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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Films’ Category

sanditon-first-look-icon-01-3200x1800Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece exceeded my expectations in some respects and not in others. It seems that a mixed reaction to this mini-series is not unusual. Many viewers in the UK loved it. Many did not. Some loathed it. Reading and hearing the opinions of my Janeite friends overseas, I approached reviewing this series with some trepidation. I had an extreme reaction to Episode One at first, then viewed all the episodes in two days’ time. Seeing them back to back gave me a new perspective.

First, I wondered why Andrew Davies, the writer, used so little of Austen’s actual material. In my copy of Sanditon, the unfinished manuscript is 75 pages long. Austen completed the first draft of 11 chapters and began the 12th, where both Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe made their first appearances. Before that, the readers knew them only through conversations from other characters. Mr. Davies admitted that he devoted half of Episode One to Jane Austen’s plot as he did not think there was enough “story material” in her manuscript for more. Persuasion’s length was 24 complete chapters. Could Davies not have stretched Austen’s excellent material to two episodes? Instead he tossed aside the complex themes she was developing in favor of straightforward cinematic storytelling, which explains why so many Janeites were disappointed with the series.

As I watched the mini-series, I realized that it wasn’t an Austen adaptation. This televised tale was inspired by a tantalizing beginning that Austen did not complete. Davies used the unfinished novel merely as an outline for his plot. In online interviews he spoke about modernizing the story and sexing it up. In his foreword to the official companion book to the series, The World of Sanditon, Davies was forthright about rushing through the first three episodes as he worked against a deadline. He states:

I’m thrilled with what we have achieved: a period drama that feels utterly fresh and modern – Jane Austen, but not as you knew her.”

If you keep this statement in mind, you will watch the series for what it is and what it was meant to be – entertainment with many references to Jane Austen’s other novels and characters.

Rose Williams, who plays Charlotte Heywood, is adorable. She resembles an adolescent Austen heroine. Fresh-faced, yet wise and well-read, with a young-sounding voice, she has the qualities that I imagined for Charlotte Heywood and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. (Ms. Williams is 25 years old, but she looks and sounds much younger.)

I’ve read of complaints about Charlotte’s hair as being inauthentic in this series. At the assembly ball, however, and at formal gatherings, her hair and its accessories are appropriate for the occasion. I think that by keeping her hair loose and wild during walks, seaside outings, and less formal times, Davies is reminding viewers of her humble country origins. As a guest of the Parkers, she would have help from servants for formal occasions but would most likely be left on her own at other times.

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe, a woman of mixed-race, is given the delightful name of Georgiana, reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s sister. Austen’s introduction of a West Indies heiress is a new development in her novels. The topic of mixed races and fantastic wealth achieved on plantations in Antigua is one she must have known well through her sailor brothers. I love the developing friendship between Georgiana and Charlotte.

I’ve not been as bothered by the music mentioned by some. Sanditon is located along the coastline of Sussex, a rural region, and the setting is not as fashionable or royal as Brighton, where fancy orchestras could find ample work. The folksy music complements the rustic, unfinished streets and buildings in Sanditon and supports the more modern treatment Davies sought.

The photography is lovely, the sets are lush, and I love how the costumes identify people by their wealth and status. Charlotte’s clothes are simple and homemade, although she owns more dresses than I though her parents with 11 children could afford. Miss Lambe, Miss Denham, and Clara Brereton wear clothes of a finer quality, and so forth.

Now we get to the part that I find problematic. I know Davies wanted to sex up the plot, but, really, a hand job? I was not amused. What if I wanted to introduce my young nieces to Jane Austen? How would I have explained that scene?

As to the nudity, male and female beaches were separated at the time. Both sexes knew the demarcation lines and where or where not to walk or swim. Charlotte happening upon Sidney Parker rising out of the ocean full frontal naked caused me to laugh, not out of embarrassment, but because the audience manipulation was so obvious. Jane Austen was no prude. A country woman, she had probably witnessed sex among animals, nursed her male relatives back to health, and helped family members and neighbors with birthing, but she was never crude. Ever.

Young Stringer, the foreman, is a likable character, but I thought almost from the start that he was created to be a “second stringer,” someone to throw us off in the romance department. His background and ambitions are suited to someone of Charlotte’s station, but Sidney Parker has been cast in the role of hero, and so Young Stringer’s purpose seems likely to go nowhere.

