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‘The Custom of the Country’ Adaptation Announced: What We Know So Far

The limited period drama series, The Custom of the Country, will premiere on Apple TV Plus.

Period drama fans celebrate! If you were sick and tired of the same books being adapted over and over again, well, good news, Sofia Coppola is developing a new TV series adaptation of Edith Wharton’s classic novel, The Custom of the Country. And it has never been adapted to the big or small screen before.

Here’s what we know about the TV show so far.


Sofia Coppola of Lost in TranslationThe Beguiled and Marie Antoinette fame will be writing and directing the series for Apple TV Plus. Now, Sofia is no stranger to period drama movies. However, this is her first time doing episodic television, but with her proven talent writing and directing films in the past, the series is sure to be of high quality.

The TV show will likely be an episodic limited series. And while it hasn’t been officially announced as a period drama, because it comes from an early twentieth-century novel with themes specific to that time, it likely will be a costume drama set pre-World War I in New York.

In a statement to Variety, Coppola explained why she chose this classic book to adapt, saying, “Undine Spragg is my favorite literary anti-heroine, and I’m excited to bring her to the screen for the first time.”

Well, we’re excited too!


The Custom of the Country book cover

While no official synopsis for the series has released yet, the book follows the story of Undine Spragg, a social-climbing Becky Sharp-type.

Edith Wharton, famous for writing books such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, published the novel in 1913. But it has never been adapted before.

About the novel, Penguin Random House writes: 

 “Undine Spragg is an exquisitely beautiful but ferociously acquisitive young woman from the Midwest who comes to New York to seek her fortune. She achieves her social ambitions—but only at the highest cost to her family, her admirers, and her several husbands. Wharton lavished on Undine an imaginative energy that suggests she was as fascinated as she was appalled by the alluring monster she had created. It is the complexity of her attitude that makes The Custom of the Country—with its rich social and emotional detail and its headlong narrative power—one of the most fully realized and resonant of her works.”


downton abbey photo
Downton Abbey. Photo: Focus Features

Downton Abbey fans may also be interested in this one as Julian Fellowes claims that this book influenced his writing, including Downton Abbey. He said, “It is quite true that Edith Wharton has been a tremendous influence on me and on my writing…”

On The Custom of the Country, he remarked at The Mount’s Fall Gala in 2013 that “Wharton has created an anti-heroine absolutely in the same rank as Becky Sharp, Scarlet O’Hara, or Lizzy Eustace. Undine has no values except ambition, greed, and desire, and yet through the miracle of Wharton’s writing, you are on her side. That’s what’s so extraordinary about the book.”

Further, he added, that Wharton’s Custom of the Country was a “tremendous inspiration” to him. And, ultimately, “because of Edith Wharton” and the saying “write what you know,” he decided to write what he knew. That led to the book, Snobs, and eventually to Downton Abbey.

As influential as this book is, it hasn’t received as much attention as Wharton’s more famous novels. It will be intriguing to see this highly significant but overlooked novel finally get the attention it deserves from Coppola, an excellent filmmaker.


Florence Pugh in Little Women
Florence Pugh in Little Women. Photo: Sony Pictures

While no one has been cast in the series yet, I do think an actress like Florence Pugh would be fantastic in the role of Undine. Last year, Pugh made the unlikable Amy in the Little Women adaptation into a relatable, likable heroine. Something I thought impossible. So, it would be interesting to see someone like Pugh play the role. Pugh has the skills necessary to pull off the part.

Still, if not Pugh, finding out who is cast in the role soon will be interesting.


Currently, the production is in early development, so it is likely we won’t see the series for a long time. However, the announcement is positive news because it looks like American entertainment companies are finally starting to take notice of what has worked so well for the British for decades: limited period drama series based on famous classic novels. Limited series is the best possible way to adapt longer, more complicated books. So, let’s hope The Custom of the Country is the beginning of a new trend.

What do you think about The Custom of the Country news? Are you excited about this adaptation? Who would you cast in the main roles? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

The Custom of the Country Adaptation Announced: What We Know So Far; Pinterest Graphic


By on May 19th, 2020

About Amber Topping

Amber works as a writer and digital publisher full-time and fell in love with stories and imagination at an early age. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, contributed as a writer to various magazines, and has an MS in Publishing from Pace University, where she received the Publishing Award of Excellence and wrote her thesis on transmedia, Jane Austen, and the romance genre. Her ultimate dreams are publishing books, writing and producing movies, traveling around the world, and forming a creative village of talented storytellers trying to change the world through art.

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