Adaptations of Evelyn Waugh's Fiction

By Phillips, Gene D. Sj | Literature/Film Quarterly, Spring 1978 | Go to article overview

Adaptations of Evelyn Waugh's Fiction


Phillips, Gene D. Sj, Literature/Film Quarterly


Evelyn Waugh was an inveterate moviegoer, especially in his later years when he would journey into town from his country estate once or twice a week to see a film. Yet he never thought of motion pictures as a suitable medium for the adaptation of literature. In reviewing Graham Greene's novel The Heart of the Matter he expressed his fear that a filmmaker who lacked Greene's talent as a story teller would turn the book into "the dreariest kind of film." He pictured Lauren Bacali cast as the refugee girl that the hero meets, her "pretty head lolling on the stretcher," made up in the grand Hollywood style even though she has just been rescued from a sinking ship.1

In Vile Bodies Waugh describes in uproarious detail a "super-religious" movie based on the life of John Wesley in which the eighteenth-century English evangelist is rescued from a marauding band of American Indians by a British lady disguised as a cowboy. And in his war trilogy. Sword of Honor, he mentions an American historical film in which Bonnie Prince Charlie speaks in "rich Milwaukee accents." Given Waugh's condescending attitude to cinematic adaptations of history as well as of literature, it is not surprising that he viewed very ruefully indeed any attempt to translate his work into dramatic form.2

Despite Waugh's misgivings about film versions of his fiction, however, his work has found its way onto both the big screen of the cinema and the little screen of the TV tube. In the present essay I would like to survey briefly how Waugh's fiction has been dealt with in both the cinema and on television in order to see which medium has been more faithful to the spirit of his work.

Two major films have been drawn from Waugh's novels. The Loved One (1965) and Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher (1970).

The Loved One is about Hollywood, the result of Waugh's visit there to negotiate the film rights of Brideshead Revisited. It is fitting, therefore, that Hollywood should want to film it. In 1964 MGM undertook the project, and onlookers conjectured that the film company would get no further with its attempt to film The Loved One than it had with its attempt to adapt Brideshead to the screen. To everyone's surprise Waugh agreed to let the filming proceed.

"He had initially turned The Loved One over to his very good friend Alec Guinness, who was going to star in the film for an independent producer," his late wife Laura has explained to me. "When the latter went bankrupt, however, the script was turned over along with several other properties to MGM, who proceeded with the film."

Guinness then proved unavailable, and when the director, Tony Richardson, announced the extent of the changes he was going to make in The Loved One in order to "update" it, Waugh demanded that the director be replaced. But Waugh's objections came too late and the film went into production according to Richardson's specifications. The "expansion" of the script got decidedly out of hand, admits Terry Southern, one of the collaborators on the screenplay. The first assembly of the footage after principal photography had been completed ran almost five hours and had to be trimmed to two.3 In the course of all of these revisions, Waugh's original story got mislaid, as he had feared it would. "He tried to have his name removed from the screen credits," said Mrs. Waugh, "but it was already too late to do so."

The film of The Loved One opens promisingly enough with Robert Morse as the British poet Dennis Barlow arriving at the Los Angeles airport to visit Sir Francis Hinsley (impeccably played by Sir John Gielgud), one of the colony of Englishmen marooned in Hollywood. The dinner which Sir Francis and his compatriots give for Dennis is humorously staged, with such neat touches as a waiter hastily replacing a picture of Lyndon Johnson with a portrait of the Queen while the exiles solemnly toast their lost homeland.

Later, when Sir Francis' job in the studio publicity department is turned over to a witless in-law of a company executive, the old knight stoically collects his things and is stopped by an imperious secretary who inquires whether the painting he is carrying (and which he painted himself) is studio property. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Adaptations of Evelyn Waugh's Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.