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: 2008 Sexed Up Version

This brings up to the last adaptation and the one that’s just…weird and shouldn’t be. Andrew Davis did the adaptation and normally he’s really good at adapting Austen, but this time he really screwed up. He explicitly stated his intent was to make people forget the Ang Lee film by making this version “overtly more sexual” than previous versions because this was a novel about two sisters going on  “a voyage of burgeoning sexual and romantic discovery” (BBC Online 2008; I kid you not). The costume designer was Michele Clapton who described Marianne as a “Wild Child” and bright colors were needed to convey this wildness. Karen Hartley-Thomas (hair and makeup designer) stated ringlets seen in portraits didn’t exist in real life, and only lower classes wore makeup.

Pinterest

After my melt down at the utter pomposity of the statements I read, I did watch it. I regretted it almost immediately (thank god I checked it out from the library is all I am saying. It starts off with Willoughby seducing an underage girl, presumably Brandon’s ward, as a way to “sex up” the production. Per Davis, it was “quite interesting and steamy stuff like a lot of underage sex that goes on and is just talked about. I want to put it on the screen (Trinity Mirror 29 May 2006).” I am going to have to say that it’s not needed. You don’t need to see Willoughby behaving like the jerk we know he is because seeing it lessens the emotional impact when it’s revealed what he’s done later on. It actually ruins the reveal Austen made in the novel. Same with adding a duel between Willoughby and Brandon. The duel exists in one little segment in the novel where Brandon reveals to Elinor what Willoughby has done and that they fought. It’s not a significant moment and no adaptation has ever shown it because it’s not important. Davis used it as an excuse to add more sexual overtones to the adaptation. I wish he didn’t.

Mrs. Dashwood (Janet McTeer), Elinor (Hattie Morahan), Marianne (Charity Wakefield), and Margaret (Lucy Boyton)

Right after the seduction scene, we get the death of the father, John Dashwood Senior and the arrival of John Dashwood, his wife Fanny, and their very portly son, Henry. And I do take offense to this. It’s clear they cast a fat child for laughs and it’s really beneath the casting director at this point to be doing this in this day and age. Yes, it’s nice to cast a child for the adaptation since most don’t have John and Fanny’s son, but to purposefully go out of the way to make the son an object of ridicule is just wrong at this point in Society. Likewise the casting of Mark Gatiss as John Dashwood and Claire Skinner as his wife Fanny is just odd. On screen they look fine, but they don’t act like there’s any kind of relationship there. With the other John & Fanny pairings, I believed that they were a married couple. I didn’t feel it was believable this time.

John Dashwood, Little Henry (Morgan Overton), and Fanny Dashwood

We also have an issue with hair (quelle surprise) in this adaptation. It seems the designer in charge fail to realize that since people only washed their hair once a week to every other week, things like ringlets could be easily maintained using rags and pomade. There were also (get this) curling rods once heated up in the fireplace to curl hair. Then one would probably coat with pomade as it would probably singe the hair a little bit to lessen the frizz. Al lthis is available at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which they claim they spent a month at doing research (yes, I am doing a major eyeroll right now).

Marianne and Willoughby (Dominic Cooper)

Other issues are Marianne either has her hair up, which is correct, or down, which is not proper at all. She is technically “out” and not in the schoolroom. There is no verifiable reason for her long hair to be down in front of anyone in public. Then Willoughby looks like they are giving him a Harry Styles kind of look with enough hairspray that his hair doesn’t even move in the wind. hairspray didn’t exit yet! They won’t use makeup, even though it existed, but will use hairspray? Oh, but they did allow the women to use corrective foundation because that is period correct. Sweet lord this production is just all kinds of inaccuracies. It’s the complete opposite of the type of work Andrew Davis was putting out in the 1990s. Then he really did do research and tried to handle the material with care. This time, he’s all about sexing it up because he thinks that’s what the people want. I hate to tell you but we don’t. Don’t put sex into Austen. Don’t add sex into something that doesn’t need it. There’s enough sensuality and romance in her works without the modern titillation.

