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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Davies’

I used to regard A&E as one of the premier cable channels in the U.S. Known then as the Arts and Entertainment Network, it ran such prestigious shows as the 6-hr 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Inspector Morse, Midsommer Murders, and Biography. (These days this once admirable network features rubbish like Storage Wars, Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, Flipping Las Vegas, and Donny Loves Jenny.)  Regardless of the transformation, I shall always be grateful to A&E for showcasing P&P in the fall of 1995. For six weeks we were treated to this marvelous adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The mini-series held me spellbound (and my then husband as well). I wanted to be Lizzy to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. What romantic-minded lady didn’t?

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Rewatching the first minutes of the first episode, I was reminded of how compact and economical those opening scenes were – and how they crucially fed our expectations for the rest of the series. In interviews over the years, Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, said that he wanted to emphasize the lives of Regency men as well, and so the film opens with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy racing through the fields on their steeds to view Netherfield Park, which was available to let. The relationship between Darcy and Bingley is immediately established – Bingley the eager puppy wanting his friend’s approval, and Darcy’s slightly caustic reply as a supportive older friend, cautioning him that he’ll find the society something savage.

As the two friends gallop away, the camera pans to Elizabeth, who pauses during her country walk to watch the men disappear. We follow the tomboyish Lizzy as she skips home over a dirt path, past a field with horses, and to the Bennet family home, Longbourn. Lizzy gazes through the window into her father’s study, while in the background we hear loud bickering between two young women. Mr. Bennet, holding a book in his right hand, rolls his eyes as Lizzy smiles in acknowledgment. This brief exchange demonstrates their close relationship in an instant.

We are then treated to a raucous scene in the parlor with Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet in all their argumentative glory. Only Mary sits quietly, reading a book amid the mayhem. A calm, beautiful Jane greets Lizzy, who has just entered the hallway. Both respond to their mother’s shrill cries with half smiles and serene expressions. These scenes, in which the viewer meets quite a few of the principal characters, took all of 3 minutes.

We next see the Bennets at church in their Sunday best. The costumes are sumptuous; the locations are authentic – not the staged sets that were so prevalent in BBC dramas of the 70’s and 80’s. I recall the excitement I felt when I saw the care that the director and producers had taken to give us an “authentic” English Regency experience. Cameras followed the actors as they moved through the rooms of real houses and the lanes and paths of actual locations. The stilted production techniques inside studio interiors that used two or three fixed camera angles belonged to the past. The BBC and PBS had finally caught up with commercial television in shooting and producing drama that seemed realistic.

The church scene provides us with two of Jane Austen’s most famous lines. Mrs. Bennet runs after Mr. Bennet screeching, “Mr. Bennet, wonderful news. Netherfield Park is let at last!” We are then treated to the brilliant witty dialogue that Jane Austen crafted for Mr Bennet as he replies to his wife’s many suppositions and inanities.

Andrew Davies gives Lizzy the honor of speaking the novel’s famous opening line, “For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How apropos. Only 4:20 minutes have elapsed at this point. Even my ex, who had not read any of Jane’s novels, understood the plot for the full 6 episodes – two bachelors, five single girls, a silly mother, a sarcastic father, and romance and social history galore. We settled in for six hours of satisfying viewing time.

I could continue, but at this rate it would take me over 400 pages just to describe the first episode. Suffice it to say that I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and prefer Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy (horrid wig and all) over Keira Knightley as Lizzy 2005. Some critics with modern sensibilities found Ehle too old and zaftig for the part of Lizzy Bennet. Jennifer was 25 when she took on the role, only 5 years older than Lizzy. (Twenty-five year old Julia Sawalha, who played 15 year old Lydia, was ten years older! And let’s not argue about 30-something Greer Garson playing Lizzy Bennet in 1940 P&P. Awful.)

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

As for Jennifer Ehle being too heavy for the part of a 20 year old Regency girl, those critics need only to examine images of that era to see that Jennifer was the perfect size to play Lizzy. Keira Knightley possesses the thin fashionable looks that suit our 21st century tastes, but not those that depict early 19th century beauties. Feel free to disagree.

