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.

 

 

 

Pride & Prejudice 2005 Adaptation

Now we’ve come to the last adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and the second film version (films like Bride & Prejudice, Bridget Jone’s Diary are variations of the novel and I didn’t review them as they are not true novel to screen adaptations, though Bride & Prejudice is a great Bollywood take and highly recommended if you’ve ever wanted a musical version). The 2005 version was adapted by Deborah Moggach who was going to remain faithful to the novel, but was then told to not be by the director Joe Wright. This was a huge mistake.Joe Wright also decided he wanted a “muddy” Regency world and not a clean version. I have no idea what he means by that, but I think it means he decided to not use the novel as a resource and just do whatever the hell he wished to do. And it shows.

Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet

There are those who absolutely love this version. I believe it’s because they’ve never bothered to read the novel and approve of the utter ruination this movie is and to all the other adaptations out there. Bride & Prejudice is more accurate and it’s a Bollywood film set in the modern day. So yes, this film IS this bad. First, let’s go with the terrible script. the Bennets are shown to be filthy, poor, uncouth, and ill-mannered. Lydia comes off as being half-inebriated at all times, which should be a concern considering she’s only 15 and, therefore, should be drinking lemon barley water, tea, and hot chocolate, not all the booze that’s available (even though, historically, the alcohol was watered down). Farm animals would not be let loose in the Bennet household. They are also shown to be living in almost abject poverty. If they are that poor, then why would Mr. Collins even ant to inherit the place? In the novel (and in every other adaptation), the Bennets are landowners. Mr. Bennet owns land, of which he rents out to farmers and probably has people work his own land. This generates a comfortable income and according to the novel, Mr. Bennet earns 2,000 a year (modern equivalent is 160K). That’s not a pittance nor is he a poor man. To show him and his family as such is a slap in the face to Jane Austen herself. In comparison, Darcy has 10K (or 800K in modern terms), Lizzie will get about 40 a year (4K), Wickham inherited 1,000 (80K)  from his father and received an additional 3,000 (240K)  from Darcy to dissolve his claim to the clergy living being held for him, Georgiana’s inheritance of 30K (2.4 Million) know makes much more sense if you see the potential it had.

A pig allowed to wander the Bennet home is completely wrong. Also notice the flilth evidence everywhere-the floors, the walls, the doors. There is no way Darcy would even consider Elizabeth Bennet as a potential spouse as it shows she is extremely beneath him socially. The Bennets are not shown to be of the gentry class, but of the poor.

Another major issue is the casting. I love Donald Sutherland, but his Mr. Bennet was so poorly written that is was beneath a man of his talents to take on the role. Brenda Blethyn is likewise a terrific actress. She is always wonderful, but in this, the script did her no justice as Mrs. Bennet. She comes off with weird one liners that are not based at all on anything written by Jane Austen. She’s made into a character to be ridiculed for her lowness. While Mrs. Bennet is funny in the novel, she should not be made into a caricature. This is an adaptation here, not a pantomime. Keira Knightly as well was completely miscast. I don’t like her Lizzie-she’s cruel, she’s a bitch, and has nothing to recommend her to any man, let alone Darcy. I don’t see anything abut her portrayal which would attract Mr. Darcy or even George Wickham. And as for Mr. Collins proposing to her, while that’s in the novel there’s nothing about her character that even remotely makes sense as the wife of a clergyman. Dame Judi Dench is always lovely, but Lady Catherine seemed to be written to be almost exactly like a previous role she played, Lady Bracknell. there are so many talented people in this cast that because the script was so terrible, their performances suffered.

Jane Bennet (Rosamund Pike), Lizzie, Lydia (Jenna Malone), George Wickham (Rupert Friend), Kitty (Carey Mulligan).

Other issue is the costumes, which were designed by Jacqueline Durran. Because there seems to be no set time period for the film, she used fashions from before 1790s to fashions from 1813. In the same film. While I respect Ms. Durran as a fellow Costume Designer and for winning a BAFTA for her designs for Vera Drake, the costumes for this film were atrocious to put it mildly. While I can potentially see Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine sticking to the fashions of their youth (1750-1770 apparently), it still doesn’t make any logical sense. Now, I can see a woman wearing clothes from her youth that she thought flattered her better than modern fashions. I’ve written a character who does this in my novel, but I also stress it’s because she prefers that style BECAUSE it’s a way for her to hold onto her memories of youth. Yet I have her children dressed in fashion benefiting the time period. For this film, you have fashions from all sorts of time periods existing in one film, in one family, and it’s sloppy design work. Because they all ready messed with the Bennet’s finances, the clothing the family wears is all over the place. Mr. Bennet dresses like a Georgian man, just without the wig, so his style is probably about 1760s. His wife dresses from about 1770s, possibly 1780s at the latest. Jane has a silhouette of the 1810s, while Lizzie is wearing the futuristic silhouette of the 1820s, yet also dresses in clothes from the 1790s (that’s a forty year span).

One of Lizzie’s dresses with a waistline that wouldn’t appear until the mid 1820s, but a dress that feels more 1930s. The novel was published in 1813. Let me repeat that. The NOVEL was published in 1813.

Based on the neckline, I would guess this is an attempt to do a round gown, which was sometimes worn with a sash. Except the sash was worn under the bust, not at the natural waist. Also, the corset she is wearing is Victorian, not Georgian, not Regency. Victorian (yes, they show it in the film and it was Victorian).

A compilation of the costumes worn by Kitty and Lydia. their outfits are more Little House on the Prairie than Jane Austen. Plus they have hair down, which since they are OUT in society, would be up.

Kelly Riley as Caroline Bingley. Her outfits were more correct in terms of waistline. She’s not wearing period undergarments and her ball dress is sleeveless. Sleeveless indicates an under dress, so where’s the rest of her dress?

A better look at the incorrect and inappropriate dress Caroline is wearing. Unless it’s the 1970s.

 

Lady Catherine is more Marie Antoinette than Austen. While I don’t mind the hair and jewelery, I don’t think Lady Catherine would be that out of date in terms of fashion.

So, you may be wondering, are there any good points? I make an effort to find the positive in all of the adaptations. Wickham’s outfit was period correct (it was also worn by the previous Wickham Adrian Lukas-yes, it’s the same exact coat folk from 1995). I thought Andrew Macfayden’s costumes were fairly decent. His hair irked me as it seemed more appropriate for Mr. Collins than Mr. Darcy. If they wanted something different from the previous three Darcys, then a nice, short a la Titus would have looked nice and nice on him. I actually enjoyed his portrayal of Darcy. He seemed less arrogant than Elizabeth and came across as being more of an intellectual, more of a Romantic (think Wordsworth, Lord Byron) than others have portrayed him. He tried so hard to have any sport of chemistry with Keira Knightly is was quite painful to watch. I have always been of an opinion Keira would have excelled in the role of Caroline Bingley and I think she would have enjoyed that role much more and made more of it.

