Lost in Austen: Episode 1 (TV, 2008)

lost-in-austen

What a delight it was for me to catch the Canadian premiere of Lost in Austen on the new VIVA channel last night, two months after its UK debut on ITV. No, I had not anticipated it with much eagerness, I admit, nor had I held any expectations before I watched it. But, what a pleasant surprise.

I was somewhat skeptical about another time-travel movie and yet another take on Pride and Prejudice. It seems we are doing Jane Austen a disservice to have so many different “versions” of her ingenious work, turning P & P into a modern day literary cliché. How many more original antics can screen writers squeeze out after all the adaptations and fan fiction spin-offs in recent decades? But this one is fresh and original. It is laugh-out-loud funny, entertaining, with intelligent dialogues and a new perspective. I’m afraid to say too, that there are moments with SNL type of parody on the story and its characters, especially Colin Firth’s role as Mr. Darcy.

But it’s all harmless fun. “No offense taken.” I’m sure Jane, with her sense of humor and satire, would have responded, or Colin, for that matter.

lost-in-austen-amanda-priceAmanda Price (Jemima Rooper, The Black Dahlia, 2006), a modern day working female living in Hammersmith, London, is a JA addict. Reading Pride and Prejudice has become her escape from her lacklustre life. She reminds me of Renée Zellweger’s Bridget Jones, although Amanda here manages to keep her weight under control and has a boyfriend that gets drunk on beer and proposes to her with a beer bottle tag as a wedding ring. So, it is a real fantasy for her to find Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace, 2008 ) in her bathroom, showing her a portal that leads straight to the Bennet house. But understandably, Amanda is a bewildered and reluctant time-traveler, at least at this point.

The freshness of the story comes from all the twists that do not follow Jane Austen’s story. As with my usual reviews, I don’t like to give out spoilers. But I have to say, the key to these ingenious renderings is that Amanda Price swaps places with Elizabeth Bennet. With Lizzy out of the picture in P & P, the rest of the story is up to the screen writer Guy Andrews’ and director Dan Zeff’s own imagination.

In this first episode, most of the major characters are introduced. All of them deliver a lively performance, although I’m particularly fond of Amanda and Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison). The music reminds me of the 1995 BBC production, energetic and swift. In turn, the pacing is quick and effective. My main criticism though, is the set design of the interior of the Bennet house. It looks more like a modern day rather than an early 19th Century setting, quite incompatible with the exterior of the house.

Right from the start, I have resolved to not take this TV production too seriously, but just immerse myself in the wild and fanciful ride it freely takes me. After all, Jane herself had excelled in this very act, transporting us to meet all sorts of characters and situations through the imaginary worlds of her novels. I’m sure she would have a good laugh too tonight if she were watching with me… now that would be a fantasy indeed.

Just Click to read my review of the other episodes:

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

*****

 

Glenn Gould: The Russian Journey (2002, TV)

 For two months, I had to stay away from home while my house underwent a major renovation.  After sequestered from TV watching for the whole summer, that was one of the first things I delved into as soon as I moved back last week.  A couple of days ago, in between re-runs of Olympics events, I was most gratified to watch this CBC/National Film Board documentary.  What a breath of fresh air and what an invigorating luxury I have been deprived of all summer!  Only on CBC.

The legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932 – 1982) visited the Soviet Union in 1957, at the age of 24, the first concert pianist from North America to be extended and accepted an invitation to play behind the Iron Curtain.  Stalin died just four years ago.  The Cold War was at its climax.  Very few had heard of a Canadian pianist named Glenn Gould, what more, very few had heard Bach since the composer was banned by the totalitarian regime for the religiosity of his work. 

This 56 minutes documentary, which won the Grand Prize of the 2003 Montreal International Festival of Films on Art, is packed with valuable archival footage of the actual Gould concerts, meditative shots of the lone pianist against the grand Russian architectural backdrop, as well as some of Gould’s own reminiscence of the historic journey. Interspersed are interviews with significant personalities within the Soviet arts and music circles, sharing their life-changing Gould experiences.  Among them are prominent musicians such as the renowned pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, and dissident cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who sheltered the writer Solzhenitsyn and resulted in the Soviet government banning his performances.