Theo James’s performance as Sidney Parker was quite good. He is a darkly handsome hero, one whose sparring with Charlotte in the first two episodes reminded me of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

To sum up this review, Davies chose to follow his own instincts in developing this miniseries If viewers watch the first two episodes of Sanditon on their own merit and not as an Austen adaptation, they’ll enjoy the experience.

Sanditon for streaming and binge watchers

The debut episode of the series will begin streaming on the MASTERPIECE PRIME VIDEO CHANNEL on January 12, with new episodes debuting Sunday of each following week. On February 23, fans can binge-watch the program in its entirety.

The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. Every purchase helps supports public television for all.

See sidebar for links to PBS, a description of the full cast, and a link to the companion book.

Links to Music

 

 

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Inquiring readers,

Happy New Year! Are U.S. Austen fans ready for the countdown to Sanditon on PBS? Only 11 days remain until this eight-episode mini-series based on Jane Austen’s final novel fragment airs on Sunday nights. You can also stream each episode. The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. On February 23, you can binge watch the entire series. The DVD is also on sale.

Now, on to the poem, written by Robert Bloomfield “In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack.” It’s a lovely early 19th century description from a beast of burden to her brother about her “work” in a seaside resort.

Image of Robert Bloomfield's Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack, 1807, along with an image by I. Cruikshank ?

Brother Jack I am going to inform you
Of things that ne’er enter’d your head,
And I hope the narration will charm you
Wherever you’re driven or led;

For it grieves me to think of your hampers,
And the cudgel that thumps you behind;
To have none of my frolics and scampers,
My labour’s as light as the wind.

On a fine level form’d by the tide,
The beach and the ocean between,
Fashion here tells young lasses to ride
On the best walk that ever was seen,

The sands, brother Jack, that’s the spot
Where the ladies exhibit their graces;
There they push me along till I trot,
‘Midst a circle of giggling faces.

Not one of the party stands idle,
For, when I move just like a snail,
One half of them pull at my bridle,
And t’other half push at my tail.

Then up, full of frolic and glee,
One will mount, and will scold, and will strike,
And ride me knee-deep in the sea,
Where I stop—just as long as I like.

For what are their tricks and manoevres?
They may pull me, and haul me, and teize,
But I plague them as they plague their lovers,
O, I like to do just as I please!

Don’t be envious—Hark what I tell—
You would never do her for a prude,
Because Jack, you know very well,
You were always inclin’d to be rude;

And if you should set up your braying,
And give them but two or three staves,(willow sticks?)
You would stop all the children from playing,
Or frighten them into the waves!

Sometimes a sick lady will ride me,
More tender and delicate still,
And employ a poor boy just to guide me,
Where I cannot go wrong if I will;

Then back through the town gently creeping,
We stop at some library-door,
Where, nonsense preferring to sleeping,
She loads me with novels a score.

And, dear Jack, by the bye, I’ve long guest,
Tho’ good ladies I’ve no wish to spite ‘em;
That ‘tis we bring these book in request,
And that some of our family write ‘em.

But who’d go to boast about that?
No, I’ll finish by telling you true,
That at Worthing we all might grow fat,
And keep the best company too.

So love to you Jack till next season,
I’ll be happy as long as I can;
For an ass that complains without reason,
Becomes—just as bad as a man!”

Published 25th May, 1807.
By Laurie and Whittle,
No. 53, Fleet Street, London

Detail of the illustration by I. Cruikshank (?) News from Worthingo In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack By Robert Bloomfield, 1807

Image detail. One can see the chaos in the background with asses that were uncooperative. The maid on the ass is obviously stuck and unhappy.  Chaos reigns, which the onlookers love. Notice the woman at the middle, who is about to be bounced off her ass. Cruikshank (?) shows her bare legs with high stockings. Women in that era did not wear underpants. Ooh la la! The muslin cloth of the woman’s white dress front and center indicates how thin it is as evidenced by her nipples. She is trapped in her position until the ass decides to move. Hah!

I especially like the reference to circulating libraries, which abounded in resort cities.

Many scholars think that Worthing, a seaside resort Jane Austen visited in 1805, could have been the inspiration for the town of Sanditon twelve years later.

  • This interesting article, “Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?,” by Donna Fletcher Crow, Jane Austen UK, July 24, 2019, and downloaded 12/31/2019, is reproduced on the site by the author’s permission.

