Saturday, May 24, 2014

He Knew He Was Right: the BBC TV adaptation

Oliver Dimsdale as Louis Trevalyan.
I've finished watching the excellent 2004 adaptation of Anthony Trollope's classic novel, He Knew He Was Right, which I selected for my TV/Movie adaptation of a Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.  I was a little skeptical as to how they could adapt an 800-page book into a four-episode miniseries, but they did a pretty good job.  Andrew Davies, who famously adapted Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, and many other excellent classic books, wrote the screenplay, so that was encouraging.

Overall, the casting was excellent -- I recognized lots of actors from other BBC productions.  One of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy, played the slippery rake Col. Osborne.  Here he is, probably causing some kind of mischief with the reputation of Emily Trevalyan, daughter of his oldest friend:

Another great bit of casting was Geoffrey Palmer (well known as Lionel in As Time Goes By) as Emily's father and Geraldine James as her mother, Lady Rowley.  I actually liked the Lord and Lady Rowley characters better in the series than in the book.  Geoffrey Palmer is less buffoonish than Lord Rowley in the book, and Lady Rowley is obsessed with marrying Emily's sister Nora off to a rich aristocrat, Mr. Glascock.  However, the mini-series was heavily condensed, and cut out most of the side plot of Glascock's romantic subplot once Nora rejects him. 

My favorite storyline was Rev. Gibson and the two sisters who are fighting over him (above).  David Tennant was hilarious as Gibson, and Fenella Woolgar (left) and Claudie Blakely (right) were wonderful as the cutthroat sisters.

The best casting of all, however, was the late Anna Massey as Aunt Stanbury, above.  She's just wonderful.  And Matthew Goode was just adorable as Brooke Burgess, her intended heir.

Matthew Goode as Brook Burgess.  Very dishy.
My biggest objection was the casting of Stephen Campbell Moore as Hugh Stanbury, the best friend of Louis Trevalyan, and the love interest of Emily's sister Nora.  He's a good actor but he's nothing like Hugh as described in the book.  I'm racking my brains trying to find a better choice, but all the British actors I can think of who are about the right age are just too handsome -- Hugh is supposed to be sort of burly, not very attractive.  But I'm quibbling.

Christina Cole as Nora and Stephen Campbell Moore as Hugh Stanbury. 

Overall, a good production, though of course abridged.  A lot of sub-plots were condensed, especially scenes taking place in Italy.  As usual, the book was better, but they did a pretty good job.  I haven't read any Trollope lately so I think I may choose one of his books off my shelf for a nice long summer read.  Maybe Can You Forgive Her?  I haven't read any of the Pallisers series yet and my library has this on audiobook -- it's 22 discs!

So that's my sixth posting for this challenge  -- I'm halfway finished!  Bloggers, how are you coming along on your book challenges?  And which other TV adaptations from classic novels are your favorites?


  1. It's always so interesting to see how books are adapted, isn't it? I know I've seen this but it was years ago. Now, I'm thinking that maybe I should read the book before I watch it again.

    1. I lasted approximately two hours after writing the above comment. I picked the DVD up at the library that morning and now have only one episode left. So much for reading the book before watching this again! That said, watching has only made me that much more eager to read, so really it's a win-win.

  2. I love the adaptation of Our Mutual Friend! And in case you haven't seen it already, the adaption of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell starring Richard Armitage is LOVELY.

  3. I don't remember seeing this (if I did?) but I'm going to look for it now. Sounds like fun!

  4. I LOVE this adaptation! I think it's maybe one of my favorite period films of all time. And it seems to be less popular than others, which is puzzling. I particularly love the way they play the Reverend Gibson storyline--it makes me laugh out loud every time I watch this! I can't imagine how hard it would be to write a screenplay of a Trollope novel. So many characters, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, etc. I mean, if a brilliant author decides these are worthy of being included in the story, that's hard to disregard.

  5. Oo, I'm adding this to my Netflix queue! I love all those actors, particularly Bill Nighy. I would watch Bill Nighy read the dictionary.

  6. Yes, read Can You Forgive Her. It introduces Lady Cora and makes her both imperfect and very likeable. I also seem to remember a wonderful widow. Trollope is very good in depicting widows as women who controlled their own money and were able to enjoy their lives with minimal male supervision.

  7. I just put a hold on The Barchester Chronicles at my library. It is the BBC serialization of The Warden / Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope with Alan Rickman starring as the slimy Mr Slope! I cannot wait to view it as I just completed Barchester Towers.

  8. Hmmm, this sounds fun! I do like BBC classics adaptions, it seems (though I can't say I have seen many.)
    I am doing excellent with the Classics Challenge, I must say. I am reading so many classics that I can count two or three reads for a few of the categories. Crazy!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.