Disagreements between writer and director are not uncommon in television drama. The first drafts of a screenplay are usually written in collaboration with a producer and script editor. Only when they (and their masters) are satisfied is a director appointed; but since the director is chiefly responsible for the final form of the drama, he will naturally have ideas of his own about the script, and suggestions for improving it, especially when it is an adaptation of text with which it can be compared. Martin Chuzzlewit has many strengths, but elegance of structure is not one of them. The producer, Chris Parr, had encouraged me to adapt it fairly freely, but Pedr wanted to restore much of what I had cut out. In fact, I accepted the validity of many of Pedr's notes, but could see no way of accommodating them in the screen time prescribed by my contract. The deadlock was broken when we were allowed to extend the duration of the serial substantially, providing this could be achieved within the original budget. By dint of ingenious juggling with the shooting schedule, we eventually obtained an additional 80 minutes of screen time. Even so, there was a lot of hard argument and negotiation between Pedr and myself, with Chri s Parr holding the ring, as the script passed through its third, fourth and sometimes fifth drafts. In these discussions it often struck me that a reversal of the expected roles had taken place: I, the novelist and former academic, was exercised about wh at would or would not "work" as television drama, while Pedr, the seasoned director, was keen to be as faithful as possible to Dickens's text.
(Something similar happened, I believe, between Andrew Davies and Anthony Page in the BBC's production of Middlemarch). I have no doubt that out of this sometimes heated debate a much better script emerged, and I would venture to say that where there is no such friction within a production team, the final result is likely to be disappointing. By the time rehearsals started, we had an agreed script that both of us were happy with, give or take a few small points - and one big one: the ending.
If I remember rightly, it was the script editor, Nell Denton, who first threw out the suggestion of a double wedding - between young Martin Chuzzlewit and Mary Graham, and between Tom Pinch's friend John Westlock and his sister Ruth - as the final scene of the serial. The idea appealed to me as a background to the final credits, and I developed it into a multiple wedding - incorporating the union of Mark Tapley and Mrs Lupin, and taking the liberty of marrying Mrs Todgers off to Mr Jinkins at the same time. Pedr's comment was: "I really hate this." He felt it was a soft-soapy, feel-good ending that undermined the seriousness and pathos of the novel's conclusion, especially as it concerns the character of Tom Pinch. "This book is not about marriage," hesaid to me more than once.
Well, no, it is not - in the sense that Middlemarch, for instance, is "about" marriage. Indeed, ordinary married life is conspicuous by its absence from the pages of Martin Chuzzlewit. Excluding the American episodes (which for the most part are extraneous to the main story), there is only one "normal" family (husband, wife and children living together) in the entire novel, that of Mr Mould the undertaker. Otherwise, the novel teems with orphans, widows, widowers, spinsters, bachelors, child less couples, deserted wives and jilted brides. But that makes marriage all the more potent an image of desired happiness. As in Shakespeare's comedies and tragi-comedies, which Dickens's novel so often recalls, the removal of obstacles to the union of t he young lovers in Martin Chuzzlewit confirms the triumph of good over evil, hope over despair, love over selfishness. The story ends with three couples looking forward eagerly to marriage; it didn't seem outrageous licence to end the television serial b y actually showing, and combining, their weddngs.
This argument did not persuade Pedr, nor did my ready agreement to remove Mrs Todgers and Jinkins from the bridal procession overcome his dislike of my ending; but as he went ahead and shot the wedding scene, I assumed that he had conceded defeat on thispoint. I was wrong. In editing the last episode he concluded it with Tom Pinch's very moving speech to his sister Ruth, accepting that his love for Mary was always a hopeless dream. I had shifted this speech from its earlier position in Dickens's text deliberately, to avoid the sense of a formulaic "happy ending". But in the continuation of my script, Tom welcomes the news of his sister's engagement to John, promises to play the organ at their wedding, and is shown doing so, just before the happy couples emerge from the church. Although these scenes were shot, the number of wedding guests in the procession from the church (and therefore the time it took for them to exit) was drastically reduced - so much so that, in the edited version I saw, Tom appears at the door throwing confetti just a few bars into the wedding march he is supposed to be playing. Faced with this surrealistic effect, I had no option but to accept Pedr's ending. The moral of the story is, I suppose, that you can lead a director to water but you cannot make him drink.
