Deborah Moggach masters the art of many characters

As part of our Tribute Series, FF2 Media celebrates the work of female filmmakers. Be sure to click on the film titles for full reviews & see where you can stream on JustWatch.com.

I had just started sixth grade when I encountered two great female writers for the first time. Those writers were Jane Austen and Deborah Moggach. Moggach’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFayden (of future Succession fame) would go on to be the only couple I could ever imagine as Lizzy and Darcy. I didn’t learn the screenwriter’s name until a decade or so later, but by that time I had watched her adaptation about 20 times, so that’s praise just as high. Thankfully though, I now bring you a feature on Moggach’s work that will highlight her work in P&P and her other films! Too often we don’t look at the screenwriting credits and focus on directors instead, but while Joe Wright did a fine job directing Pride and Prejudice, this badass woman writer should be celebrated as well! 

As Carly and I talk about in our sister chat, one of Moggach’s best features as a writer is how well she handles conversations that have many different people in them. Pride and Prejudice is brimming with characters who are constantly talking over each other, but Moggach (and a deft sound-editing team) make it all comprehensible. The result is an immersive 18th century world that leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve been to one of the rollicking Jane Austen-style parties depicted in the film. The scenes where people talk and dance are head-spinning in their complexity, with Moggach taking initiative that other Jane Austen adaptations often do not when it comes to many conversations being carried on simultaneously. It’s the mark of a great writer to be able to carry many different plot threads at the same time, and Jane Austen’s text really sings with Moggach to bring out the flavor of each individual character.

PRIDE & PREJUDICE

Moggach’s novel “These Foolish Things” was adapted into The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2011. The novel and film both follow a group of retirees moving from England to India, choosing the titular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel because it’s cheap enough to allow them to retire at all. The film benefits not only from the star studded cast of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, and others, but also from Moggach’s solid writing. One trend I notice in Moggach’s writing is her deft handling of ensemble casts–she’s able to take a cacophony of voices and make them sing in harmony. Both Pride and Prejudice and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are also about tetchy English people who tend toward the entitled side. Interestingly enough, both stories focus on people who aren’t rich or poor, but just on the hair’s breadth edge of sliding from one class to the other. The way Lizzy and Jane are written in their low-budget aristocracy is echoed in the ways the characters in Best Exotic seem to be longing for a lifestyle that’s just out of their reach.

In 2017, I wrote a review for FF2 on Tulip Fever, a film based on Moggach’s novel, which she adapted herself. I haven’t read the book, but the film’s dialogue had life in it that gave actors like Alicia Vikander plenty to work with. As in Moggach’s other work, the place where the story is set provides much of the mood; it serves as a character, if you will. The Amsterdam of Tulip Fever is richly wrought in the film, and from the snippets of the novel I could find online this is in direct response to how the book paints the city. For that matter, the way The Best Exotice Marigold Hotel paints India makes that film and book into a similarly vibrant experience of place. And of course, the shots of the Derbyshire peak in Pride and Prejudice make this film last but not least in the list of Moggach stories with strong settings.

All in all, these films by Moggach show a love of lavish settings, big groups of characters, and a wry humor that I’ve noticed in all her work as well. While Best Exotic is her main comedy here, the drama Tulip Fever and period piece Pride and Prejudice also have plenty of sass, even if it’s a glance from Kiera Knightley that belongs on The Office or a deadpan aside from Alicia Vikander. I’m definitely going to be seeking out more of Moggach’s work, especially her novels since I have not read much of her! It would also be interesting to see more of how her work is translated between different artistic mediums, considering she has both adapted and been adapted so often!

If you liked the writing by Moggach profiled here, you’re in luck–she has a huge body of work on the page and the screen! She has adapted for TV, including The Diary of Anne Frank and her own novel Stolen. Her books include “The Ex-Wives, about a man facing his third divorce who falls in love with a woman who determines to meet all his ex-wives, and “Seesaw, which focuses on a 17-year-old girl who gets kidnapped, her parents, and her kidnappers. 

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (4/16/20) FF2 Media

TULIP FEVER

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films.
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