The Innocents: It’s the Kosher Downton Abbey

By Jennifer Lipman, February 7, 2013
Dame Maggie: is she Ziva? (Photo: AP)

Dame Maggie: is she Ziva? (Photo: AP)

An award-winning novel set in the Jewish community of Temple Fortune could be coming to television screens in the near future.

Carnival Films, makers of Downton Abbey, confirmed that a television adaptation of Francesca Segal’s The Innocents was “in development”.

Ms Segal’s debut novel has received considerable attention since its publication last May.

Based loosely on Edith Wharton’s classic novel The Age of Innocence, the book opens on Kol Nidre with characters gossiping at shul. It follows the relationship of Adam and Rachel, a couple who meet on Israel tour, and the complication of the arrival of Rachel’s cosmopolitan American cousin.

Ms Segal, daughter of the late Love Story author Erich, won the Costa Award for a first novel earlier this month.

The Downton producers are clearly familiar with the nuances of early twenteith century aristocratic life, but the same may not be true of the particularoties of Jewish life. So the JC is happy to offer its advice over who might play what role.

For Rachel’s opinionated and beloved Israeli grandmother, Ziva, it’s a toss-up: should it be the venerable Dame Maggie Smith, who wiped the floor with all-comers in Downton as the Dowager Duchess? Or the glamorous Shirley Maclaine, the only woman to stand up to the Dowager, in her role as Martha Levinson?

With the license of TV adaptations, we would create a new character: the rabbi. Step forward, Hugh Bonneville, the Earl of Grantham.

And the earl’s minxy eldest daughter, Lady Mary, (played by Michelle Dockery) is a shoo-in for Rachel’s unconventional, seductive cousin Ellie, whose presence drives a wedge between Adam and Rachel.

And now that the pin-up of Downton, Matthew Crawley, has been killed off — and since he was originally a country solicitor who became the heir to the earldom — then it’s practically typecasting to have the delicious Dan Stevens play Adam the north London Jewish lawyer.

Francesca Segal is disturbingly taciturn on the numbers of belowstairs staff who oil the wheels of north London’s Jewish community in The Innocents. But we are ready to take bets that there are any number of Jewish versions of Mr Carson, lurking in the background, perhaps helpfully filling in the Ocado orders, or just slipping into Waitrose...

Last updated: 2:45pm, February 7 2013