Emma Adaption : Part 3 (1996 ITV Version)

Andrew Davies is known for his 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. He’s gone on to adapt other Austen works for BBC or ITV. After the hit that was Pride & Prejudice, he approached the BBC with his script for Emma. They turned him down as they had contracted with Sandy Welch to provide an adaptation. Oddly enough, the BBC adaptation didn’t come out for 12 years (2008). And this version had to compete with the Hollywood film version (and did very well). Because Andrew Davies wanted to have his version come out, he went to ITV and took practically the entire crew that worked on Pride & Prejudice with him (so the crew was well familiar with the time period, which is helpful).

Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith and Kate Beckingsale as Emma Woodhouse.

The adaptation starts off with chickens being stolen. This was, while not a common occurrence during this time period, a concern as most people raised their own chickens, ducks, turkeys so having any poultry stolen was a loss of eggs and meat. It’s also funny because it’s mentioned in the novel Emma (but towards the end) as a good reason for Mr. Knightly to move into the house with Emma & Mr. Woodhouse. So, it’s a nice little nod to the novel and this version ends with the chickens being stolen as well (so the chicken theft bookends the adaptation). It’s also the only adaptation to show the poor and working class people of Highbury. Poor farm workers would have been seen quite regularly. And Highbury being only 16 miles from London means you would get migration of the poor during the warmer months (like the gypsies). This is also the only adaptation to not show Emma as a blonde. No where in Austen’s novel does it specifically state Emma Woodhouse is a blonde. We base this on drawing and illustrations done during the Victorian Era and also because the 1972 version has Emma with dark blonde/light brown hair. Personally, I like the contrast of Emma with dark hair compared to Harriet and her lighter locks.

Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly

For the most part, the hair in this adaptation is really good. Harriet is shown with her hair down in Church, which I don’t think she would do, but the rest of the time her hair is up, so it’s not that big of problem (just an odd choice). They show older men wearing powdered wigs (or wigs in general) with the younger set having natural hair styled in a variety of ways. Mr. Knightly’s hair is very long and not quite fashionable, but considering he runs his farm and oversees others like Abbey Mill (which he rents out), not being in the height of fashion works in his favor (as opposed to the other adaptations were Knightly is impeccably dressed). Mr. Elton portrayed by Dominic Rowan and he is elegantly dressed, making him an excellent contrast to Mr. Knightly.

Emma & Knightly

The costumes are very well done, but considering it’s the same crew as the 1995 Pride & Prejudice, one would expect the same kind of attention to detail, which we do get. While Emma and Harriet are both dressed in the latest fashions, Emma’s gowns are made of better fabrics and have much more detail, giving her the appearance of being socially above Harriet (which she is) yet still looking not so far above Harriet that you cannot see these two being friends.  And Kate Beckingsale portrays Emma as a young girl (which she is) who just doesn’t understand how the real world works. Emma’s fantasies of Harriet getting married to various men is proof of Emma’s more childlike nature (besides just being fun). They also show Emma puffing up Harriet (making Harriet believe herself too good for Robert Martin) which falls in line more with what I recall from the novel.

Samantha Bond as Mrs. Weston

It’s interesting that they do show servants in this film and I do like it. They show servants riding on top of carriages, holding all of the picnic items for the outing to Box Hill. So while the people complain about the heat, the servants have long been exposed to it and have not had the comfort of being inside a carriage to get away from the sun. The gypsies are shown to be unrelenting in their pursuit of Harriet and money. I’ve often wonder how accurate that was, but reading Le Faye’s Jane Austen’s Country Life, she points out newspaper articles indicating gypsies (or any wandering poor person) were sometimes ruthless in robbing people.

Raymond Coulthard as Frank Churchill

Harriet’s portrait, like the 1972 version, sticks to the novel and has her sitting down. Miss Taylor is seen getting married in her best gown, which is accurate to someone in her position. One thing I couldn’t quite understand was Mrs. Elton’s accent. She sounded a bit American at times. Did they do this to show she was uncouth? I’m at a loss because it’s just a weird choice. Or she just has an accent that I have never heard before (and I’ve watched a lot of UK television in my life). Prunella Scales is Miss Bates and she is wonderful in the role. Guy Henry is John Knightly and acts like Mark Strong’s sibling (they even seemed to have similar mannerisms). The casting really was superb in this version.

Lucy Robinson as Mrs. Elton

Now, things that I don’t like is it feels too short at times. The run time is 107 minutes, so sometimes it seems they tried to hard to fit so much in, they left things out. Compared to the film version, which is 120 minutes. Basically, I wish it was closer to the film in terms of length just so we could get a little more of the novel in to this version. Like the previous two versions, Mrs. Weston is not shown as being pregnant, even though in the book she gets pregnant and has a child. Overall, it’s a good version and I enjoyed it so much when it first came out, I purchased it. Watching it, you cannot tell it has a third of the budget of the film version, because it’s so rich and the outside shots are lovely.

Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax

Emma: Part 2 (1996 Film Adaptation)

There are actually two versions of Emma that were released in 1996-a film version and an ITV version. Part 2 will deal with the film version because it is probably more well known and most libraries should have a copy of it (or be able to get it in case anyone wishes to watch it).

Gwyenth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse. While this was a promotional shot for the film, she did wear this dress and shoes in the film. At least in the film she wore stockings, but the shoes are modern shoes and should have never been used for this promotional shot nor in the film. And she should be wearing stockings.