Fitzwilliam Darcy; instead of a pond scene, we get the Romantic man crossing the moors, which I actually like. Its more Bronte than Austen, but I think Austen would not have minded this.

This shot really shows by what I mean by his hair did him no justice. Macfayden has a wonderful profile and beautiful eyes. the hair and the use of black on him wash him out. He deserved better because he was a decent Darcy.

Portrait of a Man 1809 by Francois-Xavier Fabre

Portrait of a Man 1809; this kind of choppy, but loose and textured a la Titus would have suited Macfayden. Curls would not have to be there, but the rough texture would have been really great looking on him.

Rosamund Pike is a lovely Jane Bennet, but her relationship with Bingley is regulated to the background as to be almost non existent. This novel is about Jane and Lizzie for the most part, but the focus was on Lizzie and Darcy. And that’s a shame.

Jane, in a gown made to appear to be around 1810, though the waistline is still too low (I believe that is Mary in the background)

Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Lydia, and Mary (Talulah Riley); Mary is about 20 years too early for true Gothic aesthetic.

Other fine points is the dancing as it’s accurate. It’s fast, loud, rowdy, vigorous and seems to be enjoyed by those participating in it. Another fine point is they show a large breakfast being served around 10AM, which is accurate (for more details, please find my blog about Breakfast). For a family that has been written in this version to be so poor, it’s then weird to have Mrs. Bennet inform Mr. Collins that they have a maid. there are so many contradictions in this version it truly does bother me. If you look at the extras in the film, you can see they are all wearing fashions with waistlines from 1808-1810, which I find a bit humorous that the extras are more period correct than the cast.

The Netherfield Ball; Jane’s dress is more of a round gown, but the waist sash is too low. Lizzie’s dress is too modern. the person right next to Lizzie is wearing a gown with a waistline right under her bust, which is period correct.

Hair, like costumes, is an issue. Wickham’s hair has a greasy ponytail for some reason. Men weren’t wearing ponytails after the 1800s. Again, there is nothing about this film that makes sense. Lizzie walks to Meryton with her hair down, which is just wrong on so many levels. She also goes to see Darcy in her nightgown, so there’s that as well. Bingley’s hair is straight from the 1980s meets Harry Styles. It makes no sense. His hair also goes from being a dark red to a reddish blond, which either indicates the scenes were filmed at different times or the lighting was just as weird as the script.

Charles Bingley (Simon Woods)

The 1940 film version

The 1940 Film Version: I recommend this version. It’s still charming and fun. Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson sparkle as Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. While it’s not very accurate, it’s more accurate than the 2005 version and has a much better script. Plus every Darcy since Olivier has been made to look like Olivier (except Macfayden), so there’s a reason for that.

The 1980 (UK) or 1983 (US) BBC Version

The 1980/1983 BBC Version: Again, I recommend this version. While it’s the longest version out there, it’s worth it. We have costumes that were trying to accurate and they succeed for the most part. We have a wonderful script and terrific cast. A few odd choices here and there, but we also get the only (in my opinion) age appropriate Lady Catherine. It’s by no means perfect (no adaptation is), but it still holds up over 30 years later.

1995 BBC/A&E Version

1995 BBC/A&E Version: This really is one of the most perfect adaptations of Pride & Prejudice to date. We have an excellent script, wonderful cast and crew, lovely costumes and breathtaking locations. While the dancing in it isn’t always period correct, it’s still lovely to watch. This is a very hard version to find any flaws with. Colin Firth was worried he would not be taken seriously as Darcy because of Laurence Olivier (you did well Mr. Firth).

2005 Film Version

2005 Film Version: If you are looking for an adaptation that adheres to the novel, this film is not it. The 1940 version has a better script than this one. And I wanted to like this one because I have admired Andrew Macfayden ever since I saw him in Spooks (I watch a lot of British television). But I think a poor script, poor direction, a lot of errors in casting, and all the wrong historical elements (as in being ignored) made this film painful to watch. While Pride & Prejudice is not my favorite Austen novel, it’s one that I do enjoy. If this film was called Lizzie Bennet or Lizzie & Darcy with the premise that this would be a very loose adaptation of the novel, I could see it an enjoy it for the extremely loose usage of the novel in the script. But this was presented and advertised as a fresh new adaptation of the novel. So, while I love Andrew Macfayden as an actor and really did think he made a very decent Darcy, I cannot recommend this film in good conscious. It is a disservice to Jane Austen and the other adaptations that exist out there. Not even the 1987’s Northanger Abbey was this bad (and that adaptation had serious issues of which I have all ready written about).

 

 

Pride & Prejudice: 1940 Film Adaptation

Finally I have come to the (perhaps) most well-known of Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice. Published in 1813, it has remained one of Austen’s best known and most favorite novels. This brings us to the 1940 film adaptation. The screenplay was written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin based on a stage adaptation by Helen Jerome (produced in 1936), with some scenes adapted from the novel as they were not in the stage version. Now, this production is very interesting from a historical standpoint. Many people on-line complain that they believe the costumes were leftovers from Gone with the Wind (which came out in 1939). This is wholly inaccurate. This film was set to begin filming in 1936 (two years prior to Gone with the Wind) with Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in the lead roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy under the direction of Irving Thalberg. Thalberg died unexpectedly in September of 1936, so the film was shelved until a new director could be found. Then in August 1939, MGM tapped George Cukor to direct with Robert Donat replacing Clark Gable and to film in Europe. Because of WWII, the MGM studios in England had to be shut down in September 1939, so filming then moved to the US. Cukor was replaced by Robert Z. Leonard due to scheduling issues. Leonard decided upon Greer Garson & Laurence Oliver to star (and for that, we are ever so thankful). Like Gone with the Wind, this had a tremendous budget of $1.4 Million. So, now  you know the history of all the issues of getting this film made, let’s now focus on the film.

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Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet

This is the very first film version of Austen’s novel and it is a black & white film, There are colorized version out there, but I would highly recommend one stick to the original format, which is black & white.  Out of all the versions I have watched, it has one of the most interesting, and dare I say, dynamic beginning to the story. There is the usual little scenes introducing us to the various characters, but the most dynamic scene is the carriage race between Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas as to see who can reach their husband first in order to share the news of Netherfield being finally let. It’s completley different and due to technology at the time, you can tell it was shot in front of a screen. However, it really tells the audience Mrs. Bennet is focused on getting her girls married and will go to hilarious lengths (such as racing her carriage) to try and get an introduction to available men. It’s fun, silly, and informs you that the pacing of this film is going to be faster than the typical historical drama. I believe this to work in it’s favor.

