Thursday, 14 June 2007

Austen in 2008

I don't often fully enjoy Austen screen adaptations, simply because the depth of the narratives get lost due to a focus on the central romance, which is usually the least interesting part of the story. When the narratives are modeled solely as a romance and their subtle nuances are stripped away, you tend to be left with a corsets & carriages piece aimed mostly at the female market and though amusing enough at face value, they can hardly convey the multi-layered undertones and developments of Austen's writings. But some clever people have given it a bash and done very well and I tend to think of a good adaptation as a nice addition to the books, sort of like the cappuccino froth on an already good coffee.

PBS has recently issued a press release announcing that they will be embarking on a Jane Austen season in January 2008. Four of the titles—Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice—were adapted by Andrew Davies, Mansfield Park is a coproduction of Company Productions and WGBH Boston. Persuasion is a Clerkenwell Films production for ITV in association with WGBH Boston and Miss Austen Regrets, a true story based on Jane Austen’s own letters and diaries, will be part of the four-month marathon.

What I'm really interested in here is the new Sense & Sensibility, which is presently in production by the BBC. It's hard to go too far wrong with Andrew Davies. I recently watched his Northanger Abbey and was rather pleased with it, Felicity Jones is charming in it, and of course his '95 Pride & Prej and '95 Emma are widely considered to be the best adaptations of those novels.

'07 Persuasion is pretty good, it's watchable and enjoyable enough but lacks the depth, insight and excellent performances of the '95 film, which is resplendent with the likes of Amanda Root, Fiona Shaw, Sophie Thompson, Victoria Hamilton, Phoebe Nicholls, Corin Redgrave and Ciaran Hinds. Still, while it lacks and sags a little, I'd catch it. There is enough there to intrigue an avid Persuasion fan and pique the interest of a new one

However, '07 Mansfield Park is a travesty that doesn't deserve a screening. The script is woeful and the acting couldn't save it even if it was good, which it isn't. It's bloody terrible. I watched 20 minutes before deleting it forever from my computer and regretted the bandwidth used up to download it, and I won't harp further on it's absurdity for fear of never being able to stop. To compare, the '83 Mansfield Park may have it's faults but it's a million times better than this dreck, despite actress Sylvestra le Touzel and director David Giles getting the character of Fanny Price all wrong. If you can put aside Touzel playing Fanny as if she were an 85 year old moral despot, and Giles apparently giving her no direction not too, except to cry, fidget and look scandalized more, than it's actually a very faithful narrative and not at all un-enjoyable. Although I recommend fast forwarding the scene where Sir Thomas confronts Fanny over refusing Henry Crawford's proposal. It's cringe worthy. Angela Pleasence's wonderfully idle Lady Bertram is so fundamentally insipid and sedated and out of it, that were she a modern day housewife, you'd swear she was on Valium, and Anna Massey and Jackie Smith-Wood hit the Mrs Norris and Mary Crawford nails on the head perfectly. Interestingly enough, Touzel does a lovely job of playing Mrs Allen in '07 Northanger Abbey.

Dreck notwithstanding, maybe I'll buy a TV by January because I wouldn't mind catching Jane Austen Sundays.


Vic said...

I agree, preferring the Amanda Root version of Persuasion over the 2007 production. But, oh, Rupert Penry-Jones is such a lovely man to look at that I forgave this version's shallowness for the two hours that I watched it.

Bexia said...

He sure is a bit of alright, that's true!

Anonymous said...

I must agree with Ms. Place -- Rupert Penry-Jones makes a divine Captain Wentworth.

And I totally love the 2007 Northanger Abbey, although I was at first uncertain about the incorporation of fantasy dream scenes. Felicity Jones is terrific, and JJ Feild is excellent as Henry Tilney.