After the first episode yesterday evening of the BBC’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, I just couldn’t believe an hour had passed so quickly. Sixty minutes of sheer entertainment with outstanding performances, especially from Douglas Hodge as Grimes (seen above in the boater).
Is it like the book, though? Well, how could it be? Impossible to translate Waugh’s language to the screen. For instance, when the local Welsh band arrives to play at the school sports’ day, Fagan (David Suchet) says, ‘Who are these extraordinary people?’ and has them quickly hidden in a tent. Here is Waugh’s description of their arrival:
‘Ten men of revolting appearance were approaching from the drive. They were low of brow, crafty of eye and crooked of limb. They advanced huddled together with the loping tread of wolves, peering about them furtively as they came, as though in constant terror of ambush; they slavered at their mouths, which hung loosely over their receding chins, while each clutched under his ape-like arm a burden of curious and unaccountable shape. On seeing the Doctor they halted and hedged back, those behind squinting and mouthing over their companions’ shoulders.’
That passage either makes you shake with laughter or fills you with prim disapproval of its racism. The thing about the book is that it attacks just about everything and everybody (except poor, hapless Paul Pennyfeather) with comic savagery. Watch the film for fun but read the book for brilliant comic satire.