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Jane Bennet (Maureen O’Sullivan), Elizabeth, Mary Bennet (Marsha Hunt), and Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland)

Now, the costumes (I feel it is important to discuss it first because I am sure many of you are wondering how I feel about it). I actually don’t mind the costumes. The film moves the general setting of 1812-1813 to around 1829-1835 (I feel it’s closer to the early 1830s). Sometimes I do feel the crinoline cage being used may be too “modern” because it was more used after the 1840s, and perhaps they should have stuck to using many petticoats to achieve fullness. Yet I do have to keep in mind that this is Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s and historical accuracy isn’t a high priority at this time. The overall silhouette is fairly consistent with the 1830s. The hats are not, but I believe they were designed that way for the lighting (which was not as advanced as it is now). The dresses come across as luscious, romantic, and elegant. We must keep in mind that in the 1830s, many of the issues in Jane Austen’s novels were still relevant and contemporary. Moving the costumes and setting twenty years forward doesn’t really change the plot of the novel. Now, some people think the costumes were from Gone with the Wind (I’ve read many blog articles of people who believe that) or are from fairly close to the Civil War, but the silhouette is all wrong.

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Mr. Bennet (Edmund Gwenn) & Elizabeth

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Same dress on Elizabeth with Darcy (Laurence Oliver)

Dress ca. 1830 From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Rush Dresses, Historical Costume, Historical Clothing, Historical Dress, Victorian Fashion, 1800s Fashion, Antique Clothing, Fashion History, Biedermeier

Dress from the 1830s (courtesy of the Met; notice the similarities in silhouette, the puffed sleeves and even the belt on this dress with the outfit worn by Garson for her archery scene.

Cotton Print Day dress, 1830 (courtesy of the Moscow City Museum); again, similar to Garson’s dress with the sleeves, shoulders, and waistline.

1860 dress. Connecticut Historical Society.

1860s Day dress (courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society); I deliberately looked for a day dress with puffed sleeves to make the contrast easier. First, notice the sleeves are dropped and aren’t at the shoulder line. It’s not as puffy and the bodice has no pleating (it’s basically streamlined). The skirt is still full, but it looks like this has more fabric around the waist than the Moscow dress, which would be sensible since a crinoline cage would be worn under this while the Moscow dress would rely on quilted petticoats.

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Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) and Mr. Bennet; again, notice the puffy sleeves. This looks more like the Moscow dress with the lace collar.

I know that was quite a lot of information, but hopefully just by looking at the stills from this film and comparing the costumes to what existing Museums, one can easily tell that the costumes are from the 1830s and not from the 1860s. Because it was set in the 1830s, the men are still in similar jackets from the late Georgian/Regency era, but instead of wearing knee breeches, men are wearing pantaloons now (Beau Brummel’s influence from evening wear has become standard men’s attire at this point). A nice period embellishment is velvet on the upper part of the collars for Darcy. That was a trend that started about the late 1820s and continued for most of the 19th Century (off and on really).

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Darcy’s velvet collar

Changes from the novel that you will notice (if you’ve ever read it) is there are no Hursts, no Gardiners, no Aunt in town and no Georgiana (she’s mentioned but I believe is never seen). Collins was changed from being a clergyman to a librarian because this was the time of the Hayes code and it was against the Code to make fun of members of clergy (the code was abandoned by the mid 1950s and yes, it was Catholic in origin). Lady Catherine confronts Elizabeth in order to “test” her worthiness for her nephew (and I think the cousin Anne is missing as well because I cannot recall if she’s even in the film!). The film is just over two hours and a lot was cut. Some scenes like the carriage race and the archery were added because I believe they were trying to appeal to the same audiences who loved Gone with the Wind and films like Captain Blood. One has to keep in mind that Pride & Prejudice, as a novel, has very little action in it. Audiences still love seeing action (I myself love the film Hot Fuzz and Thor: Ragnorak), and the writers were trying to find a way of implementing some action, some external conflicts to make it more palatable to audiences of that time period. What I do find funny is the archery scene clearly influenced the same scene in 1995’s Emma (with almost some of the same witty dialogue).

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Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Edna May Oliver)

Things that are from the novel is the witty banter. Yes, some of the dialogue was changed and some was added (possibly due to the Hayes code or from the stage version). The conflict between Darcy, Wickham, and Lizzie remains. Jane still gets sick on her way to keep Caroline Bingley company. Charlotte still marries Mr. Collins. Wickham still elopes with Lydia. Kitty and Lydia are still extremely silly. Netherfield Ball still occurs and Lizzie still goes to visit Charlotte. The manners are still there, but it’s more of a comedy of manners than a strict novel to film version. But it works in it’s own way. You have Garson who is lovely as Elizabeth and Laurence is a charming, suave, and witty Darcy. Olivier oozes sexual charm and we could not have asked for a better version of Darcy. Yes, the actors are all older than the characters, but at this point in Hollywood, people were cast based on their talent first, age sometimes was not as much as an issue.

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Lady Catherine & Darcy

The cast is sometimes perfection and sometimes not. O’Sullivan is the first non-blonde Jane Bennet we have seen. She is sweetness and charm, which is how Jane should be. Mary and Mrs. Bennet are over the top in terms of being silly and ridiculous, which I don’t like. The actresses do a good job and play their part well, but the characters are written more for comedic relief than anything else (again, this was the trend at that time). Lady Catherine likewise is sometimes played for comedic purposes, but it sort of fits. Collins is always ridiculous, poor man. Bruce Lester as Mr. Bingley is quite forgettable. The whole relationship of Jane and Bingley take a back seat to Lizzie and Darcy. Karen Morely is a wonderful Charlotte Lucas. Morely is beautiful, wise, and sensible (I’ve always thought Charlotte should be pretty in some fashion).

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Lizzie & Darcy

So, what do I think? I think it’s a fun, playful first attempt at a Jane Austen novel. It’s not perfect and gets quite a few things wrong, but you get caught up in the playful, witty dialogue of Lizzie & Darcy that you just forget. I don’t mind the moving of the novel to a different time period because it really changed nothing . All the society norms and expectations didn’t drastically change in 1830 from 1813 when it first was published. I’m fairly certain one could move the film even to the Edwardian Era without having to change much because roles of women (and the expectations of how we were to behave) remained fairly constant until after WWI. This film still has (currently) a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which says something about how fun of a film it is to have that high of a rating. To contrast, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice currently has an 86% approval rating. Sixty five years and the older film has the better score.

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For a first attempt, I love it. Yes, it might not do for some people because it’s not in color. It’s not wholly accurate. It was set in a different period. But the charm, the vicarious quality of the main actors, is still there, still worth viewing. The bonus is it has a typical Hollywood ending in that Lydia and Mary have suitors, thus making Mrs. Bennet extremely happy. It’s well worth the viewing, if you’ve never seen it. And worth adding to your library, if you love Jane Austen or Classic Films.

Mansfield Park: 1999 Film Adaptation

The 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield park is extremely unusual as it’s not just based on the novel. The writer of the screenplay, Patricia Rozema, also blended the letters and juvenila of Jane Austen into the script in order to give Fanny Price a pseduo-Jane Austen persona. While it’s an intriguing take on the novel, it’s also inherently wrong to blend the author’s life with that of her character.

Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price

Now, they start off with an inaccuracy by having the mother, Mrs. Price, send Fanny away to Mansfield as if it were her choice. In the novel, it’s clearly stated that Fanny’s presence is requested by Mrs. Price’s sisters, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram, and with so many mouths to feed at home, Mrs. Price is more than happy to send her oldest daughter off to her aunts to be feed and clothed. It’s as if the screen writer wanted to place the burden of the decision on the mother. They screen writer also did away with the older brother, William, who is usually an important figure in the novel. He purchases the amber cross to Fanny and is her most regular corespondent. The relationship between William and Fanny contrasts exceptionally well with the sibling relationship of the Bertrams and Crawfords. That fact it was removed is sad. It was replaced with Fanny writing to her younger sister, Susan, in an attempt to make her more like Jane Austen and the author’s correspondence with her elder sister, Cassandra. I don’t mind the slight change in correspondent, but feel that they could have had Fanny write to both William and Susan. Why not show Fanny is close to both siblings instead of choosing one?

Fanny as Authoress

Another glaring inaccuracy is young Fanny seeing a slave ship and hearing the cries of the salves as they are either being tortured, raped, or killed. She is told by the driver that the ship is bringing it’s human cargo to Portsmouth. However, the slave trade (that is, bringing slaves to England) was banned by this time. They would trade slaves for sugar and tobacco in places like the West Indies and Antigua, then bring those items back to places like Portsmouth. For more information, I suggest looking up the history of the  Triangular Trade. While I can see that the filmmakers wanted to bring up the issue of slavery to the film, they could have done it another way. Such as having a young Fanny learn about Antigua or the West Indies and writing a letter to her sister about what she has learned for far. It would have brought the issue up in the film without making such a huge historical faux pas.

Hannah Taylor-Gordon as Young Fanny Price.

Now, there are some really good points in this film that I must point out. O’Connor is delightful as Fanny Price. Like the 1983 version, she is charming in the role and makes it her own. She is more playful and less serious at times, but it works for this adaptation. James Purefoy is hilarious as Tom Bertram (they even reference him going through an “artistic phase” and his “modern” painting, which I did love). Johny Lee Miller (yes, he’s back!) portrays Edmund Bertram. His second time in an adaptation of Mansfield park (having portrayed Charlie Price in the 1983 version) then, of course, he went on to portray Mr. knightly in 2007. I have a suspicions he may try to be in an adaptation of all of Austen’s works at some point in his life.

James Purefoy as Tom Bertram

Johny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram & Fanny

An interesting point by introducing Tom Bertram as being artistic is then they can use that “skill” to show the ugliness of slavery (which was still rampant in the West Indies and Antigua) in Tom’s sketches that Fanny accidentally comes across. The images you see on screen are not pretty. They are violent, graphic, and depict acts of murder and rape. But they are images being used to explain why Tom then comes home and goes on a death wish to try and kill himself by drinking and partying to an excess. It’s a behavior that’s never explained in the novel, other than he’s just one of those frivolous types, so I do like having a more solid reasoning behind the compulsion. It also explains some of Sir Thomas’ attitudes and actions. It’s a nice touch of historical research that was added to clarify what a property in Antigua would involve for those of us that would have no idea. It’s knowledge that would have been known to contemporary audiences at the time of the original publication that is no longer common knowledge.

Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas Bertram & Fanny as she looks through Tom’s sketchbook from Antigua.

Because so much of the novel had to be condensed and left out for the film, the Grants are mentioned once and I suppose we are to presume that the Crawfords are just renting the Parsonage for the season (they are also said to be returning to the neighborhood, which is, I suppose, a way of trying to connect them to Mansfield without the Grants). It is unclear if the Grants are living in the Parsonage or not. It’s a very vague sort of area that is never fully explained. Also, considering Mrs. Norris’ husband was the prior Reverend and Edmund is not ordained, it leaves the question as to whom is the spiritual leader of the parish if no one has been selected? It’s a major plot  hole that is glaringly obvious. Especially when Maria gets married. Unless we are to presume the priest performing the ceremony is Mr. Grant (not listed as such in the credit, however). The Crawfords, though, are pure sex (as I believe they are meant to be. They are flirtatious, sensual, handsome, and worldly. they are everything that the Bertrams are not and are lacking. They are refinement on a scale that was not seen before, which is in line with the novel.

Alessandro Nivola As Henry Crawford & Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford

Now, we come to an interesting part, which is the costumes. While the novel was not published until 1814, in the film, Mary Crawford declares that the year is 1806, making the film set prior to the Napoleonic Wars, but after the American Revolution. The costumes do not reflect this at all. I would guess that the dresses are definitely after 1810 in fashion. And of course, there is a sensual scene with Fanny being undressed by Mary after getting soaked in the rain. It seems every Austen adaptation must include some kind of corset of nightwear scene for audience titillation. Quite frankly, it bores me. But the reason why the dresses in particular are not from 1806 is that they are too straight, too linear. Dresses from 1806 were still quite full in appearance. The slim lines we associate with the regency silhouette started to appear around 1808-1810. 1806 was still a softer, more gathered type of gown.

April 1806; notice the soft gathers under the bust.

1806 Cotton Muslin (Charleston Museum); again, notice the delicate gathering under the bust.

While lovely, Fanny’s ball gown is straight in the front.

1810s Embroidered Cotton (Charleston Museum); this looks more like the Ball Gown Fanny is wearing in terms of silhouette.

Also this gown, which is worn again and is particularly too tight and fitted for this time period.

Also, this is a modern corset. With modern steel fastenings.

Things I am perplexed about in this adaptation are why have Fanny accept Henry Crawford’s proposal only to go back on her word the next day? That is out of character for Fanny. Unless it is meant to be a parallel with Jane Austen, who accepted a man, only to inform him the next day that they would not suit each other. It’s just odd. But then, I’ve always found it odd that Austen has Henry go down this road to redemption, only to screw up up and never fully be redeemed. Sort of like he’s a half-finished character or tale she never quite got right. I didn’t like seeing Henry and Maria having sex under Sir Bertram’s roof. I am aware that when they leave together in London, it is implied in the novel that they are having an affair. We do not need to see it. the fact that Maria leaves her husband is bad enough. Edmund seems to have issues with his manstick at times (his lip color seems too dark once in a while, that is definitely a makeup department issue). Another weird issue is in the novel, when Maria leaves with Crawford, Julia elopes with Mr. Yates. Instead, they end the film with Julia receiving mail from Mr. Yates. It’s a weird deviation from the novel that I don’t quite like because it seems awkward. Well, to be honest, the whole pantomime ending is a bit weird and awkward. I don’t mind it, but I don’t like it. There was also a conscious attempt at implying Mary Crawford was bisexual and sexually interested in Fanny Price. Now, the screen writer and director state that it’s directly implicated in the novel. I’ve read the novel several times and find no instances of Mary making any sexual advances towards Fanny. She expressed interest in Tom Bertram because he’s the heir, but falls for Edmund, despite the fact he’s to be a clergyman and she doesn’t like clergymen.