Now, this was a big budget ($7 Million US) adaptation put into works due to the success of Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, and Pride & Prejudice (all released in 1995). Douglas McGrath directed and adapted the novel, which is not an easy thing to do. I do feel, overall, he did a fairly decent job with the adaptation and directing. This is a short film (2 hrs) for quite a lengthy novel. Once ick factor we cannot get away from is this was produced by the Weinsteins (yes, those two disgusting examples of men). Yes, that may turn off some Austen fans, but the focus should be on the film itself, not the unfortunate connections it has.

I do like that it starts with the wedding of Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston. While most women in Miss Taylor’s position would have historically gotten married in their best (remember, she is a governess/companion), I don’t mind the look of a wedding dress. Historically, Princess Caroline had a wedding dress so there were dresses made specifically for women who could afford them, but a majority of women (especailly the women in Austen’s life and as depicted in the novels) would have worn their best gown or had a new Sunday best gown made. Again, this is just a little historical fact and doesn’t take away from the lovely scene. I did enjoy Mr. Woodhouse’s obsession with no one eating the Wedding Cake, because that is straight from the novel and is a bit of fun.

Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton

One issue that I found weird is some of the hairstyles used for Emma seemed too tight (see image above). Some were much looser, with lovely curls that played to the actress’s features. The overly tight look I felt seemed out of place. I think they should have stuck with the looser, softer look throughout. Alan Cumming’s hair is curly and playful, which is completely at odds with his character. Mr. Cumming sparkles in any role he is in and I don’t care if he IS the awful Mr. Elton, I still love him! Ewan McGreagor’s long locks are a bit Lord Fauntleroy (basically, a long page boy look) and doesn’t work at all. Toni Collette is excellent as Harriet Smith. Jeremy Northam is Mr. Knightly and has very Mr. Darcy-esque hair, but it suits him. The cast, overall, is quite good. I don’t mind Gwyenth Paltrow as Emma, but I do think Toni Collette would have been an excellent choice for Emma as well. I actually would have cast Ms. Paltrow as Jane Fairfax because I think playing someone who has to constantly struggle with keeping their emotions in check would have been a very good challenge for her. But Hollywood doesn’t cast people for roles that may challenge them. They cast based on who is a bigger box office draw and in 1996, Gwyneth Paltrow would have been the bigger draw over Toni Collette. What I find very interesting is Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson’s mother, portrays Mrs. Bates. I just find it interesting because Ms. Thompson was in Sense & Sensibility. Sophie Thompson plays Miss Bates (so yes, a real life mother and daughter portray a mother and daughter on screen).

An example of the too tight hairstyle. It’s intricate, but does nothing for the actress’s face.

Emma & Harriet

One thing I did notice, which I found extremely distracting (because I would find it so) is I can tell when someone is wearing period undergarments or not. Clothes do hang and sit differently when the body is wearing modern undergarments versus period ones which creates the silhouette. Basically, you see the background people in them, but not the main actresses. One easy way to tell is simply the shape of their bust. Period corsets would push the bust up to create a shelf-like silhouette (especially if one was particularly blessed in that area). Women with smaller busts would still have a pushed up shelf silhouette. If it looks like they are wearing a modern bra, they probably are. If they are wearing a Victorian corset (which is a completely different look), not only is it the wrong corset, you can tell it’s the wrong silhouette (and yes, I have spotted a few of them in this film for the extras).

This should help anyone who needs a refresher course on what a Regency Silhouette for ladies looks like. So when I state I can tell, this is what I am referring to.

Costumes were designed by Ruth Meyers and she stated she decided to draw on the 1920s, specifically the looks of the flappers, (because she said there are many similarities between the two silhouettes) and decided to go for more of a watercolor look with pastels than “sepia”. If you are wondering, she was heavily criticized for being so inaccurate. As she should be because the two silhouettes are nothing alike. Light colors were used during this time, but not Easter egg colors because those dyes did not exist. She could have used, instead, various light prints to give the light and airy feel she wanted and also staying within the historical confines. The wedding dress Emma wears at the end was inspired by 1940s lace the designer fell in love with (again, lace in the 1940s would have different patterns from what was being used in the 1800s). This really boils down to two major factors: the ability to research and time. Based on her interviews and thought processes, it’s clear Ms. Meyers was overwhelmed and did not understand historical costuming. Not every Costume Designer is taught this. As a designer, I cannot do any flat patterning nor draping because I was not taught. Now, I would love to learn and she could have, once she received the script, contacted people who understood this period better or just understood historical costuming better. Now, to be fair, she was given five weeks to create 150 costumes. Considering the budget as $7 million US, they should have given her at least 3 months (that’s 12 weeks) to do the costumes for the principals and going through all the stock rooms of the BBC and costume shops in the UK.

An overview of the 1920s Flapper Silhouette: notice the dropped waistline.

Two Regency Gowns (1810s): notice the raised under-bust waistline.

Other inaccuracies in this film which are bothersome (script issues) is having Mr. Elton come up with the idea to have Harriet’s portrait done. In the novel, it’s Emma who suggests it. Also, she poses in a very Grecian costume when in the novel, she’s sitting down (basically, it’s just weird). The tent gazebo used for outdoor scenes is something I’ve never seen before in a period piece. I’m sure something similar did exist for the military, but would non-military people be using them? John and Isabella are barely seen and it’s actually sad. Miss Bates seems to be written to be completely stupid and she isn’t stupid. She’s a bit silly, but the script does the character no justice. Also, ladies would not go outside without bonnets. I don’t care if they are not wearing them, they should be carrying them at least. And the dresses are either form fitting at the bust or too loose I’m afraid of a wardrobe malfunction. Also, sandwiches at the strawberry hill picnic. I don’t think tea sandwiches existed at this time. Plus, modern shoes-just no.

The softer hairstyles suited the actress much better.