The 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also benefited from the immensely satisfying performances of Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet, Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, David Bamber as the incredibly silly Mr. Collins, and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as insufferable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I found very little fault with the supporting actors, who played their roles to perfection. I can’t say how often I’ve seen this version of P&P – 12, 15 times? I’ve lost count. Be assured that I’ll enjoy many more viewings.

In case you wondered how Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would look after 15 years of marriage, here’s a lovely image.

If you wonder how our favorite couple would have aged, here's an image of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in 2010 after the King’s Speech premiere.

Additional bits of information about P&P 1995:

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

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Gentle Readers, ‘The Many Lovers of Jane Austen’, a television special hosted by Amanda Vickery, was aired in Great Britain just before Christmas. Frequent contributer Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon and is the blog author of London Calling, graciously sent in his review. Those who cannot watch the show might enjoy this BBC radio interview. During the last eight minutes, Amanda Vickery discusses ‘The Many Lovers of Jane Austen’ with Libbie Purvves. You will need to download aBBC iPlayer.

On Friday 23rd December at 9.30pm BBC 2 showed Amanda Vickery’s exploration of the world of Jane Austen.

Vickery filming The Many Lovers of Jane Austen

Amanda Vickery wanted to explore how and why generations of readers have been won over to Jane Austen by just six classic novels. She takes us from the JASNA annual conference at Fort Worth, Texas; to Althorpe House, the ancestral home of Princess Diana’s family; Chawton Cottage, where she lived the last years of her life; her tomb in Winchester Cathedral; Bath, where Jane Austen is revered and celebrated; the trenches of The First World War; Sotheby’s auction house in London, where a global bidding war ensues over a fragment of Jane Austen’s writing; to Hollywood and the silver screen, and tries to discover how Jane Austen became a national treasure.

Vickery among the stalls at JASNA Fort Worth

The programme starts with Amanda Vickery strolling around the multitudinous market stalls laid out within a vast arena in the conference centre at Fort Worth. There are country and western singers and hundreds of people dressed in Regency fashions supplied by a costume company doing a very brisk trade. This is what the conference appears to be about, trade and commerce, almost “rampant commercialisation,” as Amanda Vickery describes the scene. The spin-off culture and the merchandising of Jane Austen is very evident at the Fort Worth conference. Amanda Vickery is almost surprised to find that there are actually many committed readers of the novels present. There is a mixture of popular devotion and academic prestige.

Images of The Many Lovers of Jane Austen @Shanitsinha

Trade and commerce, this is what lies at the heart of America and what has made America. The great driving force that drives a nation appears to drive the American people response to all they encounter, including Jane Austen. This intense commercial activity could actually be their way; their only way, of saying they love Jane Austen. It’s their default reaction. I think commercialisation and art have a very close relationship. Art and literature are made and written but they also have to be sold and for writers to develop they need to make money. But the balance has to be kept. The piece of art or novel has to be paramount. All this spin-off culture of nick knacks, crafts and spin-off novels can be in danger of burying the original creation.

Google screen shot of "Jane Austen"

Amanda Vickery next moves to London and visits Sotheby’s, the auction house, where she attends the auction of a fragment of Jane Austen’s handwriting. It is an edited piece of The Watsons, one of her two uncompleted novels. Vickery handles the piece reverentially and reads it to us straight from Jane Austen’s very own handwriting. A great privilege for her and for us. She discusses the meaning of the fragment with the curator at Sothebys. It is the only piece of first draft written in Jane’s own hand still in existence. The words on the page are the first words that formed in her mind, which she then wrote on the paper – a very special document.

The Watson's manuscript with Jane's handwriting and edits

The Sotheby’s expert estimates a price of £ 300, 000 for the document. Amanda Vickery watches the auction taking place and we are there with her. The price soon goes past the £300,000 mark and continues on and upwards. It is eventually sold to the Bodleian Library in Oxford for a colossal, £850, 000. Nearly a million pounds. Everybody in the auction room is shocked and amazed. I could feel my heart thumping away just looking at the TV screen. Amanda looked flushed too. The document is a financial investment but in going to the Bodleian it will be displayed and used for academic and literary purposes. The importance to the Bodleain is obvious but it also means that it is kept here in the United Kingdom and remains a national treasure.