One of the weird staged endings.

There’s also the question as to the inappropriateness of Fanny being seen in her nightgown by her Uncle (when Henry Crawford wishes to propose the first time) and also when he follows her to Plymouth and proposes the second time (using fireworks and doves). I know it’s done to convey awkwardness and other factors, but ladies back then would not have appeared so in front of men. Especially in front of their uncles and prospective husbands! they had these things called dressing gowns that could have been quickly donned before being seen. Why no adaptation wishes to utilize them I have no idea. They should because it’s accurate and it’s also a nice piece of costuming to add. Not to mention they can wear it when getting hair done, or when getting dressed, etc. It was a very useful garment.

1810-1820 Dressing Gown (Met Museum)

So, do I recommend this film? It is enjoyable and a really short film to watch at only 112 minutes. It’s not as accurate as the 1983 BBC version, but it’s the only major studio adaptation we have. As far as I can tell, there is no current plans to do another one anytime soon. As far as the novel, it is one of my favorites and I do recommend people read the novel first before watching any adaptation. Fanny Price has many nuances that no adaptation can every fully capture.

 

Henry Crawford, Victoria Hamilton as Maria Bertram, & Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Rushworth

Mansfield Park: 1983 Version

Forgive me for being so silent these past two weeks. My beloved cat, Jack, has terminal cancer and I’ve been at home processing this while trying to give him the best care possible in these last weeks he has left. He currently is doing well, is not in any major pain, and enjoyed cuddling with me these past two weeks while I continued my foray in the realm of Austen adaptations.

Angela Pleasance as Lady Bertram and Snuff as Pug

Today I wish to write about the 1983 BBC Mansfield Park adaptation. Mansfield Park was published in 1814, still in Jane Austen’s lifetime (a second printing was done in 1818 after her death, but no one gave any reviews of the novel until 1821). Oddly enough, John Plumtree, once time suitor to Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight, enjoyed this particular novel and approved of the way the clergy were portrayed in it. It’s true, in most of Austen’s works, she tends to ridicule the clergy for being overly pompous or vain, no doubt having come across such specimens in her own lifetime (or having heard about such men from her father). In Edmund Bertram, we get a man of the cloth who is sympathetic, kind, and one we do believe is suited for this profession (Mr. Tilney from Northanger Abbey is another, but since that novel was published after the author’s death, no doubt Mr. Plumtree would also have approved of it). This is one historical fact we must keep in mind when reading the works of Jane Austen or any writer pre-20th Century-men did go into the Church not as a calling per se, but as a viable profession. That’s not to say all men didn’t feel some pull towards the Church, but this was a time when it was seen as a career choice, not a spiritual calling (this is not Evangelicalism, you understand).

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price

This adaptation was done by Kenneth Taylor for the BBC and stars some actors which may be all ready familair since these names have appeared in other Austen adaptations. Sylvestra Le Touzel is Fanny Price and should be familiar to anyone who’s watched the ITV 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey as she portrayed Mrs. Allen. As Fanny Price, she absolute perfection. She perfectly captures the unique quality of Fanny being the thin line of always having to obey the wishes of her family (The Bertrams) while trying to stay true to herself. The character is not an easy one to understand to most modern audiences. But one that I do understand and sympathize with a great deal. Fanny Price is neither a member of the family nor is she a servant, so she lives in a sort of purgatory realm. How she behaves and how she is treated by others is clearly a reflection of this. Fanny is often put upon to run errands for Mrs. Norris in all kinds of unsuitable weather because if she doesn’t, she is then told of how ungrateful she is behaving. Fanny’s life is never her own and she lives to be obliging to others because that is all she knows. I have often thought if that’s how Austen herself saw herself when she visited rich relations, a sort of obliging relative who must always agree with the host no matter what because of the lack of funds. But I have digressed too far off topic.

Anna Massey as Mrs. Norris

Unlike the earlier versions of other adaptations, this one appears to have been filmed inside an actual house for some scenes (if not all), which does give an air of authenticity to everything. If some of it was a set, it was extremely well done and I couldn’t find fault with it. The beginning is a bit unusual as it starts with a discussion of what to do with Fanny Price as she has been sent for. It’s taken directly from the novel and it’s interesting to see the conversation played out. Mrs. Norris (portrayed by the incredibly talented Anna Massey) convinced Sir Thomas and her sister, Lady Bertram to send for Fanny Price, but then seems to delight in telling them she cannot have the child live with her because it would upset her husband, the Vicar, too much. Important to note that they do actually show Mr. Norris on two occassions-once in the church and at his funeral. I don’t believe any other adaptation has ever shown Mr. Norris before, so I did like it. Some reviews get confused by the costumes and I do believe it’s because they think an adaptation should only exist in one short period of time, when this version starts off with the arrival of Fanny as a child, then progresses to her as a young woman shortly afterwards. To end the confusion, I believe the fashions of the late 1790s is what we first see on screen, which would make sense. It could even be early 1800s (the dresses pf the late 1790s could be worn in the early 1800s, so that would no be an issue). Then we clearly are 10 years later, so fashions would be around 1810-1815. I cannot give an exact date, but I am fairly certain that a general span of five years if pretty good. Now, this is important to show the passage of time because fashions would have changed in ten years, but to see Mrs. Norris sometimes wearing older gowns not only speaks of her thrifty ways, but how she is not one of those who is up to date on her fashions. Lady Bertram, on the other hand, is usually dressed in the same vein as her daughters, which would be expected for a wealthy lady at that time (though she spends most of her day longing about, she is wearing more fashionable attire).

Robert Burbage as Henry Crawford and Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford

While I do like the costumes, I do have issue with hair-particularly the long hair on both Tom and Edmund Bertram. While men did have long hair in the Georgian Era, by the time of the French Revolution, young men tended to cut their locks in order to reject the style of their fathers and grandfathers. So, having the young Bertrams with long hair is just weird if it is 1810 at the earliest as it would have been very unfashionable for men. Now, they seem to rectify this by having Tom reappear after his return from London with shorter hair, which I whole heartedly approve of as it shows he’s much more aware of fashion than his family who are living in the country. Yet Edmund never cuts his and it is a problem. They are either trying to show Edmund is as conservative or aligning him with his father, or showing he is very old fashioned, which is an unusual choice. then, they also show William, Fanny’s brother with long hair and it just doesn’t seem right. He’s in the Royal Navy and while I am sure there were men with long hair, it would seem odd that someone in the officer arena would be that out of touch with Fashion.

Christopher Villiers as Tom Bertram & Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram; both have long hair, which is very out of place for men at this point in time.

Allan Hendrick as William Price, Fanny & Henry Crawford.