Tatiana Selikman, a pianist and teacher at the Russian Academy of Music, recalls the day of Gould’s first concert in May, 1957.  She saw the poster and was curious about a pianist from Canada, playing The Art of the Fugue, which nobody ever played in Communist Soviet Union.  The Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was sparsely seated.  Then the pale faced pianist came on stage, sat on a low chair, and unleashed a magical performance that mesmerized his small audience.  During the intermission, those in the concert hall dashed out to phone their friends, urging them to come right away.  As the concert resumed for the second half, the hall was packed to overflow.

And the rest is history…

What Gould brought to the Russian audience was not just Bach, or the intricacies of the Fugue, or the beguiling Goldberg Variations, but a new perspective.  Gould’s performance embodied the liberating effect of music, the freedom of artistic expression and the bold exhibition of individualism.  The audience was emancipated to a new found freedom that was not sanctioned under totalitarian rule.  Using the words of some of the musicians interviewed in the film, the Berlin Wall of music came down, warming the Cold War by a few degrees. For the first time, they were applauding something that was not Soviet.  And they were exhilarated.

The recent passing of the Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the events taking place in Georgia, or even the Olympics, have whirled up sentiments in me that I thought was long gone… the pathos of hearing the muffled cries of the oppressed, be it political, social, or artistic. 

There are those who are indignant about the Canadian government subsidizing the Glenn Gould trip, arguing it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.  If a lone pianist can inspire the masses, and if music can soften the hearts of man, enhance international goodwill, and reiterate the ideals of humanity, I am all for it.  Would it not cost more to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the front line?

 ~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

The documentary has been posted on YouTube in six parts.  Here is the beginning.  However, nothing compares to the big screen especially with Glenn Gould playing Bach:

                                     

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Sydney Pollack: The Passing of a Legend

Even if you’re not mad about movies, you’d probably still have seen some of Sydney Pollack’s works, either with him as a director, an actor, or a producer. 

A good movie is measured not in length, but in depth, and a career, in breadth.  But even if you’d like to use length to evaluate, Pollack’s five decades of contribution to the movie industry can certainly measure up.   

Consider these titles:

  • They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969, director) 
  • The Way We Were (1973, director)
  • Three Days of the Condor (1975, director)
  • Absence of Malice (1981, director, producer)
  • The Firm (1993, director, producer)
  • Sabrina (1995, director, producer)
  • Sense and Sensibility (1995, producer)
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, executive producer)
  • Up At The Villa (2000, executive producer)
  • The Quiet American (2002, executive producer)
  • Cold Mountain (2003, producer)
  • The Interpreter (2005, actor, director, executive producer)
  • Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005, director)
  • Michael Clayton (2007, actor, producer)
  • Made of Honor (2008, actor)

Not to mention the numerous TV appearances, dating back to “Playhouse 90” (1959), “The Twilight Zone” (1960), “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1960), to “Will & Grace” and “The Sopranos”.

And with his directing, he had sent Jane Fonda, Susannah York, Paul Newman, Jessica Lange, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and Barbra Streisand to the Oscars.  

Yes, you might have noticed…I’ve left out two movies, and they’re classics:  Tootsie (1982) and Out of Africa (1985).  No…how can I have forgotten them? I’m just saving my favorites for last.  Pollack acted in and directed Tootsie.  He demonstrated that he was an incisive social critic who could tactfully embed his provocative commentary in an enjoyable comedy.

And Out of Africa…the movie that brought Pollack his Oscar win as Best Director, and won the Best Picture of 1985… I just want to say, it represents the epitome of a great love story, one that encompasses depth of character, poignancy, meaning and significance.  And the images, the music and cinematography…just astounding.  Why do we only have ‘Chick Flicks’ nowadays?  What happened to the art and depth of storytelling?