The Bodleian Library reading room. Image @The GuardianUK

So how did Jane Austen become a national treasure herself?

To start with her first readers were members of her own family. Jane would read to Cassandra, her sister, in their shared bedroom before the fireplace at Chawton. They would read, reread, act out scenes and discuss ideas together. Her brother, Henry, the banker, negotiated with publishers on her behalf. Professor John Mulllen suggests that Jane Austen wasn’t as private and shy as some make out. The statement of “By a lady,” on the title page of Sense and Sensibility, was not so much an attempt to be anonymous but to portray to the buyer of her book certain expectations. A novel,” by a lady,” suggested a certain plot arc; unmarried woman meets eligible bachelor, then courtship with certain misunderstandings occur, but all works out in the end and they marry. She was advertising a social and psychological drama of courtship. It was a commonplace deceit. Jane was aiming her novels at a certain readership. However there is little evidence and few clues about who first bought her novels. Lady Bessborough, a distant ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer, who lived at Althorpe, bought Sense and Sensibility, because she discusses the novel in letters to her friends. Austen’s novels would have been read out loud in the drawing rooms of the aristocracy as a sort of group event.”

Earl Spencer reading Jane Austen at Althorp. Image @BBC

Soon after Jane died in 1817 at the age of 41, her novels went out of print and for a few years and they were no longer sold. The Romanticism of the 1840’s epitomised by the Brontes with stories set on wild moors and characters with wild passions, became all the vogue. Emily Bronte thought that Jane Austen was in  “denial about human psychology.” But if you really read Jane’s novels all the emotions and human frailty, the passions and the lusts, are quietly there beneath the surface not being broadcast loudly from some windswept moor. The Brontes for all their brilliance probably misread Austen because they were so caught up with their own wild passions. The emergence of circulating librarie,s however, saw her novels being reprinted. These libraries needed a vast source of material to fill their shelves, and writers who had gone out of fashion were brought back into fashion for new readers who had a great appetite for novels. As these became accessible to a broad swathe of society an increasing number of lower middle class people started to read her novels.

Yellow back version of Northanger Abbey

By the end of the 19th century Jane Austen got a boost through the development of the railway system throughout the British Isles. People on long journeys needed something to do so W.H.Smiths opened book shops and newspaper booths on the railway platforms. They published books that had been out of print and out of copyright because they could do this cheaply. Published  in standard yellow covers, they became known as yellow backs. Jane Austen’s novels were one such series of  yellow backs that were sold to travellers on long train journeys. They became popular again. In the late 1800’s, Persuasion became what we might term low price pulp fiction.

James Edward Austen Leigh

The real turning point in the success of Jane Austen was in 1870 when James Edward Austen Leigh wrote a biography of his relative’s life and so created the Jane Austen myth. Professor Kathryn Sutherland, talking to Amanda Vickery at Chawton Cottage, describes how the family took the only portrait they had of Jane, the rough sketch drawn by Cassandra and commissioned an artist to create a new, beautified copy of it so that they could publish it with James Austen Lee’s biography.

"Saint Jane"

There was very much a sense of the Austen family beginning to shape a view of Jane that they wanted the world to know. Amanda Vickery describes this mythical Jane as “Saint Jane.”

Amanda in Bath

These days, Bath, in Somerset, likes to think of itself as the spiritual heart of the Jane Austen culture. The fact that Hampshire, where she loved most of her life, has far more to do with Jane Austen appears to pass them by; perhaps more accurately, the Bathites would like us not to notice. Jane Austen used the setting of Bath in two of her novels, Persuasion and Northangar Abbey. In Persuasion especially Jane portrays the underclass side of Bath alongside the rich upper-class side. She herself was never reverential of Bath.

