By Steve Chilton
Andrew Davies, the Kenilworth-based screenwriter, found international fame and fortune reworking classic novels for period drama TV.
His cherished work includes the BBC 1995 epic series Pride and Prejudice, featuring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch for the BBC the previous year.
His latest challenge is to adapt one of the modern era’s longest books – more than half-a-million words.
But he needed just one word to sum up the Observer’s ‘Bring George Eliot Home’ campaign: “Brilliant!”
The Bafta-winning writer is a huge fan of the Victorian novelist and revealed he owes her a massive debt.
He said: “I first read Middlemarch at university and later taught it at Warwick University. I was very glad to have the chance to adapt it for television.
“MIddlemarch sort of launched my career as an interpreter of classic novels.
“I followed it up with (Jane Austen’s) Pride and Prejudice. But I have always been very grateful to George Eliot.”
After hearing of the Observer campaign’s proposal to turn the author’s forgotten Coventry home into an attraction for international visitors and suitable educational and cultural activities, he couldn’t contain his delight.
“It’s a brilliant idea and could tie in with Coventry’s City of Culture ambitions. I am very much in favour and give it my full support.”
Like many observers of Coventry’s cultural heritage he is puzzled by its seeming reluctance to shout about its famous literary sons and daughters.
And at the very top of the A-list of overlooked stars he would put Mary Anne Evans, who as George Eliot championed social change and broke down barriers for women writers.
“I would put MIddlemarch as one of the contenders for the greatest English novel of all time,” he said.
“But I have a soft spot for Mill on the Floss too.”
Davies, whose own writing career began with children’s books while a lecturer at Canley Teacher Training College, later absorbed into Warwick University, shows no sign of slowing down despite recently celebrating his 81st birthday.
His prolific screen output includes House of Cards, A Very Peculiar Practice, Brideshead Revisited, Bridget Jones’ Diary and War and Peace.
He recently put the finishing touches to a TV screenplay of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and expects filming to begin in January.
And he now has the daunting task of adapting the best-seller A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, one of the longest novels ever at 1,349 pages.
ABOUT OUR CAMPAIGN
ANDREW Davies joins other renowned literary, TV and film heavyweights who are backing our Bring George Eliot Home campaign for Coventry to do more to mark the great novelist’s important connections with the city.
Writing for us last week was distinguished George Eliot biographer, Emeritus Professor Rosemary Ashton OBE.
She was joined by BAFTA-winning TV and film director Giles Foster, whose work includes an acclaimed BBC adaptation of the George Eliot classic Silas Marner, featuring actor Ben Kingsley.
Our campaign has joined with the George Eliot Fellowship in calling for her forlorn former home, the listed Bird Grove house in Foleshill, to be opened up to become an international visitors’ centre and suitable cultural resource, including for generations of future Coventrians.
It would be timely, with her bicentennial in 2019, and with the city bidding to be UK City of Culture in 2021.
In response to our campaign launched last month, support has already come from officials behind the bid, Coventry’s culture trust which runs the city’s museums, and Coventry University.
Leading city councillor Linda Bigham has also responded by pledging to explore potential options, including alongside the Fellowship, which has called on the city to work in partnership with the novelist’s birthplace, Nuneaton.
Our campaign has also called for more to be done in Coventry city centre to mark George Eliot – born Mary Anne Evans.
There is not even a plaque at Bird Grove. One unofficial plaque hangs at Loveitts estate agents in the city centre, her former school, and there is plaque in Holy Trinity Church which she frequented.
Her time here included seven years in the 1840s living at Bird Grove, her schooling in the 1830s, and some of her earliest writing being published in the Coventry Herald and Observer.