Thoroughly Modern Classics

 * Debby Moggach is a novelist and script writer. She won a Writers Guild Award for her adaptation of Anne Fine’s Goggle-Eyes and has also adapted Nancy Mitford’s Love In A Cold Climate for the BBC, as well as several of her own books for television. Her novel Tulip Fever has been bought by Stephen Spielberg and is currently in the process of being made into a film. Debby’s latest book, These Foolish Things, is a black comedy about old age. She also chairs English PEN’s events committee.


In a unique screenwriting masterclass Debby shared the secrets behind her acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. Using clips from the movie to demonstrate how certain scenes had been written and directed, Debby explained how the film was put together, how scenes from the novel evolved in collaboration, and what she felt was lost and gained in the transformation from page to screen.


The recent adaptation of the novel, directed by Joe Wright, is in fact the first film version since 1940 when Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier played the starring roles. Debby talked about the difficulties involved in condensing the novel into film length and the challenge of conveying to a modern audience the desperation and passions of the characters, while also allowing their tumultuous emotions to be used to comic effect.


Debby moved on to talk about the importance of sub-text in films, something she felt was well suited to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which is largely preocupied with unspoken thoughts and emotions and the rigid conventions existent in the novel’s setting. It was important for the film to convey the passion pulsing away beneath surface encounters and interaction. Debby also discussed the film’s conscious decision to present a ‘muddy hem’ version of the novel to avoid idealisation.


After showing several film clips to demonstrate decisions about character portrayal, direction and the attention paid to details and setting Debby took questions from the audience about budget constraints, film production and the opportunity to write the screenplay all over again – a hypothetical invitation Debby politely declined!


Many thanks to Debby Moggach for this entertaining insight into the handsome and corsetted world of the Bennet sisters and her wonderful screenplay, the result of which is a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating film.


Report by Alice O’Hanlon  

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