Miss Grey (the actress’ name is not listed anywhere I can find)

There are issues with the costumes as well. As you can see, Miss Grey’s ballgown is sleeveless, which is not acceptable and was not worn. This production did not use any costumes from any previous adaptation or any stock clothing and claimed it made everything fresh. They should have done better research then because they have wandering waistlines and clothing from different time periods. Miss Grey’s gown is more 1970s than anything else. Margaret’s gowns usually sit at her natural waist, which is weird for an adaptation set in 1810. Lucy Steel has a long curl over her shoulder like a woman from the 1770s with puffed sleeves more from the 1815 era. Mrs. Jennings has hair more like Marie Antoinette in a Vigee Le Brun portrait while her daughter, Lady Middleton is more 1830’s Victorian. The color palettes range from bright pastels to greys, to earth tones, which I don’t mind. Then you get these bright pops of color, which don’t make sense in the overall view. Plus with the overall grey filter they were using, everything looked dull, lifeless and was depressing.

Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett), Sir John Middleston (Mark Williams), and Lady Middleton (Rosanna Lavelle)

Now, there are some good parts of this adaptation. The relationship between Mrs. Jennings, Sir John Middleton, and Lady Middleton was all right. Lady Middleton was quite blasé and uninterested in anything, which fits from her description from the novel, accept she’s more languid in this version than one would expect.. Sir John is energetic and delightful while Mrs. Jennings is utterly forgettable as a character. That’s actually quite tragic considering Mrs. Jennings is such a fun character and Linda Bassett is a terrific actress. Dan Stevens portrays Edward Ferrars and is a much more charming and more easy going version than seen previously, though he seems to be imitating Hugh Grant at times. He also seems to stutter a bit, so there seems to be a general consensus that Edward has difficulty in speaking in all the adaptations even though it’s never mentioned in the novel. Lucy is annoying as is her sister, Anne (I always get confused as to whether her sister is Anne or Nancy because each adaptation that has her keeps changing her name back and forth). I don’t mind having the two Steele sisters, but I also didn’t mind just having the one as Ann is annoying and really offers nothing significant to the novel, other than talking about men and spilling the beans about Lucy’s secret engagement (which Ang Lee’s version has shown how poetic it is to have Lucy betray her lover to his own sister).

Edward visits and chops wood in the rain.

Trying to top his infamous Darcy in the Lake scene, Davis has decided upon Edward chopping wood in the rain. While Darcy wishing to cool down after a long ride made sense historically and logically, chopping wood in the rain does not. One, it’s dangerous because wood gets slippery. Secondly, the actor got sick because of this and was ill for most of the shoot. Never, ever put your actor’s health at risk for something this stupid. It’s not sexy and it makes no sense whatsoever. And I highly doubt Edward Ferrars would do any physical labor of this kind. This sort of labor was not done by men of his social status. Men of his social sphere boxed, fenced, rode horses-they did not chop wood.

Colonel Brandon (David Morrisey)

Like previous BBC versions, Colonel Brandon is at the ball when Marianne confronts Willoughby and Miss Steele, which is not in the novel at all. And while Andrew Davis stated he wished to distance himself from the 1995 film version, he pulled a lot of imagery and script ideas from it. Namely the relationship between Edward and Margaret, Marianne getting sick from standing in the rain at Cleveland Park and being rescued by Colonel Brandon, expanding Margret’s role from the novel, Marianne getting injured int he rain and being offered help by Willoughby (while he helps her in the novel, no where does Austen state it takes place in the rain). There’s even similar costumes and color palettes being used for the same characters.

Brandon from 1995 & 2008; similar rich tones and even striped waistcoats

Elinor 2008

Elinor & Marianne in 1995

There was also the very odd choice of making Mrs. Dashwood sensible and suspicious of Willoughby, which is the complete opposite of her character in the novel and in every adaptation. Austen describes Mrs. John Dashwood as being very much like Marianne-romantic, flighty, emotional. She is charmed by Willoughby and cannot think ill of him. To have her be suspicious of him is just wrong on so many levels. Then the trip to Allenham that Willoughby takes Marianne to is weird. There are no servants ever seen and the place looks deserted. For a place he visits every year that belongs to his aunt (and we assume she lives there year round), doesn’t it seem very unlikely that there would be no one around, especially his aunt, when they arrive? Plus her hair is down the entire time and that just bothers me to no end. She comes off of some kind of cheap floozy instead of a gentleman’s daughter.

Miss Eliza Williams (Caroline Hayes)

I don’t mind showing Eliza and the baby in this adaptation. I think it’s nice to see Brandon react and show that he forgives his ward for her mistake and that he will always see that they are taken care of. I believe I mentioned earlier that the seduction scene was not needed and I stand by that. I do think David Morrisey did a decent job of portraying Brandon, but I felt there was no connection between him and and the actress who portrayed Marianne. This Marianne just is too crazed, too unpredictable to be likable. She’s too over the top that it’s really hard to have any kind of sympathy for her. This Marianne is selfish, a bit cruel, and uncaring. One kind of hope she dies of her illness, to be honest.

