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Metropolitan, Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary

Metropolitan: 1990, Newline Cinema Clueless: Paramount, 1995 Bridget Jones's Diary: Miramax, 2001

Americans have always been fascinated by and quick to follow success. It is no wonder then, that with the recent revival of Austen films, movie-goers have also been treated to a rash of Austen updates. These films, produced by the same companies that brought us the original Austen adaptations, have each enjoyed a wide popularity and garnered a fistful of awards. They are all listed as comedies. They are all rated PG-13 or R. Wait a minute! An Austen adaptation rated R? What gives? Well, along with their other similarities- they all also share a very un-Austen like fascination with sex. It is unfortunate that the makers of such wonderful family films as Emma and Sense and Sensibility could come up with nothing funnier or more sophisticated than traditional Hollywood fare. Perhaps it is the American influence. Perhaps the screenwriters feel that, as Austen did in her day, they are simply mirroring popular culture. What remains are three films which may be funny to the majority of film audiences, but are blatently offensive to common morality and certainly not a credit to the tradition of Austen adaptations. Continue reading Metropolitan, Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary

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Northanger Abbey: 1986

Kind critics have called it quirky. For some it is “awful” and still others call it “A fun and enjoyable adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.” Safe to say, no one is ambivalent. Written by Maggie Wadey (The Buccaneers) for the BBC in 1986 and shown on Masterpiece Theater in December of 1987, Northanger Abbey boasts fair a cast and wonderful scenery. With a different script and score it could have rivaled the Austen adaptations of the 1990’s. Instead, it remains an engaging but slightly discordant note in the Austen film symphony. It is truly unlike anything that came before or has been produced since. As the shortest Jane Austen film on record (it clocks in at 90 minutes) Northanger Abbey lacks the time given to other adaptations for plot exposition. Indeed, while some of Austen’s best lines were allowed to remain, the writer felt compelled to add new scenes and create new characters to fill out the story, cutting the original plot still further. Perhaps Jean Bowden, Chawton Archivist said it best when she states, “They completely missed the joke.” Maggie Wadey managed to take Jane Austen funniest novel, a satire on the literature of the day, and turn it into what is touted as a Gothic fantasy. All right if you go in for that sort of thing, but certainly not Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Adding to the awkward feel of the film is the score by Ilona Sekacz (Mrs. Dalloway)- a weird mix of period appropriate, night (more…)
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Emma: 1972

“Oh! I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other…” ~Emma In 1972, the BBC created what has been called “The best of the early Austen adaptations”, with their production of Emma. The third in their series of Austen films, BBC recruited the veteran writing/producing team of Martin Lisemore and Denis Constanduros (who had previously worked on Sense and Sensibility, in 1971. Denis Constanduros would later return to write the outline for 1985’s script of Sense and Sensibility.). With the help of director John Glenister (known for his other BBC projects, including A Touch of Frost and Hetty Wainthrop Investigates), they put together a funny, accurate portrayal of Jane Austen’s fourth novel. While much of the cast seems a bit old for their parts, John Carson (Mr. Knightley) was 45 and Doran Godwin (Emma Woodhouse) well into her thirties, they did provide, looks aside, excellent portrayals of their characters. Donald Eccles (Silas Marner, 1985), I think, gives a consummate performance as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. He seems to be lifted directly out of the book. The perfect invalid, longing to be a bother to no one, but afraid for everyone. Mrs. Elton (Fiona Walker) is perfectly vulgar. A triumph! Miss Bates is properly distracted. Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith are not quite so well cast. Jane remains looking pale and sickly throughout, and Harriet comes away looking like a total ninny. One wonders how Emma could stand having her around. She may have cured her (more…)
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Mansfield Park: 1983

In 1983 BBC once again took on Jane Austen, this time choosing her longest novel- Mansfield Park. Their adaptation, which was directed by by David Giles (who also directed Hetty Wainthrop) contains a cast of wonderfully lifelike characters, many of whom would go on to play other Austen rolls. The leads, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, were played by Sylvestra Le Touzel (Vanity Fair) and Nicholas Farrell (Chariots of Fire, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet). Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram were portrayed by Angela Pleasence and Bernard Hepton (A&E’s Emma). Samantha Bond (A&E’s Emma, James Bond) played Maria Bertram-Rushworth. Perhaps the strangest Austen connection stems from the young actor who played Fanny Price’s younger brother, Charles. Sixteen years later, he would return to again act in a Mansfield Park adaptation, this time as Edmund. His name? Jonny Lee Miller. Mansfield Park may be the hardest of any of Austen’s novels to film. Despite recent efforts, there has not yet been an entirely satisfactory filming of it. Part of this difficulty may arise from the heavy nature of the plot substance (immorality, seduction, adultery)- especially in light of the friendly atmospheres of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Mansfield Park lacks their spunky, if slightly cheeky heroines. Fanny Price is very moral and kind, but not altogether exciting. In short, very much unlike anything Jane Austen had written before. While the 1999 version of Mansfield Park “improves” upon Fanny and adds to her character, this 1983 adaptation tries to remain faithful to the original. (more…)
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Austen’s Appeal

With the upcoming release of Northanger Abbey, the last of Jane Austen’s six major novels to be filmed in the past few years, there is much questioning as to why Jane Austen, long the staple of high school English Literature classes, has become so wildly popular. In a world filled with rudeness and disrespect, she has gained not only a loyal following (though there has always been a faithful remnant), but worldwide media acclaim such as she did not experience even during her lifetime!

P&P Video Cover

Many people claim that it is the movies made in the last five years that have caused this meteoric rise in popularity, making Jane Austen a household name and her works blockbuster successes. However, twenty years ago the same books were transferred to film without the same results. Better actors you say? Well, there is something to be said for that, as well as the fact that these new movies have larger budgets. I think, though, that the real answer lies in a changing mindset of today’s women. Without interest in these stories, the movies would never have been made. Continue reading Austen’s Appeal

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Pride and Prejudice: 1979

Pride and Prejudice In 1979, Pride and Prejudice was once again tapped for screen material. This time it was the BBC who put forth their efforts on behalf of Jane Austen (though the forty years between tries were by no means the “Dark Ages”. There were several television and radio adaptations, which sadly have not been transferred to video. I am concentrating on the video adaptations at this time.) This Pride and Prejudice (P&P1) was shown in the USA in five episodes on Masterpiece Theater between October 26 and November 23, 1980. Continue reading Pride and Prejudice: 1979