Pollack died of cancer in Los Angelas on May 26.  He was 73.  Here are some links covering the passing of Sydney Pollack:

BBC News with video clip

SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle

News.com.au

Yahoo News with ABC news clip

Sense and Sensibility (2008 TV): Part 2

Even though the last kiss in the movie goes to Elinor and Edward, I feel this second part of Sense and Sensibility belongs to Marianne and Colonel Brandon.  Indeed, David Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon has been the leading man and Charity Wakefield’s Marianne shines.  Their lines even bring back some epic images of a past Austen adaptation.  Just dwell on them again:

Marianne: My feelings for him has changed so much…I love him.

Elinor: Then I am happy for you.

Words of endearment reminiscent of Davis’ adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1995)…flashback to Lizzy’s response to Darcy’s second proposal, and as she explains to her unbelieving father of her accepting it, and of course, Mr. Bennet’s loving consent upon hearing her declaration of love for Darcy.  As for the imaginary scene of the fencing duel?  Isn’t that just reminds us of Darcy’s own struggle?  Further … isn’t it true that such an improvised addition could work just as well with Darcy and Wickham too?

I think we have seen enough Davis adaptations to not be surprised by his interpretive visions…not authentically out of Austen’s book, but effective just the same … and we forgive him yet again.

Indeed, not only the fencing duel, which is nicely shot, mesmerizing and dream-like, but all the scenes we see in this new version that are Davis’ own imagination are all quite effective, thanks also to the excellent camerawork and cinematography.  Scenes such as Brandon’s gentle touch of Marianne’s hand as she lay ill in her bed, the invitation to his own library and leaving Marianne to the privacy of her own enjoyment of the pianoforte, to the taming of the falcon, all vividly depict Brandon’s patient and quiet yearning for her.  And Marianne, even though by nature a free-spirited creature like the falcon, would eventually fly back and rest on the arm of the one who beckons her with his steadfast love.  Davis’ imaginary scenes are most effective in portraying Marianne’s turnaround.

There are some very moving moments for Elinor too.  Desperately seeking solitude in her silent suffering, Elinor finds shelter in a cave by the seaside.  The camera’s point of view from inside the cave looking out, framing her silhouette against a tumultuous ocean, a stunning vision.  Or, when she sits on a bench, again alone, facing the wide open sea, waiting, doubting, or just plain accepting… Our hearts pour out to her, and yet, it is Elinor’s perseverance that has won us over, not sentimentality.  Now that is authentic Austen.

At the end, as Edward enters the Dashwood cottage to propose to Elinor, the slightly shaky camerawork is most effective in depicting the agitated anticipation of both lovers, for Edward, the nervous uncertainty of his reception, and for Elinor, the restless suspense and later unpredictable euphoria….kudos to the screenwriter, director, and cinematographer.

The Welsh filmmaker Peter Greenaway once made a controversial remark criticising film versions of literary work as mere “illustrated books”.  Regarding Jane Austen’s work, he said:

“Cinema is predicated on the 19th century novel.  We’re still illustrating Jane Austen novels–there are 41 films of Jane Austen novels in the world.  What a waste of time.”

(Click here for the Wales news article containing the above quote.)

To which I respond:  The visual can powerfully bring out the essence of the literary.  A good film adaptation is more than illustration of printed words, but an inspiring visual narrative.  At best, it can offer an interpretive vision and a new perspective to a timeless piece of writing.

The present adaptation is a vivid example.

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Click here to go back to Sense and Sensibility Part 1.

Don’t forget to vote in the Poll on the sidebar, Which Austen heroine do you think Jane was most like?

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Sense and Sensibility (2008 TV): Part 1

Sense and Sensibility 2008

What can I say after watching just half of a movie?  But First Impressions last, and the notion has multi-layered meaning.

First off, I can’t help but compare this Andrew Davis version with the 1995 Emma Thompson’s screenplay.  And secondly, I’m eager to watch Part 2 next week to see how some of my feelings from Part 1 hold out, of course, to also quench my Austenian thirst.  PBS sure has underestimated the patience of Janeites who, I think, would not mind spending three hours to watch the whole movie in one sitting.

The two adaptations play out exactly as the story does.  Emma Thompson’s screenplay is an almost literal and reserved view of the novel, while Andrew Davis’ is an imaginative and free-spirited rendition.  The two versions are very much a parallel image of Elinor versus Marianne, sense contrasted with sensibility, or should I say, sense and sensuality?  The perfect scenario, of course, is a balance of the two.  And last night, while appreciating the fresh angle Davis has led me to look at the novel, I also long for a more literal, more authentic representation.

Davis has taken the liberty to create scenes intended to appeal to (what he thinks is the expectation of) modern day viewers, a much more erotic and sensual rendition than the Austen novel. Not authentic, but I admit, some of those scenes are quite effective. Not that I think Jane Austen needs that kind of help though.

Marrianne and Willoughby

I have particularly enjoyed the set design and cinematography.  The sumptuous Norland Park, the elegant costume, and the picturesque natural scenery, the almost Gothic billowing seaside of the Dashwood new home.  Barton cottage by the cliff?  Again, not authentic, but quite effective.  The howling winds and crashing waves are sharp contrast to the once quiet and comfortable life of Norland Park.  They also signify the turmoils in the hearts of the characters, betraying their calm composure.  There is a beautiful shot when Elinor runs up the windy mountain, the camera follows her wind-swept hair and fluttering dress.  As she stops at the edge of the cliff, looking down onto the rising waves, she opens the book Edward has given her as a parting gift, slowly caressing the words he left in there.  That is one moving scene.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the camera work.  Like an omniscient narrator, it captures not only the macro views, but by its silent pan and close-up shots, reveal the inner emotions and deeper characterization.  The blurry shots of the wind-charm hanging outside the cottage, strung up sea shells Margaret has collected by the craggy shore,  slowly dancing in the quiet breeze, a metaphor for the passing of time, or the changing of scenes…very effective indeed.

young-cast-of-sense-and-sensibility
This adaptation features a younger cast.  Hattie Morahan as Elinor, Charity Wakefield as Marianne, as well as Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper as Edward Ferris and Willoughby are much more compatible in age to the story’s requirement than the 1995 movie.  However, I feel the contrast between the sisters are more proficiently acted by Thompson and Winslet….so far in this Part I anyway. The younger cast brings in a fresh perspective, but I miss the maturity and talent in the previous version.  I like Lucy Boynton’s Margaret (Miss Potter, 2006), a very clever performance and lucky girl…she has some of the best lines in the movie.  Another favorite character of mine in just watching this first part is Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood, her performance almost overshadows her daughters.
Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood

David Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon is portrayed as a more lofty and noble character than an emotionally tormented soul, a role Alan Rickman has mastered.  In the present version, Brandon meeting with Willoughby is an obvious reminiscence of a previous Andrew Davis adaptation, yes, the first, chance encounter of Darcy and Wickham in Meryton.  The cold and awkward expression on their faces are brought back here.  Morrissey’s tall and stately stature sharply contrasts with the much shorter, scoundrel-looking Willoughby, obviously contrasting not just a difference in physical appearance but in character. However, this is not what Austen intended.  The Willoughby she has described has all the social charm, height and good looks so to bring young girls under his grasp.  A deceitful character masked by a handsome appearance. Again, not authentic here, but as to effects, it depends on how much an Austen purist you are.  Nonetheless, I feel the Darcy and Wickham allusion is apparent.

Overall, I have enjoyed this first part of the new Sense and Sensibility.  The cinematography and camera work has done a great service to enhance a very elegant adaptation.  I anticipate eagerly to see how my First Impressions will play out in the concluding part coming up next week.

…if only I can just watch it now.

Update: Click here to go directly to my review of Part 2 and Conclusion of Sense and Sensibility (2008).

And… Don’t forget to cast your vote on the sidebar, Which Austen Heroine Was Jane Most Like?

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Emma: Miss Woodhouse Regrets

UPDATE:  To read my posts on the new BBC production of Emma (2009, TV), Episode 1 CLICK HERE.Episode 2 CLICK HERE... Episode 3 Conclusion CLICK HERE.