Points that I did like in this film (because I do try to find good things in all the adaptations). Harriet’s hair is always very soft and flattering, which I did like. Jane Fairfax (portrayed by Polly Walker) is dressed more simply and more elegantly than Emma and I do wonder if her outfits came from a stockroom because they appear more accurate and when the costumes from this film were put on display, many that were worn for the character of Jane Fairfax were not available for viewing (so it does make me think they were rented). The lighting used indoors was very well done. It can be tricky to make sure the lighting that is being used doesn’t detract from the candles used on set (you also don’t want too little lighting). I did find the “thoughts” of Emma amusing as well as her writing in her diary. It allowed us to hear a side of Emma no one else could. And I do like the contrast of brighter colors for Emma and Harriet with the duller colors of the Bates and the subdued colors of Jane Fairfax. Thought I did find it amusing how Mrs. Elton often dresses in similar colors to Emma (bright pastels). I don’t mind Emma doing archery (it seems like that would be something Knightly would have taught her).

Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill (and bad hair) with Emma and the really tight hair.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film and I did enjoy it. Now, would I purchase this? No. It has too many issues with the costumes and hairstyles that I find it frustrating to watch. But this is our first big budget version of Emma. Our second version is set to come out in Theaters in 2020. This newer version is to be directed by Autumn de Wilde with Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse and Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly. There is no other information available. Emma is again to be blonde and Mr. Knightly is very blond as well. Mr. Flynn is also portraying David Bowie in Stardust, which is a film not endorsed nor sanctioned by the David Bowie Estate nor his family. As someone who has loved Bowie all her life (since the tender age of 6), it’s a film I will not be seeing.  There’s also a version of Persuasion set to come out this year with the expected run time of 20 minutes (no, I am not kidding). And other version of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion is due to come out in 2020 except it takes place in NYC and deals with business (which sounds more along the lines of a Clueless adaptation-meaning very loose).

Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly.

Emma: Part 1 (1972 Adaptation)

Now I venture into the one novel of Jane Austen’s that, quite frankly, I’ve never really enjoyed. Emma was the last novel to be published in Austen’s lifetime (23 December 1815, but the first edition lists the novel as being published in 1816). Austen herself stated that this was a character which “no one but myself will much like.” I have read Emma several times and I do enjoy the witty way in which Austen writes the characters, the scenes of folly, the playful ways in which the characters do endear themselves to the reader, I just have never been as fond of this book as I have of her other works. Out of the six novels Jane Austen wrote, Emma ranks at the bottom for me in terms of personal preference. Perhaps it’s because I do not find myself as having much in common with a rich, spoiled pretty heroine who has everything whereas I’ve struggled all my life. This is the only time Austen wrote a character who basically has it all; all other main characters tend to be poor and, therefore, are more palatable. However, Emma is a fine novel and should be enjoyed for the fine writing. Even though it is not a personal favorite of mine doesn’t mean I don’t wish to see a decent adaptation of it.

Emma Woodhouse (Doran Goodwin)

The 1972 version is the first adaptation done by the BBC for a six-part miniseries. It was adapted by Denis Constanduros and he was extremely faithful to the novel. A few lines were added that were not in the novel, but they seemed to be in the spirit of the mini-series and fit the overall feel. Like the 1971 Persuasion, the indoor scenes are most likely are done on sound stages, so rooms will be not so accurate in terms of dimensions and sizes (but I did notice the rooms were more proportionate than they were in Persuasion). And like Persuasion, there is a difference in film quality between outdoor and indoor filming, but that cannot be helped. It does seem that a lot was gained from the filming of Persuasion in 1971 so when it came to filming this adaptation, much that may have been an issue previously (such as background colors and costumes, etc), were fixed.

An example of the lovely muted colors. The silhouette is most likely post 1815.

The background colors of the set pieces are much more muted, so the costumes of the actors and actresses stand out more, which works out better. Color television, we must  recall, is still a fairly new medium and what they think may work doesn’t always translate to the television set. The hairstyles of the men is still skewing slightly towards the Victorian, however it seems they are costuming this towards the later part of the 1810s (most likely after 1815), so some transitional hairstyles I don’t mind seeing.

Mrs. Goddard (Mollie Sugden).

Some of the stand out cast I must mention is Mollie Sugden (most famous from “Are You Being Served?”) portrays Mrs. Goddard. Instead of being a barely there character, she’s given a bit more presence, even being in scenes accompanying Harriet (which, when one thinks about it, she would be) as an appropriate adult. Plus it is nice to see her in a role looking fairly normal. Debbie Bowen portrays Harriet Smith and is very elfin looking. She is very dainty compared to the actress portraying Emma and very fair compared to Emma (it’s usually the other way in more recent adaptations). It gives the character an air of innocence.

Harriet Smith (Debbie Bowen) & Emma.

The costumes, for the most part, are fairly lovely and accurate for the most part. Emma’s dresses seem to date from after 1815. Some variation in the others seem to range from 1810-1815, which would be accurate for the time period as women would wear a gown until it wore out (it was cheaper and less expensive to alter a gown then have a new one made). One would expect Miss Bates, for example, to have a gown at least 5-10 years out of date, but perhaps altered to fit the newer silhouette (at this time, it meant the removal of excess fabric from the back). I didn’t quite understand the wearing of the mop caps (see image above), but since they wore them under the bonnets, I saw them as a way of protecting the hair from the inside of the hats. Women did wear mob caps indoors, though usually spinsters and the elderly ladies (besides married ones). But I can see younger ladies wearing them if they were protecting their hair from having been recently washed. It’s a minor point and not worth getting too up in arms about.

The pleating of this hat is divine.

I must commend the attention to detail for the pleating done on the inside of some of the hats used. The hat worn by Emma (see above) is simply divine! It frames her face perfectly and is in a nice, neutral shade to not overcome the natural coloring of the actresses’ face. Plus the draping of the feather is done so well! And while you cannot tell, she does wear hat pins! Hat pins are important as they keep the hat in place and women used them.

Emma & Miss Bates (Constance Chapman)

Other good historical accuracies used is they show servants wearing tings like caps, aprons, half boots, sensible sturdy clothes. Mr. Woodhouse is portrayed as being frail and with an unnatural love of gruel (which he does in the novel). Jane Fairfax is shown to be delicate and ethereal, which I like, but she is too delicate. There is a strength to that character for enduring all she does for as long as she does. Gifting someone a piano is very wrong and amounts to a declaration of a proposal of marriage. I’ve always hated that part of the novel (and Jane should have never accepted such a gift). Mrs. Weston’s pregnancy is mentioned (her condition) and is even shown at one point, but isn’t shown to be pregnant, which is weird. I do love how they show curls were achieved by tying them up with rags at night (when they show Harriet in bed ill). Dancing shown is lively, which I approve. And Mrs. Elton is sometimes portrayed as not being cruel, but perhaps trying too hard to fit in (or wanting to be liked).

Jane Fairfax (Ania Marson), Mr Knightly (John Carson) & Emma.

Some unusual choices made in this adaptation were the Dixons were removed as the Campbell’s in-laws (the daughter was gone) and the Dixons were mentioned as potential employers of Jane instead. Considering this was a six-part miniseries, I didn’t understand the reason for changing such a small, but vital part like that. Having a potential employer seen as sending you a piano is even more scandalous than the husband of your friend. It makes the thought of Dixon as Jane’s supposed lover even worse. The Box Hill incident, Emma is then seen apologizing to Miss Bates, which doesn’t exist in the novel. Now, I do agree Emma should apologize, but disagree that Miss Bates would then state Emma would have nothing to apologize for. Even though the costumes are nicer and moe accurate, hidden zipper plackets are seen. I am not being overly not picky on this, it’s just an FYI for people thinking that these are going to be completely accurate based on what I’ve said and then may complain that I didn’t mention the plackets. Well, I’ve mentioned them. As for the makeup, it’s light on some and heavier on others, which probably would have existed at that time, but I do question some of the color choices. Some of the colors used are too modern for that time period (they didn’t have too many choices in terms of lip colors, so to see some bordering on burgundy are a bit inauthentic to say the least).

Knightly is amused

Overall, for a first adaptation, this one does a really good job. By first, I do mean for a first adaptation that was preserved on film. There are 5 previous adaptations that were done on television. They were all done live from 1948-1960 in America and in the UK and there are no recordings available. While I did watch 4 adaptations for this next round of blog posts, I did not watch 1995’s Clueless nor 2010’s Aisha as they are both loosely based on the original novel and my purpose tis to watch versions and rate them on historical accuracy. There is apparently another film version expected out in 2020. No word on whether it will be a loose adaptation or a historical attempt.

Bring another bowl of gruel!

 

Northanger Abbey: Part 2 (The Nice One)

So, now that we’ve had a few days to deal with the weirdness that was the 1987 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, let us continue with the only other version available, the 2007 ITV version adapted by Andrew Davies. Unlike the 1987 one, this one starts off with Catherine Morland’s baptism, shows us her youth to age sixteen (and funnily enough, the clothing silhouette seen never changes, which makes is hard to distinguish the passage of time). The hair for Catherine was very romanticized in terms of style and leaned more towards the Edwardian than Regency (so, they tended to make her look more “romantic” than regency which suited the actress’ face, but was an unusual choice given this had a big budget and they could do a better job at a historically accurate hairstyle).

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and her Edwardian Hair.

Like the the previous version, they used Catherine’s imagination and had fun with scenes of wild scenes lifted from the novels she tended to read. Instead of Gothic scenes or Erotica, we got more swashbuckling adventure, which I thought was more appropriate and much more fun. The character, after all, is going to Bath on an adventure of her own so the parallel is meant to be obvious. The casting was done very well for this adaptation and everyone involved seemed to understand their parts, which is always a good thing. Sylvestra Le Touzel was lovely as Mrs. Allen and is no stranger to Austen adaptations as she was Fanny Price in a 1983 version of Mansfield Park (it’s always lovely to see actors from one adaptation show up in another). Davies, of course, does still keep some sexual innuendos in (he is famous for adapting the 1995 Pride and Prejudice version with Colin Firth we all love), so it should come to no shock that the character of John Thorpe makes a comment that Catherine is a “peach ripe for the plucking” when he first sees her. I don’t mind the statement because it shows the baseness of the character (yes, sex can be used in Austen is done correctly and with finesse).

JJ Fileds as Henry Tilney. He understands Muslin.

What this version has that the previous one didn’t is JJ Fields. He sparkles with immense wit and a great amount of humor as Henry Tilney. I’ve always thought the character of Henry Tilney as being Austen’s best male flirt she ever wrote and finally, to see it portrayed this way was very gratifying. He’s charming, but obnoxiously funny at the same time that you cannot take his flirtation at all seriously. For me, he is the perfect Henry Tilney and while I would love to see more versions of this novel in my lifetime, I feel bad for anyone that has to compete with this portrayal.

Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe.

