Transforming Middlemarch – What digital technologies can reveal about the creative process of literary adaptation




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Learning on Screen



Peer reviewed



What goes into turning a literary classic into popular TV drama? That’s the question at the heart of a DMU research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in partnership with the British Library. ‘Transforming Middlemarch’ traces the journey from book to screen of George Eliot’s groundbreaking novel, drawing on the scripts, notes and correspondence of celebrated screenwriter Andrew Davies, who adapted Middlemarch for the BBC in a 6-part series starring Juliet Aubrey, Douglas Hodge, and Rufus Sewell first aired in 1994.

2022 marked the 150th anniversary of the first, serialised, publication of Middlemarch, set in a fictionalised Coventry at time of the great Reform Bill. So it was a timely choice from the extensive back catalogue of the prolific Davies, who donated his personal archive to DMU’s Special Collections in 2015. Middlemarch (1994) also marked a watershed for the BBC. In partnership with WGBH (Boston), Michael Wearing (Head of Drama) gambled what was then a risky £6m on a lavish production shot on film and set on location (in Rome and the Lincolnshire town of Stamford) that was big on period detail. In turn, it spawned a raft of BBC Education resources, a (then unusual) ‘making of…’ documentary, and lively arts show critics’ debates; and it boosted Stamford’s tourist trade with location tours and a repertoire of visitor souvenirs. Following its success, Davies’ next BBC heritage adaptation was Pride and Prejudice (best remembered for that scene of Mr Darcy’s dip in the lake which doesn’t appear in Jane Austen). The rest, as they say, is history.

This article summarises the project’s process and previews this open-access literary adaptation web resource for the benefit of Learning on Screen affiliates.


free access article


Digital Humanities, Adaptation, Andrew Davies, Middlemarch


Smith, J. (2023) Transforming Middlemarch – What digital technologies can reveal about the creative process of literary adaptation, Viewfinder, 122


Research Institute

Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI)