Sunday, 21 February 2016

Television Writing: Shetland, Dickensian, and War and Peace

I've been following a number of well-crafted TV series lately, including War and Peace and the soap opera-like Dickensian, which finally comes to an end this evening, though I gather a second series may be planned. War and Peace was quite brilliantly adapted by Andrew Davies. His scripts seem to me to offer a masterclass in economical writing; you could say that he's the TV writing equivalent of a Len Deighton or an Elmore Leonard. I have also continued to watch Shetland, which - as I mentioned here a while ago - got off to a very good start.

I hadn't realised that this series of Shetland was to involve a single story stretched over six episodes, and this structure has cons as well as pros. However, the added length has given the writers the chance to address a number of issues, above all the effect of the rape of one of the central characters. Ann Cleeves has written an eloquent article about this aspect of the story in The Guardian which I think raises some important questions about the portrayal of violence in crime fiction, and deserves a wide readership.

Quite apart from this, the series has made clear to me what a fine actor Douglas Henshall is. He has the knack of conveying a considerable range of emotions with great economy, (you'll have gathered that I'm an admirer of economy!) and I've been increasingly impressed by his performance. Originally, he didn't fit my idea of Jimmy Perez, but he's definitely won me over.

Shetland has held my attention from the first episode, and credit must go to the main writer, Gaby Chiappe. The story is more like a thriller rather than a detective story, complete with a somewhat stereotypical gangland villain, and it has seemed rather meandering at times. It could be argued that, sensitively as the rape sub-plot is handled, the rape itself was largely superfluous to the plot, though whether that is so or not won't be clear until we've seen the final episode.

Possibly six episodes was one or two too many; the same issue arises even more acutely with Dickensian.,which has occasionally dragged. Overall, though, like Dickensian, it makes very good television, and if you haven't watched the shows this time around, it's definitely worth looking out for the repeats or the DVDs. As for War and Peace, until recently I've never felt a burning desire to read Tolstoy. But Davies' wonderful writing has made me realise that I've been missing out..


Nan said...

The Ann Cleves article is excellent. Thanks for noting it. I feel the same way she does, and I thought the aftermath was done very well. Tosh's whole face, and facial expressions were different. Because she is a different person now.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Andrew Davies’ name sounded familiar. I looked it up and found he is an old pro at writing and adapting novels for film and television, including the original British series HOUSE OF CARDS, starring Ian Richardson. What a great show that was!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Nan, I quite agree. Very good acting.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Elgin, yes he is definitely one of TV writing's superstars.