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Andrew Davies at the BFI - 'Inappropriate Behaviour'(5 Posts)
At the BFI: Inappropriate Behaviour (BBC2, 1985) + Q and A with Screenwriter Andrew Davies (21/9/16)
To celebrate screenwriter Andrew Davies’ 80th birthday the BFi recently hosted an evening which included a screening of the 1987 ‘Screen Two’ BBC TV play Inappropriate Behaviour , written by Davies (and introduced by him) and starring the late Charlotte Coleman. This was followed by a revealing and entertaining Q and A between Davies and the journalist Rosie Millard.
It’s difficult to believe that the film itself could get made in today’s broadcasting climate (which seems mostly averse to risk taking) and stands out from the rather polite costume dramas and adaptations that Davies later became known for (most famously the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth) , detailing as it does rural family dysfunction and implied incest, and a latent lesbian love affair between dysfunctional and disruptive 15 year old school girl Helen (Coleman) and Jo, her school counsellor and educational psychologist (Jennifer Landor).
What begins innocently enough with the fervent, well meaning commitment of the young counsellor to get to the roots of the young girl’s aggression (a sexually abusive and violent Father, a catatonic sister, and a put upon and submissive mother) evolves into the two bonding (she visits the girl’s farm and takes riding lessons from her, meets the family) and eventually into a shared obsession . Clearly the father is not the only one indulging in Inappropriate Behaviour and the film climaxes in shocking act of violence and entrapment.
Inappropriate Behaviour was a one off Tv play, a form of TV drama which has fallen into neglect yet which from the 1960s through to the 1980s was a regular part of broadcasting with showcase series like Play For Today , The Wednesday Play, Screen Two, drama showcases which exhibited the work of new, young and political screenwriters and directors. Here, the action switches between the school, where the arrival of the school where Jo’s arrival is treated with relief and where her help is sought not only by the pupils but by the staff, and the rural setting of Helen’s farm. Both locations are sites of tension depicting an education system under fire (with depressed, lonely teachers) and the remoteness of rural living and the decline of homegrown industry (at a time when Britain was increasingly looking to foreign trade).
The film deals not only with the issue of female sexuality but also with issues around mental health (Helen’s simple minded mother, her sister traumatised by the abuse she suffers at the hands of her father, a male teacher’s inability to cope with depression and loneliness and his desperate plea for help, not to mention Helen’s ultimate attempt to break free and take control of her surroundings). Davies deals, within the narrative, with the contemporary belief in psychological circles that only through changes in behaviour are ‘the only real changes people can make’, critiquing it and suggesting that in fact Jo is wrong (as she comes to realise through her developing relationship with Helen and baring witness to the fate of Helen’s parents) while these changes may occur and Helen’s behaviour will change (for the better) the roots of the problems at home will not.
The film contains elements of documentary realism (filmed on location), folk horror, melodrama and soap and combines with some comic moments. The rugged and threatening landscape contrasts greatly with the genteel and polite settings of Davies’ later costume drama.
The film is notable particularly for the performance given by Charlotte Coleman as Helen (then known for playing 80s schoolgirl tearaway Marmalade Atkins – also written by Davies, and later Hugh Grant’s flatmate Scarlett in Four Weddings and a Funeral ) who sadly passed away in 2001 after a massive asthma attack, aged just 33
Q and A with Andrew Davies and Rosie Millard
After a short interval, Davies returned to the stage with journalist Rosie Millard to discuss his career. Davies’ career has been wide and varied. He had worked as a teacher (which feeds into his dissection of the teacher/pupil relationship in Inappropriate Behavior ).
His work for screen has included the BBC comedy drama A Very Peculiar Practice (1986-1988), the terrifying adaptation of Dicken’s The Signalman (1976) for the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas , Pride and Prejudice (1995), the original BBC adaptation of Michael Dobb’s House of Cards (1991), and more recently the adaptation of War and Peace (BBC, 2016).
Davies (as he discussed in the q and a) was part of the last gasp of what might be called a golden age of British television drama, a time when the BBC had autonomy over their own drama production and when producers could commission writers. He was a contemporary of TV writers like Dennis Potter but his own career moved away from writing original drama into the field of adaptation.
The question was asked – what makes an Andrew Davies adaptation? The answer given was not just returning standard versions of the text, making them contemporary and relatable and not being averse to taking risks with the text.
Well done you. I was just a bit puzzled about what you wanted from posting it here, beyond getting us to read and think.
Mainly because the BFI is in Lambeth and I am a regular attender and there's loads of good stuff on there from when parents want to have a break
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