Netflix have gone for costume drama recently in a big way, and with considerable success. Here's my personal take on six costume dramas Netflix should produce, chosen from my favourite classic novels.
1. The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope - this is a romping tale of jewel theft, grasping heroines making their way up the social ladder via marriage to gullible men that they then turn to their advantage.
Previously produced by the BBC in 1974 as part of the lengthy Pallisers cycle, and as a drama in its own right in 1959, this Trollope novel is ripe for a Netflix costume drama makeover.
2. Burmese Days by George Orwell - no one came anywhere near being as honest about the appalling behaviour of the British abroad in their Empire days as George Orwell did in his debut novel.
Published in 1934, and based upon his years working out there, this novel presents a no-holds-barred treatment of the British deep in the jungle as societal norms are left behind. It features an attempted rape by an uncle of his niece, and the disgracefully cowardly behaviour of one of the white men towards his Burmese mistress.
This novel has the potential to make a tense drama with a real opportunity for reflection upon racial and gender questions in Empire.
3. The Longest Journey by EM Forster - his favourite novel and the most autobiographical of them all, somehow this has never been adapted for TV or film. With Merchant Ivory bringing pretty much everything Forster wrote to the screen in the Eighties and Nineties this omission is difficult to account for.
The story is strong, it's exceptionally well written and the fact that he was versatile enough as a writer to produce much more than the romantic narratives Merchant Ivory adapted can only encourage readers to want to see this novel onscreen.
4. The Years by Virginia Woolf - Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Yep. Don't blame you. Perhaps the sheer inventiveness of form in her writing discourages screen adaptations, which is a shame because some of her novels are works of realism.
I love The Years. It jumps from point to point following the extended Pargiter family from the 1880s to the mid 1930s, and by the end is positively sentimental for times lost. I think it has real potential for Netflix adaptation for its sincerity and its intimate portrait of family life in London over the decades.
5. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. This quintessential Gothic romance has twice been a radio play and twice a chapbook/graphic novel, yet it's never been brought to the screen as TV or film.
The luxurious settings of Italy and France are ripe for the screen, and this 1794 novel has the potential (with plenty of editing down in the script!) to be an action-filled plot with larger than life characters.
6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. It's just bonkers, it's thoroughly British in ways that might shock and surprise the rest of the world and it was published in 1759, when society was a whole lot less serious than the prudishness of Victorian times that is so often associated with British costume drama.
We just don't see enough costume drama from that far back, and I'm concerned that world viewers might think the British have always lived a Regency lifestyle without any kind of variation in dress, manners or humour.
They couldn't be more wrong! The 2006 film was heavy on the postmodernism, but I'm up for a simple telling of the tale in an immersive universe that brings out the fun, the humour and the unexpected.
Thank you for reading this Why Not Wednesday blog. I'll be back on Friday. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on costume dramas in the comments section below.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe.
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