Us David Nicholls adapts his bestselling novel for BBC One

Interview with David Nicholls

20th September 9pm, BBC One​ 4 episodes

All episodes available on iPlayer



Tell us about the story of Us.
Us is very much a love story. It does focus on the beginning of a relationship and there’s a bit of that in this, but there’s also a strand of romantic comedy, which is the comedy of divorce.

It’s about not why two characters should be together, but if they really should be together and if they should stay together. It’s not dark or cynical. It’s a love story about marriage, rather than first encounters, which isn’t something we see very often. I also wanted to write about parenthood and what that can do to a relationship - the demands of parenthood, the challenges, mistakes and the difficulties - a father and son in particular.

The novel is told from the view of Douglas Petersen, whose wife wakes him up in the middle of the night and tells him she wants to leave. Their son is leaving home and she feels it’s the natural end of their family and wants to go off and do something new. Douglas hates the idea of losing his son and wife so sets out to win them back through their last holiday together - a road trip across the great European Cities. It’s about marriage, how having kids affects a relationship, it’s about how wonderful and frustrating travel can be, about the similarities and differences between Arts and Science but mostly the story of someone who desperately wants to hold onto ‘Us’ and that idea of the family and keep these three people together.

Did you have any experience writing for screen?.
I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist so I had some idea of the differences between the two mediums. So for example, what works well on screen and what doesn’t translate quite so well and the sacrifices you have to make when you adapt a book.

It’s very hard to adapt your own work; it’s hard to be as ruthless and clear sighted as you need to be. You need to be remorseless really. Even a slim novel needs to be restricted when expanded on screen, which was the hardest element. At the same time, I knew the book very well, was very proud of the novel and I felt I’d spent a lot of time in the characters heads to do it well.

When you write a book, you have a very straightforward access to what characters think and feel. When you write a script, you have to focus on what the characters do and say, so you lose a lot of the internal monologue, a lot of observations; similes and metaphors and you are left with action and dialogue which can be quite startling. However making that transformation is also fascinating and I’ve done it several times. It’s a mixture of maddening and stimulating. It’s something I learn from every time.

Was it a hard book to adapt?.
I always thought that this would be a tricky book to adapt, as it’s told from one character’s point of view and it’s very much in his head. At the same time, there’s something about it which is very cinematic: it’s a road movie, a journey through the physical spaces of Europe but also a journey of a 20-year marriage through flashbacks.

The novel is written through a series of very short scenes and I wanted to try and convey what it’s like to go through this journey and on screen, you can relish and enjoy. You can see these amazing cities, the art galleries, at both their picturesque best and the frustration, awkwardness and sometimes farce of travel.

Source BBC One

September 17, 2020 9:35am ET by BBC One  


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