2008 Jane Austen Festival, Bath. Image @The Jane Austen Centre Online

Today Bath holds its festival once a year with balls and hundreds of people parading the streets in 18th century costumes. It is the home of the Jane Austen Centre positioned half way up the hill in Gay Street. But it appears to me that these are more attempts to create a tourist trade. They want the custom. Jane Austen herself did live in Bath for four years in various houses around the city, the family seemed to be forever on the move, but she was not particularly happy there. She felt that she had been torn from her dear Steventon in Hampshire by her parent’s sudden wish to retire and move to Bath to have a good time. Similar to the Fort Worth experience, Bath appears to be out to make money from Jane. Bath does create a world focus for Jane Austen and brings her to the attention of many. So it’s not all bad.

Jane Austen in the trenches of WWI. Image @BBC

In 1894 Sir George Saintsbury coined the term, Janeite. Rudyard Kipling was a renowned Janeite and so were other writers and academics.Rudyard Kipling wrote an article about a group of World War I soldiers in the trenches who read Jane Austen novels. Life in the trenches was horrific from more than one point of view. It wasn’t just the horrors of  “going over the top,” but it also included boredom, filth, lack of clean water and the deafening sounds of artillery, shell shock,and just grinding fear. Soldiers required a reading material that could take them away from this hell on earth. Jane Austen became very popular amongst soldiers in the trenches because she took them back to a pleasant land, a good, a peaceful England of quiet gentle manners and drawing rooms. William Boyd Henderson writing a letter home describes how much he enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s Emma. Winston Churchill is renowned to have said, when he was ill with a fever, “antibiotics and Pride and Prejudice have cured me.” Rudyard Kipling is said to have read Jane Austen constantly after hearing of his son, Jack’s, death in the trenches of the First World War.

F. R. Leavis

After the First World War there was a great need for the civilising power of culture , the humanities and English Literature, to be part of the salving cure for damaged and bereft lives. F.R. Leavis, the great English Literature don at Downing College Cambridge was the driving force behind all analysis of English literature. The Professor of English literature at Downing College between the 1930’s and 1960, his was the dominant and dominating view that all others looked to. He talked about the great tradition and said there were only five great writers of the novel: D.H.Lawrence, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, George Elliot and the mother of them all, Jane Austen. Leavis’s view held dominant for decades and few could survive criticism of this view. Careers could be and were destroyed or limited if anybody went against him. Professor Janet Todd tells Amanda Vickery that Leavis thought English literature could save the world.

Female cast in Pride and Prejudice, 1940

In 1940 Hollywood took on Jane Austen when Pride and Prejudice with Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson was produced. In the 1960’s the BBC produced a whole series of costume dramas portraying Jane Austen’s novels. In 1980, Pride and Prejudice was filmed again. Amanda Vickery says, ” It was as though Jane Austen was trapped in the Quallity Street tin.” It was a Laura Ashley version of Austen. This suggests that perhaps each generation gets the Austen they deserve. Each decade produces productions of Austen that reflect the age they are made in.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

In 1995 came Andrew Davis’s wet t-shirt version with Colin Firth emerging from the lake at Pemberley, wet to the skin, pumping testosterone. A film for the young with hormones. There is lovely scene with Amanda Vickery taking the part of Elizabeth Bennett as Darcy/Firth emerges from the lake and Amanda gives Elizabeth Bennett’s lines in response to Darcy and the two films are cut together as though they are one. The 1995 film still appears to be the most popular version, even now in 2011, anyway it appeared to be so with the hordes of fans at The Forth Worth assemblage. Andrew Davies was the main guest speaker and he was very very popular. Do Janeites create a hysterical response like a form of Beatle mania? Well, perhaps not. They don’t throw their knickers at Andrew Davies; they just receive, rather cheekily, tiny black lace thongs in little black net bags provided with Willoughby’s phone number. Apparently Willoughby is sounding rather exhausted, if polite, on the phone these days!!

Andrew Davies. Image @The Telegraph

Dr Cheryl Kinney, a gynaecologist and the organiser of this year’s JASNA conference at Fort Worth, denies that the Willoughby knickers are a way of increasing the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases so that she can make money curing people. The contemplation of this possibility makes Amanda Vickery laugh like a drain. Yes, we DO get the Austen we want.

We are left with a thought for the future: Austen has peaked in the west. Could  China and Japan be the next stops perhaps?

Other reviews: These will give you more insights and images!