I did not mind Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe. I think she did a decent job as the conniving Isabella, but she didn’t quite have the evil, sinister quality that the 1987 version had. The Thorpe siblings in the novel, as they were portrayed in the weird 1987 version, are sinister, manipulative, and are just plain evil. They are greedy and feel the only way to have money is to marry into it. It would have been nice to see some of this in her performance as well as in the brother’s. Though this version does give us a glimpse into how far she was willing to go with Captain Tilney in order to try and marry into wealth (apparently willing to lose her innocence and bed the man), only to find out he was only using her as she was trying to use him.

Isabella’s downfall.

Like the 1987 version, I am confused as to what year this takes place. At one point, Isabella mentions Lord Byron and insinuates how awful he is (hints of his incestuous relationship with his sister Augusta are rumored to have occurred around 1814). So, this may be taken place in 1817, when it was published or thereabouts. So, the dresses do fit the fashions of the time frame if that is the case. The hair, sometimes yes and sometimes no. For the most part, yes the hair for most of the ladies is still very Regency and fits. Catherine, as I have stated before, tends to be more Edwardian inspired, though sometimes it leans back towards the Regency.

Northanger Abbey. Again, we go with a Castle and a Moat. General Tilney (Liam Cunningham)

One main issue I have with both versions is the depiction of Northanger Abbey. In the novel, it’s described as a house, not even Gothic in nature (meaning, it’s not a castle, it has no Gothic architecture), but a respectable, Georgian Manor House. Not a castle, no moat, just a house. For once, it would be pleasant to have an adaptation actually be accurate in this description. And, in the novel, we visit Henry’s parsonage. We never visit his home in either adaptation. It’s sad because this is his home, the place he lives and where he’s brought Catherine, his sister and his father to visit one day. Another is the need to have a scene of young ladies in their undergarments. Since the undergarments are never 100% accurate, please desist in showing us this. Actually, if you show is this, then I demand you show us what the men are wearing as well (basically, have a similar scene showing the men with their undergarments-hint, they didn’t wear much if any). In other words, stop sexualizing Austen the wrong way. Also, clichéd rainy day almost kiss scenes need to stop in period films or adaptations. Just….no.

Now, things that were good, they showed a young boy still in a dress (and yes, he would have been in a dress until he was breeched). Excellent use of lighting and candles (no fire hazards that I could see). And I did appreciate the overall color schemes that were used-light and pale for the most part with a few bright colors now and again. Keep in mind that vivid colors weren’t like our vivid colors today. Colors were rich, but not necessarily bright. And the use of prints (both large and small) helped create texture. I did wish for more background variety, like servants and did notice (again) the lack of naval men in Bath. It wouldn’t be that hard to have extra dressed in naval uniforms to give a more authentic feel to Bath.

1987’s Version

So, it may surprise you but I actually do recommend the 1987 version but with this warning: don’t expect it to be accurate or faithful to the novel. As a first attempt, it’s weird, but in it’s own way, a bit enjoyable. It’s more of a Gothic film with bit’s of Austen thrown in than anything else. I feel it’s more of a fun Halloween film to enjoy after watching Vincent Price in Fall of the House of Usher and before Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. It sort of fills that middle ground between both of those films.

2007’s Version

For me, hands down I highly recommend the 2007 version if you are looking for an adaptation that’s accurate to the novel (for the most part), enjoyable, and just fun to watch. I would definitely state it should be added to anyone’s DVD library. Plus, he understands MUSLIN! Do you not comprehend the significance of this?!

Correction: I had wrongly stated in the novel by Austen, the home is not described as being Gothic. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, that notion bothered me because why would two adaptations set it in a castle if Jane Austen herself did not indicate something of the sort? So, instead of correcting the original mistake, I opted to write in a correction to show that anyone, even those of us who read and are entrenched in her works make errors. Yes, in the novel Austen makes mention of the Abbey as being Gothic in the courtyard (or having Gothic elements). This could mean anything from some use of re-purposed stonework from an actual Abbey or Monastery, or ruins of an Abbey that are close enough to this home. In the book Jane Austen’s Country Life, author Deidre Le Faye points out that the boarding school Jane and Cassandra attended for two years (Mrs. Latournelle’s in Reading) was also called the Abbey School because the building was adjacent to an abbey gateway of an old Medieval abbey. This gateway would have Gothic elements and perhaps was inspiration for the similar elements being described by Austen herself in Northanger Abbey.

Abbey Gate at Reading. I believe the building to the right has replaced the older, 18th Century building that was the Abbey School.

I have often thought of the house in Northanger Abbey as looking more like a Tudor Manor House. Not quite Gothic in terms of architecture, but these homes still did have the old arched windows, were made of stone, and did look very grand as some did look like miniature castles or forts. Just as as large as the ones used in either adaptation.

I sort of think this is more like how Northanger Abbey should look. Sadly, this place has been abandoned. But do notice the arch entrance way and the windows do seem to have some curvature to them. I did try and find the name of it and could not. Si triste!

This is Dorney Court, located near Windsor Castle. I have often thought it would be a splendid Northanger Abbey as well.  (dorneycourt.co.uk is the official website and the pictures of this place are spectacular).

Edmondsham House (located in Wimborne, Dorset) is a Tudor Manor House that was updated with elements during the Georgian Era. I saw this place online over ten years ago and immediately thought it was perfect for Northanger Abbey. There’s a 12the Century Church located nearby as well, so definitely has some Gothic vibes!

I do hope everyone has at least enjoyed the few homes that I do believe still fit in the whole grand feeling of what Northanger Abbey should feel without it being an actual castle. Please do remember, this is just my personal opinion. Some may like the use of castles because it mimics the Gothic novels of Romance of the Forest (Radcliffe) and Castle of Otranto (Walpole).

