I wasn’t going to blog about the BBC’s recent two-part adaptation of ‘Women in Love’ (which also incorporated DH Lawrence’s earlier novel, ‘The Rainbow’), because, at first, I wasn’t that impressed with it. The cast were good, but the whole effort seemed a bit too ponderous and dreary. Since part two was broadcast last Thursday though, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, and on reflection I think that William Ivory’s script and Miranda Bowen’s direction achieved real fidelity to Lawrence’s original style, which, in a different way, Ken Russell managed in his celebrated 1969 film version. The prowling, unsettled camera, the frequent lens glare on the screen, underlined the physical sensuality of Lawrence’s work, and the script (and the actors) weren’t afraid to risk seeming pretentious in the wholly unnatural dialogues, where intellectual and emotional positions were propounded and attacked. Normal people don’t talk like that of course, but in Lawrence’s books these characters are deliberate ciphers, representatives of competing ideologies, made quick with genuine psychological insight on the part of their author. For the BBC adaptation to confront this idea head-on worked, on balance, to its benefit.
Slightly less successful, although it didn’t really intrude on the drama that much, was the decision to film not in Lawrence’s native Nottinghamshire, but in that well-known stand-in, South Africa. Incredibly, it is cheaper for a major BBC production to be made thousands of miles away than it is to film it here. South Africa’s towns and cities possess many authentic period houses, where the interiors were filmed, but the quality of light in the exteriors made it perfectly clear which side of the equator you were on. This decision to film in Africa must also have influenced the decision to alter the second novel’s conclusion, where the Alps were exchanged for the desert. On the surface, nothing much was affected by this – it still physically took the characters out of the stifling conventions of Edwardian England – but at a symbolic level the Alps can represent a European civilisation that is both modern and ancient, in a way that the diamond mines of South Africa and their ex-pat owners don’t.
It was an interesting adaptation anyway, and further proof, if any were needed at this stage, that the BBC is taking its ‘Year of Books’ very seriously (although for the purposes of programming, I think this came under a ‘Modern Lovers’ sub-season). Next on BBC 4 will be an adaptation of John Braine’s ‘Room at the Top’, which I will certainly be watching.