Becoming Jane: Review

BONUS ADAPTATION! Since we’ve know talked about revisionist history and learned a bit about all of that, I thought it would be fun to do two bonuses to our Austen Adaptations! The first is Becoming Jane (2007).

Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy) and Jane Austen (Anne Hawathay)

This film is based on a book titled Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence and is considered a demi-biography as he uses the plot device of Pride and Prejudice as well as Austen’s Letters to piece together her early life as well as the possibility of her romance with Thomas LeFroy based on her mentions of the man from her letters to her sister, Cassandra. I’ve read the letters myself. She mentions him twice in 1795 and once a few years later. If that’s the basis of an unrequited love affair, color me shocked. Jane also mentions trying to find pink silk stockings with much more fervor. The Jane Austen Society does endorse the book by stating the author does seem to understand the character of Jane Austen. Endorsing the book doesn’t mean his book is accurate, only that it is enjoyable to read. I have looked on the JAS website and no where do they claim that rthis book is historically accurate. They only reviewed it as being an enjoyable read. I do think sometimes they should start off such books with a disclaimer that they don’t endorse such books as being historically accurate first off so people don’t believe it’s truthful, only conjecture (because this is where revisionist history can become an issue).

Jane being confronted by her parents, the Rev George Austen (James Cromwell) and Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters).

Firstly, the film gets many things wrong. I have not read the originally source material (the book that the film is based on) so I do not know if the author made the Austen family out to be poorer than they were in reality. If the author did not make them out to be this poor, then this was Hollywood taking liberties with the truth to make Jane seem more desperate to make a rich match than she was in reality. In Deidre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, she points out that Rev. Austen made over 300£ profit on his own farm that he rented during a “bad” year. That’s about $590 (roughly as exchange rates vary daily), but that’s still a fairly decent profit in a bad year, given how much he had to pay in rent, plus the workers who were doing the actual labor. Mrs. Austen was known to grow berry bushes, chickens and other fowls. No where have I ever come across her sowing or digging up her own potatoes. Remember that Mr. Bennet spends around 100£ a year on each of his girl’s allowances in Pride and Prejudice, so having three times that amount extra per year is not a bad thing. Yes, Jane was not from a wealthy family, but she wasn’t as poor as the filmmakers made her out to be. When her father died in 1805, they did sink into poverty, this is true. But at the time of this film (being, I believe 1795), she wasn’t poverty stricken yet.

Mrs. LeFroy (Eleanor Metheven), Jane, Lucy LeFroy (Jessica Ashworth), and Comtesse Eliza de Feullide (Lucy Cohu)

The date this takes place also beings me to a state of confusion in terms of the costuming. Looking at the above scene, both Mrs. LeFroy and Eliza are in late 1790s gowns, but Austen is in a gown closer to 1810. The young girl is also shown as being old enough to attend balls and has her hair down, which we should all know by now I have a distinct hatred for. Either she is too young and doesn’t not attend the balls and can have her hair down (which she looks old enough to start having it up anyways), or have it up.

Jane and Mr. Wisely (Laurence Fox)

In real life, Jane Austen agreed to marry Harris Biggs-Wither. The next day, she called it off. From all accounts, he was not a good looking man and they had nothing in common. She was forced into accepting it by her mother, Mrs. Austen. Mr. Wisely, in this film, takes the place of Mr. Biggs-Wither, except he is much better looking and they actually have things in common. Mr. Wisley did not exist in real life.

Eliza, Jane, and Henry Austen (Joe Anderson)

Wandering waistlines aside, I don’t believe umbrellas had out modern coverings of polyurethane yet. Nice use of the pug though. Henry should either have his hair short or have it pulled back. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794, so this taking place in 1795 is historically accurate (at that point). I don’t mind the blue color on Anne Hathaway because it is a lovely color on her, but they use it a lot and the shifting waistlines just bothers me. For a big budget film, one would think they would do a better job at hiring a historical consultant (and not just the author of the book they used as a source material).

