Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dramatizations Verus Novels: The Compulsion To Change Things


I've been re-reading, some would insist I say listening since I am discussing audiobooks, Ellis Peters Cadfael mysteries. I first became acquainted with the stories through the PBS series Mystery! when it brought the shows across the Atlatnic from their original BBC airings back in the mid-90s. Sir Darek Jacbi played the role of Brother Cadfael and while at times I always wonered at his ability to divine forensic details from what he observed I was more than willing to suspend disbelief for the show. What gets me about the TV series compared to the novels though is not so much how much is left out as that has to be done when you are creating a dramatization designed to fit in a meager 90 minutes but what the screenwriters actively change. They might argue that the change is dramatic license and I cannot dispute that but why do it when the key points in the novel furnish what what, to my mind at least, make excellent television. Let's look at one example: St. Peter's Fair (for obvious reasons their are going to be spoilers ahead). We can start right at the outset if we so desire with the initial scene in the TV show set at night in the abbey hall and the townsfolk insisting on a poriton of the profits from the fair. I suppose the screenwriters have to assert CAfael right then and their but he doesn't speak up for the town in the story and it's hard to believe even a monk such as he would really have done so to Abbot Radulfus. Worse we see young Philip raging forth which he doesnt do in the novel. The novel stages that whole scene with dignity and it is not until the next day when Philip, along with other youth of the town, confront the traders setting up shop and start the row that leads to Philip being clouted roundly by Master Thomas and provides entrace for all the other key characters of the tale. Perhaps we can ignore all this as minor differences and let the story go forward as it does. We can also ignore, I suppose, minor differences like the absence of the court exchanges in town where scenes are set to cause people to further believe Philip did indeed kill Master Thomas late at night. Even though by doing so we lose in the tlevision drama a sense of the strength of character of people like Emma.

But worse to my mind is how things come to a head. It must be a TV truism that the damsel must be saved when she is in distress. I'll leave aisde how Cadfael comes to the conclusions he does and also leave aside the fact that Philip plays no role whatsoever. But why deny Emma, in this case, her chance to do what she does in the novel. That act of bravery, dare I say heroism, stands her in superb stead. Their is no reason for Hugh and CAfael to burst in suddenly and save Emma. Their is less reason for them to come to near blows about the letter (which they don't really know about anyway). Why do we as an audience, because surely we must drive the writing styles of screenwriters, feel the leading man (or men) must save the day always?
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