In Remembrance of The Complete Jane Austen

“This present from the Campbells,” said she — “This pianoforté is very kindly given.” 

“Yes,” he replied, and without the smallest apparent embarrassment. “But they would have done better had they given her notice of it. Surprizes are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. I should have expected better judgment in Colonel Campbell.” Emma Woodhouse & Mr. Knightley, Emma, Chapter 26 

Gone, but not forgotten, The Complete Jane Austen series on PBS ended last Sunday with the final episode of Sense and Sensibility. It was a bittersweet moment for me, kind of an anti-climatic ‘day after the wedding’ kind of funk. And now, I feel a deep malaise setting in! Whatever shall we all talk and ruminate over?

Like Emma Woodhouse’s comment about Jane Fairfax’s mysterious gift pianoforte, I also felt that the new adaptations were well-intended and kindly given, but I must agree with Mr. Knightley, who as we all know is the voice of reason in the Highbury community, that surprises are foolish things. Janeites like their Austen authentic, and expect it, so when the writers and directors of the new movies added to or changed the plot and characters, it was disconcerting.

Why do they do that? Why take Austen’s acclaimed and revered novels and recreate them with added scenes, dialogue, and sex? Good question, which I have seen liberally debated by the Austen community online, and discussed within curious non-Janeite friends. This is a puzzling conundrum, but to put it in a nutshell, the re-creators claim interest and improvement as their motivation, but I say the almighty dollar is the driving force; because we all know that 18th-century Jane Austen is big business in the 21st-century, and sex sells!

And so my Austen friends, as The Complete Jane Austen concludes, Mrs. Bennet will share her lace hankies with us (honk) while we have a moment of silence for the almighty dollar, but only a moment mind you, and then rejoice in the pleasure of seeing all six of Miss Austen’s novels presented consecutively for the first time on US television, and reflect on the best, the worst and wittiest moments.

         

The outstanding fop of the year: Winner, Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. Hand over your mirrors ladies, because vanity has a new goddess and his name is Sir Walter. Runner-up goes to Leo Bill as Robert Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, whose Regency love geek was tongue-in-cheek, literally, and we could not be more delighted!

                   

Worst imitation of a dashing hero: Winner, Dominic Cooper as John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. What a downer to discover that Willoughby is Satan’s spawn. No way could a young lady of Marianne’s caliber fall for that demon. Runner-up goes to David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Sorry Mr. Morrissey, but you scowled so often that I mistook you for Sam the Eagle.

         

Best all-out crying jag: Winner, Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. Granted she had the best material to start with, but it is hard not to forget her despondent sobbing after Willoughby’s dear Madame letter. Runner-up goes to Allison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Never before has one adult wailed and screeched so operatically over a daughter’s scandalous elopement, or has anyone surpassed her high C since.

         

Helen Keller creative communications award: Winner, Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliott in Persuasion, who with her silent stares and blank looks forced the audience into a crash course in American Sign Language. Runner-up goes to Mark Strong as an unusually angry Mr. Knightley in Emma, who claimed if he loved Emma less, he might be able to talk about it more nicely, – but we doubt it.

         

 

Most officious matriarch: Winner, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice still reigns supreme as the bossiest rich old bag in the parish, hands down! Runner-up goes to Jean Marsh as Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility who really knows how to crack a nut efficiently!

         

Busted but not guilty award: Winner, Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, whose bodices were so deeply cut that we were quite anxious for Miss Mulligan. One deep breath or a sharp twist could have released a cleavage spill on national television. Oh my! Runner-up goes to Michelle Ryan as Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park whose Bionic figure might just reach into another galaxy.

         

Weirdest inflection of an English accent: Winner, Lucy Robinson as Augusta Elton in Emma. We shall try to not take offense of her attempt at a Bristol accent, which ended up sounding like an American New England nasal drawl because there might be New Englanders that came from Bristol in the first place, but it was just weird. Runner-up goes to Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, who was born in New England but didn’t do a Bristol accent either, nor Hampshire for that matter. Oops, not part of the series, sorry!

                   

Big, messy, Muppet hair is so Regency Award: Winner, Billie Piper as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, who looked liked she rolled out of bed after a night out chasing aliens with Dr. Who. Shall we blame it all on her hair designer whose past gig was The Muppet Show? She might have mistaken Miss Piper, for Miss P…y, – oh my, I can’t be that cruel, can I? Runner-up goes to Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park who elevated the Regency rake stereotype yet one notch higher with uncontrollably messy hair and flouncy shirts! For what else do we live for but poofy, prissy rakes, right?

