Masterpiece Classic, Period Drama

Small Island on Masterpiece Classic PBS Survives a Cold Embrace by the Mother Country – A Recap & Review

Image from Small Island: Naomie Harris © 2010 MASTERPIECEThere is a lot of pride and prejudice in the story of Small Island, the new Masterpiece Classic two-part adaptation of Andrea Levy’s award winning 2004 novel. Not the Jane Austen kind of pride and prejudice, but the kind experienced by millions of people whose countries were colonized by Great Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. This particular story involves Hortense and Gilbert, two Jamaicans who immigrate to England in 1948, but could apply to native East Indians, Africans or Asians whose young men and women proudly served their Mother Country during WWII only to experience the cold embrace of prejudice and poverty in their new home. This story plays upon the dark underbelly of postwar racial discrimination in England paralleling the intersecting lives of  one white and one black couple that is painful to experience but uplifting in its conclusion.

This griping story presents two women from modest beginnings born on opposite sides of the Atlantic, each with a strong desire to improve their lives but naïve expectations on how to achieve it. In 1939 Jamaica, Hortense Roberts (Naomie Harris) is a young black woman from a broken home who Continue reading “Small Island on Masterpiece Classic PBS Survives a Cold Embrace by the Mother Country – A Recap & Review”

Emma Movies & TV, Jane Austen Adaptations, Masterpiece Classic, Period Drama

Adieu Miss Woodhouse – Emma (2009) concludes on Masterpiece Classic

Image from Emma Episode 3: Box Hill picnic x 450 © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Episode three of Emma (2009) aired tonight on Masterpiece Classic PBS. I am feeling more than a bit of melancholia setting in!

Spoilers ahead! 

Despite being a “troublesome creature” throughout most of the story, Emma does redeem herself by admitting her misconceptions and blunders. How could we not forgive, admire and love her? After all, Mr. Knightley does and everyone knows he is the voice of reason throughout the story! You can read my original thoughts on this new adaption of Jane Austen’s classic novel at my review, Miss Woodhouse – a nonsensical girl.

Austen has taken us on a great ride from revulsion to delight with her exasperatingly heroine Emma Woodhouse. Screenwriter Sandy Welch may not have included much of Austen’s original language in this new adaptation, but the story and the Austen magic remained. By the third episode our Miss Woodhouse had matured from spoiled and willful to contrite and accepting. What a relief. Along the Continue reading “Adieu Miss Woodhouse – Emma (2009) concludes on Masterpiece Classic”

Masterpiece Classic, Period Drama

Masterpiece’s Oliver Twist Review: Darkness and Discordance Descend as Episode Two Fizzles

Gregor Fisher and Sarah Lancashire, Oliver Twist (2007)

Episode two of Masterpiece Classic’s Oliver Twist on PBS concluded last night with a dull thud. It also did not help that it was competing in the same time slot at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony, so viewers like me who taped Oliver watched it after an anti-climatic new and improved Oscars that also left me flat. In my previous comments on episode one, I mentioned that this new adaptation was very dark. I had meant it metaphorically. Now I mean literary. The cinematography was so lacking in light, that too fequently I could decipher little, missing much, and relying entirely on dialogue. The music also got on my nerves and was too discordant. So, we must retrench and try to say something interesting about the conclusion of this new adaptation of Oliver Twist, by focusing instead on a few performances. Continue reading “Masterpiece’s Oliver Twist Review: Darkness and Discordance Descend as Episode Two Fizzles”

Jane Austen Adaptations, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Mansfield Park Madness, Mansfield Park Movies & TV

Mansfield Park (1999) Movie: Musing & Discussion: Day 10 Give-away!

 

MOVIES

Take a controversial classic novel, mix in a liberal filmmaker’s re-interpretation, add in slavery, lesbianism and incest and presto! you have Mansfield Park (1999), writer-director Patricia Rozema’s provocative adaptation of Jane Austen complex novel. I don’t think that I am exaggerating when I estimate that Janeites find this one a bit puzzling. So did critics. It has spawned a rash of conversation since it premiered in 1999. Just Google it and you get 28,000 hits! The reviews where mixed and run hot or cold; no gray area anywhere for this film. Here are a few of the choice opinions.