Miss Steele (Daisy Haggard) and Lucy Steele (Ann Madeley)

There are some good points in this production. Lucy Steele comes across as a young girl who is unsure of Edward’s affections and is worried he is in love with another (Elinor) and so confides in Elinor hoping to persuade said woman to not pursue the man she loves. She is pitiable in her own way. Her sister is crude, they are not wealthy, and her only chance to escape the poverty she is from is to marry a rich man. Lucy comes across as being less evil and more of someone who is trying to survive.

Mrs. Dashwood & Margaret

I do like Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood. While I don’t agree with the script changes, I do like the inner strength she conveys. If this was an interpretation instead of an adaptation, I would like it much better. She would make a fantastic Lady Catherine de Burgh. Margaret likewise is really good. She isn’t as charming as the 1995 Margaret, but she is a little bit more mature, which is fine too. Though the obsession with sea shells was something I didn’t understand. And I thought it would have been nice to see Margaret being taught language and other subjects like they did in Ang Lee’s version because while it’s not int the novel, it would have been a part of a daily routine.

I have to say that this Willoughby by far was the worst I’ve ever seen on screen and I’ve seen this actor before, so I know he can act. The script played an issue here. As well the hair and costume. The hair was awful, the seduction scene just killed any kind of sympathy we may have had for him. And having Marianne overhear his confession to Elinor just didn’t make any sense. He played a straight up cad who was unredeemable and Austen does give him some redeeming qualities. A few, but they are there. Andrew Davis stripped him of those qualities.

The ending is just weird, but what else can we expect from this hyper-sexualized version. Edward proposes to Elinor, but it doesn’t end with a wedding. That would be too easy and simple. No, we must end with Brandon taming some horses while Marianne is watching. Clearly a euphemism about how he will be taming her sexually (or dominating her sexually) very soon. So, do I recommend this version? Absolutely not! I don’t understand why it got the high praise that it did, unless people just really went for the sex and completely forgot that the sex wasn’t in Austen to begin with. It really saddens me as a person who loves Jane Austen to see this progression to push more and more more sex into literature that never had it to begin with. 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, for example, pushed a more heightened sense of sexuality into the novel that wasn’t there because they felt the novel needed it in order to make it relevant to modern audiences. Actually, it doesn’t Modern audiences just want a good, faithful adaptation that’s done well and done historically well. We don’t want sex added to it. We don’t want modern ideals put into it. We want it done faithfully and respectfully. That’s  it.

Plus, there was that weird trip to LYME COBB that is no where in the NOVEL! What the Hell Andrew Davis?! Lyme is in Persuasion! Not Sense and Sensibility!

Sense & Sensibility 1981 (or haven’t I seen this version somewhere before?)

The 1981 BBC adaptation of Sense & Sensibility is the one which is included in the Jane Austen collection. After watching the 1971 version, on some level I had felt that I had seen it somewhere before, yet knew I had never watched the earliest version in my life. The reason for this being, oddly enough, is the 1981 adaptation was dramatized by Alexander Baron who used the 1971 outline by Denis Constanduros. So the 1981 version is an adaptation of an adaptation. In fact, many of the scenes are eerily familiar as are the characters that are used and the ones that are cut. Watching this gave me a sense of déjà vu. Rodney Bennett is the director (his name is familiar to me as he directed some Dr. Who episodes in the 1970s).

Marianne Dashwood (Tracey Childs) and Elinor Dashwood (Irene Richard)

This adaptation starts out differently and at first, one thinks the Dashwoods are coming from the funeral of the late John Dashwood. They are all in mounring, in a carriage, and heading away from a location back towards Norland Park. You find out during their conversation that they have in fact been inspecting a house in the neighborhood that is far above their means, since they have only 500£ to live on a year. Like the 1971 version, Margaret doesn’t exist, which means that amount of funds seems a little more manageable between three ladies instead of four. The money, of course, leads to the great discussion brother John has with Fanny and the possibility of giving them money; knowing how little they have, 100£ more a year would really have benefited the Dashwoods and would not have inconvenienced John at all. Though we must recall Fanny is a skinflint as the son is not in existence in this version either.

Elinor and Edward Ferrars (Bosco Hogan) at Norland Park

Elinor shown drawing on very nice rustic benches. I do appreciate showing the drawing as it was something I could connect to Elinor over.