Contrast their long locks with the Crawfords, who are sporting almost identical short, curly hair. Women did have short hair at this time. And it’s rare to see it being shown in any adaptation, so I do like it. I don’t mind both of the Crawfords have similar curly hair as it shows that they are related and like to be very fashion forward. Even their half sister, Mrs. Grant, is shown with similar dark hair which is seen to be wavy, if not a little curly. Clearly, this is a trait in order to visually inform us that they are related. Other than that, I like seeing Sir Bertram and Mr. Price in wigs. Older men wore wigs (not all older men, but some), so it’s a nice contrast between the two fathers. Fanny’s hair improves once her uncle returns and the wedding takes place (which I did like as it showed some attention was finally being paid to her).

Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas Bertram. Note the wig.

There are some really nice costume details that if you aren’t aware of them, you will not notice them. Fanny wears a lavender gown with a drop front bodice. it’s a nice detail for two reasons; the first being you don’t often see a drop front bodice used in adaptations and the second being since Fanny would be dressing herself, a dress that closed in the front would be logical. It shows that research was done and an understanding of how a woman, without any servants to help, would dress at this time in history. It’s also why I like how simple Fanny’s hairstyles are, compared to Maria’s or Julia’s. They have maids to assist them in getting ready (in fact, they show Mrs. Norris and Fanny helping them decide on accessories for a ball). Fanny has no help and must do the best with her abilities.

The infamous drop front bodice!

Overall, this is a very good, very faithful adaptation to the novel. Fanny goes to Plymouth and you see her family. There is a coarseness in how they behave and dress. Fanny is close to William, and they write each other a lot. Mrs. Norris is annoying, but you expect her to be so. Lady Bertram is expert at languishing anywhere, anytime, which is how she is in the novel. Pug was given the gender of being strictly female in this version (in the novel, Pug is a male dog, then a female dog later one, making one think that when one “Pug” dies, another takes its place and name). There is dancing, music, fun, and enjoyment. It is a long adaptation, I will not lie. But if you want a version that is true to the novel and is superbly acted, then you must see this one.

 

Fun Fact: Johny Lee Miller, who portrayed Mr. Knightly in 2007’s BBC Emma, is Charlie Price in this version. Samantha Bond, who portrays Maria Bertram, also portrayed Mrs, Weston in 1996’s ITV Emma.

Edmund & Fanny

 

Persuasion Adaptations: Part 1

Now, I must confess that Jane Austen’s Persuasion is by far my favorite of her novels. So, one would think that there would be a plethora of adaptations available to pick and chose in order to discuss which ones work and which ones don’t. Shockingly, there have been only 4 adaptations of this wonderful novel. A BBC Miniseries in the early 1960s (which they erased and has been “lost”) is considered the first and regrettably no one can view it. There are a few still photographs available on-line and the cast list makes me wish a copy may one day be found. The second adaptation is a 1971 BBC/ITV version and is now available on DVD. The third, and probably most well known, is the 1995 version which is a BBC/A&E collaboration which was released as an independent film (more on that in Part 2). And finally, a 2007 BBC/ITV production. Since there are only three available, this makes it much easier on my part to discuss each in their own posting (parts), which will end with a conclusion on the last part regarding my recommendation. So, let us begin with the oldest, shall we?

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Wentworth (Mutton Chops!), Anne, and Charles Musgrove in Bath.

Persuasion (1971) adaptation was adapted by Julian Mitchell and originally aired in five episodes. When you see it now on DVD, it is only in 2 parts, which makes it easier to view (there’s definitely more of an unbroken story this way) but be aware it IS long (thankfully we have pause functions). Things that do stand out that are commendable about this version is the adherence to the text. The stillborn son is mentioned and this is the only adaptation to mention Sir Walter’s wife did have children other than the three daughters. I do love the over abundance of mirrors placed around the set of Kellynch to show rather than tell us how vain Sir Walter is because this is a fundamental part of his character and there is a reference in the novel to him having an excessive amount of looking glasses in his bedchamber, so this subtle way of reinforcing that concept is nice. I should warn whomever does seek out to watch this adaptation that there is a major difference from when the actors are inside to when they are outside. Some of this is simply down to the way it was filmed (this was done in 1970) and while the outside scenes are lovely, the inside scenes are definitely done on a set or sound-stage. I found that to be a trifle disappointing, but considering other adaptations done around the same time, this seems to be the normal procedure so I do take this into consideration.

The cast is a mixture of people who truly fit the role and those who seem just an odd fit. Ann Fairbank is wonderful as Anne Elliot. She is charming, able to convey silently all those emotions we know Anne is feeling, but also able to not seem like a weakling, which is not how I see Anne Elliot, but many people feel she should be portrayed this way. As the only original Anne Elliot we have, we have an excellent actress who does fit this role even when watching it today. Bryan Marshall is Captain Frederick Wentworth and while he is the perfect counterbalance to Ann Fairbank, he doesn’t quite fit the role of a Royal Naval Captain. While the pair are able to convey a shared past to us, I do feel his performance would not have been as convincing as it was without such am excellent Anne Elliot to pull it from him. I don’t “buy” into his role until about half way through. Now, this could have been done on purpose, to somehow make the audience feel awry about the good Captain and his intentions until part way through the series (which fits the novel), but in order to “buy” into this love story (and it IS a love story), you have to want to be with Captain Wentworth. You have to make some sort of emotional connection to his character (which is a basic tenant I learned during my Theatre days) or you lose the audience. He loses me, which is sad because he’s a fine actor.

As for the other actors, I thought Sir Walter was a very good casting as was Mr. Shepherd. I don’t mind the actress who portrays Mrs. Clay because she is sweet and conniving, which is a unique way of portraying that character. Elizabeth Elliot and Mary Musgrove both look younger than Anne Elliot, which is an issue considering in the novels, Elizabeth is the eldest and Mary is the youngest (Anne is the middle child). I do understand that one casts for the part, but it was unusual. Lady Russell was neither elegant nor motherly and I had issues as well as the casting of the Crofts and the Musgroves as well.  Lady Russell is described as being an elegant widow and she was portrayed and costumed a bit dowdy, which is an affront to the novel. The Crofts in no way seemed like they had ever been to sea and I didn’t believe Mrs. Croft was sister to Wentworth (they are siblings in the novel). There was almost no sense of a sibling relationship there which I was missing. The Musgroves are said to be large and were cast as two fairly tiny individuals. I’ve not yet deiced whether I like William Elliot or not. However, Captain Harville (poor man!), kept switching which leg was injured in this adaptation (a cane would have greatly helped). Captain Harville would have made an excellent William Elliot in my opinion (basically, switch those actors and I believe it would have been a great improvement).

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Anne in Lady Russell’s home. Notice the Oriental Vibe.

