From Pride & Prejudice to Les Miserables, if you want to dramatise a famous novel to great acclaim, then Andrew Davies will be at the top of your scriptwriter hitlist.
So it’s little wonder that when ITV decided to bring Jane Austen’s last (and unfinished) novel Sanditon to the small screen, that they turned to the BAFTA-winner to spice things up.
And spice it up he does. In the first episode alone there’s a smattering of male nudity and a scene in the woods, which Austen described as “something white and womanly”, but which becomes quite risqué at the hands of the industry legend.
At a screening in London’s Soho yesterday, the 82-year-old (joined by some of the cast and executive producer Belinda Campbell) opened up on the pressures of taking on Austen (again).
Adapting an unfinished novel “is daunting,” he admitted. After all, Austen only completed 11 chapters of Sanditon, which Davies used up before the end of the first instalment. But the “sexing up” however was something he frankly relished.
“I suppose the sexing it up thing comes fairly naturally,” he said, “because if it’s not there then I feel that’s a shame – let’s put some in.”
Davies has written four of Sanditon’s eight episodes and he said the process was pretty enjoyable. “We just sat around and said dare we do that? Yes….”
Kris Marshall, who plays entrepreneur Tom Parker in the drama, said the update was refreshing.
“Period stuff can be quite dour and worthy and this is witty and lustful and lascivious. It’s naughty and very Andrew Davies.”
Set in an emerging seaside resort on the south coast, Sanditon centres around young outsider Charlotte Heywood played by Rose Williams (Curfew). While visiting, she interacts with a number of characters (played by Anne Reid, Kris Marshall, Theo James, Charlotte Spencer and Jack Fox) who all their reasons for being there – many of which are driven by money.
Davies has form when it comes to adding a little something to his screen adaptations. When he adapted Les Miserables for the BBC, he told the Radio Times “I have a reputation for bringing out, and (some say) even inventing the sexual element in the great classics.
“It is there in Les Miserables, too, but deeply buried.”
Austen’s novel, originally called The Brothers, is different to her earlier works according to Davies. “It’s so fresh – these men in particular are not like Jane Austen’s usual people.”
“They are businessmen and entrepreneurs – they are what the country was going to become.”
Sanditon is due to air this autumn on ITV.