Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 September 1999
Issue No. 446
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Plain talk

By Mursi Saad El-Din

Mursi Saad El-Din At one time, not so long ago, critics writing about historical films centred their arguments on the degree of licence the script writers and directors exercised in dealing with their subjects. Now, similar arguments rage over the degree of accuracy in film or television adaptations of novels, particularly in Britain.

At the moment the argument is centering around the BBC's production of Dickens' David Copperfield. The BBC scheduled the film to celebrate Christmas in January. More than one script was submitted and refused because of the writers taking too many liberties with the original.

According to Sally Kinnes, who penned an article with the intriguing title "Old Favourites with a New Twist" Hollywood too is in love with the classics, though it will twist any tale to the point beyond recognition if it feels this will make the resulting film more lucrative. According to David Pirie, who adapted Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, "You can set Jane Austin in an American Mall and nobody notices."

In Britain though it is different. British television audiences are so well-versed in their classics that they will not accept any meddling. They are used to faithful adaptations of novels and so there is always a tension between what writers want to do and what audiences are prepared to allow. The audiences feel script writers have a duty to the author. But for all their traditional roots classic adaptations are getting much sharper and more up-to-date. Costumes, for instance, are often brought nearer to the present.

The BBC is currently embroiled in an argument centred over its adaptation of Oliver Twist scripted by Alan Bleasdale, who has come up with what film directors would call "back-story. "In the book, if we remember, the explanation of Oliver's origin is squeezed in a single chapter towards the end of the novel. What the adaptation does is to take this chapter, smooth it out into a coherent narrative, and put it where it belongs chronologically, at the beginning of the story.

Adaptation of novels into films was, at one time, quite common in Egypt. Taha Hussein's Song of the Nightingale was one of the first novels to make it onto the screen. There were some changes introduced by script writers to the original texts, but these were changes acceptable to the authors.

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