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Pride and Prejudice vs. Jane Eyre

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Pride and Prejudice vs. Jane Eyre

1463668501091.0As two of the most popular novels of all time, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre have an incredible number of spin-off books written about them. Two of the books tipped to be summer bestsellers this year are Eligible – a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Steele – a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. But do they both work in the modern era?

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Tableaux Vivants

Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants) is French for “living picture.” The term describes a striking group of suitably costumed actors or artist’s models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The phrase and the practice probably began in medieval liturgical dramas such as the Golden Mass, where on special occasions a Mass was punctuated by short dramatic scenes and tableaux. They were a major feature of festivities for royal weddings, coronations and Royal entries into cities. Often the actors imitated statues, much in the way of modern street entertainers, but in larger groups, mounted on elaborate temporary stands along the path of the main procession.*

Parlor Tableaux were a particular kind of social entertainment that reached its prime in the 19th century. Consisting of people, usually wealthy guests at a party, dressing up and posing as a painting or etching of their choice, they play pivotal roles in several novels of the day, including Jane Eyre and The House of Mirth. Piquant and lustrous, it more or less died out as a result of the boom of the entertainment business in the 20th century, and the birth of cinematography.**

Tableaux Vivants evolved from educational and artistic performances to parlour games and charades and then, during the Victorian era, they took a darker turn with the introduction of “poses plastiques”– scantily clad actresses recreating famous statues. The following instructions for playing Tableaux Vivants are from Cassell’s Book of Amusements, Card Games and Fireside Fun, 1881.

Tableaux Vivants
In the estimation of some people Tableaux Vivants possess even greater attractions tha Charades, simply for the reason that in their representation no conversational power is required. The performers have to remain perfectly silent, looking rather than speaking their thoughts; proclaiming by the attitude in which they place themselves, and by the expression of their countenances, the tale they have to tell. To others, however, this silent acting is infinitely more difficult than the incessant talk and gesticulation required in charade actors. Naturally active, and gifted with a ready flow of words, the ordeal of having to remain motionless and silent, for even three or four minutes, would be equal to the infliction upon themselves of absolute pain. Still we must not be led to think that individuals devoid of character are the most eligible to take part in Tableaux Vivants; no greater mistake could be made. The affair is sure ot be a failure unless the actors not only have the perfect command of feeling, but are able also to enter completely into the spirit of the subject they attempt to depict.

It would be useless to expect a lady to personate Lad Macbeth who had never read the play, and who, therefore, knew nothing of the motives which prompted that ambitious woman in her guilty career. In order to give effect to the scene the subject must be familiar and thoroughly understood by the actors. There is seldom any difficulty in the selection of subjects. Historical remembrances are always acceptable, and can be made to speak very plainly for themselves, while fictitious and poetical scenes may be rendered simply charming. Speaking from experience, one of the prettiest Tableaux Vivants we ever saw was one taken from Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale.”

As soon as the curtain was drawn aside, Hermione was seen on a raised pedestal, so lifeless and calm she might well have been mistaken for marble. Before her was standing Leontes, and old man, with his daughter, Perdita, hanging on his arm, both evidently struck dumb with amazement at the likeness of the statue to her who for so many years they had believed to be dead; while Camillo, Glorizel, and Polienes, aslo stood gazing in wonder. The good Paulina, dresses as a Sicililan matron, stood behind the Statute, or rather on one side, as the exhibitor of it. Presently were heard strains of gentle music, when the Statue stepped gracefully from her elevation, gave her hand to Leontes, and was embraced by him. The curtain here was drawn forward again, hiding from our sight a picture what ever since has been printed indelibly upon our memory.

For comic tableaux scenes from fairyland or nursery rhymes, would answer the purpose admirably. Some young lady with long hair might be made to be seen kneeling as Fatima, before her cruel, hard-hearted husband, Blue Beard; he with her hair in one hand, and a drawn sword in the other, just about to commit the horrid deed; the sister meantime straining her eyes out of the window, to catch sight of her brothers, who she knows are coming with all speed to the rescue. As to dressing the scenery, they are matters that must be lef to the taste and fancy of the managers of the concern, who will soon discover that the success of the Tableaux, even more than Charades, depends very greatly upon dress and surroundings. Charades speak for themselves, but Tableaux are so soon over, that unless the actors assume somewhat of the dress of the characters they attempt to personate, the audience will not readily guess the subject chosen. There is little doubt that with both Charade performers, and with those who take part in Tableaux Vivants, the assumed dress gives and air of importance to the proceedings which would not otherwise exist, and acts like a kind of inspiration (upon young people especially), making them perhaps more thoroughly lose their own personality in trying to be someone else.