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Andrew Davis created another proficient and loyal adaptation of Austen’s work, a year after his success with Pride and Prejudice(1995).  Emma (1996 TV) shown on PBS last night is effectively written for the screen, bringing out all the crucial scenes in congruent sequences. Great acting from all, except I must say, Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightly seems to be a bit too severe and lacks the forbearing and benevolent nature he possesses in the book. Maybe because of that, Kate Beckinsale is a more subdued Emma, less spriteful as Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal. I have enjoyed Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax and Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith, who is more appropriately cast than Toni Collette in the 1996 movie.

“I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.”  –Jane Austen on Emma

Is Emma such a despicable character that Jane Austen thought no one but herself would much like?

At first, I thought so. Emma is manipulative, imposing and snobbish. In her pride, she has toyed with Harriet’s emotions, misdirected her path, and dominated her decisions. In her blindness, she has misjudged intentions and at times, behaved disdainfully. If Lady Catherine were around, her words targeted at Elizabeth Bennet would be most appropriate here: “Obstinate, headstrong girl!”. Lizzy would also decry: “Insufferable!”

But, why did Jane Austen still like her?

In her ingenious style, Austen has led us in a most gratifying way, to see our heroine regret. Emma is not a perfect human being. Far from it. She probably has more ingrained flaws than most of the other characters in the story. However, that is the way our beloved author likes to sculpt her heroines: making them earn their respect by their mending their ways. And she knows how gratified her readers must feel to see Emma enlightened and humbled. By showing a regretful and corrected Emma, Jane Austen has aligned our views with hers, helping us to appreciate our heroine as a respectable character who is not afraid to own up to her blunders.  Emma’s tears of regret have melted our hearts away.

Moreover, and most importantly I think, Austen has inconspicuously led us to see Emma from the eyes of Mr. Knightly towards the end of the story. Mr. Knightly has been Emma’s moral compass and benevolent mentor. While he can see her errors clearly, and does not hesitate to correct and admonish, he is also ready to forgive. He has chosen to love her from a distance while she is still an immature and self-deluded girl, albeit an imaginative one.

At the end, we are rewarded to see Emma gaining self-understanding:

“I seem to have been doomed to blindness.”

Hearing Knightly’s declaration of love, the undeserved euphoria is unspeakable. But of course, Mr. Knightly sees it otherwise:

“I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.”

His kindness and love for Emma compel him to still give her credit in her most self-deprecating state. In his eyes, she is ‘faultless in spite of all her faults’.

So, from Mr. Knightly’s point of view, we’ve come to appreciate a very human Emma, humbled by experience, regretful of her ways, and in the end, ever so ready to change. After all, it’s about time that a blissful match is made for herself.

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Update:  You can read this article as well as other interesting and informative articles on Jane Austen and the Regency Period in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine.

Pride and Prejudice (Part 3): Ideals Universally Acknowledged

I have watched this miniseries countless times, but I still wanted to see it again last Sunday night, the finale of Pride and Prejudice (1995) on PBS’s Masterpiece. I knew I was partaking in a communal experience shared by kindred spirits across North America. Every time I watch it, I glean some new insights, and I cherish the story all over again.

This time, I look into the characters convinced that Jane Austen has depicted the ideal woman and the ideal man in Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Ideal, not perfect. While they have virtues of their own, they have character flaws that if remain unchecked and unaltered, could well lead to a downfall like a tragic hero. Elizabeth, biased by her confidence in her own judgment, initially found Darcy to be utterly despicable. And Darcy, acting according to his own hubris, only fuels the very prejudice held by the one he admires. In circumstances like this, the ideal scenario is for the characters to change, to transform themselves into a better person in order to earn requited love. And that is exactly what Austen has done, and I think it is one of the main reasons why we love her story. She has put together two flawed characters and placed them in an ideal scenario wherein they strive to improve themselves, and turned into a better person for the sake of the other…Well, maybe more on the part of Darcy, and we love him for that. I like the title Pride and Prejudice more than Jane’s original First Impressions. It gives a bit more depth and sets readers out searching for the universal shortfall in us all. Often our own prejudgment and overconfidence in our myopic view confine us squarely inside the box, unable to see the world beyond.

