Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ch, ch, ch, changes...

I just finished watching PBS’s Jane Austen extravaganza a couple weeks ago and felt moved to comment on it. Yes, even after all this time - although that might be because I don’t know what else to write about today. It’s dreary here in New England and I’ve been killing myself doing spring cleaning. But you don’t want to hear about that, do you?

Unless it involves attempting to remove the monkeys under my son’s bed, probably not.

Four of the movies were remakes…Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Emma and Pride and Prejudice were produced several years ago and they (or someone) decided against remaking these movies. A wise decision, I think, because really, how are you going to compete with the 1995 version starring Colin Firth as Darcy? I’d seen this version years ago and found the second time around to be even better. I’ve also watched the latest version with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, which was fine. But I didn’t like how they reduced Darcy to a minimal role in this take. His development is just as important as Elizabeth’s, and besides who wants to miss out on all those smoldering looks! Jennifer Ehle (1995) is also hard to beat as Lizzie Bennet. She is so spunky and her eyes are full of mischievous sparks. She’s my favorite E.B. to date. I would definitely recommend this movie.

As for Emma, I have always enjoyed this movie for what it is - a lighthearted romantic comedy. I liked both Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, for different reasons. I thought Kate was more endearing, but I liked Gwyneth, too. She’s quite good at being snobbish (like when she played Estella in Great Expectations). I think Jeremy Northam made a better Mr. Knightley, at least in a romantic hero sort of way, though he may not have captured Mr. Knightley as well as Mark Strong did.

I did like the newer version of Northanger Abbey. A TV version was done in 1986 and I thought they made the heroine, young Catherine, too stupid. I like a bit of something going on in the attic, and this latest version provided a heroine (Felicity Jones) with a little more oomph and intelligence. I also liked JJ Feild as Henry Tilney. He’s an up and coming actor who does well in period pieces (he’s been in The Ruby in the Smoke and The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton). By far, I prefer the 2007 version of N.A., especially when Henry Tilney reaches out to wipe a bit of mud from Catherine’s cheek. The yearning in that gesture gave me chills.

I think remaking Sense and Sensibility was a mistake (the third one, not the second one - there was one done in 1981 that I haven’t seen). I loved Emma Thompson’s version and have watched and rewatched it many times. I like that she emphasized Jane Austen’s clever wit, yet maintained all the drama of the story. I think the current director was attempting to make a more realistic version of the story. I’ve never been one for realism (as you know if you read my blogs) - I get plenty of it in reality. I think that if I were to watch the 2008 remake without having seen Emma’s take, I might have liked it better. The problem was that I kept comparing the two, expecting certain things to happen or lines to be delivered in a certain way. I plain old liked the actors, characters, scenes, and delivery better in S & S, 1995. Why try to improve upon perfection?

As for Persuasion, I didn’t like how the 2007 version had her looking at the camera so many times! I got to the point where I could predict when she was going to do it. Personally, I didn’t see her as the heroine type. She’s a good actress, and maybe it was the hairdo, but I didn’t see her with Rupert Penry-Jones, who played Mr. Wentworth, her love interest. I know that those dreadful ringlets were the style back then, but couldn’t they have played with it a little? I also didn’t think the ending was dramatic enough. Everything seemed to be resolved in one fell swoop, or at least felt like that. Despite all these problems, I did like the movie well enough to watch it again.

Mansfield Park. Hmmm… Well, I liked the 1999 version well enough, but the 2007 remake was not a favorite. I thought it was rather dull and I didn’t like Billie Piper as the heroine. I do not think of her as a Fanny Price, you see. Worse, I’m not sure I even like Fanny Price all that much. She’s a bit of a prude. Doing a little research, I discovered I’m not alone in this opinion. I think we all want a heroine who has a bit of spunk, or is at least willing to break the rules a bit. No one likes to be reminded that they are less than perfect in their moral conduct. I don’t think I could live up to Fanny Price’s strict moral code, which of course, makes me dislike her a bit.

In sum, I think they would have been better off leaving Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park alone. Northanger Abbey was an improvement and Persuasion was all right. I don’t know about you, but I think that if you’re going to make a change, it should be for the better. One of out four just isn’t doing it for me.

What I’d really like to see is the BBC take on some new period piece stories. Take some of the gothics from the 1960s and 1970s and make them into a movie. Granted, like the chick lit of today, there was an influx of bad books, but I know there are enough good ones out there to make a hit.

Don’t you agree?

1 comment:

Alina Gordelli said...


Thank you for this interesting introduction.
I agree with you – I did not like any of the recent re-makes of Austin’s – Pride and Prejudice and particularly Sense and Sensibility. I think that Emma Thompson’s version was closing to perfection. I did not like Keira’s version of Elizabeth Bennet at all. I also belong to the minority who thinks that Gwyneth was casted very well as Emma, she was fresh, strong headed, but elegant. And though Jeremy Northam’s Mr Knightly was in places too soft, but he demonstrated very well why Emma has claimed that his presence was always cheerful. Cheerful Michael Strong was definitely not!