 Mansfield Park manor house

“Stifled and tedious adaptation of an Austen classic strips the heroine of her usual power of perception and tongue.” CinemaSense 

“Rozema’s point is that Mansfield Park, and the amorous escapades of its wealthy inhabitants, are founded on and sustained by this debased form of exploitation. This is certainly an intriguing opening-out of the novel, but in doing so the film appropriates the moral high ground in a way that further distances it from the delicacy and ambiguity of Austen’s insights.” Andy Richards, BFI 

“what the film represents is the marketing of a new ‘Jane Austen’ to a post-feminist audience now receptive to its reinvention of the novel” John Wiltshire, Recreating Jane Austen (2001) 

“In the hands of a less talented filmmaker, this extensive tinkering and modernizing might seem irritating and pretentious. But in peering beneath Austen’s genteel surfaces and scraping away the Hollywood gloss that traditionally accrues to screen adaptations of Austen, Ms. Rozema has made a film whose satiric bite is sharper than that of the usual high-toned romantic costume drama.” Stephen Holden, New York Times 

“By breaking the seal, Rozema has freed costume drama from the shackles of tradition, exposing its naked flesh. The window that Thompson unsnibbed has been flung wide. Fresh air tastes good.” Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye for Film 

“an audacious and perceptive cinematic evocation of Jane Austen’s distinctively sharp yet forgiving vision” Claudia L. Johnson, Austen scholar

Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) & Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) riding together 

When Rozema was originally offered the opportunity to direct Mansfield Park she declined stating the script was boring and the heroine annoying. She then proceeded to re-write the script by perking up Fanny Price, adding a political and sexual subtext that Jane Austen would never have broached, and fixing the broken storyline (in her opinion) by working in Jane Austen’s juvenilia stories and personal letters. The results are a thought provoking jumble of reinvention and dalliance that had never been attempted with a Jane Austen adaptation before.

 A bored Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola), and a flirtatious Maria Bertram
(Victoira Hamilton) & Mr. Rushworth (Hugh Bonneville)

Austen’s novel seriously contemplates the controversial 19th-century theme of ‘improvement’ of the estate and social values. Writer-director Rozema has overtly taken it yet a step further renovating and expanding the plot and characters so much so that subtly sardonic Jane Austen might have been a bit alarmed at the liberties.

Edmund Bertram & Fanny Price discuss the Ball

Our heroine Fanny Price, energetically portrayed by Frances O’Connor, has morphed from the shy and oppressed glorified servant into an exuberant outspoken aspiring writer – what Rozema visualizes Jane Austen had been! Oh my! Fanny’s mentor, friend and love interest Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) is now a romantic, more a Byronic hero that the Bronte’s would have approved of than a pious and clueless minister in training.

Henry Crawford visits Fanny Price in Portsmouth 

The Crawford siblings (Embeth Davidtz & Alessandro Nivola) are as wicked as ever, which suits Rozema’s purpose totally as they are pushed further with lesbianism and seduction. The greatest liberty is taken in the slave trade subtext as we are shown graphic illustrations of the atrocities of slavery that the character Tom Bertram (James Purefoy) witnessed at his father Sir Thomas’ (Harold Pinter) plantation in Antigua. Even though slavery is only alluded to in the novel, this stab brings Rozema’s vision of the injustice of ill-gotten-gains sharply to view. Other notable British actors playing out this theatrical are; Lindsay Duncan (Lady Bertram/Mrs. Price), Victoria Hamilton (Maria Bertram), Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Rushworth) and Justine Waddell (Julia Bertram).

 Henry & Mary Crawford entertain their new spouses
who look more intriged with each other!

If taken as a whole this film does work on the level of art for film making’s sake. Visually it is stunning, the costumes fabulous and the music joyful. I do find it fascinating that people are still debating its merits after almost ten years. If anything, it has stimulated thought and closer reflection on what Jane Austen is about, and how she is interpreted. As a Janeite, I find watching it so distracting. If readers of the novel want to yell at Fanny Price for being so passive, then in turn I want to yell at Rozema’s Fanny for being SO vivacious. This is not Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, but it is a worthy amusement all-the-same.

A happy ending for Fanny & Edmund 

Further reading & viewing 

“It could have turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.” Fanny Price
 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 10 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30 to qualify for a free drawing on August 31 for one copy of

 

Mansfield Park (1999)

Written and directed by Patricia Rozema. Major motion picture, 112 minutes. Staring Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram and Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford 

Upcoming posts
Day 11 – Aug 25          MP Fun with Fanny & Friends
Day 12 – Aug 26          MP novel discussion chapters 33-40
Day 13 – Aug 27          MP 2007 movie discussion
Day 14 – Aug 28          MP novel discussion chapter 41-48

Jane Austen Inspired, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Mansfield Park Madness

Metropolitan (1990) Movie: Musings & Discussion: Day 6 Give-away!

MOVIES

Anyone who lived through the 1980’s can not hear the term Preppy and not smile! For the rest of you young things who were just a twinkle in your parents eyes, take notice and rent the movie Metropolitan, writer, director and producer Whit Stillman’s witty take on the WASP subculture of young upper-class Manhattanites as they spend their Christmas holiday attending debutant balls and discussing the downward social mobility of the upper class. It will fill you in on many of the cultural references that you might hear from your parent’s or their friends, and give you a good laugh at the 1980’s women’s fashions that today, just look downright overstated and clownish.

(Let’s hope that 1980’s fashion does not resurface soon!)

I adore this film for its clever, snarky dialogue, gentle irony and Jane Austen references. The parallels between her novel Mansfield Park and Metropolitan have been debated by critics and even included in the essay ‘From Mansfield to Manhattan: The Abandoned Generation of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan’ by R. V. Young which can be downloaded in PDF here. The heroine of the film is Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), a shy upper-class socialite who falls for middle-class Tom Townsend (Edward Clements). She is a Jane Austen admirer and the two of them have an interesting conversation about her favorite author and literature. 

Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget

Audrey: “I read that Lionel Trilling essay you mentioned. You really like Trilling?” 

Tom: “Yes.” 

Audrey: “I think he’s very strange. He says that nobody could like the heroine of Mansfield Park? I like her. 

Then he goes on and on about how we modern people of today with our modern attitudes, bitterly resent Mansfield Park because…its heroine is virtuous? What’s wrong with a novel having a virtuous heroine?” 

Tom: “His point is that the novel’s premise…there’s something immoral in a group of young people putting on a play? Simply absurd.” 

Audrey: “You found Fannie Price unlikeable?” 

Tom: “She sounds pretty unbearable, but I haven’t read the book.” 

Audrey: “What?” 

Tom: “You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven’t read the Bible, either.” 

Audrey: “What Jane Austen novels have you read?” 

Tom: “None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelist’s ideas as well as the critic’s thinking. With fiction, I can never forget that none of it ever happened; that it’s all just made up by the author.” 

Edward Clements as Tom Townsend

This independent film was produced on a shoe-string budget and used unknown actors, notably Taylor Nichols as Charlie Black the angst ridden intellectual Woody Allen type and Chris Eigeman (who I adore and just think is the most under used actor in Hollywood) as the cynical and smug Nick Smith. This film is grouped together as the Stillman trilogy which also includes Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998), another favorite of mine which is unfortunately not available to purchase, rent or steal!

Chris Eigeman as Nick Smith

 

Further viewing & reading 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 6 Give-away 

Leave a comment by August 30th. to qualify for a free drawing on August 31 for 

Metropolitan (1990)

Written and directed by Whit Stillman. Independent motion picture, 98 minutes. Staring Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget, Taylor Nichols as Charlie Black and Chris Eigeman as Nick Smith. 

Upcoming posts
Day 7 – Aug 21            MP novel discussion chapters 17-24
Day 8 – Aug 22            MP great quotes and quips
Day 9 – Aug 23            MP novel discussion chapters 25-32
Day 10 – Aug 24          MP 1999 movie discussion