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It is ironic that a novel filled with clues similar to those found in a good mystery tale can spin off a film whose clues stand out like a red cape in front of a bull. Jane Austen deftly sprinkled hints about Jane Fairfax’s relationship with Frank Churchill throughout Emma. One has to read the novel twice to find her subtle inferences, and even then one might miss a few. The 1996 film version of Emma, written by Andrew Davies, leaves no stone unturned and drops its clues with such a heavy hand that midway through the film you want to shout – “enough!” Jane and Frank exchange frequent glances, are seen at the piano together in Mrs. and Miss Bates’ apartment, and argue on the terrace at Donwell Abbey. We even see Jane crying after their tiff as she walks through a field hatless. Tsk. Tsk. At least Mr. Davies did not sex up this particular film adaptation.

While I like this film overall, and gave it a favorable review when it was shown during PBS’s presentation of The Complete Jane Austen earlier this year, it did have a cringe worthy moment. Mr. Knightley, forcefully played by Mark Strong, proposes to Emma and says afterwards: “I held you in my arms when you were three weeks old”. Kate Beckinsale as Emma replies before they kiss: “Do you like me now as well as you did then?” Eww! The unfortunate image these words evoke are not at all what Jane intended. Here is how her Mr. Knightley proposes, which is just as it ought to be:

“My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma—tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.”—She could really say nothing.—”You are silent,” he cried, with great animation; “absolutely silent! at present I ask no more.”

Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.

“I cannot make speeches, Emma:”—he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.—”If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.—You hear nothing but truth from me.—I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.—Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.—But you understand me.—Yes, you see, you understand my feelings—and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.”

Jane DID bring up the differences in ages, but earlier in her novel, when 21-year-old Emma and 37-year-old Mr. Knightley attended a family gathering soon after Mr. & Mrs. John Knightley arrive for a visit. The conversation occurs some time after Mr. Knightley had chastised Emma for influencing Harriet in declining Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal. In this scene, Emma and Mr. Knightley speak as long-standing friends and as relations through marriage:

Emma: “What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree.”

Mr. Knightley: “If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike.”

Emma: “To be sure—our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong.”

Mr. Knightley: “Yes,” said he, smiling—”and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born.”

Emma: “A material difference then,” she replied—”and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?”

Mr. Knightley: “Yes—a good deal nearer.”

Emma: “But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently.”

Mr. Knightley: “I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years’ experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now.” – Emma, Chapter 7, Volume One

Since watching this film adaptation, I have often wondered why Mr. Davies inserted those words about Emma as a baby into the script at what should have been a supremely romantic moment. Thankfully the Harvest Ball almost made up for his faux pas, almost, but not quite. Although the scene ends the movie on a perfect note, Jane never wrote it for her novel.
Score: Jane Austen, 100; Andrew Davies, Good try.

For more posts about Emma, 1996, click on the links below:

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Cast of My Boy Jack

My Boy Jack

My Boy Jack will be shown on PBS tonight at 9 pm. Click here to read my review of this powerful movie (Warning: spoilers) and here for Laurel Ann’s post on Carrie Mulligan, who played Elsie Kipling. Both posts also solicit your knowledge about movies in Six Degrees of Austen Adaptation Separation. Rudyard Kipling’s connection to Jane Austen is his powerful short story, “The Janeites,” which popularized the term, and his well-publicized admiration for the author.

Jane SmilesMiss Austen Regrets

Miss Austen Regrets.com offers a variety of current posts and photos of the film, to be shown on BBC on April 27th. Click here to see the stills I pulled from the film, and here for my review, Miss Austen Regrets Perhaps a Bit Too Much For My Taste. Learn more about Olivia Williams on this PBS press site.

Andrew DaviesAndrew Davies

In a recent interview with the Birminham Post, Andrew Davies shares his well-known insights on sexing up the classics for film adaptations. In a slightly older interview with CNN, Mr. Davies continues to expound on his script writing philosophy.

Best Quote Seen Over the Ether:

It was very entertaining, but shouldn’t have been called Mansfield Park.”