Northanger Abbey: Part 1 (The Weird One)

Northanger Abbey was written by Jane Austen some time around 1798 or 1799 and sold to a publisher in 1803 under the title of Susan. She purchased it back a few years later. After her death, her brother, Henry, had it published under it’s current title in 1817. It would surprise some people to find out it’s a novel I find quite enjoyable because it’s so silly and because it’s poking fun at the Gothic Romance novels of Austen’s youth. When I first read this novel, I didn’t quite understand how truly funny it was until I read the works of Anne Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis and Maria Edgeworth. Reading the novelists who wrote the Gothic romances referenced by Austen in this novel (and in a few of her other novels) helps me understand her better as a writer. Jane isn’t making fun of these writers as paying homage to them. They clearly inspired her to pursue writing and she, in turn, wrote a funny, brilliant comedic love letter showing  her appreciation for how engaging their works are. I do believe we would have a better understanding of this novel (and more adaptations) if the writers whose works inspired this tale were finally adapted as well. Personally, I would love to see Romance of the Forest or The Italian (both by Radcliffe) adapted. There’s only so many times we can adapt Dracula and yet no one wants to adapt The Monk, even though it deals with sorcery, lust, sex, murder and mayhem (it’s really quite good). So, it’s quite disappointing that there’s been only two adaptations of Northanger Abbey.

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Katherine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland.

This version is from 1987 and was adapted by Maggie Wadey. I refer to it as the Weird version and you will soon realize why. I own it because it comes as part of the Classic Jane Austen DVD collection (of which the 1971 Persuasion I recommended is part of). It starts off fairly pleasantly with Catherine daydreaming with a book in her hand, which I frankly don’t mind. Considering the novel is about a girl who confuses real life with the world of Gothic novels, it makes complete sense to start off that way. I don’t particularly care for her hair being down (it becomes an ongoing issue throughout the adaptation), but she looks sweet, young, innocent. The weirdness starts right off with the unusual choice of techno beats laced with orchestral music reminiscent of 1985’s Legend (so I think it may have inspired the musical score for this).

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One of the “daydreams.”

As for the daydream, and subsequent daydreams, I think they are meant to be erotic in nature. Sort of like a sexual awakening. Catherine features in them and is usually in a bedsheet or a voluminous gown being threatened with rape, being kidnapped, or menaced in some way. Some of them are supposedly based on drawings from the Gothic novels she is reading, but the drawings date from the Victorian Era (I looked them up) because the novels she would have been able to read at that time did not have illustrations (so, bad historical research guys). Also, she fantasizes about everyone. And I do mean everyone-from Henry Tilney to his dad to John Thorpe. It’s just bizarre in a Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe sort of way (but without the awesome Vincent Price).

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Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen.

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Isabella Thorpe (Cassie Stuart) and Catherine at a Ball.

I find it hard to pinpoint the style of the dresses or the time frame being used because of the issue of wandering waistlines and mysterious fullness. Waistlines in this version go from under the bust to a few inches below bust and have practically no fullness in front to being very full in front. So I am unsure if this is taking place around 1800 (when round gowns would have been worn) or around 1817 (when the novel was published) and fullness would have been confined to the sides and the back. I feel that many of the gowns were probably pulled from stock and adjustments were made to fit the actresses with little regard to whether the gowns were from the same time period or not, which really angers me as a Costume Designer and as a Historian. I can understand giving a five year time frame when pulling costumes (because I’ve done that), but twenty years is ridiculous and should be chastised. Mrs. Allen is a wealthy woman and would not be wearing fashions that out of date. Mrs. Thorpe, being a widow, would wear a dress about 5 years out of date (but perhaps has been altered and refreshed with new ribbons). That is the difference between a designer whose done a half-assed job and one whose done the research and understands the complexity of the social structure of the time period.

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John Thorpe (Jonathan Coy) and Catherine in Bath.

Now, I do like the very Dandy outfit they have John Thorpe in (see above) at one point because it is so ridiculous and loud. It’s hideous and fits his personality. He’s been written in this version to be a bit like a Gothic villain. He sexually appraises Catherine’s body upon first meeting her and considers her to be his possession. He does act this away in the novel, but having him act even more like the archetypal villain, being even more devious with his sister, Isabella (making her the female counterpart) plays off on this idea of real life mimicking one of Catherine’s Gothic stories. In the novel, he and Isabella go to great lengths to sabotage Catherine’s friendship with the Tilneys and that isn’t really shown here. It would have been a good use considering they are setting up these siblings as the bad guys in this real life Gothic tale-only to cut short their time to waste it on the creation of a new character for who knows why. It was a disappointment.

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Why bonnets in the bath?

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And food?

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And men?!

Now for the really, completely weird bath scene. In the novel, Catherine is introduced to Elinor Tilney in the Pump Room. This got moved to a bath. I have no idea why this occurred. First, why are they wearing bonnets? No really, I want to know who believes wearing hats in a warm, steamy environment where silk, velvet, buckram, fur, and feathers coming into contact with WATER is a good idea? Not just any water, freaking MINERAL WATER that smells of SULFUR! Rotten Eggs! Awesome! Which brings us to the next question of the plates of pastries hanging about the necks of the ladies. Now, in my twenty years of research, women did have an area in Bath to bathe in the waters. It was called the Queen’s  Room. They were provided with a linen shift (think oversized nightgown), not the jumper they are wearing here. They would not wear a bonnet and would definitely not be eating in the bath. Hygiene issues, crumbs, plus wrinkly skin smelling of sulfur-gross. And there would DEFINITELY not be MEN mixed in with the LADIES! What is the point of this scene? Besides some sexual titillation of seeing actress in wet garments, there is no point to this. I understand that there is this fascination with sex. I get it. We are sexual creatures by nature. But for God’s sake, don’t put sex into Austen when there isn’t any. She would have cringed over such a scene and I cringe for her. It’s tasteless and has nothing to do with the story.

