Q&A with Love & Friendship Writer/Director/Author Whit Stillman

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200Austen scholar Devoney Looser joins us today during the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour to interview ‘Friend of Jane,’ writer/director/author Whit Stillman, whose new hit movie Love & Friendship, and its companion novel, are on the radar of every Janeite.

Welcome, Ms. Looser and Mr. Stillman to Austenprose.com.

Devoney Looser: We Janeites know that you go way back as a Janeite yourself. (Would you label yourself that? I see you’ve copped elsewhere to “Jane Austen nut.”) You’ve admitted you were once dismissive of Austen’s novels as a young man—telling everyone you hated them—but that after college you did a 180, thanks to your sister. Anything more you’d like to tell us about that?

Whit Stillman: I prefer Austenite and I consider myself among the most fervent. Yes, there was a contretemps with Northanger Abbey when I was a depressed college-sophomore entirely unfamiliar with the gothic novels she was mocking — but I was set straight not many years later.

DL: What made you decide that “Lady Susan” wasn’t the right title to present this film to an audience? (Most of Austenprose’s readers will be wise to the fact that Austen herself didn’t choose that title for her novella, first published in 1871.) I like your new title Love & Friendship very much, but clever Janeites will know you lifted it from a raucous Austen short story, from her juvenilia, Love & Freindship. What led you to make this switch in titles? (I do want to register one official complaint. You’ve now doomed those of us who teach Austen’s Love & Freindship to receive crazy-wrong exam answers on that text from our worst students for years to come.)

WS: Perhaps it is irrational but I always hated the title “Lady Susan” and, as you mention, so far as we know, it was not Jane Austen’s;  the surviving manuscript carries no title (the original binding was chopped off) and she had used “Susan” as the working title for “Northanger Abbey.”  The whole trajectory of Austen’s improved versions of her works was from weak titles, often character names (which I know many film distributors hate as film titles*) toward strong, resonant nouns — either qualities or place names.  “Elinor and Marianne” became Sense and Sensibility, “First Impressions” became Pride and Prejudice, “Susan” became Northanger Abbey. Persuasion and Mansfield Park are similarly sonorous. Continue reading

As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew, by Jen Chaney – A Review

As If the Oral History of Clueless Jen Chaney 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In July of 1995, I had just turned 15 when my high school girlfriends suggested we go see the new movie Clueless. At the time, I didn’t know that writer/director Amy Heckerling had based the plot of her movie about a pretty, rich girl from Beverly Hills on Jane Austen’s Emma, but that didn’t matter. My friends and I might not have been “handsome, clever, and rich” like Emma or Cher, but we were absolutely delighted by the message and world of Clueless. My love for that movie has been growing ever since. In Jen Chaney’s book, As If!, mega fans can finally learn all the behind the scenes details about what some folks believe to be the greatest Austen film adaptation of all time. (My apologies to Colin Firth.)

As you’ll see right there in the title, As If! is an “oral history” of Clueless. Basically, that just means that the author has collected interviews with the main cast and crew and patched them together into a readable order. She begins at the beginning, explaining how Amy Heckerling wrote the movie and managed to get backing from Paramount. The longer, mid-section of the book focuses on the day-to-day making of the movie during the two-and-a-half-month shooting schedule. The author ends with various reflections on how Clueless became such a pop culture phenomenon and the ways the movie changed fashion, language, and the girl-centric storytelling for the better. You can preview the basic style of the book by checking out this article Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture about the Val Party Scene.

There are some truly interesting bits in here. The author includes stories about the studios that passed on Clueless (only to really, really regret that later) and the casting process (if things had gone differently, Reese Witherspoon or Angelina Jolie might have been explaining that Amber was “a full-on Monet”). There are scene-by-scene breakdowns of what filming was like. Did you know The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were drunk during Cher and Christian’s first date? And that Donald Faison actually shaved the top of his head at the Val party? Or that the guy who mugs Cher (and ruins her Alaïa dress) was cast only a few hours before filming that scene? Yup, it’s all true and in the book. Continue reading

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Mini-series – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my seventh selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review

Eighteen years after it first aired on BBC One in October 1995, the television mini-series Pride and Prejudice (1995) is still blowing bonnets off Janeites and wowing them in the aisles! This week in London a twelve-foot statue replicating Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy’s famous wet shirt ascent from the Pemberley pond was revealed. Its superhero size seems apropos in relation to the impact that the mini-series had on Britain in 1995, in the US when it aired on A&E in 1996, and the world. If that was not eye-popping enough, the scene recently topped a poll of the ten most memorable British TV moments! We will be bold as brass and claim it as the most memorable TV moment in period drama evah!