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Emma(3): 1996

Emma: BBC/A&E 1996, written by Andrew Davies
The other version of Emma to be released in 1996 was written and produced by the same team that gave us Pride and Prejudice only a year before. This version, shown on the BBC and A&E television took a much different look at the story from it’s big screen counterpart.Female cast members, from left: Mrs. Elton, Miss Bates, Harriet Smith, Emma Woodhouse, Jane Fairfax, Mrs. Weston. Beginning with a veteran Austen cast including Bernard Hepton (Sir Thomas Bertram, MP1) as Mr. Woodhouse, Samantha Bond (Maria Bertram, MP1)as Mrs. Weston and Lucy Robinson (Louisa Hurst, P&P2)as Mrs. Elton, this version gave a muted but in the end faithful picture of Austen’s fourth novel. Other actors included Kate Beckinsdale (Hero, Much Ado About Nothing) as Emma Woodhouse, Raymond Coulthard (Young Scrooge, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol) as Frank Churchill,Male cast members, from left: Frank Churchill, Robert Martin, Mr. George Knightley, Dr. Perry, Mr. Elton, Mr. John Knightley. Samantha Morton (Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre 1997 as Harriet Smith and Prunella Scales (Sybil Fawlty, Fawlty Towers) as Miss Bates.)Scales already had another Austen connection: her son, Sam West, played Mr. William Walter Elliot in Sony’s 1994 Persuasion.

The village of Lacock, used by permission from William Kemp Filmed primarily in Lacock, a village made famous in Pride and Prejudice, and other National Trust houses around England, this Emma includes many scenes lacking in the year’s other offering. We are treated to chicken thieves, a game of anagrams, and strawberry picking at Donwell (“Donkeys, Janet!”). Other scenes were invented for plot development- the arrival of Jane’s piano, the unexpected but in the end quite satisfying dinner at Donwell, and (Who could forget!?) Emma’s imaginations! These scenes, though not present in the book give an amusing twist to an already delightful film.

Kate Beckinsdale as Emma Woodhouse Where Miramax’s Emma was light, bright and sparkling, this version tends to show more of the dirt and even, at times, the poverty experienced at the time, lending it a feeling of reality lost in other more “cinematic” films. Whether at dinner or in the hot and dusty outdoors, the director sought to give a period touch with authentic meals (using period recipes!), smokey interiors and terribly dirty, muddy roads. The costumes, created by Jenny Beavan also reflect that same attention to detail, giving full credit to her extensive research and love of history.

Jenny Beavan's gown, designed for Lucy Robinson, used by permission from William Kemp Beavan, who has been Oscar-nominated for her work in such films as Anna and the King, A Room with a View, and Sense and Sensibility – talks of her work in “The Making of Jane Austen’s Emma“. The setting, nearer 1815 than S&S2’s 1800, provided a welcome challenge to her, for, though the styles were similar, they do provide a stark contrast to the discerning eye. Add to that the provinciality of Highbury in comparison to the cosmopolitan world of London and the Dashwood’s former wealth, and you have a completely new wardrobe to assemble. Very few garments from other adaptations were availble for use in this production, so most of the outfits were tailor made for this production (Sharp observers will notice Mrs. Weston wearing a few of Jane Bennet’s gowns.). Ms. Beavan won an Emmy for her costumes in this film.

Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley Along with costuming, hairstyles are a major concern when filming a period piece. Stylist Mary Hillman put quite a lot of thought into showing each character’s disposition through their personal style. Emma has elaborately coiffed, somewhat perky curls, Harriet’s hair, presumably arranged by herself, is done very simply. Mr. Woodhouse clings to outdated fashions and tradition with his periwig. Frank’s, and we all know how fastidious he was about his hair, is always perfectly styled into place. Many of the actors and actresses involved in this film were able to use their own hair for all scenes. Two exceptions were Kate Beckinsdale, who wore extensions, and Mark Strong (Mr. Knightley)- who is actually bald!!

Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith Mark Strong and Jeremy Northam have, inevitably, endured much criticism for their quite different portrayals of Mr. Knightley. Strong’s comes across as angry- more intense perhaps, while Northam’s is much more easy-going. Again, as in the Miramax production, this film benefits from having actors who are actually close in age to the characters they play. Perhaps the most interesting link between the two films is the portrayal of Harriet Smith by Samantha Morton (A&E) and Toni Collette (Miramax). Both these actresses have since had fine careers which once again crossed paths when they contended with each other for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2000. Neither actress won.

Happily Ever After Despite it’s dark overtones, Emma remains an entertaining and delightful adaptation. The carriage proposal scene with Mr. Elton (Dominic Rowan) is not to be missed! Emma is available in both DVD and VHS formats and runs for approximately 107 mins. The DVD features a bonus biography of Jane Austen and closed captioning. There is no language selection available. The book, The Making of Jane Austen’s Emma is out of print but can occasionally be found on Ebay or in used book stores.

Photos of Lacock and Jenny Beavan’s gown, courtesy of William Kemp. Visit his site for more fabulous Jane Austen related photography!

Laura Sauer is a collector of Jane Austen Films and film memorabilia. She also runs Austentation, a company that specializes in custom made Regency Accessories



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