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Watching the new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, I realize I have a love/hate relationship with screenwriter Andrew Davies. I love him because he wrote the scripts for several of my favorite Jane Austen film adaptations and his movies are exciting to watch. I dislike his work because he tinkers with Jane’s intent and plot. He cannot leave well enough alone, and yet his movies of Jane’s novels attract huge ratings. Take this latest film adaptation, for example. I’m amazed by how much I like it, despite Andrew’s heavy hand in making the heroes seem more real and inserting scenes that Jane never intended. In fact, Mr. Davies’ name seems to be displayed as prominently in the credits as Jane Austen’s. Food for thought.
So what did I like and what didn’t I like about the film that caused me to continue my love/hate relationship with Mr. Davies? I’ll vent first, and discuss …

… A Few Pesky, Bothersome Moments

1) A Very Un-Janelike Sex Scene Opens the Film
There had been such a ruckus over the movie’s sexy opening sequence, that when I finally saw it my only thought was, “Meh, is that all?” The scene starts the film off on a wrong note, however, which takes away from the dramatic tension later on. Barbara Larochelle, the Sense and Sensibility discussion moderator on The Republic of Pemberley , explains in Sensibility Crashing Against Sense how the opening sequence dilutes the impact of the viewers’ dawning awareness that Willoughby is a cad and nothing like a romantic hero.

After the turgid opening scene, we are treated to the true beginning of Sense and Sensibility: the death of Mr. Dashwood and John’s promise to take care of his stepmother and stepsisters.

2) Making Fun of a Chubby Child
The plot quickens when Fanny Dashwood, with husband and child in tow, hastens to Norland Park the Monday after the funeral to assume her duties as its mistress. Her strong hold over John, as Davies implies as she blows out the candle, are her talents in bed. Fanny, played with just the right amount of snaky oiliness by Claire Skinner, firmly puts the kabosh on her husband’s plans to support his step mother and half sisters. Young Henry, or Harry, is depicted as a chubby child. Morgan Overton, the young actor who portrays him is forced to wear a frightful wig (or hairstyle), spectacles, and skeleton suit with frilly collared shirt. He is seen chomping on food almost the entire time he is on screen, except in this image. This stereotypical portrayal of an overweight child was obvious and unnecessary. Sorry Andrew, fat is not funny. Ever. Besides, Jane would not have taken such cheap pot shots.

3) Where are the Palmers and Lucy Steele?
Fast forward to life at Barton Cottage: Mrs. Dashwood now must live on a pitiful income of 500 pounds per year. This means serious economizing and downsizing for the ladies Dashwood. Frequent meals at Barton Park help to defray some expenses. We meet Sir John Middleton and his brood, and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings. The Palmers were practically non-existent, however. A new viewer would have no concept of Mr. Palmer’s rudeness, for example, or of Mrs. Palmer’s irritating gaiety. Lucy Steele, who came across as sweet and ditzy rather than manipulative, was given so little screen time that her marriage to Robert Ferrars must have come as a complete surprise to those who had not read the novel. However, to be fair to Andrew Davies, we are treated to a fine characterization of Miss Anne Steele, who as played by Daisy Haggard, nearly steals the show.

4) Marianne is Gentled Like a Horse

After her illness, Marianne is “gentled” by Colonel Brandon. In fact, her mother and sister look on approvingly as they watch the Colonel use a classic horse training technique of turning his back to Marianne to pique her interest. (“Nine times out of ten a wild horse would follow”, as Elinor remarked, watching the Colonel in action). In Mr. Davies quest to show Jane’s heroes in a more manly setting, we also see the Colonel tenderly handle a hawk. As Marianne looks on with stars in her eyes, Colonel Brandon commands softly, “Come here.” How subtle was that message? Excuse me, Mr. Davies, but women are not chattel and I was a bit put off by these scenes. As Mr. Knightley would say, “That was very badly done.”