Mr Darcy twelve foot statue (2013)

Wet shirt Darcy may have fluttered hearts across the world, but let us not forget that there are five hours and thirty-nine other minutes to enjoy too. The screenplay based on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel was written by Andrew Davies and introduced a more energized and sexier version of the classic love story than viewers had previously experienced with the 1980 BBC mini-series or the 1940 MGM theatrical movie. It was a modernized Austen that purist detested, Janeites embraced, and the general public adored, converting millions into fans and launching the Austen renaissance that we are enjoying today. Continue reading

Sense and Sensibility is 201

Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Edition, by Jane Austen (Penguin Deluxe Classics 2011)For two hundred and one years readers have had the pleasure of reading Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. For the bicentenary celebration last year, Penguin Classics issued this new edition with an introduction by Cathleen Schine (The Three Weissmanns of Westport) and cover illustration by Audrey Niffenegger (yes the author of The Time Travelers Wife is also an artist).

The cover shows us a tempest in a teacup. While I love the design, I’m not sure that it exactly mirrors the action in Sense and Sensibility. The phrase tempest in a teacup, or teapot, has a slightly derogatory implication, like making a mountain out of a molehill. I personally think that Austen’s drama is not puffed up and only her heroine Marianne Dashwood is exaggerated (on purpose) to show her overly romantic personality. But, that’s just me.

Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. – Sense and Sensibility, Ch 11

For those who have not had the pleasure yet of reading Austen’s tale of two divergent sisters and their financial and romantic challenges, what are you waiting for? If you need further inducement or would like a refresher on the plot, characters and style, you can read my reviews of the print book, Naxos audio recording and four movie adaptations from 1971, 1981, 1995 and 2008 Episode One, Episode Two.

Make haste and purchase this lovely Penguin Classics Bicentenary Edition of Sense and Sensibility directly at the Penguin website.

Many happy reading/listening/viewing hours await all those who seek the Dashwood story.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austenprose Celebrates a Five Year Blogoversary

Jane Austen Pop Art Banner

Yes, Dear Reader. Today is Austenprose’s five year anniversary. Huzzah!

I can’t believe I have been blogging about Jane Austen and her world for five years, but there it is. Time has truly flown by while we have been having a lot of fun dishing about Jane Austen and the many books, movies and the pop culture she has inspired.

I can’t take all the credit and have much to be grateful for. My current group of book reviewers can all step forward and take a bow too: Christina Boyd, Kimberly Denny Ryder, Shelley DeWees, Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Jeffrey Ward, Aia H. Y., Laura Wallace and Lisa Galek. What an incredibly gifted team you are. Together we have reviewed 320 Jane Austen or Regency-inspired novels and nonfiction books. That is an amazing accomplishment and I thank you.

If you are curious about numbers, here are a few facts:

  • Total posts: 1,233
  • Total comments: 17,859
  • Total followers:  986
  • Total unique visitors: 1,883,171

When I started Austenprose on a whim on Oct 29, 2007, I never really expected much more than the personal gratification of writing about a topic that I love. The rewards of my efforts have been amazing. Not only have I learned more and have a greater respect for my favorite author, but I have made incredible friends online, some of whom I have also met in person, and published a short story anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, all because I took the plunge and began a blog.

Many thanks to all of my review team, my Janeite friends, my publisher Random House and to you gentle reader, who have been so generous with your time and loyalty.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012, Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview of Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Masterpiece Classic PBS

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: cast pictured © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Get ready period drama fans – Season 2 of the new Upstairs Downstairs starts next Sunday, October 7 at 9pm on Masterpiece Classic PBS.