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Henry Tilney (Peter Firth)

Peter Firth isn’t a bad Henry Tilney. His hair is terrible. It’s too short and I think if it were longer, he’d look better as a Regency gentleman. There’s a scene when he’s on the lake with his sister and Catherine and he’s flirting with Catherine. It’s the most awkward flirtation I’ve witnessed on film. It’s sexually awkward and I’m not sure if it’s meant to be that way. He’s given quotes by Jane Austen herself to spout, which is odd. He gives a good performance. At one point, he’s singing with the daughter of a made up character, which is a nice scene, but pointless. Is it meant to show us (the audience) the actor’s talents at singing, or that the character has more than one lady he’s flirting with?

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Elaine Ives-Cameron as the Marchioness.

This brings us to the character that was created for this version-the Marchioness, or as I like to call her, the General’s Goth Girlfriend. She appears at one point in Bath, then shows up again at the abbey along with her two daughters and a black boy, who is also her servant. She is supposedly to be a widow who’s husband was guillotined the previous year in France, which would have taken place during the Reign of Terror (1793-1795), which gives us a year of 1796 and the fashions still don’t fit that at all. I don’t understand why 15-20 minutes of time was devoted to this character at all when that time could have been used on the Thorpe siblings instead. She has no purpose in this version. She doesn’t exist in the novel. There is zero justification for the creation of this character and her two daughters. Plus, she just adds another layer of weirdness to this whole thing.

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Catherine looking very Gothic.

Now, there are a few positive things about this version I should point out. They show men using snuff (finely cut tobacco they shoved up their noses). Men did use it and carried it around in little cases. Having Henry carry around a little case then share it with his older brother is a nice touch. Showing people being carried around in Bath Chairs (or Sedan Chairs) in the background outside (and even inside buildings) is also a fairly nice touch. People forget that besides walking and carriages, sedan chairs were also available for hire in Bath. And while the little boy was shown as a servant to the Goth Girlfriend, it does show a person of color existing in England in the late 18th-19th Century. Yes, we existed in England folks. Believe it or not, black men served in the Royal Navy and Army during the Napoleonic Wars. They did a good job with mentioning that people could lose fortunes with gambling (even though that isn’t an issue in the novel, it did happen to many historically).

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Northanger Abbey

Problems of a historical nature (besides ones already addressed): at one point, Catherine is surprised to see a pet Canary. Apparently never having seen one before. Now, being the inquisitive soul that I am, I had to then spend 40 minutes researching the history of Canaries only to find out that the breeding of canaries started in Spain in the 1500s. By the late 1700s, it was fairly common to purchase canaries as they were being breed in Italy, Spain, Holland, Russia, England, Switzerland Germany, France and Elba (yes, that Island Bonaparte ended up at). So, I am quite at a loss as to why a bird that was being sold and seen in the homes of most middle to upper class people (such as the Allens) would be a surprise to Catherine considering people also had PARROTS as pets at this time. The other issue is the makeup. While women did wear makeup during the Regency, the makeup being worn in this version is very much theatrical style makeup meant for the stage and not for realism. It’s too harsh for characters such as Mrs. Allen and too comical in the case of the Marchioness. Wigs on the gentlemen ranged from Georgian styled powdered to underpowered to “Beetovhan” to Doc Brown. Not all the older gentlemen would wear wigs. Just because some would doesn’t mean all would. And for a town (Bath) that is notorious for being a Naval town, not one BLUE coat was spotted. Many red coats (Army) were seen, which is fine given General Tilney and his son, the Captain, wear red for Army, but this is Bath. Bath is a Naval town. If this is set after 1815, this would be awash is everything Lord Nelson. Even if this is before then, Bath was popular with the Royal Navy and to not see any of that is simply wrong.

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A Sedan Chair-Historic UK

Finally, Catherine burns a book. Books were expensive back then. She comes from a family of ten children. That book cost money and was most likely borrowed. Burning it was WRONG.

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Awkward Flirting. Oh well.

Persuasion Adaptations: Part 3

We have now come to the end of the Persuasion Adaptations to the very last selection (and the only available adaptation left) which is the ITV/BBC 2007 version (adapted by Simon Burke). this version was to be hailed as a brand new version with lots of new insight hoping to revitalize Jane Austen for the 2007 ITV/BBC experience. Let’s just say it less much to be desired.

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The Elliots: Sir Walter with Anne, Elizabeth and Mary.

This version starts off very fast paced, which is not a bad thing. However, it’s confusing as to why Anne (played by Sally Hawkins) is running around, taking inventory (with a very convenient maid holding a pot of ink to be dipped into) and lots of servants rushing about, throwing sheets onto everything without any context. At first, I thought they’ve decided to skip the whole convincing Sir Walter to move to Bath and have gone right for Anne being busy, having been left behind, then going immediately to Uppercross (which went from being 5 miles away to only half a mile), which would be a bold move. But one that would make absolutely no sense to a viewer who is unfamiliar with the novel. And in fact, we are then shifted into the next scene, where Sir Walter is being convienced to move to Bath in a dinning room, with lit candles, while everything is covered in sheets. Fire hazard everyone? Also, this makes no sense chronologically as why would inventory and the need to shut up the house occur PRIOR to the decision to move? This whole beginning makes no sense to someone who is familiar to the novel as it made no sense to anyone who is watching it who is unfamiliar. It was a clear indication of how badly this adaptation was done.

