Experts see potential in new DMU web tool revealing the making of classic TV drama


Literary experts have seen “wide-ranging potential” in a new kind of online resource in development by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) researchers. 

A team from DMU’s Centre for Adaptations have created an interactive website that shows step-by-step how George Eliot’s classic novel, Middlemarch, was adapted as a BBC serial in 1994. 

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DMU presenting the web resource at the British Library

Using the masses of notes, scripts, correspondence and other materials given to the university as part of the archive of acclaimed screenwriter Andrew Davies – who adapted the novel for television - the resulting resource shows in compelling detail the collaborative process required to put a literary classic on the screen. 

Though still in the final stages of development, this ‘genetic edition’, created by a team led by Professor Justin Smith, Director of the Cinema and Television History Institute, was shown to a group of experts and academics in a study day at the British Library. 

The group included Andrew Davies himself, and his script editor Susie Conklin, along with staff from the British Library, the George Eliot Fellowship, educational publishers and the National Association for the Teaching of English. 

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Andrew Davies (right), the screenwriter of BBC's Middlemarch

Professor Smith said the presentation had been well received. 

He said: “There was a range of recommendations and suggestions from the day; it was a very engaged group. 

“We looked at the possibility of using the resource as a study aid for literature students. We also discussed the idea of potentially working with publishers on new kinds of digital editions using the technology behind the web resource.” 

The webpage itself is set to be made public next year. It is split into columns, which, from left to right, allow the reader to see the published text of Eliot’s Middlemarch, the final draft of Andrew Davies’s shooting script, the post-production script and many detailed accompanying notes, all neatly linked through hyperlinks and including stills, interviews and clips of the finished production. 

Andrew Davies Middlemarch set in Stamford, Lincs

The set of the 1994 serial of Middlemarch

Alexander Lock, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library said: “I think there’s a lot of wide-ranging potential for the resource, beyond just academic study.  

“This could be an invaluable tool for people studying the art of screenwriting, enabling them to see in detail how the process of translating a complex novel like Middlemarch to the screen takes place and what decisions are made and remade. 

“At the British Library we hold George Eliot’s manuscript draft of Middlemarch which could be used to expand the remit of the resource further into the past. It’s an exciting project.” 

Posted on Friday 16th December 2022

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