Originally, producer Derek Granger asked Anthony Andrews to play the role of Charles Ryder. Andrews, however, felt he was better suited for the part of Sebastian Flyte. Jeremy Irons, Granger's first choice for Sebastian, preferred to play Ryder, so the two actors swapped roles.
Laurence Olivier was offered his choice of roles in either Lord Marchmain or Edward Ryder. Olivier picked Lord Marchmain, but later regretted the choice as he realized that Edward Ryder was actually a much stronger role.
Dawson Casting: The story begins with Charles and Sebastian as first year undergraduates so presumably they are 18/19 years old despite both Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews being well into their 30s. Other cast members playing their contemporaries are about the same age as well.
In the summer of 1979, director Lindsay-Hogg began principal photography on the island of Gozo. Shortly after the cast and crew returned to England, a technician's strike brought all ITV production to a halt. By the time it was settled four months later, Lindsay-Hogg was no longer available due to a prior commitment to another project. Lindsay-Hogg was replaced by relative novice Charles Sturridge.
Cast contracts had to be renegotiated to take into account the extended filming period. Jeremy Irons, who was planning to audition for The French Lieutenant's Woman, stipulated he would remain with the production under condition he would be allowed time off to film the movie if he were cast. Rather than scrap the considerable completed footage in which the actor appeared, Granger agreed. Eventually, filming got so far behind that he was working on both projects simultaneously.
During the enforced break in filming caused by the strike, it was noticed by the cast and producer that an important scene (Julia in tears while sitting by the fountain at night) had not been included in the script. They decided that it should be put in. In fact, during filming, the cast and crew had only a vague idea how many episodes would result. The final script was apparently not written by John Mortimer. Producer Derek Granger simply selected scenes and lines from the pages of the novel, though Mortimer still had to be credited for contractual reasons.
Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: Laurence Olivier's tight schedule required he start immediately, but his scenes had not yet been written, and the writers hurried to complete them so the actor would have at least a week to learn his dialogue. Mona Washbourne was less fortunate and received her script the day she arrived on the set to begin filming.