Some commentators have asserted that neither the ending favoured by Pedr James, nor the one I wrote, is faithful to Dickens's novel, since it ends with the jilting of Charity Pecksniff by Augustus Moddle. It is true that the last "scene" in the novel (brought forward slightly in the television serial) is the jilting of Charity, but the very last pages of the novel are a kind of prophetic (and, it has to be said, very sentimental) vision of Tom Pinch at the organ, his spa rse hair now grey, musing on hislife. We gather that he gives occasional assistance to the indigent Pecksniff without expecting or receiving any thanks, that he is a beloved member of Ruth and John's household, but also the special favourite of a daught er of Mary's, that his life is "tranquil, calm and happy", and that the memory of his old love "is a pleasant, softened, whispering memory, like that in which we sometimes hold the dead, and does not pain or grieve thee, God be thanked".
I think Pedr's ending and my ending were valid efforts to find an equivalent in the condensed, dramatic language of television, for that final vision - mine an upbeat version, his a downbeat one. The loss of the weddings bothered me less than losing Tom's belated recognition that his sister is in love with his best friend, but it was impossible to detach one from the other effectively at the editing stage. I rather regret, now, that we didn't reach a compromise solution that I tentatively suggested while filming was still in progress - that we end after the embrace between Tom and John, with a long-held shot of the two men and Ruth walking away, arm in arm, out of the courtyard and out of the frame of the story. Pedr said the location chosen for the scene didn't allow such a shot. From such practical constraints do large consequences often follow in the making of television drama.
The last episode of `Martin Chuzzlewit' is repeated on Sunday on BBC1 at 3.45pm.
the writer's version These are the concluding passages of the final version script for the last episode of the BBC's Martin Chuzzlewit. As transmitted last night, it ends with Tom Pinch's line: "I do not grieve for the impossible."
TOM: (smiles and shakes his head) You think of me, Ruth, and it is very natural that you should, as if I was a character in a book; and you make it a sort of poetical justice that I should, by some impossible means or other, come at last to marry the person I love. But there is a higher justice than the poetical kind, my dear. I don't grieve for the impossible. But how did you guess my secret?
RUTH: (bashfully) Perhaps because I have one of my own.
Ruth glances at John Westlock. Tom follows the direction of her glance. John smiles and approaches them.
TOM: You mean?
TOM: (continuing) Goodness gracious! I was never so surprised - or delighted - in my life. John, my dear fellow! WESTLOCK: We are brothers, Tom. Give me your hand.
TOM: (overcome) John! John! WESTLOCK: (smiling) But as you are Ruth's guardian, I must ask you formally for her hand in marriage.
TOM: Granted, my dear John! And I'll play the organ at your wedding.
Scene 5/45. Int. Day.
Set - London church.
Tom, dressed in a new morning suit, with a flower in his buttonhole, is sitting at a really enormous organ. He is looking over his shoulder as if expecting a cue. He seems to get it, nods, and starts playing the wedding march, con brio.
Rewrite - 25.1.94
Scene 5/46. Ext. Day.
Set - London church.
Final credits over steps and porch of a London church. Sound of the wedding march played inside. The church bells begin to ring. A little group of bystanders have gathered to watch the exit of bride and groom.
John and Ruth, appropriately dressed, come out arm in arm, followed (to the spectators' growing astonishment) by young Martin and Mary, also dressed as groom and bride, and Mark Tapley and Mrs Lupin, also dressed as groom and bride. The couples smile andlaugh and exchange kisses and handshakes. The organ music fades and is replaced by theme music.
A procession of wedding guests emerges from the church: Chuffey, frail but smiling, escorted by Mercy and Bailey (who has just a small plaster on his forehead); a chastened-looking Charity; Mrs Todgers escorted by Jinkin; and some of the gentlemen lodgers at Todgers's. Last to appear is old Martin, smiling benignly, his arm around Tom's shoulder.Reuse content