About the author: “Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. “

Sources:

  • Bloomfield, Robert. “News from Worthing. In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack,” Published 25th May, 1807, by Laurie and Whittle, No. 53, Fleet Street, London. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Cartoon Prints, British. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.03595/. Rights Advisory:  No known restrictions on publication. (Color cartoon)

The rich and wealthy collected color cartoons. People not as flush in the pocket as purchased black and white cartoons, as shown in the following print from Yale University:

  • Bloomfield, Robert,  “News from Worthing: in a letter from a beast of burden to her brother Jack (from the Monthly mirror for April, 1807). Cruikshank, Isaac printmaker., Laurie, Robert and Whittle, James, publisher, 1807. Digital collection: Lewis Walpole Library. Downloaded 12/31/2019 at this link.

In addition: Jane Austen’s World links to

 

 

 

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pride-prej-zombiesInquiring readers, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ the movie, has finally arrived. Almost seven years ago I had a blast reviewing Seth Grahame-Smith’s audacious novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, and suggested a few satirical book plots of my own. Click here to read JAW’s review of Seth’s tome, which retained 15% of Jane Austen’s words and embellished Jane’s plot a wee bit by adding hordes of ravenous zombies that had overrun Regency England. For those who are eager to see the cinematic version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ melded with Shaun of the Dead, may we suggest that you read the parody book before viewing the movie?

Quirk Books has asked me to recall some of my favorite scenes from the book.  I invited my good friend, Hillary Major, to trip down memory lane with me. She had read Seth’s book front to back in 2007 and recently reacquainted herself with the plot by way of a fabulous graphic novel based on the book.

When I first read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was struck by the wit – the humorous juxtaposition of Austen’s words with Graham-Smith’s pulpy additions, as when Miss Bingley asserts that an accomplished woman “must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, dancing and the modern languages” as well as being “well trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the tactics and weaponry of modern Europe.” As I re-familiarized myself by reading the graphic novel version of the book, I found much of the wit retained through the dialogue and (infrequent) captions. The graphic novel, of course, fleshes out the combat scenes and does a particularly good job of capturing the sorry stricken – from the former residents of Mrs. Beecham’s Home for Orphans to lamp oil salesgirl Penny McGregor to an undead Madonna and a certain longsuffering bride. The graphic novel pulls out the fun and the horror in the action sequences but also raises my curiosity about how the movie will put these scenes into motion.

But really, how interesting are zombies as villains? What’s their motivation? Yes, yes, I know, it’s a truth universally acknowledged: brains and more brains. Still, there’s a certain sameness and routine to a zombie enemy. Zombies are really only dangerous in numbers – unless you happen to be an unfortunate messenger or a cook, which Lizzie Bennet most emphatically is not. My favorite parts of the book (and graphic novel) jump out not because of how they deal with the scourge of unmentionables but because of the way they showcase Lizzie as a total badass, armed not just with rapier wit but with actual dagger and katana.

Lizzie’s competence, strategy, and skill in the deadly arts are singular from the beginning; we first see her “carving the Bennet crest in the handle of a new sword.” When Lizzie and her sisters first jump into action at the Lucas’ ball – responding to Mr. Bennett’s shouted command, “Pentagram of Death!” – it’s a stirring moment. (Darcy takes notice.)

But Elizabeth Bennet is a warrior worthy of an enemy greater than brainless zombies – thus, we meet Lady Catherine, commander of ninjas. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has always put the cat in catfight, and this comes to literal life in her final confrontation with Lizzie. Who hasn’t applauded Lizzie’s refusal to promise never to become betrothed to Darcy and wished the statement were punctuated by a punch in the Lady’s face? Here, the verbal showdown is prequel to a martial arts battle, one that takes place in the Bennets’ own dojo. Lady Catherine gets in a few good blows early on, but Lizzie comes back with a dagger thrust, and soon Lady Catherine is flying through the air, breaking rafters. In the midst of all the “flying about” in a leaping, kicking, katana-wielding martial arts fantasy of a fight, Lizzie descends (from an unbroken rafter) at a key moment and batters away her adversary’s sword, leaving Lady Catherine at her mercy. Lizzie lets her live, knowing she has been “bested by a girl for whom [she has] no regard,” showing more mercy than Catherine would have offered her (or than Lizzie shows the ninja retainers). It’s this throwdown and victory over Lady Catherine that truly sets up the ending of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, of Lizzie and Darcy fighting side by side.