Cassandra (Anna Maxwell-Martin) and Jane

A few things they showed in this film that did happen, but they speed up in order to fit into this film. Cassandra did get engaged to a clergyman, who was accompanying his cousin’s ship overseas. They gave him the name Thomas Fowle, which is odd since his name was Robert Fowle. I don’t know why they didn’t just use the man’s name. He did die of yellow fever, but not in 1795, in 1797. His cousin, left Cassandra a 1,000£ legacy to compensate her for the loss of her betrothed. Cassandra never married. George Austen was sent to a small farm where he lived the rest of his life. No where have I found any evidence that he was deaf or hard of hearing. From all accounts he seems to have been on the Autism spectrum. Sign language did exist (there was a form of it that existed in France around the 1800s at that time, but I have no idea of what they were using in the film was at all accurate or not). I don’t recall Jane ever mentioning her brother George at all in her letters so I highly doubt she had any kind of close relationship with him. It’s possible his parents and even a few of his brothers saw him from time to time, but he spent his life away from his family. Jane Austen also never met Mrs. Radcliffe. I wish these two authors would have met in real life, but alas, that never happened!

Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith)

Now, are there any good points? Yes there are. James McAvoy is a treat to watch in this film. I have enjoyed him ever since I saw him in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was fantastic in Split and Glass. He is equally talented in this film. Maggie Smith steals what little screen time she has, so it’s always a pleasure to see her whenever she is in a film. Anna as Cassandra is overshadowed by Anne Hathaway, which is a pity since Cassandra is such a vital figure to Jane Austen’s life. Same with Mrs. LeFroy, who barely makes an appearance yet was an important figure to Austen’s life. I do like they showed a game of cricket being played, as the first game was played in Dartford in the early 18th Century (yes, I checked).

Jane & Tom; the red overdress is too 1970s with the thin straps.

The bad points: the costumes are hits and misses. A lot is made of the supposed love affair between LeFroy and Austen base don three mentions in a few letters and LeFroy mentioning years later that he had a “boyish love” for Austen in his youth. The fact is he was already engaged with he went to visit his aunt and met Jane in 1795. If he flirted, Mrs. LeFroy may have seen him as going too far and sent him on his way before he hurt her young friend. That’s probably all there was to the tale. His “boyish love” years later was most likely a bit of a crush looking back on his memories. We want to make much of this instance when there may have been nothing there. Also in 1795, based on her letters, Jane was working on Sense & Sensibility, not Pride & Prejudice, so the author using the second novel as a basis for her love affair is a little bit…awkward.

Thomas LeFroy (1798) after his marriage

Love & Friendship (Lady Susan) Adaptation

Love & Friendship came out in 2016 and was adapted fro the screen by Whilt Stillman, who also directed. When it first came out, I mistakingly read Jane Austen’s juvenilia piece entitled Love & Friendship and then became utterly confused as the piece I read had nothing to do with the film I saw. Instead, Stillman borrowed the title of one piece and adapted another, Lady Susan, to the screen. This is the only adaptation of Lady Susan for the screen at this time. Lucy Prebble has been hired by BBC and Celdor Films to adapt Lady Susan as of 2009, but nothing about that adaptation has been made available. There has been three different stage versions in recent years as well as three different re-writes of the novella. However, this is about the only screen version and how truthful and accurate is it to the novella.

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan

I think that for the only adaptation for this Jane Austen novella, it’s pretty decent. It’s not an easy novella to adapt, first of all, simply because it’s written as a series of letters.  I believe Sense & Sensibility was first conceived that way before Austen decided to change it, so we can be thankful that she only played with this format once. It’s a tale that we are not used to seeing from Jane Austen as it deals with sex, manipulation, obvious social climbing, adultery, and all sorts of things one would expect in a a rollicking good Georgian novel like Tom Jones, not Austen. Most scholars date this to have been written in 1794 and the adaptation was said to have taken place at around the same time. I believe the costumes are pretty accurate.

1790s Dress from the Kyoto Fashion Museum

1790s Dress from the Museo del Traje (Madrid, Spain); Both gowns are from the same time period.

Portrait of Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton) by George Romney, Museum of Fine Art, Boston

1790s Portrait of Emma Hart (Later Lady Hamilton); her hair and hat are very similar to Lady Susan’s as pictured below. [Public Domain]

Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) and Lady Susan

An interesting choice made, which at first I didn’t like, but upon watching it again, I ended up enjoying was to make Mrs. Johnson, Lady Susan’s confidant, an ex-Patriot from America. Making her someone who was loyal to the Crown and having to flee the Colonies for her British sentiment made her husband’s (Stephen Fry) threats to send her away both comical and frightening. Especially since the Revolutionary War had recently ended and the War of 1812 was soon to start (plus there were still some skirmishes occurring between American and Britain at this time). While the director admitted to changing the film a few times on set because of the ingenuity of the actors (and allowing them to have input into their characters), a majority of the lines do come from and are influenced by the actual letters from the novella. I would state that 90% of the dialogue is based upon those letters, which is fairly decent in my mind.

Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwell) with her brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel)

I appreciated the use of wigs, especially the non-white ones on the men (the older men particularly). One thing is apparently clear and that is income (loss of income) is a running theme in all of Austen’s published works (this work wasn’t published until 1871). I did love the use of agricultural and farming news because that was an important part of living on an estate and part of Austen’s daily life. I also love how they had all the characters introduced in the beginning, which is a very classic silent film era technique.

Fredrica Vernon (Morfydd Clark), Lady Susan’s daughter

There really isn’t much criticism for this film. It’s very witty and charming. I really wished they had not changed the title because it deserves to be known as Lady Susan since she is the main character and the subject of almost everyone’s thoughts and concerns. A very good job was done to take the text from the novella and build it into dialogue to make it sounds like dialogue from the Georgian Era instead of a sentence from a letter (which is much harder than it sounds). I did find it weird that Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin) is shown and interacts with Lady Susan, but never speaks. He is there, but silent.

Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) is Fredrica’s suitor

The music used in the film is very lovely and even the servants in this piece are well dressed and colorful, which is always nice to see. This may not be the nest adaptation of a Jane Austen work out there not of this particular work, but I have not read nor seen the plays and this is the only version that is accessible to everyone. I don’t think it’s a requirement to read Lady Susan before watching this film. The novella is a bit hard to read because it’s only a series of letters and can get a trifle dull and confusing at times. As a film, this shows a side of Jane Austen we rarely get to see outside of her personal letters. We see her as an author being more witty and more sexually aware of how women are seen in society. She’s having fun with this character and doesn’t punish Lady Susan for enjoying pleasures of the flesh. Which is interesting for the daughter of a clergyman to take. I highly recommend it and do believe it should be a part of any Austen collection for who knows if we’ll ever get another adaptation of this novella.

Reginald DeCourcy, Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), and Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray)

Got to adore the way the film introduces each character!

Revisionist History Part 2

For this posting on Revisionist History, I thought I’ve focus on an area that most people don’t think about much, which is the area of biographical films (or biopics for short). Now, biopics are good for introducing famous or interesting people to a wider audience, but they are also notorious for glossing over the bad parts or nasty parts of a person’s life and even changing facts to create a more palatable film. In a way, this is a bit of revisionist history because people will use films as 100% facts, not realizing that like other films, there are things that are made up in them. So, I thought it might be nice to look at some examples of this just to be a different change of place.

General Custer (courtesy of USF.edu)

Any biopic about General Custer is going to be problematic because his widow, wanting to to make her dead husband into a hero, wrote a biography on him after his death which turned him into the hero from which all film interpretations are based upon. Only one film (Little Big Man) comes close to showing him as a jerk and idiot, so it’s closer to truth. There are a lot of films in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s that glorify this man and they are laughable in many aspects. Custer was a Confederate soldier that was notorious for disobeying orders. He was ordered to NOT engage the Native Americans. He did anyway and is responsible for one of the greatest losses of human life outside of the Civil War in the 19th Century. So, always be aware of any film that portrays him as a good guy because historically, he wasn’t. It’s important to be aware of men such as Custer who are idolized to this day from the false biography his wife had written and published. It’s amazing the damage a false narrative can still cause after over a hundred years. She purposefully revised history and people not only bought it, no one wanted to believe anyone who was stating the truth!

Andrew Jackson (Courtesy of thehermitage.com)

The few times this President has been portrayed on screen, no mention of the Trail of Tears is brought up and he never swears. Jackson was known for swearing up a storm. He was racist. misogynistic, and from all accounts, an premier asshole. I would love it if we started doing more honest portrayals of our Presidents in films or even in Theatre pieces because people need to be aware of the good and the bad. People are not aware Jackson was behind the Trail of Tears because it’s not taught in schools or it’s just not common knowledge. It should be though. For some reason, there has been a deliberate push to lessen the damage Jackson inflicted on this country and to build him up a a hero when he was not a hero in any sense of the word.

