Jane Austen movie-thon, part 1

Posted by on Friday, March 16th, 2007

I’ve been on a bit of an Austen-spree over at Netflix.  I watch one, and the tea-drinking, knitting, misty-eyed fun is just too good to let go of, so then I order others, and more, and more, and it’s all Austen all the time, and my poor dear husband has to flee to a room without a crying wife and a screen full of Brits in silly pants with stifled manners.

This time around, I started with the Colin-Firth-plays-Darcy version of Pride and Prejudice.  I’m guessing this mini-series is still seen as the gold standard of Austen adaptations.  Feature films just do not allow enough time to really get Austen’s work out to an audience, so the extended length of a mini-series does everyone better justice.  The only qualm I’ve ever had about this version–and I admit this is both petty and unimportant–is that the actress cast as Jane isn’t enchanting enough to be Jane.  Lizzie is supposed to be the sharp-tongued, less attractive sister.  Jennifer Ehle makes a great Lizzie, but you need to cast a breathtaking stunner as Jane to make the novel’s pairing of the two sisters make sense.  I love Susannah Harker’s portrayal of Jane’s grace and passivity, but they should have dolled her up a  bit more. 

Next, I finally found the Rozema-directed Mansfield Park.  I know this film has gotten a lot of criticism because Rozema broke from the text and inserted material from Austen’s personal correspondence and her juvenilia .  But, people, Rozema made that clear as day by running a little text saying exactly that during the opening credits.  Her revision of Mansfield Park is funny and bright and really enjoyable to watch.  I probably would have proposed to Frances O’Connor‘s Fanny Price too, given the chance.  The novel itself is difficult, the original Fanny is less enticing than most of Austen’s heroines, and Rozema had a point of view to get across about Austen cum Fanny (holy hell, that sentence is going to send strange people to my site).  I loved it, and I’ll probably buy it and torture my charming, Austen hating husband with it for years.

Next, it was on to the newest take on Pride and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightly as Lizzie and with luminaries like Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, and Dame Judi Dench in supporting roles.  I was prepared for disappointment.  I had high hopes for Knightly after Bend it Like Beckham, which were dashed when she was in some utter crap and seemed to be going down the brainless skeletal actress track, instead of the witty, athletic, ballsy actress track I had envisioned for her.  Well, I think the girl went and redeemed herself, and also ate a sandwich or two and played some more sports–praise be to muscle mass.  The film is gorgeous, as the best Austen films always are.  The cast is pretty damn impressive, and they fill their rolls well.  I wouldn’t necessarily chose this version over the Firth-led mini-series, because since it’s a feature it cut lots of goodies.  But it’s a really enjoyable film made with an excellent cast and lovely cinematography.  I think I’ll wallow in it too when I get the chance. 

Filed in Film | 13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Jane Austen movie-thon, part 1”

  1. mamaloo, the doulaon 16 Mar 2007 at 4:35 pm 1

    When the Knightley P&P was on the free on-demand movie service I subscribe to, I watched it a half dozen times over a few weeks. I, too, was afraid to be disappointed and I, too, was delighted with how that adaptation turned out.

    Of course, the mini-series was certainly a defining moment sort of thing as it was my first Austen. I went and read everything by her (except the Juvenilia, I couldn’t read that)in the next few weeks.

    I can’t recall if I’ve seen that version of Mansfield Park, but I may have.

    I watched Sense & Sensibility last week. It was OK but I kept thinking that Emma Thompson was far too old for the role (though she had the right kind of good looking but not too good looking thing going).

    Ah, Austen. I’m ever reminded that she wrote too few novels to satisfy my desire to read.

  2. KarenK from the OR Coaston 16 Mar 2007 at 5:37 pm 2

    And I have a petty and unimportant quibble with your qualm … I think the Susannah Harker casting for Jane in P&P was perfect according to that day’s beauty standards, not ours. She had the classic features and fair coloring that was the late 17th-century epitome of beauty. If she had been “dolled up” it would have been unfitting and inaccurate. (Trivia note: Susannah Harker read P&P for the audiobook version.)

  3. --Debon 16 Mar 2007 at 6:43 pm 3

    I agree with that the BBC’s Jane wasn’t nearly pretty enough–too insipid to be the most beautiful girl in the county. (No reflection on the job the actress did, just–blah, no matter whose standards of beauty you’re using.)

    I couldn’t watch Mansfield Park, though, because while Frances O’Connor was charming, she was NOTHING like Fanny. Granted, the book’s Fanny was disgustingly, timidly perfect and all too good and pure and perfect and . . . just . . . perfectly unlikeable for never showing any spirit whatsoever–but still . . . I tried watching the movie and gave up after half an hour because my head kept revolting, “That’s not RIGHT!”

    Now, don’t forget Sense & Sensibility. That’s by far the best big-screen rendition of a Jane Austen movie, in my opinion. Funny and entirely watchable. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, too, even though I seem to be in a minority for that one….

  4. Lisa Dusseaulton 16 Mar 2007 at 6:47 pm 4

    I’ve watched all of these Austen flicks in the last year — the Colin Firth mini-series for probably the third time, and the other two for the first time. I agree the mini-series is the best and I own it and love it and it still makes me cry at several points.