Final-UK-quad

For my part, gentle readers, I shall never forget how Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, slowly turned into a zombie after being bitten by a ghoul. Lizzie promised to remain true to her friend, but as the poor woman’s physical condition deteriorated, it was hard for visitors not to notice her unfortunate appearance or the fact that she was wont to nibble on her hand. One really has to laugh at some of the more ridiculous scenes and one can’t help but wonder how the exuberant young Jane Austen, who wrote the ‘Juvenilia,’ would have reacted to this mashup of her most famous novel.

lena heady lady catherineThe powers that be in Hollywood took seven years to find a Lizzie (Lily James) and Darcy (Sam Riley) worthy of becoming skilled zombie fighters trained by the finest masters in the martial arts. To my way of thinking, Lena Heady’s turn in playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh with an eye patch is worth the price of admission alone.

While I understand that many Jane Austen fans will refuse to see the film, some of us in our Janeite group can’t wait to see it. Love or hate the idea, feel free to let us know your thoughts. 

 

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As part of Winterfest, Hallmark Channel is featuring a made for TV movie, Unleashing Mr. Darcy, Saturday, January 23, at 9:00 PM. It’s a modern interpretation of the Lizzie/Darcy love story starring Cindy Busby and Ryan Paevey. So far, only Clueless has managed a modern reinterpretation of a Jane Austen novel to my satisfaction. Let’s see what you all think of this film.

Here’s a link to Hallmark’s website: Click here. I don’t subscribe to cable, so I won’t be seeing it!

I agree with some of you – from the trailer, this movie does not look promising.

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I’d like to share my thoughts on two Jane Austen movies before the end of the year: Pride and Prejudice, 2005 and Clueless, 1995.

CapturePP_Clueless
Pride and Prejudice 2005 premiered in November ten years ago in the U.S.. I recall watching the film with two members of our Jane Austen book club. The three of us felt less than “whelmed.” We usually eat dinner after a movie and discuss the film in detail. I recall very little discussion other than sharing our sense of disappointment. Keira Knightley seemed too thin and modern as Lizzie. Matthew MacFadyen was no Colin Firth, not his fault, I suppose, but damning in our eyes.

PP05_icons
Ten years later, my opinion of the film has changed somewhat. I have come to appreciate that Joe Wright was trying to reach an audience much younger than the members in my book club. That he targeted his audience correctly is proven by the numerous fan clubs that sprang up around the film, the tens of thousands of creative and interesting icons that were created to represent P&P 2005 characters, the many discussion forums and blogs that dedicated reams of information about the film and its actors, and the many nominations the film received at award shows (although I find Keira Knightley’s Academy Award nomination for best actress perplexing). One cannot fault the film’s cinematography and music, which were lush and gorgeous. Has England ever looked more romantic? – its ancient, gnarled oaks, sweeping vistas, misty fields lit by rising suns, and grand houses never looked lovelier on film.

PP country

Let’s not forget that PROPOSAL scene in the rain. One cannot deny the chemistry between Keira and Matthew. Pure unrequited lust sprang off the screen.

rain scene

There was also a lovely scene in which Lizzie rotates on a swing in an archway as the seasons of the year swirled past. While this scene was short, it provided a unique visual of the passing seasons.

lizzy_jane

Finally, finally, this film delivered an actress as beautiful and sweet as the Jane Bennet of my imagination! I will be forever grateful to Joe Wright for hiring Rosamund Pike for the part and pairing her with the first true puppy-like Mr. Bingley.

Film directors are not expected to follow an author’s vision religiously. After all, film is a visual medium, whereas the author relies on words to stimulate our imaginations. BUT. Please. Did Jane Austen really mean for the Bennets to live in a moated manor house, with pigs, geese, and cattle meandering through a muddy courtyard?

darcy courtyard

While I adore Donald Sutherland as an actor, at 70 he was more suited to playing Mr. Bennet’s elderly uncle than Mrs. Bennet’s husband. He also interpreted Mr. Bennet as still having the hots for Mrs. Bennet, despite her irritating personality, a modern POV, to be sure, but surely not in keeping with what we know about Mr. Bennet’s huge disappointment with his wife’s foolishness (and with himself for choosing such a ninny)?