Last year we saw the triumphant return after thirty-four years of the award winning and much beloved series Upstairs Downstairs to Masterpiece Classic. The original series (1974-77) focused on the Bellamy family upstairs and their household staff downstairs: all living at 165 Eaton Place, a posh townhouse in London. Last year Season 1 began in 1936, six years after the close of the original series. We were treated to only three episodes: The Fledgling; The Ladybird; and The Cuckoo. Original co-creators of the series Jean Marsh and Dame Eileen Atkins were heavily involved in the new sequel. Marsh returned as housekeeper Rose Buck and Dame Eileen Atkins as the Dowager Lady Holland was one of the stellar new characters. You can read my preview of Season 1 to catch up on the new cast and the reaction when it aired in the UK 2010.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2:  Keeley Hawes and Edward Stoppard Lord & Lady Holland© 2011 MASTERPIECE

Keeley Hawes and Edward Stoppard as Lord & Lady Holland

Season 2 is much more ambitious with six new episodes, so we will have a lot of great period drama to dish about over the next few weeks. Most of Season 1’s cast is returning, but one key player has died and the other recovering from a stroke in hospital. However, there are some new characters that I found quite intriguing.

Upstairs:

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Alex Kingston as Dr. Blanche Mottershead © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Alex Kingston as Dr. Blanche Mottershead

Downstairs:

Image from Upstairs Downstairs (2012) Season 2: Laura Haddock as Beryl Ballard © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Laura Haddock as Beryl Ballard

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Ami Metcalf as Eunice McCabe © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Ami Metcalf as Eunice McCabe

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Sarah Lancashire as Mrs Whisset © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Sarah Lancashire as Mrs Whisset

Here is a description of the new season with an episode guide from my friends at Masterpiece Classic PBS. Be sure to mark your calendars or set your DVR’s for Sundays, October 7 – November 11, 2012 at 9pm ET on PBS. Check your local listings for exact times. Enjoy!

In 1938, war is about to topple a way of life. But not quite yet.

The intrigues of life, love, and international politics come to a boil at 165 Eaton Place in a thrilling panorama of English society on the eve of World War II. Keeley Hawes (Wives and Daughters), Ed Stoppard (Brideshead Revisited), and Claire Foy (Little Dorrit) return in Season 2 of the Emmy®-nominated continuation of the 1970s classic. Guest stars include Alex Kingston (ER) and Emilia Fox (Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice 1995). Upstairs Downstairs Season 2 is a BBC/MASTERPIECE Co-Production, written by Heidi Thomas. The directors are Mark Jobst (parts one and two), Brendan Maher (parts four and five), and Anthony Byrne (parts three and six).

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Adrian Scarborough as Mr. Warwick Pritchard © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 1: A Far Away Country about Which We Know Nothing (October 7, 2012)

Pritchard takes the rap for Johnny in a shocking incident, which leads to a revelation that casts the butler into disgrace. On a diplomatic mission to Germany, Hallam meets Persie, who has a Nazi lover.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: The Kennedy's come to dinner © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 2: The Love that Pays the Price (October 14, 2012)

Ambassador Kennedy and his dashing son Jack come to dinner at Eaton Place. But Agnes is more entranced by another guest: millionaire Caspar Landry. Before the evening is over, Mrs. Thackeray resigns.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Emilia Fox & Alex Kingston © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 3: A Perfect Specimen of Womanhood (October 21, 2012)

Hallam’s Aunt Blanche appears in a lesbian novel by a former lover, sparking a scandal that threatens the good name of Eaton Place. Meanwhile, Agnes’s demands on the servants bring a social worker to set her straight.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Nico Mirallegro as Johnny Proude © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 4: All the Things You Are (October 28, 2012)

All of London sees Agnes’s shapely legs when she models stockings for Landry’s company—offending Hallam. Intent on impressing Beryl, Harry enters the servants’ boxing competition as Johnny’s manager.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Claire Foy as Lady Persie Towyn © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 5: The Last Waltz (November 4, 2012)

With war looming, romance is in the air—illicit and otherwise. Hallam, Agnes, Landry, and Persie each pursue their heart’s desire in different ways. Harry and Beryl get engaged. And even Pritchard finds a soulmate.

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 2: Edward Stoppard as Sir Holland in Nazi Germany © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Episode 6: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (November 11, 2012)

A chance remark at the Foreign Office alerts Hallam that one of his associates is a German spy—with tragic consequences. As war is declared, life upstairs and downstairs is transformed at Eaton Place.