The costumes are…typical of the 1970s in that they are trying to be historically accurate, but at the same time, they are costuming as if for the stage and not film, so you do see zippers. A lot of zippers and a hodge podge of styles ranging from 1810 to 1830 in one story. FYI, the story of Persuasion takes place in 1814-1815 and is the only Jane Austen novel that we have a definite time-line as it begins with Napoleon being sent to Elba and ends before he escapes. Why this is so hard to keep in mind for all the adaptations, I cannot fathom. Getting back to the costumes in this one-the men were wearing trousers more suitable for Jane Eyre than Austen. The prints, if you can tell from the above image, are very late 1960s. If I were to show a profile of any of the ladies in this adapataion, you would get the nice bullet nipple profile, which is NOT historically accurate. As you can tell, the hair was not good at all. Ann Fairbank had, for the most part, what I can only describe as a sort of pushed back beehive. I can only surmise they were trying to fit the hairstyles into the bonnets, not realizing that women’s hair did not need to fit the exact shape of a poke bonnet.

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Elizabeth Elliot. Her hair is more 1820s. And her dress is very psychedelic.

The facial hair on the men as well is a bit weird. Now, I have seen some portraits of men during this time with facial hair. Mutton chops, however, are so closely tied with the Victorian aesthetic that it’s such an unusual choice here.

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Wentworth (Mutton Chops!) & Anne at the End. Her hair is vastly improved.

It does feel, and I have no way of knowing if it’s true or not, but many of the men’s clothes in particular were made for future Victorian adaptations or were pulled from stock. And while they are from the 19th Century, clothes befitting a man in the late 1820s to early 1830s is completely different profile wise from what he would be wearing in 1810-1815. The same applies to the costumes for the women. The waistlines varied from right under the bust to a few inches lower, which completely changes the profile of the gown being worn. Yes, this may sound a bit like I am picking on this adaptation, but there are some points that do work historically.

First is they do try to use silks, velvets, printed fabrics for the ladies and wool, suede, and rich jewel colors for the men. This is historically accurate in terms of what they were trying to achieve, but they just didn’t quite reach that threshold of being accurate. But for a “first” attempt (since the 1960s version is lost, this, for all accounts, is the first version available), it’s not bad. Secondly, the interior sets are full of Rocco elements, which I do like. People tend to think places like Kellynch and the Great Hall would have been completely Regency/Late Georgian inside and that’s not even remotely true. Elizabeth makes a statement in the novel about not redoing a room because of the lack of funds. How long has it been since the room was redone? Possibly close to thirty years if the last time it was redone was in the time of Elizabeth’s mother, which means styles would have drastically changed. Even if it was only fifteen years, that’s still a significant change in interior aesthetic which could be shown. So, in my opinion, the use of Rocco and mid Georgian Era elements fits for both interior shots (they even use a slight Oriental theme in Lady Russell’s home which was very popular starting around 1810 due to the Prince Regent and John Nash. Now, the colors used at times are a bit jarring (the bright reds and really bold greens) because softer colors were used and a bit more acceptable colors. This doesn’t mean bold colors were never used (Red patterned wallpaper in a Chinese design was very popular thanks to Prinny and Brighton), but I do have to keep in mind that the interior scenes are not shot inside actual homes, but on a set somewhere, and the bolder colors may have been used to help with lightening, but to also help the sets stand out from the black background.

Thirdly, I do appreciate using jewelry on the women and makeup. Regardless of what people try to tell you, makeup was still in use and still being manufactured. While white lead faces were no longer the acceptable look, the use of lip color, rouge, perhaps a little bit of kohl around the eyes was being used. Not much, as they did want to go for a more naturalistic look, but even today, the natural look requires makeup. And an effort was made to make Anne seem to take an interest in her looks after Wentworth makes the comment that she basically looks terrible. Even her hair, as badly styled as it is, does improve and ends up resembling something a bit more Regency at the end.

Fourthly, and I am completely sincere in this, I am grateful that even though the trousers are not accurate, Wentworth’s pants are a trifle snug. As are Captain Harville’s. I am a single woman in possession of wit and a fine mind, but even I can appreciate the male form when placed before me on display. I am not dead yet.

Finally, while this does have things that are not accurate, it is very faithful to the novel. The acting in it is exceptional and even though there are some odd casting choices, those people do a good job with their respective roles. The music used is original to the adaptation and is beautifully done. I have not yet been able to see if it’s available on CD, but I would not mind having the music because it is so well done. Since receiving this DVD for my birthday, I’ve seen this adaptation three times, so let’s just say I don’t dislike it.

The Greatest Showman: Or what in the Humbugery is all this Nonsense?

Firstly, I’ve had a bit of a inner struggle recently on whether to consider myself a 19th Century Historian or not based on the simple fact that I do not have a degree in History. I do, however, have a Masters in Theatre in the realm of Costume Design and over 32+ hours of graduate hours in History courses (from two well-respected Universities) which is sort of the equivalent of a Masters degree in of itself. I don’t take such a designation lightly, but I did reach out (quietly) to people with Masters and Doctorates and asked them their opinions. All ten assured me that I had all the qualifications of being considered a Historian because I met a few simple guidelines being I had spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours studying my specific area of expertise. That I could, without much hesitation, answer their questions in a timely manner (up to ten minutes) via Skype and not needing to resort to Google but only using my personal notes meant I would be able to pass an oral exam if I had been given the chance. Many stated I did not need a piece of paper to do what I was doing because I had already proven myself and needed nothing else. So, I am very pleased with that knowledge. But understand that I will always use published and verified resources to back up my statements whenever I can.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I can now turn your attention to the purpose of this entry, which is ‘The Greatest Showman”, or what I would like to refer to as “The Greatest Bit of Humbug I’ve Ever Seen Grace the Silver Screen.” If you’ve not seen this film, I will not apologize for spoiling it for you. If you have seen it, I will not apologize for tearing it to shreds. The film stars Hugh Jackman and he is superbly cast (per usual) in a role that utilizes his theatrical gifts of the stage; singing, acting, and dancing are clearly his forté. I do not fault Mr. Jackman for taking such a role, as it must have been lovely to be presented one which was vastly different from his role in Les Miserables. Even so, I do find issue with casting a man with the looks of Adonis to portray P.T. Barnum, who in reality resembled the offspring of a gremlin and a lump of clay (and I do most heartily apologize to all lumps of clay reading this currently). Of course, this is Hollywood and we most assuredly cannot ever cast average looking people to portray average historical figures! Heavens no! Imagine the horror!

Casting concerns aside, I have an issue with the lack of historical accuracy in the film overall. The film tries to portray Barnum as this poor, unfortunate street urchin in love with a wealthy girl and somehow is able to marry her within the first ten minutes of the film. This is complete bullshit right from the start and should infuriate any historian. Barnum’s father was a tailor, innkeeper and store owner. His grandfather was a landowner in Connecticut (meaning the family had wealth at some point, who had been in the legislator and a justice of the peace. Barnum was also born from his father’s second marriage, indicating his father had been well off financially to marry a second time. Barnum’s grandfather, Phineas, was known to run a lottery scam. This is important because P.T. had to learn the basics of running a scam from someone. He owned and ran several business before owning the museum in New York; one of which is a newspaper (The Herald of Freedom) and, most shockingly of all, a lottery scam in 1829. By 1834, Barnum had to move to New York because lotteries were declared illegal in Connecticut and his money making scheme was coming to an end.