mr mrs bennet
While Lizzie was definitely a tomboy compared to her sisters, did she HAVE to be shown walking barefoot or slogging through the fields and dragging her hems through mud and dew so often? Austen, in demonstrating Lizzie’s loyalty to Jane, devised a scene where Lizzie walked through 3 miles of wet fields to be with her sister. This caused Miss Bingley to note with disdain that her petticoat was six inches deep in mud. The Bennets, while upper class, were not super rich. Cloth was not easily obtained or cheap. Clothes were made, remade, reused, and worked over, until the cloth became so threadbare that it was used for cleaning. So, for Lizzie to be shown muddying her hems in so many scenes makes no sense. Her gowns would need repeated washings, which, with the strong lye soaps of the day, would have degraded the cloth too quickly for practicality. She would surely have pinned her dress and train up, exposing only the petticoat, or worn a shorter day gown, as so many commoners and country folk did. Perhaps I am being too much of a stickler, but these lapses in logic affected my experience of the film the first time around and they still do.

catherine violet

One more rant. It’s become de rigueur in historical films to dress dowagers in the richly made, old-fashioned clothes of their younger years (think of Violet, the dowager countess in Downton Abbey and Judith Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this film). We get that. My mom still wears serviceable but outdated clothes from the 1980s, but can there be any excuse for dressing Miss Bingley in a nightgown for the Netherfield Ball and arranging her hair in a 1960’s updo?

caroline bingley

In my opinion, this 2-hour adaptation of a 200+ page novel falls short when compared to the 1995 six-hour P&P. In 2005, Wickham was given very short shrift, as were the younger Bennet sisters. The scenes moved too fast, though I suppose this suited director Joe Wright’s intent, since he was targeting an audience that can barely remember life before fast-paced electronic games, instant messages, and music videos.

My final beef is with the alternative American ending. Mr. Wright insulted many serious fans of classic literature across the Pond with the final dialogue between Lizzie and Darcy, which lowered their romance to the level of a Barbara Cartland novel.

 

I still don’t like P&P 2005 half as much as P&P 1995.  Yet, despite my misgivings, P&P 2005 has held up relatively well and I think younger viewers still prefer this adaptation to P&P 95. The second film on my mind is Clueless, which premiered several months ahead of Pride and Prejudice 1995 in the U.S., and which also targeted the young theater goer.

Amy Heckerling’s 90’s take on Jane’s meddlesome Emma is as fresh and funny today as it was then. It’s hard to choose which is more ridiculous: the slang of the 90’s valley girl airheads,  the over-the-top fashions, the conspicuous consumption of LA teen culture, the banality of Cher’s high school education, the immature boyfriends, or the neutered adults.

Who can forget Cher’s mugging, where she resists lying down on the ground in her designer outfit, even with a gun to her head? Or how Heckerling turned Frank Churchill into Christian, a disco-dancing, Oscar-Wilde-reading, Streisand-ticket-holding-friend-of-Dorothy cake boy?

cher and christian at the mall

As Dion reminds Cher, “He does like to shop and the boy can dress.” Cher’s classic reply to Christian’s being gay? “Oh, my God, I’m totally buggin’!” Then there’s the girls’ inability to drive in LA, where driving is as essential as breathing. Those scenes are still classic and not to be missed.

Amy Heckerling did a smart thing in reinterpreting Emma. She brought Jane’s heroine over to California and gave her a different name, and moved her from a dull, country town and dropped her in the center of Beverley Hills, the Mecca for consumption-driven materialists.

Like Emma, Cher is motherless. Whereas Emma’s mama died a natural death, Cher’s mom died from the complications of liposuction on a plastic surgeon’s table. Both Cher and Emma are rich, bored, and meddlesome. Cher babies her father, much as Emma caters to Mr. Woodhouse. In Clueless, Cher’s father, a lawyer, is more dynamic than Mr. Woodhouse. One senses that he tolerates Cher’s mothering more than needs it. The love between them is palpable, and Cher’s kindness to one and all is genuine and sweet. These traits save her shallow character.

There are many similarities between the Emma characters and Clueless characters, and it’s fun to guess in the film who is who. You can tell from my excited tone how much I like this cinematic take of Emma. Clueless is a broad satire that seldom delves below the surface. The film is a feel good movie designed to give the viewer a rollicking good time.

Clueless has the same energy, sense of fun, and satiric take on human foibles as Jane Austen’s Juvenilia. I wonder if Amy Heckerling, having lumbered through all 400+ pages of Emma, turned to Jane’s juvenile stories for inspiration? They are filled with zany plots and joie de vivre. I wonder if she decided to meld the boisterous tone of Jane’s youthful stories with the more layered and complex plot of Emma. Meld? I think not. I think Amy gleefully tossed Emma’s subtext aside in favor of a bit of fun.

I am curious, gentle readers, about your take on both films. Do you agree or disagree with my assessments? Please let me know.

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