Excited period drama lovers? I am

Images courtesy © 2011 MASTERPIECE

Giveaway Winner Announced for Sense and Sensibility 1995

Sense and Sensibility (1995) DVD cover24 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a DVD of Sense and Sensibility 1995, staring Kate Winslet & Emma Thompson. The winner drawn at random is Nicole who left a comment on June 24th, 2011.

Congratulations Nicole! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by July 13th, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011. We are reading and viewing several S&S inspired books and movies this year in honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s novel. You can read other reviews in the S&S Bicentenary review archive!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Sense and Sensibility 1995 – Revisited

Sense and Sensibility (1995) DVDNominated for seven Academy Awards®, the 1995 movie Sense and Sensibility remains one of my most cherished interpretations of a Jane Austen novel. Everything about this film project seems to be touched with gold; from the award winning screenplay by actress Emma Thompson; to the incredible depth of British acting talent: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones, Harriet Walter, Greg Wise, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson; stunning film locations in Devonshire; and the fine brush-work of the Taiwanese director Any Lee. The movie touched many and introduced Jane Austen’s classic story of two divergent sisters searching for happiness and love to millions. I never tire of viewing it, basking in its beautiful cinematography, enjoying its thoughtful performances and marveling at its exquisitely crafted screenplay – both reverent to Austen’s intentions and engaging to modern audiences.

There has been so much discussed online already about this movie that I doubt I can add any new insights. I can however share with you what I find so moving about it: the performances, the music, the language and the filming locations. I feel that the movie can say it so much more than I, so here are a few video excerpts for your enjoyment.

The trailer

Edward Ferrars and Elinor listen to Marianne play the pianoforte

Mrs. Jennings tries to winkle information out of the young Miss Dashwood’s and Col. Brandon meets Marianne.

Mr. Palmer is quite rude today!

Good God Willoughby!

Elinor, where is your heart?

Miss Lucy Steele calls on Elinor – and so does Edward Ferrars!

Marianne goes in search of Combe Magna in the rain

All’s well that ends with a wedding!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my sixth selection in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011, my year-long homage to Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. You can follow the event as I post reviews on the fourth Wednesday of every month and read all of the other participants contributions posted in the challenge review pages here.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one DVD copy of Sense and Sensibility 1995 by leaving a comment by midnight PT Wednesday, July 6, 2011 stating who your favorite character is in the 1995 movie or what intrigues you about a movie adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Winners will be announced on Thursday, July 7, 2011. Shipment to US or Canadian addresses only.

Sense and Sensibility 1995
Sony Pictures (1995)
DVD Region 1 (2h 16m)
UPC: 043396115996

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Giveaway of the New Upstairs Downstairs (2010) DVD!

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season One: cast pictured © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Enter DVD Giveaway!

Did you catch the incredible new revival of Upstairs Downstairs broadcast in the US on Masterpiece Classic PBS this month? Three new episodes continue the story of the lives of the residents of 165 Eaton Place. For those who enjoyed the award winning 1970’s BBC series of the aristocratic Bellamy family and their servants, you will be happy to meet the new cast of characters of both upstairs and downstairs residents who now reside in this Georgian townhouse in London, including the original parlormaid Rose who returns as the housekeeper.

Synopsis: One of the most beloved television series of all time is brought back to life in a sumptuous new production with a fresh new cast.  It’s 1936 and six years since parlormaid Rose  (Jean Marsh, Sense & Sensibility) left 165 Eaton Place. Fate brings her back as housekeeper to its new owners, Sir Hallam  Holland (Ed Stoppard, The Pianist, Brideshead Revisited), his wife Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes, MI-5, Ashes to Ashes), and his mother, Lady Maud Holland (Eileen Atkins, Cranford, Gosford Park). Rose soon finds she has her work cut out for her as she recruits a new “downstairs” family to help run the elegance and finery of the “upstairs” world. Both upstairs and downstairs, it soon becomes apparent there lies a labyrinth of secrets, lies and scandal.  Set against the historical backdrop of a pre-World War II Britain with a new King on the throne, with Fascism on the rise on the continent, and with sexual, social and political tensions at 165 Eaton Place, this new series provides an evocative take on the master-servant relationship.