    I didn’t like the Keira Knightley version of Lizzie Bennet as much as you did. She came off as gigglier and duller than I need Lizzie to be. It was at least partly the writing, which itself was as you say partly due to time constraints, and many of her best lines were left out. But it’s also the acting: the actress portraying Lizzie needs to seem clever and witty, deft at light social interactions, yet remind you always that there are great depths under the flirting. The actress also needs to show how Lizzie suffers socially and emotionally from Lydia’s actions, not only for herself but in her empathy for the rest of the family, which Knightley just didn’t sell. I like Knightley much better in the Pirates of the Carribean movies — light, playful, witty, feisty and sometimes wonderfully angry.

    I thought Matthew McFadyen made a terrible Mr. Darcy. I like McFadyen but he’s a geek, not a sensitive aristocrat. To see him in something he’s actually good at, get the British MI-5 TV series. I’m sure no actor will ever replace Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in my heart, so I’m definitely biased on this one.

    On the plus side, this version had Judy Dench, Donald Sutherland, great realistic croweded country dance-hall scenes, and a much less annoying Mrs. Bennet. I almost can’t watch the mini-series scenes with Mrs. Bennet. Not sure if that is great acting or not 🙂

    If you haven’t seen Bridget Jones’ Diary, do see that — Colin Firth essentially plays Mr. Darcy again (with Hugh Grant as Wickham) — Helen Fielding liberally used the Pride and Prejudice plot for her book and even made references to Colin Firth in it. And for real fun, see “Bride and Prejudice”, the Bollywood version!

  5. rachelon 17 Mar 2007 at 6:08 pm 5

    I agree about your P&P assessments, though I also like to think of Susannah Harker as filling an older standard of beauty. Jennifer Ehle, though, is amazing. She makes me wish the movie Posession wasn’t a complete piece of crap, since she’s in it. And definitely see Bride and Prejudice if you haven’t already. It’s the same director as Bend It–you’ll lose your freaking mind. Perhaps not in the same happy weepy way that makes Scott flee the room, but in a different also very good way. (And the musical aspect might also very well send Scott away.) But it’s a smart, funny, campy delight.

  6. Junoon 19 Mar 2007 at 10:06 am 6



  7. Junoon 19 Mar 2007 at 10:07 am 7

    Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell. But the girl who plays Anne just moves me.

  8. Junoon 19 Mar 2007 at 10:11 am 8

    Susannah Harker didn’t trouble me in that role – I think it depends on the values of the era you live in. Lizzie speaks to modern readers – as a student of mine once said, “she’s like US!”
    Harker’s Jane is lovely at least partly because of her generosity of spirit, and respect for the understated emotional values of the era. And Harker did an excellent job of portraying that without insipidity.

  9. mamaloo, the doulaon 19 Mar 2007 at 11:51 am 9

    I agree that Harker was quite good in the role. Her physical beauty was perfect for the era and that sense of demure-ness, gentleness and lightness of spirit were highly prized at the time.

    When I think of Harker in that role and that time period the word “diaphanous” comes to mind.

  10. raineon 19 Mar 2007 at 2:13 pm 10

    amen, chica, amen.

    my take on the knightley version

  11. Annieon 19 Mar 2007 at 2:34 pm 11

    I love the BBC Pride and Prejudice, so SO much! The Keira version was a letdown for me. Mainly because Mr. Darcy just didn’t do it for me… I just didn’t really fall into it the way I did with the BBC version!
    I agree with you on Mansfield Park. Yep, I am a huge Austen fan!!

  12. JaneFanon 21 Mar 2007 at 1:58 pm 12

    Hello! Another Austen adaptation you should check out is the Bollywood “Bride & Prejudice.” If you go into it with an open mind, it a very fun movie and the music is infectious!

    Also, I read a lot of other blogs and sites lately that basically said if you loved the BBC P&P, you should watch their adaption of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South. They were right! It’s a similar story but industrial-era. The cinematography and score are sublime, and the actors do a great job with complex characters and a script that necessarily focuses on the romance and cuts much of the backstory.

  13. Jenniferon 22 Mar 2007 at 11:27 am 13

    It’s so hit or miss when it comes to being able to do justice to great literture and have everyone on board a movie do it the justice and respect that is it’s right. Yes, I talk of a book/story’s right, because of it’s undeniable status as art and art inspires and touches the deepest part of each of us.

    For the KK version of Pride and Prejudice, I found the promo intriguing. Made a mental note that one day to make sure to watch it. What finally made me watch it, on cable they aired a making of….episode. The talk about the social rules of the times, the little stolen moments that we would take for granted today. etc. Darcy helps her out of the carriage like any proper gentleman of his time would. Lizzie is not wearing gloves, the touch of her flesh on his is electric and he is forever hers even if he doesn’t know it yet.

    Not Jane related, my favorite BBC miniseries is their version of Moll Flanders. A younger Daniel Craig plays Jemmy, Moll is played by Alex Kingston. It’s one of the far better attempts of the novel. I won’t even bother to compare or name the messes that have been filmed over the years for this book. BBC didn’t completely keep to the book. But it’s hard to bring Moll and her life to film yet not end with a feeling of complete bleakness of the times and the hardship of simply being a woman then. They found a way to give her hope. Hope for the future. Hope for potential happiness. Hope for an adventure.

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