Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Weekend in Austin with Austen

Well, not only did we here in Austin survive, but it's been a beautiful, breezy, and exceptionally hot weekend. We had no rain at all. Darwin moved the grill into the garage for naught. And instead of huddling by candlelight telling stories, Darwin and I spent all weekend watching Jane Austen movies. I took much of last week re-reading the Jane Austen canon, and I felt in the mood for a little adaption fun.

As I'd never seen it, we borrowed Pride and Prejudice (1995) from a friend. Darwin had set his face firmly against this version because he is a great fan of the 1980 BBC production (which is quite well done and has a fine Elizabeth) and because he thought the director made some foolish choices, and because he first saw it with a passel of silly girls. I must agree about the director's choices. I enjoyed Colin Firth's acting, though I feel that the director put him in some silly situations. Darcy plunging into a pond and then meeting Elizabeth at Pemberly in his wet shirt? That's so not Jane Austen, people.

Elizabeth was generally pleasant, although she smiled too much. I was quite disappointed in the supporting characters, most of whom were mere caricatures. Mrs. Bennett was very poorly cast indeed -- she was shrill and vicious and sharp, instead of weak and petulant but without malice. And Mr. Bennett didn't seem to have as much fun with his role as I would have hoped. Darwin and I have agreed that in our perfect Pride and Prejudice the late Sir John Gielgud would play Mr. Bennett. Anyone who has ever seen the BBC's Brideshead Revisited will remember his Mr. Ryder, and that's exactly the quality you need for Mr. Bennett.

And Jane was not pretty...

Then we rented Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibililty. Mansfield Park: two thumbs DOWN; almost completely unwatchable. Some of the reviews on Amazon stated that although the movie bore no resemblance to the book, it was a good movie on its own terms. T'aint so, dear reader, t'aint so. Only the names were lifted from the book -- the plot and characters were so altered as to be almost unrecognizable, and I soon left off telling Darwin what had been changed from the book and only let him know when the movie retained any detail. (And yes, he asked; I don't kibitz at movies simply for the sake of passing an epigram or a satire.) And since the director had tiresome secular moralizing tendencies, the subtext was all opium and incest and sexual license and slavery -- actually, they weren't content with leaving slavery as a subtext and rubbed our noses in it. There was not one likeable character in the movie, and as the director didn't share Austen's strong religious sensibilities, most of the character motivation was unbelievable or fatuous. Read the book, spit at the movie when you see in on the shelf at Blockbuster.

Sense and Sensibility (which I saw shortly after it came out) was completely the opposite of Mansfield Park: thoroughly delightful, faithful to the text, and charming in every way. Kate Winslet, pre-Titantic, unspoiled (though after having seen Heavenly Creatures I looked at her in a new light), was beautiful and passionate and, I believe, did her own singing. Emma Thompson, though a bit old to play Elinor, carried it off with such grace and restraint that you wonder that Colonel Brandon doesn't see how suited the two of them would have been... I never liked the pairings in Sense and Sensibility, but that's more a reflection of my own tastes than any shortcoming in the story. And Alan Rickman's voice is mellifluous, deep, and melting -- heck, he even gives Severus Snape sex appeal.

And since we were up 'til 3 AM frittering away our time, Darwin and I are sure to be exhausted all day, while the monkeys, who went to bed hours earlier, are already romping around the house. (Noogs has a princess obsession and goes around calling us Mommy Queen and Daddy King and floating about on her royal yacht The Water Princess. This comes of reading a book about the ballet Sleeping Beauty, which features -- you guessed it -- a beautiful princess and a handsome prince.) Their young highnesses are at this moment watching Sense and Sensibility, as two-year-old Princess Babs is quite technically proficient and loves to work the DVD player. I hope they absorb some manners from Austen....


Kate said...

I must disagree with you about the casting of Pride and Prejudice, particularily Jane. She is lovely! A very quiet, placid loveliness, as is right and proper.

Of course, I saw that version first, then the BBC version. Flaws either way - the 4 hour version adds scenes that are only described or referred to in the book in order to make a goo0d movie, and the BBC version has to cut things in order to make it fit their time frame and constraints. I much prefer the 1995 movie's casting to the BBC version, which I found entirely forgettable.

Ah, Darcy!

I do agree with you completely about MAnsfield Park though. And I did love Sense and Sensibilty, though Emma Thompson is far too old!

mrsdarwin said...

Darwin and I saw the BBC version three or four years ago, so I can't remember all the details, but it's the one he grew up watching. His parents taped it when it came on Masterpiece Theater long long ago. But for comparison's sake, we went on Amazon and ordered the 1980 version -- it's on DVD now -- so in a few weeks I'll be in a far better position to make a more detailed analysis. Of course, comparisons are odious, you know....

Anonymous said...

I too loved the Sense & Sensibility movie, though I am possibly one of the few modern women who does like Edward Ferrars. He's a difficult character to present sympathetically in a movie, something in which which the Emma Thompson version succeeded admirably.

My vote for "Jane Austen Movie Most Like the Original Novel" goes to Persuasion starring Amanda Root. It's a quiet, subtle movie. I love the way Anne, just as in the novel, changes by imperceptual degrees from withered to blooming in the course of the movie. And it's very well cast. They've really captured the characters and their relationships with each other. The segment where everyone is confiding in Anne during her visit with her sister Mary captures that part of the novel in a way which I never would have dreamed possible.

Bernard Brandt said...

Aw, and I was thinking that you and Mr. Darwin (aka, the dread B,) were still crawling along the highway (like those benighted souls in and near Houston), to get away from Lovely Rita.

Actually, both Beth and I are happy to hear that the only effect is that you stayed up rather too late to watch good movies. May your silly tribe long continue.