Today, April 26th, the three new episodes of Upstairs Downstairs are available on DVD from BBC Video. In honor of the US broadcast the BBC America is offering one copy of the DVD set of Upstairs Downstairs as a giveaway. To qualify, leave a comment stating which your favorite characters are in the new series, or what intrigues you about this time period by May 4, 2011. Winner will be chosen at random from comments and announced on May 5, 2011. Shipment to the US only. Good luck all you Up Down fans.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Upstairs Downstairs: Part Three: The Cuckoo on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Upstairs Downstairs Season 1: Eileen Atlins as Maude Lady Holland © 2010 MASTERPIECE  The new residents of 165 Eaton Place have a “day full of unimaginable things” in The Cuckoo, the third and concluding episode of the revival season on Masterpiece Classic PBS.

Last week’s episode two, The Ladybird, had strong political overtones as rebellious Lady Persie (Claire Foy) and the chauffeur Harry Spargo (Neil Jackson) joined the Blackshirts, a fascist group stirring up unrest among the laboring class who are hard hit by the depression. This week, the drama revolves around personal relationships and their effect on the nation and the household, revealing secrets, scandals and new beginnings. Here is the episode three synopsis from PBS.

A chance encounter with greatness goes to Mrs. Thackeray’s (Anne Reid) head, and in turn annoys Rose (Jean Marsh), who, fed up with her pretensions, unleashes an insult so great that it sparks a feud. Yet despite the embattled cook and housekeeper, the downstairs staff is united in their love and nurturing of the child Lotte (Alexia James), who appears to need more help than they can provide. With even more than her customary authority, Maud (Eileen Atkins) steps up to take charge, whisking the child away for treatment even as she guards a secret of her own.

Preoccupied with the abdication crisis, Hallam (Ed Stoppard) attempts to buy some time from the press by hosting a special dinner for the Duke of York (Blake Ritson), placing 165 Eaton Street in the center of the monarchy’s storm. Now preoccupied, Agnes (Keeley Hawes) has abdicated her responsibility of Persie (Claire Foy), who has snapped the long leash her sister provided, and begun engaging in behavior that threatens to taint them all. Only Lotte’s absence galvanizes Hallam to bring light into his home, purging it of dishonor and dark secrets that have been hidden for too long. But just as the king charts his fate, a momentous event will change the Holland family forever.

In this very tightly constructed and emotional charged third episode written by Heidi Thomas, many of the story subplots where concluded and new ones begin. It was indeed a “day full of unimaginable things” for the Holland family and the nation. What a refreshing surprise to witness the selfish Lady Persie being thrown over by the handsome chauffeur Harry Spargo. Bravo Harry. Lady Persie is developing into a repulsive character: ungrateful for her sister’s attentions, uninterested in bettering herself, and uncaring in her selfish actions and how they affect others. It only takes her about two seconds for her to exit Harry’s bed and transfer her shallow affections  to the German Ambassador, Herr Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly) and invite him for a late night cocktail at the house of her brother-in-law Sir Hallam. Ribbentrop’s blaring Nazi pin on his lapel is so shocking. Everything he stands for is controversial, and that is exactly why Persie is attracted to him. I am uncertain of her motivations in wanting to shock and hurt her sister and her family, but sense an interesting family backstory that hopefully we will learn about in future episodes.

We knew that the devastating abdication of King Edward VIII in favor of the “help and support of the women that he loved” was looming over us and history, but it was very interesting to see the political maneuverings to control the bad press transpire in the dining room at 165 Eaton Place. Hallam’s relationship with the Duke of York (Blake Ritson), who in this version is strangely sans a speech impediment and very suave, places us right in the front line of the controversy of the American divorcee Mrs. Simpson and her romantic relationship with the current King of the British Empire, and its inevitable tragic outcome. Watching Maude, Lady Holland matter-of-factly bring the dinner conversation to the point of directly asking the influential editor of a newspaper who has Mrs. Simpson’s ear to encourage her to accept the Morganatic marriage as a suitable compromise is priceless. Lady Maude is my favorite character so far in this new production, which oddly is filled with women that are weak, selfish and unlikeable: i.e. Lady Agnes, Lady Persie, and shockingly Rose the housekeeper, who has evolved into someone that I do not recognize. Does age make people give up their spunk and values? I remember Rose as being outspoken and direct in the original series. This Rose (what little we see of her) seems resigned and ready for pasture.

I am glad to see the shift back to inter-personal relationships of the family and staff in this episode. Even though last week’s foray into the political sphere of fascism was true to events transpiring in London during the mid-1930’s, I found it overpowered the personal drama that I have enjoyed in the original series and hoped to experience in this new revival. In this episode we saw some characters reveal secrets, react to change, emotionally evolve and others make choices that will cause anguish for their families and the nation. In folklore, the cuckoo is symbolic of loss and misery.  One wonders if the cuckoo in this episode is the abdicated King, this new wife, or the spiteful Lady Persie?

Image courtesy of © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Upstairs Downstairs: Part One: The Fledgling, on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review

Jean Marsh as Rose Buck in Upstairs Downstairs (2010)After a thirty-four year wait, many faces will be beaming and hearts gladdened by the concluding scenes of the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs’ triumphant return to Masterpiece Classic tonight.

As the camera panned the front façade of the stately Georgian townhouse at 165 Eaton Place, my heart was in my throat, and Goosebumps covered my arms. It does not get much better than this for a period drama lover – well – maybe if it is a Jane Austen mini-series, but that is only a far off dream at this point.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the highly successful and beloved original 1974-77 series of the same name, this posh address was the London home of the Bellamy clan. Renowned for its intimate view of an aristocratic family and their household of servants, the series spanned the Edwardian period until post WWI, ending in 1930 with a scene of ladies maid Rose Buck (Jean Marsh) closing the front door and walking down the street. Jean Marsh is the one returning cast member from the original series. It was a very long walk Rose, but we are glad you finally made it back.

Upstairs Downstairs original Masterpiece Theatre series poster 1970'sOne of the delights of episode drama is that it’s never really over, ever. Years can pass in our physical dimension but they stand still in TV land until recalled into service. Happily, the original series co-creators Dame Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh are both attached to this new series – Atkins as eccentric widow Maud, Lady Holland and Marsh reprising her role as Rose Buck, now promoted to housekeeper.  Here is an episode synopsis from PBS:

It’s 1936, and 165 Eaton Place sees its first stirrings of life after years of neglect when the house’s new master, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), and his wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes), cross the threshold. Though dust shrouds every surface, Lady Agnes is stirred to proclaim, “This house is going to see such life!” And with relish, she sets about an extravagant restoration and enlists the help of the staffing agency Bucks of Belgravia and its owner, former longtime 165 Eaton Place housemaid, Rose Buck (Jean Marsh).

Rose brings her cherished memories and high standards to the project, assembling a motley staff ranging from seasoned snobs to fledgling teens. Upstairs, the unexpected arrival of Hallam’s mother, Maud, Lady Hallam (Eileen Atkins) — returning from India with a Sikh secretary Amanjit Singh (Art Malik) and monkey Solomon in tow — introduces both eccentricity and tension as she interferes with Agnes’s management of the house. Somewhat in over her head in her new position, Agnes is further tested upon the arrival of her devil-may-care younger sister, Lady Persie (Claire Foy). As King George is dying, and against a backdrop of uncertainty, the residents of 165 Eaton Place host an elegant party to launch the Hollands in London society, and together attempt to field obstacles, both comical and sinister, that come their way.

The opening episode of this three part drama brings us The Fledgling – and very aptly named. Like a young bird, this series has new wings and must learn to fly. Acclaimed screenwriter Heidi Thomas (Cranford) has written a superb script. The storyline is filled with endings and beginnings – a perfect bridge for our memories of the original series and the introduction to the new one. There are nice touches of nostalgia, but it does not get too maudlin. The opening credits use the famous series music, but with a new remix, focusing on the sparkling crystal chandelier in the townhouse foyer. It is a symbol of both the old elegance and lifestyle of the Bellamy’s and a new beginning for the Holland clan and their household of servants. The scene when Rose returns to 165 Eaton Place, her former home of almost forty years, will require a hanky.

Upstairs Downstairs (2010) cast

The casting is top notch and their performances amazing. There is a wide range of personalities interacting in this newly refurbished series, all appealing to different demographics. The standouts are hard to earmark, since everyone was superb. We are happy to see scene stealing conceded to age and experience over youth and beauty. Dame Eileen Atkins as the Dowager Lady Holland and Jean Marsh as Miss Rose Buck dominated every scene over their younger compatriots. Of the upstairs personalities, Keeley Hawes is duly luminescent as the rattled social climber, Ed Stoppard charming as her careening husband, and Claire Foy sizzles as the rebellious baby sister.

Downstairs, Adrian Scarborough has big shoes to fill after butler Mr. Hudson left a indelible impression in our memories of what a proper English butler should be. He has a promising beginning. Anne Reid as the snooty cook should stir up some trouble and Art Malik as Lady Maud’s Indian secretary is imposing and mysterious. The selection of younger actors might attract a new crowd to this Masterpiece series. Ellie Kendrick as saucy orphan housemaid teases footman in the making Nico Mirallego into a risky flirtation, and every household needs a hunky chauffeur like Neil Jackson to drive you around and put naughty thoughts in your head. We concede to being personally delighted with Solomon the monkey, Lady Holland’s particular friend she brought back with her from India, since he is partial to sweet tea and thick-cut marmalade.

The staff at 165 Eaton Place, Upstairs Downstairs (2010)

Welcome home Upstairs Downstairs fans. It has begun again. A new period drama series filled with secrets, scandals and seductions from both sides of the stairs. Episode two, The Lady Bird, continues next Sunday April 17 on PBS

Images courtesy © MASTERPIECE

Jane Eyre 2011: A Film Review by Syrie James

Jane Eyre (2011) movie posterInquiring Readers: We are very fortunate to welcome author, screenwriter and Janeite Syrie James for a guest film review today. She recently attended an advance screening of the new movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic Gothic romance Jane Eyre which premieres in limited release today in the US.

Welcome Syrie – and thanks for the timely review!

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has been my favorite book since I was 11 years old. I’ve read it so many times I’ve lost count. The tale of a feisty governess who finds true love in a spooky mansion, while pouring her heart out on the page in lush, romantic prose, has made it to the top of every “Best Love Stories” list since it was first published in 1847, and with good reason.

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre (2011)The perfect Gothic novel, Jane Eyre melds all the requisite elements of mystery, horror, and the classic medieval castle setting with heart-stopping romance. The story is also very appealing: the rise of a poor orphan girl against seemingly insurmountable odds, whose love and determination ultimately redeem a tormented hero. And the book has serious things to say about issues that are still relevant today: women’s struggle for equality, the realization of self, and the nature of true love. The novel appeals not only to an audience’s hearts, but also to their heads.

Of all the classic 19th-century novels, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has been by far the most filmed, with at least 18 film versions (including a 1910 silent movie) and 9 made-for-television movies.

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James (2009)I have seen nearly all of them—some multiple times—both out of my deep love for the tale, and as part of the research for my novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, the true story of Charlotte’s remarkable life, her inspiration behind “Jane Eyre,” her rise to fame as an author, and the little-known story of her turbulent, real-life romance. (My novel was named a Great Group read by the Women’s National Book Association, and the audio book version was just nominated for an Audie Award, the Oscars of the audiobook publishing world—very exciting!)

Every screen version of JANE EYRE has its merits, and it’s always a thrill to re-experience my favorite, beloved scenes from the book with each new adaptation. I especially loved Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Mr. Rochester in the 1983 mini-series, and the 2006 Masterpiece Theatre mini-series starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens.

I was very curious to see how the new JANE EYRE adaptation from Focus Films would measure up. I am happy to report that the film, which I saw Monday night at an advance screening, is very good indeed, with marvelous visuals, terrific performances, and enough unique elements to make it a worthy new addition.

The most notable distinction of this film that sets it apart from the rest is its structure. Rather than telling the tale in a straight-forward, linear fashion, it begins at a crisis moment that occurs later in the story, and tells the majority of the tale in flashback–similar to the structure of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë–and it works wonderfully well here, enabling screenwriter Moira Buffini to effectively compress a long novel into a two-hour time span.

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) on the Moors in Jane Eyre (2011)The movie opens as Jane is fleeing Thornfield after having discovered Mr. Rochester’s dark and heartbreaking secret. We fear for her as she becomes lost on the stormy moor. The mystery continues as St. John Rivers (well-played by a sympathetic yet appropriately stern Jamie Bell) and his sisters take her in. Who is this lost lamb? Why does she call herself Jane Elliott? Who or what is she running from? As Jane ruminates about the past events that led to her escape, we are treated to the story in flashback.

The casting of Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND) as Jane Eyre also sets this production apart, since she is closer in age than most actresses who’ve played the role to the character in the novel, who was about 18 years old in the Thornfield section. Although I wish Mia’s Jane was a bit more “swoony” over Mr. Rochester earlier on (yes, she is supposed to be stoic, but I missed that phase where we get to see her blossom as she falls in love with him, and then is utterly crushed when she believes him to be in love with Miss Ingram), Mia truly inhabits the role, beautifully portraying Jane’s sense of self-respect, integrity, and restraint, as well as her passion and vulnerability.

Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) in Jane Eyre (2011)Michael Fassbender was also inspired casting. He embodies Mr. Rochester with the ideal blend of charisma and sinister brooding, while at the same time allowing glimpses of his underlying desperation and the wounded depths of his soul. When Jane and Rochester finally admit their love for each other, it is romantic and exciting, with sparks flying. (As this is my favorite part of the story, for me it was also far too short!)

Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed, adorned in stiff ringlets and satin gowns, effectively portrays the icy ogre who menaces the young Jane (a spirited and appealing Amelia Clarkson.)

Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska ) in Jane Eyre (2011)And how can you go wrong with Judi Dench as housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax? As always, Dench gives a rock-solid performance, with subtle nuances that make the role her own.

The film’s locations do justice to the novel’s often gloomy, atmospheric tone. Haddon Hall in Bakewell, Derbyshire, built atop a limestone outcropping and one of the oldest houses in England, stands in for Thornfield Hall. According to location manager Giles Edleston, Haddon Hall has “more rooms and sets than a filmmaker could ever wish for,” and Director Cary Fukunaga makes terrific use of it, emphasizing its dark, Gothic, masculine feel, especially effective in a particular, chilling attic scene.

The exterior locations—gardens, cliffs, craggy rocks, stone walls, and seemingly endless fields—make an arresting, dramatic backdrop for the story. The press notes state, “Although we made it seem like Thornfield is in the middle of nowhere, just beyond the edge of the frame was modern civilization.” Rest assured that the illusion is complete; you truly do feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere.

Rochester (Michael Fassbender) and Jane (Mia Wasikowska) in Jane Eyre (2011)

The film also effectively makes use of the top of the gardens surrounding Derbyshire’s Chatsworth House—a location more commonly associated with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—to film Jane Eyre’s dramatic first encounter with Mr. Rochester, when he appears out of the mist and fog astride his horse.

I have only two minor gripes with the film (WARNING: minor spoiler alert. If you aren’t familiar with the classic story, you might want to stop reading now.) While the revelation of Mr. Rochester’s secret was very well-done, I felt it was a little too “prettified.” And the ending was too abrupt for me. An explanation (for the uninitiated) of Rochester’s condition in the final scene would have been nice, and I would have preferred another minute or two to relish the lovers’ emotional reunion. But that aside, the filmmakers have done a masterful job translating the novel to the screen.

Please share your thoughts and comments about Jane Eyre. When did you first read the novel? Which film adaptations are your favorites, and why? If you’ve read The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, did it enhance your appreciation of Jane Eyre?

You can learn more about the new film at the Jane Eyre facebook page, where there’s a trailer and a “Jane Eyre Challenge” with a kindle as a prize. The movie opens today, March 11. I highly recommend it! Go see it soon at a theater near you!

Bio

Syrie James, hailed as the “queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of four critically acclaimed novels: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (Best First Novel 2008, Library Journal), The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (Audie-nominated, Great Group Read, Women’s National Book Association), Dracula, My Love (which reveals Mina Harker’s passionate love affair with the most famous vampire of them all), and most recently Nocturne, praised by Library Journal as “lyrical, lush, and intensely romantic.” The translation rights for Syrie’s books have been sold in fifteen languages. Her short story “Jane Austen’s Nightmare” will appear in Laurel Ann Nattress’s Austen anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, due out from Ballantine Books in October.  Syrie’s next novel, Forbidden, which she co-wrote with her son Ryan, will be published by HarperTeen in early 2012.

A member of the Writer’s Guild of America, RWA, and a lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Syrie is an admitted Anglophile and is obsessed with all things Austen, although she lives in Los Angeles. For more information about Syrie’s books, please visit www.syriejames.com. Syrie also invites you to friend her on facebook (and leave a comment!) and follow her on Twitter @SyrieJames.

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© 2007 – 2011 Syrie James, Austenprose