Queen Christina of Sweden (Public Domain Image)

This monarch’s story has been fictionalized only a few times, which is sad (though she has a few plays and an opera) because she is so interesting! Raised to be King, she had female and male lovers, abdicated, lived her life in exile, patron of the arts, never married. I’ve only seen two films on her (and there are so many on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I). It’s hard to say if these two films are very fictionalized because from all historical accounts, she was bisexual and did travel to Rome (one film has her sleeping with a member of the Vatican). So, am I am saying is it’s possible. I also don’t know a lot about her as there’s not many biographies on her. I’m sure some liberties were taken on both films (that’s a given) but the true and accurate things that would seem pure fiction, were not. So, I included this because sometimes real life is stranger than fiction!

Biblical based films are always a little hard to judge. When they are taken from stories from the Bible, you can judge them for things like historical accuracy and if they adhered to the Bible story. A lot of the older films (pre-1980s) aren’t too accurate, but they were dealing with things like the Hayes code which prohibited certain body parts (like belly buttons) from being shown and didn’t allow certain words (even from the Bible, which is funny considering the Hayes Code was a Catholic run organization) from being said. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some of those lavish productions for the over the top costumes and sets, but they do a lot of adding in of love stories and characters that aren’t in the original source material to turn it into a workable film.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Now, a Tolkien Biopic is shortly coming out and the Tolkien Estate hjas stated that they did not authorize the film and do not approve of this film. Where does this leave us? Tolkien did publish letters (I have a copy) which gives insight into him as a writer and a person. There are a few biographies on his as well as biographies on people he knew such as CS Lewis. Of course, there are going to be some liberties taken with it and some things are going to be left out. I don’t expect this is going to be a film that is going to be 100% accurate. If it’s 80% accurate, I will be satisfied. It’s sad that the family were not involved and don’t approve. So it’s a film that I will most likely wait to see when my library has a copy.

David Bowie (Courtesy of the Bowie Estate)

This brings us to another issue. There is also a film coming out about David Bowie that is also not authorized by Bowie’s family. Because it is not authorized, there will be none of Bowie’s music involved and it will take a lot of liberties of the man’s life and career. There is no authorized David Bowie biography available, so this film will be pure speculation plus any interviews that are out there. This is what I would call pure revisionist history in terms of a biopic whereas the Tolkien film has resources such as Tolkien’s letters that author himself published during his own lifetime plus many authorized biographies of the author and the men he knew an worked with. That gives his film a more accurate feeling to it than this one will have.

The point I am trying to make is this: some biopics (especially the older ones) are not at all accurate and yet people will believe them as being 100% true. Remember that during the early 20th Century, film studios were trying to make money and most films were shot in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, not months like they are now. Historical accuracy wasn’t as high as a priority as entertainment value. It’s only more recently that it’s been more of a need to be both accurate and entertaining. Though there are always people put there that do films that are completely revisionist history (and they tend to be full of conspiracy theories, which is how you spot them easily). And also because there are so many biographies in terms of films, TV specials, and even books set to come out in the near future I felt it was a good idea to do this little posting on this now instead of later.

 

 

 

Sense & Sensibility: 1995 Adaptation

We now come to what most of us have probably all ready seen. The screenplay was adapted by Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar for it and the film was directed by Ang Lee (a golden globe winner at this time). Costumes were designed by Jenny Beaven and John Bright (they both designed the costumes for Room with a View in 1986 and won Oscars for their designs). So, this production had impressive talent behind the screen and in front of it.

Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones), Marianne (Kate Winslet), Margaret (Emilie François), and Elinor (Emma Thompson) in front of Barton Cottage.

So, unlike previous adaptations, it starts off with the father dying (Tom Wilkinson is a brief cameo) and extracting a promise from his son to look after his stepmother and his half-sisters. This is from the novel and is also spoken of but never seen. I actually like seeing it because it makes the nest scene, where John and Fanny are discussing it, all the more evil for not anting to abide by the promise he made to his dead father. It really highlights just how miserly the pair of them area as to deny helping his half sisters even though he promised his own father on the man’s deathbed.

Fanny Dashwood (Harriet Walter) and John Dashwood (James Fleet)

There is no mention of them having a son (it’s in the novel) and this isn’t the first adaptation to not have him present. I don’t think the son really adds to anything other than to give them a slight excuse for being so miserly (wanting to save the money of their son). Not having him just allows them to be seen as being greedy and for who they truly are. Though I do love the substitution of a lapdog for the son. It’s period correct that wealthy women had ornamental lap dogs and who’s to say that they don’t have a son, but he was sent away for schooling by this time? This is also the first adaptation to include Margaret, the youngest sister, which makes the meagerly 500£ for four people seem even more strained (as it should be).

Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)

Next to his role in All Creatures Great and Small, this has to be my favorite role for Robert Hardy (others will remember him as Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter films). He was also an expert on the Medieval Longbow and wrote two books on the subject. But in this role, he really sparkled as Sir John. He’s funny, charismatic, playful, and does everything he can to be of assistance to his cousins and neighbors. I actually don’t mind that he’s a widow as Lady Middleton really does play no significant part in the novel other than to be annoying. As for the Middleton children, I would assume that if there are any, they are being taken care of at a local farm (if they are too young which was customary) or are of an age that they are away at school. If not, then he probably has a cousin who will inherit. He seems to be happy nonetheless. Elizabeth Spriggs portrayal of Mrs. Jennings is as lighthearted and fun as Patrica Routledge’s version from 1971. She is also overly bubbly, vivacious, and has grand gestures and it works for her character. She is also sweet natured and kind, which does endear this character to you.

Elinor, Margaret, and Marianne

The hair in this film was extremely well researched and done very well. Now, if one is gong to have children with their hair down, this is how to do it properly. Girls who were not out could have their hair down, but it had to look neat and tidy as well. Once a girl has transitioned from the school room and was “out”, her hair was up. So, notice how Elinor and Marianne have hair that is up, but Margaret, being only 12 and still in the schoolroom, is allowed to have her hair down. Also let’s talk about how they all, at a glance, look like sisters. All have similar colored hair and texture. Margaret has the curliest, with Marianne with curls as well, Elinor, one presumes, has more wavy hair. Yet they all look like they are related. Plus the use of natural light in this film makes it stand out more than any other adaptation. One can truly see the colors and textures without a lot of influence of gels on top (gels being colored filters). Though some filters were probably used to soften the light, there was a push to try and use or mimic natural light for this film by the director. It gives it a freshness and clean look that was not seen before.

Willoughby (Greg Wise) and Marianne

Willoughby’s hair is also very well done. The fading of the mutton chops highlights his cheekbones, which plays up his mouth. He is a rake, but is meant to be romantic at the same time. Very Lord Byron with his hair and the colors used on  him are very warm, very autumnal, which was a nice contrast with Edward, who was very cool (and so mimicked Elinor).

Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman)

Brandon likewise had a nice fade and while his hair was longer, I think the intent was to show he was not as fashionable as Willoughby, so perhaps didn’t get his hair cut and styled as often, which is in line with the character. This is probably the first film most people know Alan Rickman from and fell in love with him. I liked him in Die Hard and didn’t like it when they killed his character off (also didn’t like it when he died in Robin Hood either-he made villains seem more charismatic). This version of Brandon is less like Darcy and more in like the character from the novel. He’s more in tune with his feelings, more soft spoken and more romantic. Less brooding too, which I appreciated. Brandon should be allowed to be his own person and not some kind of Darcy wannabe, which is what the previous versions have done.

Elinor and Edward Ferrars (High Grant); Norland is shown to have a working farm on it.

Now, some critics didn’t like that the scene where Elinor and Edward go riding was added as it’s not in the novel. I think it worked for the film because it shows these two spending time together away from the house. People did ride horses on their estates as a form of exercise. And it shows Norland to be a working estate with the sheep and cows in the background. All of these things are period correct. So they changed Elinor drawing to her riding a horse and I don’t mind. It’s a minor change and doesn’t affect the main story at all. Likewise, they cut the scene where the Dashwood sisters meet Mrs. Ferrars, which isn’t important to the plot, and they cut Nancy Steele as well. Again, not important to the plot as long as Lucy Steele is still there (which she is and somehow making her responsible for revealing her own secret is somehow much more poetic).

Marianne, Margaret, and Elinor; notice all three are wearing aprons.

I really cannot find fault at all with the costumes. A lot of detail went into them and a lot of research as well. I can tell that period undergarments were being worn based on the silhouettes. The attention to detail in having them all wearing aprons or smocks when when teaching Margaret as to protect their gown from ink is such a little, tiny historical accuracy that I wish more productions put in. Especially when you see all the correct period instruments like the pounce, and ink bottle is there.

Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs) and Elinor

There are some key scenes that were cut that some people do complain about, but I think given the restrictions of time, they were not so pivotal to the plot. One being Edward visiting them on his way back from Plymouth. Yes, it’s a nice scene in the novel and other adaptations have included it, but this is a film and if it comes down to Edward visiting the Dashwoods or the Dashwoods going to Cleveland Park, the latter is the more important scene. People also didn’t like that Willoughby didn’t come and visit Elinor to confess and, therefore, redeem himself. But, in a way, Brandon redeems Willoughby when he informs Elinor that he heard from Lady Allen that Willoughby’s intentions towards Marianne were honorable. So, while that scene was cut, the information that he did love Marianne, that he was going to marry her, is still related to Elinor so she can inform Marianne. And it’s done in a way that works and still fits the world of the novel.

The Dashwoods around the Pianoforte

The only complaint I can make is the gift of the pianoforte by Colonel Brandon. In the novel, they all ready have one. Willoughby spends time at the Cottage signing and sharing music with Marianne over the instrument. This gifting of the piano actually comes more from Emma than Sense & Sensibility and in that case, such a gift was considered highly inappropriate by Jane Austen herself. However, I can see how the filmmakers wanted Brandon to make some kind of grand romantic gesture and decided that this would be his way of declaring his intentions to Marianne in a way that she would understand.

That uniform is so beautiful it makes me want to cry! Oh, and her veil is attached to a bonnet.

So, I do recommend this film because it’s the only film adaptation we have. And I do mean ONLY. There are 3 loose adaptations (Material Girls, From Prada to Nada, Scents & Sensibility), but I am only concerned with actual adaptations, not so loose as to be practically unrecognizable, which these are. I’ve checked and there are no plans to do another film version anytime soon. It’s actually weird because it seems filmmakers tend to focus on Emma and Pride & Prejudice than any other novel. If you love Austen, then this should be in your collection. If you’ve never watched it, please go and rent it from your local library. It’s charming, beautiful, and such an amazing adaptation of the novel. Plus you get the infinite joy of seeing Hugh Laurie as Mr. Palmer (which makes me laugh every time).

Mansfield Park: 2007 ITV Adaptation

Now we come to the last adaptation of Mansfield Park that is currently out there. This version was adapted by Maggie Wadey and was not received well by critics nor fans of Jane Austen’s works. Mansfield Park is a difficult novel to adapt simply because Fanny Price is much more complicated than a majority of Austen’s female characters. She has moments of weakness and strength like Anne Elliot, but has a bit more of a delicate nature like Marianne Dashwood. For some reason, this makes the novel hard to adapt. I think it’s an excuse to not adapt works such as this one and Persuasion in favor of Pride & Prejudice and Emma because they are more well known.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price

Like the 1999 film version, this one sticks with the whole Mrs. Price send her daughter to live at Mansfield Park instead of the novel’s statement Fanny was brought to Mansfield on the request of her two aunts. They also show that Mr. Rushworth and Maria are engaged prior to Sir Thomas leaving for Antigua, which messes with the time line as they become engaged while Sir Thomas is away. Hence the reason why Sir Thomas will assist his daughter in ending the engagement when he returns because he finds Mr. Rushworth an unsuitable match (a match promoted by Aunt Norris I might add). There is also a weird comment by Lady Bertram when the Crawfords arrive that they were “pretty as children.” Correct me if I am wrong (which I am not), but the Crawfords did not come from the Mansfield area as children. They come to the place as requested by their half-sister, Mrs. Grant, after the Grants move into the Parish (after Mr. Norris dies). Fanny Price also never leaves Mansfield to visit her family in Portsmouth. She is abandoned by the family at Mansfield while they leave. Basically, there is so much wrong with the adaptation, it’s hard to watch because so much was messed around with. Billie Piper portrays Fanny as a strong, playful, independent character but with no weaknesses. Her portrayal of Fanny was actually quite similar to her portrayal of Rose Tyler on Dr. Who (and this must be due to the script and the direction she was given as she is an excellent actress).

Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford, Fanny Price, Joseph Morgan as William Price, and Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram. This does resemble more of an alternative 1980s Romantic Rock band based on the poses.

Tom Bertram (James D’Arcy) and his brother, Edmund.