However, I Liked this Film Adaptation Overall …

… and the aforementioned concerns did not ruin my enjoyment of the movie. Of the four new adaptations based on Jane’s novels shown this season, it is the best one. The film’s three-hour length allowed for a more leisurely exploration of Marianne’s infatuation with Willoughby (Dominic Cooper). We also see more of Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey), who is given as much screen time as Willoughby. We meet Mrs. Ferrars (Jean Marsh), a character as formidable and steely-eyed as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and, as mentioned before, Lucy Steele’s vulgar sister, Anne, makes an unforgettable appearance. However, other characters are hardly given the time of day, which makes me wish that all Jane Austen adaptations are required to be six hours in length, like A&E’s Pride and Prejudice.

I loved Hattie Morahan’s performance as Elinor Dashwood. Her Elinor is stoic, restrained, and vulnerable. We can feel her internal pain and struggle over Edward’s engagement to Lucy Steele, and at Marianne’s side during her illness. In fact, I will no longer be able to read S&S in the future without seeing Hattie as Elinor.

If you have seen my avatar, you must have guessed how much I admire Kate Winslet’s robust performance as Marianne. In addition, my Jane Austen character quiz profile is Marianne, so I am particularly fond of this 17-year-old heroine. While I adore Kate’s interpretation, I found Charity Wakefield’s Marianne equally compelling, though in a sweeter, quieter way. She is young enough to play the part of a teenager, and her large expressive eyes lent a piquant touch to her character’s mixture of recklessness, immaturity, and innocence. In this adaptation Marianne is so heedless of convention, she is shown visiting Allenham with Willoughby, not merely speeding through town in a phaeton as in the 1996 adaptation.

I also thought that Marianne’s illness in the 2008 film adaptation, while not strictly accurate, was closer to Jane’s original intent. In the 1996 movie version, Marianne walked for miles in the rain to view Willoughby’s estate, and the sickroom scenes were so overwrought with emotion, that I thought, “Enough!” In this film’s more restrained sick room scenes, Colonel Brandon’s concern over Marianne’s condition is stressed as much as Elinor’s. His visit to her sick bed sets the stage for Marriane’s developing relationship with the Colonel and her interest in him as a suitor.

David Morrissey plays the Colonel heroically, and in my mind his interpretation of the character surpasses Alan Rickman’s. One explanation for this is that the Colonel’s scenes are fleshed out in S&S 2008, and we get to know him as a man as well as a long-suffering hero. Mr. Morrissey is also much handsomer than Jane describes, which places Dominic Cooper in a difficult position. His Willoughby is not quite good looking enough to play the role of a man who is described as surpassingly handsome. In fact, Dominic reminds me of The Artful Dodger all grown up. I know looks aren’t everything, but I fail to understand why Marianne is so drawn to Willoughby when such a handsome Colonel has been courting her. Oh, I know she was turned off by the Colonel’s age, but David Morrissey is so yummy that any self-respecting girl in need of a husband would not quibble with the age difference if he came a’calling.

Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars is also too handsome for the part, though I liked his kind eyes and expressive face. He is well matched with Hattie Morrahan in looks and height, and they seem like a perfect couple. It is entirely believable that Dan/Edward would be happy living the simple life of a minister in a small cottage with his frugal and practical Elinor.

Except for the Marianne-in-training sequences, I rather enjoyed our glimpses of our heroes in manly scenes, cutting wood, hunting, hawking, or riding flat out. Such touches are what make Andrew Davies adaptations stand out from the rest of the field.

I finish this review with Mrs. Dashwood. Ever since I saw Janet McTeer in Songcatcher, I have adored her. An actress with a remarkable scope and range, she played the widow and loving mother with the right amount of grief, bewilderment, and strength. Her realization that her cushy life was over when Elinor rejected her first two choices for a rental house foreshadowed the challenges she would have to face as a poor widow. However, except for some crucial scenes, Janet was given remarkably little to do in this film except to stand still for reaction shots. This is another strong argument for shooting a mini-series.

I have seen this film three times already and intend to see it again tonight. Needless to say, I highly recommend it. Oh, dear, I just had a thought. What will I do with my Sunday nights after The Complete Jane Austen series has ended? Watch A Room With a View, of course. The movie will be aired on Masterpiece Classic, April 13th, one week after Part II of Sense and Sensibility has aired.

Click here for my 2009 review of Sense and Sensibility, which features additional images.

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