The portrayal of such transformation is vividly and sensitively acted in the miniseries. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle effectively help us envision such an ideal scenario, satisfying our quest for the good, the wholesome, universal ideal of love hidden in us all. Kudos to Andrew Davis. I think he has written an ideal screen adaptation of Austen’s novel. Because of its loyalty to the original and still keeping the integrity of the work even when Davis presents to us imagined visions arise from his own interpretation, I believe this miniseries is the definitive version of Pride and Prejudice on screen.

Again, I have several favorite scenes. Which heart will not melt by that burning gaze of Darcy ardently holding Elizabeth as she rescues his disturbed sister in Pemberley upon the malicious mention of the name Wickham by Ms. Bingley? (BTW, this is Andrew Davis’ favorite scene in all of his Austen adaptations!) Who will not rejoice in Elizabeth’s assertive and eloquent rebuttal against the diatribe of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her calm refusal to promise never to enter into any engagement with Darcy? Whose heart will not stir as a restrained yet passionate Darcy extends his second marriage proposal to Elizabeth?

Elizabeth has demonstrated time and again that she has the autonomy to make her own choices, yet Austen has also poignantly shown us that while Elizabeth can choose who to love, she cannot force the other to choose her, especially after her family’s reputation has been ruined by Lydia’s elopement. Darcy learns this lesson much earlier, in a most traumatic and humiliating manner, as he realizes that wealth and social standing, or even his own declaration of love cannot force another person to accept him. Here lies the paradox of love, one can choose who to love but cannot demand requited love. Choosing one’s love manifests the autonomy of self, but having to earn and wait for the other to choose you is a most humbling discipline. Maybe the ideal thing to do in such a circumstance is just to become a lovable person. That could well create the best chance of gaining love.

In the end, it is heart-warming to see both Darcy and Elizabeth, even having decided on each other, yet still quietly pines and waits for the other to declare his/her choice. A sense of uncertainty is what keeps us humble and instills in us the virtue of hope.

“It taught me to hope as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.”

Knowing our innermost yearning, Jane Austen brings her characters together in the most humbling circumstance, with their mutual admission of wrongs and weaknesses while esteeming the other higher than him/herself, fulfilling the ideal state of love.

“Do not repeat what I said then…I have long been most heartily ashamed of it.”

“As a child… I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit… and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!”

Through such mutual respect and admiration, our beloved author delivers the ideal ending to the love story of two imperfect persons…and sets us up for another round of watching and reading.

The Ideal Ending

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Click to go back to Pride and Prejudice Part 1 and Part 2.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, you might like to click on “Jane Austen” in the category cloud on the side bar for more Austen articles here in Arti’s Ripple Effects.

Several of Arti’s articles have also been published in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine.  To read more about Jane and the Regency Period, just click on the link highlighted.

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Pride and Prejudice (Part 2): My Favorite Scenes

Unexpected encounter with Mr. Darcy

The second installment of Pride and Prejudice aired on PBS carries some of my favorite scenes in the whole miniseries. The ‘wet shirt’ episode, the favorite of many, is naturally one of them. Thousands have already talked about it, but allow me to add one small voice here. I find the surprise and embarrassing encounter of Elizabeth with the dripping wet Darcy to be an ingenious creation by Andrew Davies, an imaginary addition easily forgiven by many Jane Austen purists, I suppose. My reason for adoring this scene can be summed up in one word: vulnerability.

Both are caught unprepared and their vulnerability makes them equal. The inhibition of Elizabeth’s fondness of the place and her bewilderment of Darcy’s character based on the housekeeper’s compliments are well matched by Darcy’s eagerness to make a good impression but alas, while being caught in the most uncouth manner. Both clumsily and comically try to regain composure and maintain some form of civility. In the spontaneity of the moment, pride is laid aside and prejudice banished. And Darcy, stripped of his usual formal attire, presents his dripping and humble self in the most unguarded manner. Colin Firth has so vividly shown us that genuine and dishevelled appearances can be utterly appealing.