Other issues are the hair-particularly Fanny’s hair. Women did have short hair, I have stated this before. And children up to a certain age most likely had their hair down (but definitely around age 10-12, girls would have their hair up as all portraits I’ve looked at over the decades have shown this). So I do not understand why Fanny, being around 18 years of age, and thus no longer in the schoolroom, has her hair down. Shoulder length hair can and was pinned up at this point. Length shouldn’t be an issue. there was some attempt to do interesting braiding to bring the tresses off of the actress’ face, but that attention to detail should have continued throughout her hairstyle. Instead, it looked messy and unkempt, which would not be proper for a niece of Sir Thomas Bertram. I also didn’t understand the overly long hair on Henry Crawford. For a character who is stated to be a Londoner, and therefore we can conclude is very fashion forward, his shoulder length hair is appalling out of fashion. Tom Bertram as well had overly long shoulder length hair. While he looks stunning with the long hair, it’s more appropriate for, shall we say, the Three Musketeers than Mansfield Park?

Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) and Henry.

Now, there are some fairly good hairstyles in this adaptation. I always try to find some positive points in all of these versions, regardless of the issues I find with them because it takes a lot of work to put something like this together, and when something is done well, it should be applauded. Mary Crawford’s hair was exceptionally fine and I quite liked the use of asymmetrical parts to give her a distinct look from the other ladies. Maria Bertram as well had really lovely more Georgian styled hair, which I’m not sure if the character would be that old-fashioned with her hair, but it was done well and it does look lovely. Though I did think Maria’s hair may have been a way to visually tie her to Lady Bertram, who did have lovely styled Georgian hair as well. Mrs. Norris likewise had a nice pouf with mob cap, which looked more Georgian, but since she and Lady Bertram are older, I don’t mind them sticking to hairstyles of their youth. Edmund had a decent a la Titus going on, just wished they used some product to give it some texture as it tended to lay flat (and yes, pomade was used by men to give texture-it was very similar to hair wax that’s used today).

Fanny in what I believe to be a gown from the 1770s, possibly 1780s.

The costuming was very weird in this adaptation. I really had a hard time pinpointing exactly when the story was taking place because like the hair, the fashions were all over the place. The costume designer is Mike O’Neill, whose mainly done period pieces set in the Elizabethan Era or Georgian Era, it makes sense that he stuck with what was comfortable for him. He excels in the heaving bosom department and this was definitely the case in this version. The problem is that while bosoms were on display during Austen’s time, they weren’t showcased as they had been during the Georgian Era (unless, they were a trend setter and were dampening their petticoats-yes, that did happen but those kinds of women were not so common). The main issue with the costumes is there is a lack of consistency. If this is set during the 1810s, then they should all be dressed in garments from that time (give or take 5 years). I, of course, make an exception for the older generation such as Mrs. Norris, etc, but even they would be wearing something a little more modern in terms of clothing.

Mary & Henry Crawford; notice the waistline is set below the bust which is more 1820s in terms of silhouette.

Sir Thomas Bertram (Douglas Hodge) & Maria Bertram (Michelle Ryan); notice the waistline on Maria’s gown is more along the lines of the typical Regency gown being under the bust.

Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) & Mrs. Norris (Maggie O’Neill); Notice the echelles (the bows) on Lady B’s gown-that’s pure Georgian (think Madame Pompadour) and more 1760s.

An echelle stomacher from the 1770s (Nordic Museum)

Fanny, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. Look closely and you can see the stomacher on Lady Bertram’s gown.

Basically, from what I saw in this version, I counted the use of Round Gowns (1800s), Robe a l’Anglaise (1760-1780s), stomachers (1740s-1780s), and the Directoire/Regency gowns of the 1810s. Likewise the men’s fashions features the typical Regency coat (like what Henry and Tom wear) to a Victorian-esque Cutaway on Edmund. The costumes, much like the script, was just all over the place.

Mr. Rushworth (Rory Kinnear), Maria Bertram, Henry Crawford, Julia Bertram (Catherine Steadman), Edmund and Mary Crawford. While coats did exist with the cutaway look like Rushworth and Edmund are wearing, the issue was when you saw the back and the bottom of it, it didn’t have the period pleating and were curved (I’ve never seen one curved before the Victorian Era).