Now, had any of this been shown in the film? Absolutely not. Jackman’s character is seen as a poor street urchin who sees a train, then is magically transformed in Hugh Jackman, marries his childhood sweetheart and moves to New York so he can make good on his promise to shower his young wife with riches. Now, he did marry Charity in 1829, but they didn’t move to New York until 1834 after the whole lottery thing. And did I mention he slandered some Churches with his newspaper, did jail time, and had to sell his store that also sold books? His life is vastly more interesting than the little song and dance routine Jackman did with Michelle Williams depicting their love. Still, the film is called “The Greatest Showman” which implies it is about how Barnum became synonymous with the circus. The film woefully fails at this.

Barnum was 25 in 1835 when he leased for $1000, not owned because slavery was outlawed in New York at this time, a paralyzed and almost completely blind black woman named Joice Heath. He leased her for a year from a friend, who had been exhibiting her in Philadelphia, claiming she was 161 years old and George Washington’s nurse. Barnum worked her to her death; she was put on display a minimum of 12 hours a day and died in February. She was no more than 80 years old. But Barnum would not allow Joice Heath the dignity of a grave and would find a way to make money off of her even in death; he exhibited her corpse and had a live viewing of her autopsy done to prove to onlookers she could not possibly be 161 years old. Barnum excelled at making money from hate, which is what the film makers never show you. The price to see Joice cut up was fifty cents per person; Barnum never revealed how much money he made off of her corpse and I could not find any source only that many did go and the autopsy lasted days. I have to admit even now, while it’s been well over a century, when I first read about Joice Heath, I cried. It still upsets me to know this woman is largely forgotten and considered insignificant. She should have been mentioned in the film. But maybe I am being selfish. Such a scene would not have tested well with audiences, I dare say. No, they’d rather believe Barnum cared for the misfits, the rejects. Sorry to say, but the filmmakers lied.

Take for instance, Tom Thumb. The film depicts accurately that such a person existed in Barnum’s sphere. However, there were two such person’s with that same name. The first was a child of four, but said to be eleven, who was put on display, made to drink alcohol and smoke cigars so he would appear older. It would be a way to make the child look like a little man instead of a small child. A bit of trickery. The second Tom Thumb was, of course, an actual little person. That Tom did meet Queen Victoria (who was already a Widow at that time, not young per the film) and ended up marrying Thumbelina, the smallest lady in the world.

The film never mentions the Fiji Mermaid. They hint at it, of course, but never show it nor mention it. This is and was the most famous of all of Barnum’s humbugs and was the collaboration between Barnum and his friend Moses Kimball. It is never seen on film. This is a travesty of historical proportions for a film to consider itself to be a biopic of Barnum and never once show the infamous Fiji Mermaid. Not even a poster did appear. Shameful. Utterly shameful.

Other historical events which are never mentioned in the film, which shockingly did occur are the panic of 1837. Whole not well know, it did hurt his finances for a time. The Civil War is never mentioned, which astonished me to no end. The man lived during this time and not once did any part of the war between the states ever grace the screen. I understand the purpose of the film is to be entertaining and filled with merriment, but to completely forgo a major significant part of United States history smacks of revisionist history of the likes of Dineish D’Szousa and is in no way honest to the life of P.T. Barnum not the people who worked for him.

Barnum was known for being a humbug, meaning he was known for being dishonest. He made his living of of exploitation of others. It’s not a pleasant thing to research because no one likes to become confronted with the knowledge that the man everyone associates with the circus and happiness was, in fact, a hard core racist who believed in slavery even after it was outlawed everywhere. He helped popularize minstrelsy shows, he perpetrated a hoax stating weed (or a weed, it depends on the source) would black people white. He willingly told people the reason he left the Democratic Party was because they would not uphold the right to own slaves (this was in 1854; suck it Dinesh). He claimed to hate politics, yet served in the legislator himself. He spoke against the evils of alcohol, but willingly supplied such things to Native Americans. He did not always believe non-whites had the capacity to even contain souls yet donated a fortune to Tufts University. He was a man full of contradictions. This was the man I wanted to see on screen and this was the man I expected to see in some manner.

Instead, I saw a very white-washed, sterilized, rose-colored glasses version of P.T. Barnum. The same can be said for the people of the circus and the people of the era. Never have I seen such clean streets. Seriously. The Musuem had historically been located near brothels and tenants which had no indoor plumbing. Nary did I spy any shit nor rubbish in the streets. Those were the cleanest Victorian streets I’ve ever seen. Contrast them with the streets in “Gangs of New York” and you’ll appreciate what I mean. I do understand the appeal of the whole “us versus them” mentality the filmmakers gave the circus workers. And I sympathize because it does make for a more compelling film. Be that as it may, it is entirely inaccurate and dishonest. Most were sold by their parents or worked for room & board. They worked 10-12 hour days and it was degrading work. Many of the women would have prostituted themselves for extra money (yes, that did happen). Barnum excelled at making money at selling nothing. There was never an “us versus them” for him because he owned the “us” via contracts.

As for the costumes, I can only say they were very theatrical, as they were no doubt meant to be. Doesn’t mean they were accurate. They were very old timey sort of generic quasi Victorian looking enough to resemble something old without having to be historically true. Not one woman was wearing a corset and yes, you can tell. Many appeared to be wearing padded or push up bras, a big no-no. Shaved legs and arm pits didn’t exist in those days and neither did smooth chests for men. Not enough facial hair for men either, which is strangely weird. Visible zippers. I had an attack of the vapors on that one. Michelle Williams also resembled an advert for Target or Macy’s at some point (pick one). Evening wear styles for men-also, pick one. Either they are wearing tails, cut aways or frock coats, not all three in one scene (sweet lord, do they not know how to dress extras). I shall not discuss hair, hair products, nor makeup because it just is not worth my time.

Basically, the point of the matter is the film is vastly inaccurate. It kills me, not only as a 19th Century Historian, but as a Theatre person, to hear people praising it for it’s realism, attention to detail, and how it really told the true story of P.T. Barnum. It didn’t-not even remotely close. It’s a musical loosely, and I do mean loosely, based on the life of Barnum. The film is 20% Barnum and 80% Humbug, with me being overly generous in that regard. As a piece of musical theatre it is vastly entertaining and for that alone, I can enjoy it. I must disassociate any attempts to connect it with history and reality to do so, which puts this in the realm of a fantasy film for me or a fairy tale. However, anyone out there trying to think this film has any connection with the real and historical figure needs to go to their local library forthwith for I don’t have the strength to deal with such nonsense.

Sources

Barnum, P.T. Struggles and Triumphs; Or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P.T. Barnum. Buffalo, N.Y.: The Courier Company, 1883

Adams, Bluford. E Pluribus Barnum: The Great Showman and the Making of U.S. Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Cook, James W. The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Reiss, Benjamin. The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum’s America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993