                   

Best classic Jane Austen adaptation: Winner, Pride and Prejudice 1995. (Classic in this instance means not a new production or previously broadcast on PBS) No contest really! Pride and Prejudice might just hold this honor for more years than we can imagine before a new production de-thrones it. I just wish that producers and screenwriters would understand why it is so successful, and take notes or something! Ahem.

                   

Runner-up goes to Emma 1996 because since it was the only other ‘classic’ production to air in the series, it had to win! It does have its charms though, and an honorable mention goes to Samantha Morton for her sensitive portrayal of the much misunderstood Harriet Smith and Prunella Scales as garrulous Miss Bates. So very obliging indeed!

                   

Best new Jane Austen adaptation: Winner, Sense and Sensibility, purely predicated upon the performance of Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, and not the sexed up and sloppy script by Andrew Davies. Comedic kudos goes to Daisy Haggard as Anne Steele, who was happily all “vulgar freedom and folly”, restoring the humor to a Jane Austen adaptation that had so shockingly been sadly lacking before her entrance.

                   

Runner-up goes to Northanger Abbey, whose two young protagonists Felicty Jones as Catherine Morland, and JJ Feild as Henry Tilney reminded us of the joys and anguish of an adventurous teenage life, and the perils of reading too much Gothic fiction. La!

Fairweather and fine roads The Complete Jane Austen, until we meet again!

Jane Austen’s Persuasion (2007) – A Movie Review

Sally Hawkins, as Anne Elliot in Persuasion (2007)

A new adaptation of Persuasion will air on Masterpiece PBS tonight. Based on Jane Austen’s 1817 novel, its themes of patience, fortitude, and second chances ring true to today’s audience even after two hundred years. The story of Anne Elliot, a twenty-seven-year-old unmarried daughter of an aristocrat who was advised seven years earlier to decline an offer of marriage from a dashing young Royal Navy officer she loved because his social standing was not on par with her family’s rank, is one of Austen’s most poignant. When Wentworth reappears in her life as an established, wealthy, and eligible suitor, every unmarried young woman in the neighborhood takes notice. How the two react to this uncomfortable situation and work past their regret and disappointment is one of classic literature’s most endearing stories.

Adapting Austen’s story to the screen takes a highly sensitive writer and director. This new ITV/Masterpiece PBS production of Persuasion is the first installment of The Complete Jane Austen series this year on PBS which will also include new productions of three other new adaptations of her major novels, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility, and a biopic Miss Austen Regrets. There will also be an encore presentation of Emma (1996) and Pride and Prejudice (1995) to complete the lineup. This new Persuasion has a promising ensemble of accomplished British actors and crew to support Austen’s narrative. Being both a tragedy and a comedy, one really never knows how it will be handled.

There have been other screen adaptations of Austen’s classic love story, notably Persuasion (1995) a feature film starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth. Written by Nick Dear and directed by Roger Mitchell, it was produced by the BBC and was intended to air on TV, but later premiered as a theatrical movie. It won awards and the acclaim of the Jane Austen community for its gentle love story deftly told. I can still re-watch it in a heartbeat and be in awe of the fabulous acting, costumes, scenery, and sensitivity to Austen’s original novel.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion (2007)

While it has been twelve years since it released, Persuasion (1995) casts a giant shadow for Jane Austen fans coloring their opinion of any new production. The screenwriter of Persuasion (2007), Simon Burke, took a different approach to his interpretation by accentuating the division between the two main characters. Anne (Sally Hawkins) is even more reserved and quiet, and Captain Wentworth (Ruppert Penry-Jones) even stiffer and unlikable than Austen’s origins, or the 1995 interpretation. The director Adrian Shergold played this up, even more, by often having Anne not speak, but use facial expressions and voice-overs to convey her emotions and feelings. The chemistry between the two principal characters continues to simmer and their eventual rekindled romance does spark some heat, but at what cost? The final scene when the lovers realize that they were meant to be together is one of Austen’s most memorable. The letter that Captain Wentworth writes to Anne to declare his love is frequently quoted and often discussed.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

Swoon. The  “you pierce my soul” line could melt any romantic skeptic. Unfortunately, in this new adaptation, Anne reads the letter and then runs through the streets of Bath to find Captain Wentworth. This madcap marathon race by the heroine was comical and totally broke the romantic tension that Austen had built up to. It lost my respect as a viewer and canceled out much of the good qualities of this production that we had previously enjoyed.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters in Persuasion (2007)

After completing Persuasion, Jane Austen wrote in 1817 to her niece Fanny Knight and shared that her heroine Anne “is almost too good for me,” jokingly placing her estimation of her good character above her own talent. Known for her sarcasm and irony in her novels and letters, Austen ofter undervalued her own opinions and work to add levity. I wish that the writer and director had heeded Austen’s backhanded admission of her talent and listened to her advice.