Another favorite scene of mine comes shortly after this chance encounter. As Elizabeth is driven away in the open carriage, she looks back at Darcy in a distance, wearing the fulfilled and satisfied smile on her face, while the camera, from her point of view, captures the handsomely poised Darcy seeing her off, his tall and slender physique growing smaller and smaller in the distance as the carriage is being pulled slowly away…how much tenderness can a camera shot elicit?

But before this beautiful departure at Pemberley, there is the duel of words. The scene I like most in this Part 2 of Pride and Prejudice is probably the first marriage proposal in Hunsford parsonage. Darcy’s words have but achieved one function: confirming every single prejudice Elizabeth might have held towards him. Through Elizabeth, Jane Austen has eloquently delivered her social commentary on the female predicament of her time. While love can be the most attractive reason for marriage for idealistic Lizzy, her better, rational self challenges the form, the motive, and the consequence of love. Would she be satisfied with the kind of love that is condescending, unequally bestowed, that is based on feelings ‘despite of’ and not admiration ‘because of’? Austen has articulated her critique on marrying for financial gains, even for the common good of securing the future of one’s whole family. A condescending relationship, despite the appearance of fondness and love, does not warrant the sacrifice of one’s dignity and value. Elizabeth has demonstrated clearly she has a choice, and she exercises her freedom to reject despite of the lure of wealth, status, and security. Just this scene is reason enough for me to admire Jane Austen.

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Click here to go directly to The Finale, Pride and Prejudice Part 3.

Click here to go back to Part 1.

Arti’s three posts on Pride and Prejudice (1995) have been combined into one article and published on the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine.  To read that and other interesting articles about Jane and the Regency Period, click here.

Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV)

Colin Firth and Jennifer EhleIs it coincidental that PBS has chosen, of all the six Jane Austen adaptations, to air Pride and Prejudice the Sunday before Valentine’s Day? I think they must have strategically placed it there, knowing that this novel is one of the most-loved books in literature, as the results in recent polls have shown. They must have known that Pride and Prejudice is ranked the third most reread books in Britain, and first in a poll on books that people in the British nation can’t live without.

Other surveys reveal similar results. In a 2003 BBC poll, Pride and Prejudice ranked second as UK’s favorite book. In 2007, it ranked first.

Only in Britain, you might say…but it seems like this is a phenomenon across countries.

In Australia, Austenmania and Janespotting are the common terms to describe this unprecedented occurrence since the mid 1990’s. The Pride and Prejudice miniseries (1995) broke TV ratings, books and sales records.

Jane Austen takes an international stance as it goes multicultural. In Bride and Prejudice (2004), the best-loved Austen novel received a dashing Bollywood makeover. Which country doesn’t have its own class system and prejudice? The movie has also put Aishwarya Rai (with Colin Firth in The Last Legion, 2007) on the world map.

Most recently, Venezuelan director Fina Torres is getting ready to film Sense and Sensibilidad, with screenplay by Mexican Luis Alfaro. Locations of filming will be in Mexico and East L.A., and to be released at the end of 2008. If Jane is around she would be much gratified and amused to see her books gaining such a multi-cultural following.

Just last Friday, the February 8th issue of the Taiwan-based (North American East Edition) Chinese Newspaper World Journal has a full-page coverage on Jane Austen and her many movie and television adaptations.

In the cyberworld, as recent as this past week, Project Gutenberg ranks Jane Austen as the third most downloaded author in the past 30 days after Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, while Pride and Prejudice is the most downloaded Austen books.

But of course, statistics are irrelevant when it comes to matter of the heart.

We who love Austen’s works and in particular, for me, Pride and Prejudice, will continue to reread the book and rewatch this TV miniseries regardless of what the polls show. Different people might find different reasons for its appeal. But I, for one, feel that Austen has created through Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy the ideal (note: not perfect) woman and the ideal man. I see in them the essential ingredients of relationships, with oneself, and with others: respect, compassion, kindness, generosity, hope, and grace, but above all, the willingness to change and be transformed for the better. I’m much grounded to expect perfection in the human world, but through Austen’s depiction I can cherish and admire the ideal.