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Anne Elliot and Lady Russell

For example, Lady Russell arrives after the decision to removed to Bath takes place when she is a vital part of the conversation. The all important scene with Anne speaking to Harville which occurs at the end of the novel was moved to Lyme and the conversation then takes place between Anne and Benwick, with Wentworth never overhearing it. Again, this makes no sense as he references the conversation in the letter at the end. Mrs. Smith is given the first name of Harriet when it is Emma in the novel. And for a invalid, she is able to run about Bath fairly easily (which I found both comical and disheartening). Sir Walter comes off as an asshole and not a simpering Baronet. He is cruel and calculatingly so which is not at all how he is in the novel. Having Anne write in a diary and look into the camera is too 1995’s Emma (in other words, clichéd). This is not a “so bad it’s a guilty pleasure” kind of film. This is just plain awful.

Anne Elliot being too clichéd.

The casting is bizarre. Alice Kreig is a wonderful Lady Russell, but is vastly underused, Because so many scenes are done out of order or just taken away, there is not much there for Lady Russell. Which is sad considering how much better of a role it was in both previous versions. Sir Walter is portrayed by Anthony Head and I would have thought him to be a better Admiral Croft quite honestly. As Sir Elliot, he’s pompous and an asshole. He’s also so little seen as to make the part non existent. Colin Redgrave’s version practically sparkles in comparison (1995). Again, like the 1971 version, the Crofts are miscast. They not only look too old (Sophie is only 8 years older than Frederick, yet both 1971 & 2007 seems to believe women at the age of 38 look like they are pushing 50), but Admiral Croft doesn’t even remotely look like he’s ever been to sea. At least in the 1971 version, they did have some sort of relationship with Wentworth that I believed. In this 2007 version, there was zero family relationship. Mrs. Clay is very pretty and easily forgettable. Mr. Elliot was just-no. Both the Miss Musgroves are hard to tell apart. The Musgroves themselves are as forgettable, which is sad because they shouldn’t be. Wentworth is portrayed by Rupert Penry-Jones who looks more like William Elliot from the 1995 version and also doesn’t look like he’s ever spent any sort of time outdoors.

Captain Wentworth.

There were other issues besides casting. The actors did their best with the scripts, no I never blame the actors (soft spot from my Theatre days I suppose). But I do find issue with historical inaccuracies. Anne Elliot at one point is basically in her undergarments and can magically pop in a dislocated shoulder without any medical training. That she allows herself to be seen by her brother-in-law and male servants in her undergarments is shocking. That would never have occurred. She would have put on a dressing gown first. I don’t care about the magical knowledge of medicine she seemed to have gained without anyone’s knowledge-the lack of being properly dressed was a huge historical faux pas. The undergarments shown were also not period correct. If you are going to have an actress parade herself on screen, do us the honor of having her wear period correct undergarments. The hair shown was also an issue. Wentworth’s hair was the modern version of a la Titus and much too short to be period correct. Also-the reemergence of Mutton Chops was seen. Mutton Chops were seen on older men, not on younger men at this time, so when I see them on men in their thirties, I am going to question it as it would  not have been a style for young men until closer to the 1820s. Also, Anne Elliot’s hair is so ugly as to be painfully so and she makes no attempt to even try to make herself look better, which is so out of character.

Anne’s costumes & hair: just no.

I found the costumes decent but easily forgettable. Some effort when into them, but Anne Elliot was dressed so poorly compared to the rest of her family it stood out as being odd. I do not believe Sir Walter would deliberately dress one daughter so poorly and so threadbare. Especially when image is everything to him. Plus, no uniforms at all. At a time when England was just victorious form a War, the soldiers and officers would have worn their uniforms at certain times. Especially Naval men in Bath, which was the home of Lord Nelson. That complete lack of history (remember, it takes place after Napoleon was defeated and sent to Elba) just bother me. It shows a lack of understanding of what was occurring historically and this is the only Austen Novel to give us actual dates. This meant this was important to her and to the country. It really was these contradictions that truly made this a very unpleasant adaptation to watch. Plus, the running. Anne Elliot runs a lot at the end and it’s so improper for her character. Nothing about this adaption makes any sense and it feels as if the writer decided to just use cliff notes and Google to learn the basic plot and went from there. It is an affront to the senses.

The Novel

So, what did I learn from watching all three available versions? That there are two really decent versions every Jane Austen fan should own and one they should avoid at all cost. the 1971 version, while it has issues with costumes and casting, really is a gem of an adaptation. The acting in it is still extremely good and if you want one that is exactly like the book, then you should own this copy. It is long and the costumes are dated. Yet it is so full of charm and fine acting, it’s easy to lose oneself in it on a rainy day.

1971’s Persuasion: the most accurate.

If you want one that is charming, but not as long, then I do believe the 1995 version still fulfills that need. The acting in it is just as good as ever and this is the only version that comes close to having a film of Persuasion. It’s fairly accurate to the novel, but is fast paced enough to not feel overly long. Plus with being under two hours, it’s a nice short watch that anyone can enjoy.

1995’s Persuasion: completely charming.

I cannot recommend the 2007 version at all. There are people who enjoy this version out of all the others simply because of Rupert Penry-Jones. I understand that members of the younger generation will simply enjoy a version just based on the sex appeal of one actor with regard to whether the version was at all enjoyable because they are too busy drooling and lustfully eyeing the person in question. That is a fault and a disservice. If you’ve read the novel and then watched this version, you are then well aware of how truly terrible of an adaptation it is. While I gladly own the other two versions, I do not own this one and will never add it to my collection.

2007’s Persuasion: avoid it.