I really wanted to like this one. I did! It does have a few charms to recommend. Rupert Penry-Jones is easy to look at and has a commanding presence on screen. He also got short shrift with dialogue. Shame, because his voice is glorious. The two young Musgrove sisters are a delight against an otherwise somber landscape. Amanda Hale as the snorting Mary Musgrove stole her scenes. Anthony Head’s hilarious performance as foppish Sir Walter Elliot was also stellar. He is the real star of this version of Persuasion. Shall we rename it Arrogance in his honor and call it a day?

Persuasion (2007)
ITV/Masterpiece PBS

PURCHASE LINKS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this movie from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of ITV/Masterpiece PBS © 2007; Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com

Austen countdown: 1 day to Persuasion

Image of the banner for the PBS presentation of Persuasion 2007 

1 DAY TO PERSUASION ON PBS

Sunday, the 13th of January, at 9:00pm

Pop the popcorn and plump the pillows on the settee! The long wait is almost over! What has been talked about and anticipated for some months, will shortly come to pass. The premiere of the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel of love and redemption, Persuasion, airs tomorrow night. Staring Sally Hawkins as our heroine Anne Elliot, and Rupert Penry-Jones as the dashing Captain Wentworth, it promises to be and grand evening presented by those great folks at Masterpiece Classic. Further details can be found at An Austen New Year Awaits. Don’t miss out on all the Regency drama and fun!

Austen countdown: 3 days to Persuasion

Image of Persuasion banner day three, PBS, (2008) 

 3 DAYS TO PERSUASION ON PBS

Sunday, the 13th of January, at 9:00pm

The excitement is building. Mark your calendars and set your watches for the premiere of the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel of love and redemption, Persuasion, staring Sally Hawkins as our heroine Anne Elliot, and Rupert Penry-Jones as the dashing Captain Wentworth. Presented by those great folks at Masterpiece Classic. Further details can be found at An Austen New Year Awaits. Don’t miss out on all the Regency drama and fun!

Austen countdown: 7 days to Persuasion

Image of The Complete Jane Austen Persuasion Banner 

7 DAYS TO PERSUASION ON PBS

Sunday, the 13th of January, at 9:00pm

Mark your calendars and set your watches for the premiere of the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel of love and redemption, Persuasion, staring Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. Presented by those great folks at Masterpiece Classics. Further details can be found at An Austen New Year Awaits. Don’t miss out on all the Regency drama and fun! 

Persuasion: You may perhaps like the heroine

Image of the title page of Persuasion, by Jane Austen, Frank S. Holby, (1906)

Do not be surprised at finding Uncle Henry acquainted with my having another ready for publication. I could not say No when he asked me, but he knows nothing more of it. You will not like it, so you need not be impatient. You may perhaps like the heroine, as she is almost too good for me. Letter to niece Fanny Knight, 23 March 1817, The Letters of Jane Austen

In this letter to Fanny Knight, the daughter of her brother Edward (Austen) Knight, Jane Austen refers to “having another ready for publication”, which is her last completed novel, Persuasion. It was written between 8 August 1815 and 16 July 1816, with final chapter revisions in August 1816. The novel would be published posthumously after her death, bound together with the novel Northanger Abbey in 1818.

Jane Austen’s coyness in diverting her niece’s interest in reading her new work by foretelling her reaction is typical of the banter she exercised with her family and friends regarding her view of the quality and importance of her work. Modest? I think not. Her next remark regarding her further prediction of Fanny’s reaction to liking the heroine Anne Elliot, “for she is almost to good for me”, surely qualifies as a sideways complement to herself. For what writer who has ever created a character does not find a bit of themselves fashioned into their nature? And – – Anne Elliot exemplifies some of the finest and amiable qualities of any of Jane Austen’s creation.

It is interesting to note that the working title for the novel was The Elliot’s, and was later changed after her death by her brother Henry Austen to Persuasion. In this instance, I must agree with his choice. The novel is not so much about the Elliot family, as it is about the life choices we make, and in particular how others can influence us. Anne Elliot’s choice to be persuaded by her family friend Lady Russell to decline an offer of marriage by Captain Wentworth will take her on a journey of loss, patience and faith; – – not unlike Jane Austen herself. You can read more about Persuasion’s plot and characters at these fine links.

Image of Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot, PBS presentation of Persuasion (2008)Be sure to mark your calendars and set your watches for the premiere of the Masterpiece Theatre presentation of The Complete Jane Austen, on Sunday the 13th of January at 9:00pm. The first adaptation will be Persuasion, staring Sally Hawkins as our heroine Anne Elliot. You can read further details on the series in my post, An Austen New Year awaits.

*Image of the title page of Persuasion, published by Frank S. Holby, New York (1906)

©  2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose