens' work.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-11-08 08:42 am (UTC)
I was convinced by the serials = soaps argument until I saw the BBC Bleak House. They'd speeded up the action, reduced the role of the comic characters, skimped on atmosphere- and- entertaining as the result may have been- it wasn't in the least bit Dickensian.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-11-08 08:37 am (UTC)
I enjoyed the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet, but
my- it's a silly story. All that stuff with sleeping drafts and scheming friars at the end is somehow more convincing if the cast are wearing ruffs.
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