Because this version is only two hours, so much from the novel was left out. Portsmouth, of course, was gone as well as the trip to see the Rushworth Estate. Both of those tend to be key scenes and while I can forgive not going to see the Rushworth Estate, having Fanny go to Portsmouth is a big deal in the novel. So much pivots on her leaving Mansfield that having the character remain at Mansfield and everyone else leaving makes absolutely no sense. The ball scene, which is how Fanny starts to realize that Henry Crawford likes her, is replaced with a picnic. They mimic the picnic scene at the end with the wedding as well, which just seems a bit repetitive and shoddy. Outdoor weddings were not a thing at this time. Outdoor wedding receptions were not as thing at this time. Weddings were generally held in the morning and then followed with a congratulatory breakfast/brunch type meal. Now there are examples of veils in museums (I had to do more research after the Paltrow Emma version to find out more), but they seem to be something that was popular after the 1816 wedding of Princess Charlotte. I have had trouble finding any that exist earlier than 1820 as most veils depicted in fashion plates were attached to bonnets.

Princess Charlotte’s 1816 Wedding Dress ((Public domain via www.gogmsite.net/_Media/1816-princess-charlottes-3.jpeg)

A Brussels needlepoint lace wedding veil c. 1820. Christies.com

1820s Brussls Lace Needlepoint Wedding Veil (Christie’s)

The wedding concludes with a Waltz, which if this is set prior to 1815, would not have been danced. It wasn’t allowed by Society until the 1814 Season by the Patronesses at Almack’s. And since not many people would have danced it in 1814, it would take a few months to a year for more people to learn the steps.

Wedding dress, veil and fan ca. 1805 From Napoleon

Supposedly from 1805-see explanation below.

This website claims that this Wedding Dress, Veil and Fan are from 1805. I question this solely because the gown pictures is not very full. Gowns from 1805 were still relatively full in the front and this gown has practically no fullness. Also the original blog doesn’t list were the image came from (as int, what Museum), which is never a good sign. So, could this be from 1805? The fan and veil may be from that year, yes. But veils were not worn as part of the wedding ensemble. I have found no evidence of any fashion plates from this time period tht shows any wedding ensemble with a veil. I’ve seen them with bonnets, but those are rare. If veils were so common, then one would think they would be in portraits and in fashion plates. Veils were not worn during the Georgian Era, and the Regency is a subsection of this same Era. Veils most likely came into fashion with continued trade with India, were veils are worn. And since a majority of extant veils date to 1820, one can conclude that veils were a rarity, if at all worn, prior to 1816 (at the earliest). I do believe, however, that what has been labeled a veil may in fact be a lace shawl based on the length and overall pattern. It looks too ornate to be a veil, but a shawl? It would be appropriate in terms of decoration.

Highly Ornamented 1790 - 1810 Blonde Lace Bonnet / Wedding Veil from marzillivintage on Ruby Lane

1790-1810 Blonde Lace Bonnet/Wedding Veil (Ruby Lane Vintage)

Now compare the previous veil (supposedly from 1805) to this one. The difference being that this one is labeled correctly. The veil originally came from a wedding bonnet (which was in terrible condition and could not be salvaged). Why did I include this with this posting? Because they used a veil in adaptation and also to help inform you, the reader, on how to spot possible misinformation out of the Internet.

1983 BBC Version

The 1983 BBC version is the first and still the best adaptation of Mansfield Park we have available currently. It’s faithful to the novel, it gives us a Fanny Price who has moments of weakness and fragility, but also has an inner strength which shines through. The costumes are lovely and while there are some issues with hair (long hair on men seems to be a running theme with Mansfield Park adaptations), it’s superbly acted. If you are looking for an excellent adaptation, this is one you must watch and own. Also note that Fanny is wearing a Wedding Bonnet and Veil! I do not mind the use of a wedding veil if it’s done accurately.

1999 Theatrical Film Version

I have a soft spot for the 1999 film version. The costumes are lovely and I do like how Fanny is portrayed. She is strong but is vulnerable at times, which works for me. We have an excellent Mary Crawford in this version as well (she divinely wicked one cannot help but enjoy her). While I do not like the blending of Austen’s life with the novel, they did a good job of making it work. They at least kept the key point of going to Portsmouth and bringing up Slavery in Antigua, though not in a historically accurate way. It’s a fun version, not one I think I would own, but if it’s on I’d watch it again.

2007 ITV Version

ITV did such an amazing job with Emma and Northanger Abbey that I was very disappointed with this version. When you compare how well those two (which were also released in 2007) compares to this one in terms of costuming and script, this one just feels rushed. Better costuming and hairstyles would have helped, but more importantly, a better script would have made even the costuming bearable. I do not recommend this one at all. While the cast did a decent job acting, the script is not worth their talents.

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.