Jane Austen’s six novels have been adapted for film numerous times, but Janeites have been eagerly awaiting the airing of a series based on an unfinished work by Austen: Sanditon.
Household name, Andrew Davies, is leading the charge as screenwriter with numerous beloved adaptations under his belt (including the 1995 Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth). I’m not the only one who has been curious to know if he could use the uncompleted plot of Sanditon to craft a series worthy of its original author.
A recent BBC interview allows us to stop wondering. According to the interview, the series will feature a sexed up plot because perhaps “a new take which lets people feel the people back then weren’t so different” is needed for modern audiences. It’s hard to ignore the condescension in the implication that what we have in common with other human beings is merely the possession of a sex drive. But whether people in Austen’s era were different from us today is really beside the point–although it’s clear that Miss Austen is in a different league from Sanditon’s writer Andrew Davies.
According to Davies, he’s added plenty of nudity and sex to Sanditon because that’s what he likes: “If it’s [sex] not there, I think ‘let’s put some in,‘” he explains. “I like to write it and I like to watch it…I aim to please myself when writing these things…sexing it up comes fairly naturally.”
Anne Elliot is unsure whether such a ludicrous quote was drawn from The Onion, so here’s the link to the rest of the interview, Anne. This is not the first time that Davies has missed the mark. His Brideshead Revisited was catastrophically bad and proved it is in fact possible to misunderstand every major theme of a classic novel. But perhaps it was a one off. Perhaps he was having a bad day and didn’t actually read the book. Perhaps he pulled together an incredibly talented cast and proceeded to create one of the worst movies of all time. It could happen to anyone! (The moral here is to stick with the amazing Brideshead miniseries starring Jeremy Irons and pretend the other film doesn’t exist).
Although there’s much to laud in many of his adaptations of the classics (the recent Les Miserables was particularly beautiful), adding unnecessary sexual or objectifying scenes to Jane Austen isn’t a new trick for Davies. But at least the seduction scene at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility could be backed up by the text. Davies plans for Sanditon, on the other hand, sound unforgivable.
Men, like Davies, whose aim is to “please himself” aren’t a new phenomenon. Take Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility, for example. Pleasing himself means satisfying all his sexual urges–even if it’s with a young teenage girl who he will impregnate and then abandon. It means entertaining himself with the hearts of other women–which in Marianne’s case leads to a complete breakdown.
Whether in 2019 or 1811 when Austen published Sense and Sensibility there are men who prioritize their sexual desires over everything else–this is, of course, not news to anyone. The difference is that in Austen’s day we called them rakes, cads, and villians and today we hand over the work of arguably the finest British novelist of all time to be pornified for the male gaze–nothing short of misogyny.
Jane Austen is the creator of perfectly crafted plots and richly nuanced characters that have fascinated readers for centuries. Her books have sold rather well, not to mention the fact that she’s one of the most brilliant moral philosophers of the modern era. Austen’s novels aren’t merely romantic fiction meant to titillate her audience with a Colin Firth lake scene (also Davies addition). Her works are some of the finest observations on human character, virtue, and relationships ever penned. She doesn’t need Davies to ride in on his screenwriting horse to sex up her work in order for it to be more enticing to horny men.
Times up on men like Davies exploiting the work of a female novelist for their own lust for exposed flesh.
If you can’t appreciate the work of a woman with as dazzling an intellect as Jane Austen without pornifying it, I regret to inform you that the problem is not with Miss Austen. I wouldn’t want Davies purloining any more of Austen’s plots even if he could manage to behave in a more gentlemanlike manner. Time for women to write the next adaptation and make it worthy of Austen’s brilliance–without one second’s concern over whether male viewers will find it sexy enough to be entertaining.
Oh no!! I am so disappointed! I had been looking forward to Sanditon. I’m fed up by this trend to tart up what either wasn’t there or could simply just be left side stage.
Ashlie Dill says
??Say it louder for the people in the back ?? Also best use of purloining I’ve ever seen.
To be fair, purloin was inspired by the text messages I was getting from my mom about the whole thing. “Stop purloining Jane Austen’s plots!’
Laura Fidler says
TRUTH! Thank you for this post. I only hope that someone on Davies’ creative team reads your blog. 😉
Highly doubt it and I don’t think it would make a difference. It’s in post-production, I think!
