Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Like many people, I've been eagerly anticipating Masterpiece Theater's Austenpalooza coming over the next six weeks. I'm particularly pleased that they're doing Northanger Abbey, which got overlooked in the glut of Austen movies in the mid-90s, and doing a proper Mansfield Park (the movie of the same name from the 90s was many things both good and bad, but it was not Austen's Mansfield Park). I wasn't as sure about the prospect of new versions of Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility since it's hard to imagine anything that could top the two masterful big-screen versions. And sadly, last's nights Persuasion proved me right.

Several years ago, I rented an earlier version of Persuasion, thinking it would provide an interesting change from the 1995 version. After 15 minutes of the main characters sitting around the parlor spewing out stilted plot exposition, we revolted and put in the 1995 version, which managed to convey in two minutes more information than the fifteen we had watched of the other version. It was a textbook example of show, don't tell. Sadly, the movie last night completely ignored that lesson.

One of the things I like most about the book is that it's subtle. Anne is much more akin to Elinor Dashwood than Marianne, and doesn't sit around bemoaning her wretched present and the lost opportunities of the past. She holds it together and takes care of her ungrateful family, with her regrets existing as an undercurrent of sadness. The 1995 film excels in conveying that subtlety. Last night's, on the other hand, had all the subtlety of a sackful of anvils hitting you on the head. Reams of unnecessary plot exposition. Actors who delivered their lines in a way that made you wonder if they had trouble remembering them. Emotions conveyed through hammy overacting that seemed to convey constipation more than concealed heavy emotions. The actress who played Anne in this version couldn't compare to Amanda Root, who was able to convey more throught compressed lips and a slightly pained look than she was able to convey in an entire scene of sobbing exposition on Lady Russell's shoulder.

What offended me even more than the out-of-character weepiness, however, was that the scene was but the first of many that didn't appear in the book. The plot wound up in the same place as the book and hit the same major high points, but they seemed to feel no need to use the actual scenes from the book or remember little details like the fact that Anne's invalid friend in Bath couldn't walk, which would have made running after Anne a bit hard. I have nothing against making changes from book to movie, but these changes were utterly unnecessary and changed the story and the characters, almost universally for the worst.

I'm still looking forward to Northanger Abbey. It doesn't have a good earlier version to compare it to, so I'll be going in relatively fresh. I think, however, the night they show their new version of Sense and Sensibility, it might be a good idea to pop my dvd of the Emma Thompson version in instead.


  1. I agree with your takes on the current movies... except if it's the same Persuasion that I saw, I found it drab, full of mumbles, and a little strange. I did see a version of Northanger Abbey, years ago. It was infuriating, because the filmmakers took out all the funny parts, and made it INTO A GOTHIC HORROR MOVIE. I still haven't forgiven them.

    I look forward to your comments on the rest of the series. Did you like the Keira Knightly version of P&P?

  2. Yes, I did like the Kiera Knightley P&P, which surprised me a bit. I loved the miniseries so much, I didn't think I would like something that would have to condense the story down into two hours. But it had a good grasp on the characters, and I was intrigued by how compassionate it was with some of the annoying but not malicious characters (Mary, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins). I hadn't thought about how hard it would be to be a socially awkward person in a society which places such importance on manners, but there were moments for each of those characters that showed how they must feel, being on the outside.

    The movie certainly had its flaws (that final scene - augh!), but I liked it overall.

  3. Yes, I was very pleasantly surprised by how well the told the story to a modern movie audience. It also made the contrast in social status more apparent: the Bingleys didn't have pigs running about in their back garden. There were some clangy moments -- I didn't like some of the things that this Lizzie said to her mother -- but overall it was a good watch.

    It's a dark and shameful secret of mine that I LIKE that last scene. I fully admit that it isn't at all in character with the time period, the people, or the movie... but I like it.

  4. hi, you listed "infertility" as one of your interests. a very peculiar interest. could i ask you: the infertility of what?

    we also share the same blog template background BTW. :)

  5. Infertility = the inability to get or stay pregnant without medical intervention

  6. i should have thought more before i wrote that and should have been more senstive. i am sorry. that was none of my business.

  7. i should have thought more before i wrote that and should have been more senstive. i am sorry. that was none of my business.