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Andrew's Austentatious adaptations; Television WARWICKSHIRE'S king of costume drama Andrew Davies first made Jane Austen sexy with Pride and Prejudice and is now making Northanger Abbey leap from page to screen. TV writer MARION McMULLEN finds out the secret of bringing Austen's world to a modern audience.

Byline: MARION McMULLEN

HE famously put Colin Firth in a soaking wet shirt and had women drooling watching Pride and Prejudice and is now introducing fantasy scenes to Northanger Abbey.

Award-winning Kenilworth writer Andrew Davies is proud of his reputation for "sexing up" the classics and says: "It's not too bad to have a reputation for sexing up the classics. In fact, most people when they actually see the thing will say that none of the scenes is gratuitous.

"I feel I'm bringing out the sexual content which is inherent in the material. It's just that in the 19th century, it was the convention never to write directly about sexual matters.

"I'm just giving it a bit of a nudge. I don't mind about that reputation at all - there are worse things to have said about you."

Andrew's adaptations from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to Sarah Waters and Alan Hollingshurst have made him one of Britain's most popular dramatists and his TV successes include Bleak House, Dr Zhivago, Tipping the Velvet and Daniel Deronda.

He also co-wrote both feature film adaptations of Bridget Jones's Diary and is now working his magic touch on ITV's new production of Northanger Abbey tomorrow.

The cast includes Midlander Felicity Jones, best known as Emma Grundy from Radio Four's The Archers, Liam Cunningham, Carey Mulligan, from Bleak House, and J J Feild.

They will all be helping to bring Jane Austen's world to life and Andrew points out: "One of the things that I've always thought was a drag in so many period adaptations is that they are always buttoned up to the neck in so many clothes all the time.

"I'm always looking for excuses to get them out of their clothes. I think those things help to remind people that the stories are about real people with bodies as well as minds."

The former Warwick University lecturer explains: "When I'm writing a script one of the things I want most to do is to not make people think all the time 'Oh, I'm watching a great English classic' or 'I'm watching a period drama'. I just want them to think 'Oh, I'm watching a really exciting drama about people like me having adventures'."

The Gothic element of Northanger Abbey has given Andrew scope to invent dream sequences and fantasies for heroine Catherine which normally have no place in a costume drama.

"I've been very faithful to the book, but one of the differences has been writing the scenes showing Catherine's fantasies," says the 70-year-old writer.

"Catherine is a great reader of horror fiction - the gothic novel was fairly popular in those days, like a young girl today who would read a lot of rather steamy romances.

"In this production, we see some of Catherine's fantasies, some of which are quite steamy for a young girl."

Austen is one of Andrew's favourite authors to adapt and exclaims:

"Austen is the greatest writer of all time and one doesn't want to let her fans down. I think Austen is timeless."

Andrew is particularly fond of the colourful characters in Northanger Abbey and thinks Felicity Jones makes a perfect heroine.

"There has been some very interesting casting on this one. The best surprise is just how wonderful Felicity Jones is - she has to carry the whole show as Catherine and she's always spot on.

"She always seems to get just the right mood and look and speaks her lines so beautifully. I think I've been extraordinarily lucky getting her."

The "finished product" is something Andrew always awaits with baited breath, and is rarely disappointed.

"I love seeing the finished product, and, touch wood, very rarely have I had any nasty surprises.

"Sometimes I get some very nice surprises, and that's the best, when they do it in a way that is different from the way I'd imagined, but just as good or better.

"I suppose that's what you look for - a director and cast who can look at what you've done and do something surprising and interesting with it."

CAPTION(S):

LEAD ROLE... Felicity Jones as Catherine in Northanger Abbey.; PASSION... J J Feild and Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan in Andrew Davies's adaptation of Northanger Abbey.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 24, 2007
Words:702
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