Natalie B says
This whole post is BRILLIANT. “The difference is that in Austen’s day we called them rakes, cads, and villians and today we hand over the work of arguably the finest British novelist of all time to be pornified for the male gaze–nothing short of misogyny. ” It’s an absolute tragedy. The double standards in modern media are unbelievable
Laura A says
Much appreciate the thoughtfulness and wit used in writing this! What a pity about Davies. You are right to call him out on this, and, yes, agreed, isn’t it high time the women writers of today start adapting Jane’s work for the screen instead of the men?
You thought the new Les Misérables was beautiful? Really? It was 90% plagiarism of the musical film and 10% Davies sexualizing the story in a way that contradicted theme and character. It’s the best example of exactly what you’re talking about here. Facepalm
I thought it was incredibly beautiful. I loved seeing the character back story from the book present in the series (perhaps never before in a film version). The cast was incredible, especially JVJ and Fantine. My biggest problem was with the sexual undertones of Javert’s obsession with JVJ when the motivation for the obsession is so clearly spelled out in the original text. I also took issue with some of the Marius/Cosette characterization. Since this wasn’t a review of Les Mis, I didn’t feel a need go into every caveat so it’s SUCH a mercy that you were here to set the record straight. What a relief!
Thank you for writing this! It’s so sad to see Austen’s work used in this way.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the sexing up is just for the men. The pond scene from the Pride and Prejudice miniseries appealed to women as well. Thank you for being a voice for those women who don’t want pornography to infiltrate every corner of television!
Oh absolutely. A lot of the problem stems from treating Austen like titillating romantic fiction–whether the objectification is women or men.
I was so looking forward to Sanditon. I will now cross this off of my list. Why does every one feel they must change things to their liking. What a major disappointment. Thank you for the hears up.
I was so looking forward to Sanditon. I will now cross this off of my list. Why does every one feel they must change things to their liking. What a major disappointment. Thank you for the warning.
I LOVE that you compared him to Willoughby. Great post, even though the subject matter is extremely disappointing. I wouldn’t want the job of adapting any of my favorite books for the screen, but I wouldn’t mind a policing job where I could say, “Sorry! This scene right here is completely illegal—it has nothing to do with the original work. Nice try; you’re fired.”
I just want to cast everything…and then make them take the dialogue straight from the text like the Brideshead miniseries from the 80s.
Well done, Haley. Your argument is intelligent, timeless, and respectful of the original work and author, all characteristics that Davies seems to lack. His statements about liking writing and watching sex scenes and his priority to please himself make my skin crawl. It’s utterly disrespectful to all women. Jane Austen and all her fans deserve so much better than that.
Jane Austen’s works, with their insight and wit, are very dear to me. I have loved Jane Austen’s work ever since I first read Pride and Prejudice as a 12 year old. My husband, a Frenchman no less, identified Pride and Prejudice as his favourite novel, many years before the famous adaptation with Colin Firth.
I have loathed Davies ever since viewing that much-celebrated adaptation. Sadly, the rather dusty and stage-like production values of the 1980 adaptation mean that Fay Weldon’s screenplay gets little acclaim, but deserve it much more. Unlike Davies, she lets Austen be Austen.
Austen does not need to be “sexed up”. It looks to me that Andrew Davies is really trying to ape Franco Zerffierelli, but with none of the finesse, none of the subtlety or true appreciation and understanding. The incest he introduced in War & Peace was dreadful for example, and diminishes the beauty and performances of the production. He is not the only screenwriter out there, and it is a pity that he gets all the plum projects.
Thank you for your post — I agree with you wholeheartedly. Davies’ screenplays of Austen books are condescending, and he he is too crude to appreciate her work.
Lots I agree with in this post! I remember watching the 1995 P&P for the first time and thinking how ridiculous the lake scene and bathtub scene were. However, I’m not sure that getting a woman to direct Austen movies is necessarily the solution. For example, the 1995 Sense and Sensibility was directed by a man and features absolutely no sexification, and continues to be one of the best and most underrated Austen adaptations ever. Also, the new 2022 Persuasion was directed by a woman, and although I haven’t watched it, I hear it was awful.
Let’s be honest here ladies. Who are those sexy scenes really directed towards? Was it men who were begging to see Colin Firth in a wet shirt? I think not. You can compare Andrew Davies to Willoughby, and I agree, but unfortunately, the women of this era are much like the Lydia Bennets and Isabella Thorpes of Austen’s day. They are the ones asking for the sexification.