With Valentine’s Day drawing near, and with our world unfolding as it is, cherishing the ideal could well be the key to help us build a more beautiful tomorrow.

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Click here to go directly to Pride and Prejudice: Part 2.

Click here to go to Part 3, The Finale of Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV).

Austen Regrets Becoming Jane?

After watching last night’s Masterpiece Theatre’s “Miss Austen Regrets”, the fourth installment of The Complete Jane Austen, I feel that something is missing in the title:  a question mark. It should be “Miss Austen Regrets?”  Making it like a statement as it is, the movie rests on the presumption that Jane indeed has regrets before her untimely death at age 41. What would she have regretted?

Would Jane have regretted not marrying for money?  Would she have regretted not trading for a life of comfort in a loveless marriage as Mrs. Bigg-Wither?  Would she have regretted not being a vicar’s wife living with Rev. Bridges and not seeing herself strive to become the writer that she is now? Would Elizabeth Bennet have married Mr. Darcy if he had not gained her total respect and requited love, even though she could have been Mistress of beautiful Pemberley?  Fanny Knight would have regretted not getting married for marriage’s sake, as Jane had so incisively seen through her, but Jane herself?

While the movie Becoming Jane is a fantasy, where the imagination takes flight and the director can have a free hand, more or less, to bring to the screen a creative narrative of ‘what if’,  “Miss Austen Regrets”, on the other hand, is supposed to be a biopic based on facts, from Jane’s correspondences with her niece Fanny.  It is to present an interpretation of Jane’s unmarried predicament derived from what she says in these documents. I have not read these letters. For those who have, is the movie an accurate portrayal of Jane’s internal world?

Even towards the end of the movie, and her life, suffering illness and facing her mother’s scornful accusation, Jane adamantly replies she wouldn’t have sold her soul for wealth. What she has gained she succinctly answered Cassandra in one word, “Freedom”. If she has had any regrets, it would be a life too short to continue the little success she has achieved as a writer, of not earning enough money to support her mother and sister with her writing. In summing up, she feels she has walked the path that God has intended for her.

The title and premise of the film has painted the work with a dark and somber overtone, and Gillian Anderson’s introduction looks like a ghastly announcement of death toll. But the funny thing is: I totally enjoyed it last night!  I was drawn to the movie’s engrossing scenes and intelligent dialogues, its beautiful cinematography and capricious camera work, the fast-paced story and the excellent editing embellished with a powerful score.

Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots as Aunt Jane and niece Fanny make an interesting pair, great contrast in character, and aptly playing out the embedded irony: the idealistic, unmarried Aunt giving practical advice on courtship to her young niece. The blurring of sarcasm and realism also makes the script ever more lively and intriguing.  There may be a miscast in Cassandra, depicting her more like a mother than a sister two years older, but overall the cast is effective in telling the story with depth.

All in all, the movie has succeeded in portraying the complexity of characters and choices Jane has encountered in her short life. It may have come to a different conclusion as some viewers would like to see, but it has presented an aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable work.

And for me, Jane has chosen the road less travelled, and that has made all the difference…

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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For a comprehensive review of “Miss Austen Regrets” written by Laurel Ann of Austenprose, go to PBS site “Remotely Connected”.

Ms. Place has also posted an interesting review, with lots of pics from the movie, at Jane Austen’s World.

Andrew Davies Interview

Thanks to a Jane Austen and film fan, I just received a link to an interview with Andrew Davis on CNN dot com.  Davis’ recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey (2007) will be shown as the second installment of Masterpiece Theatre’s “The Complete Jane Austen“, to be aired on PBS this Sunday, Feb. 20.

Master of screenplay adaptations of literary classics and especially Jane Austen’s works, Davis has some interesting views to share in this AP article entitled:  Sex, Class, and Exposing the Heart of Jane Austen.  Here’s the link:

 http://edition.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/18/apontv.andrew.davies.ap/index.html

Enjoy!