Like the 1971 version, Elinor is shown as someone who draws, which is straight from the novel. I did enjoy the way in which she was trying to educate Edward in trying to see things with an artistic eye, because it was sweet and showed how theire relationship could have started. Bosco Hogan is wonderful as Edward, has no stutter, but does have moments of hesitation in his actions which is appropriate for that character. Marianne is mentioned as not yet being 17 (though do recall she is 15 at the beginning of the novel), so this is an attempt to making her closer in age with her novel counterpart. Like the 1971 interpretation, Marianne is overly dramatic in the ways in which she says farewell to Norland Park, which is something she never does in the novel. Fanny is perfectly evil though.

Fanny Dashwood (Amanda Boxer)- perfectly evil in every way

Elinor and Marianne in London

The hair in this version was pretty good. We don’t have that overly puffy look on the men and the women seem to have decent hairdos with curls and buns. Some variety is obtained with the use of mobcaps, braids, and occasionally bonnets when outdoors. Now, we do have mutton chops on the men, but they are not overly large and are more inline with what would be period appropriate (for the most part). There are, of course, portraits of men during this time period with massive mutton chops, which people have emailed me to point out my fallacy, Trust me and believe me when I state that I am well aware of these portraits. But these portraits are few and far in-between and the norm seems to be smaller to no mutton chops rather than the bushy examples that tend to be used. Having a few men here and there with the bigger versions would not bother me as a designer and as a historian. It bothers me when it’s practically all the men.

Colonel Brandon (Robert Swann) looking very Darcy-esque with massive mutton chops

John Willoughby (Peter Woodward) with smaller, more delicate mutton chops

French, "Miniature Portrait of an Unknown Officer", c. 1815. Gift of Herbert DuPuy

1815 Miniature of an Unknown Soldier (French I believe); no mutton chops but a really sweet Mustache & Soul Patch combo (courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art)

Captain Gilbert Heathcote RN (1779-1831) ~ William Owen

Captain Gilbert Heathcote RN (1779-1831) ~ William Owen; pretty decently sized mutton chops [Public Domain Image]

The costumes as well aren’t bad. There seems to be an attempt to use more cotton or cotton blend fabrics to get more of that airy, light feel we associate with the Regency dresses. They do seem to use silk (or at least something that resembles silk) for the most dressier gowns worn by Fanny or Mrs. Jennings at times. A few of the dresses used by the extras in the background looked familiar and were no doubt dresses from previous adaptations, so could be from the 1970s or be stock costumes from local theatrical agencies as well. The colors were sometimes a bit too pastel and while that isn’t historically accurate, at least the use of cotton instead of polyester is an improvement.

Elinor, Marianne with Mrs. Charlotte Palmer (Hetty Baynes); I believe Charlotte is meant to look pregnant, but it’s hard to tell. The dresses do look to be of cotton or cotton blends,just very pastel in coloration.

Lucy Steele (Julia Chambers) in a red Spencer and bonnet. The material looks velvet, but I believe to be more of a polyester blend. The red is also too dark; reds at this time were more bright like a poppy red.

I did like the use of jewelry, even if some of the necklaces looked to be too tight and short. Too often adaptations today shy away from the use of jewelry and makeup, thinking they weren’t used nor worn. They were very much in use at this time.

Empress Josephine's Malachite Parure

Empress Josephine’s Malachite Parure (Jewelry Set: 2 Bracelets, Chocker, Necklace, Pin/Brooch, Tiara, 6 Hairpins, Smaller Pin); most sets included 2 bracelets, a necklace, a brooch/pin, and possibly a tiara or hair pins.

Georgian set of Pink Topaz. From the book “Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830”

Pink Topaz dating from the Georgian Era (from the book Georgian Jewelry 1714-1830); one would fully expect a Regency lady to still wear something like this if it was an item passed down ion her family. This set is a pair of earrings, necklace and a brooch/pin.

Queen Louise's set of make up powder.

Makeup set belonging to Queen Louise (1776-1810); courtesy of stadtmorgen.de (my German is rudimentary at best)

So yes, jewelry was worn, as was makeup which is something we have got to acknowledge and push for when it comes to adaptations of not only novels written during this time, but any films being set during these times as well. It’s ludicrous to presume that people stopped wearing jewelry and makeup during the American and French Revolution only to pick it up again during the reign of Queen Victoria. All I am saying is due better research costumers. I know you often have to also be in charge of makeup and hair, but expect better research from assistants. I may add I am always available to do this research for you and would gladly do it for money (I do have bills to pay as do so many of us, so might as well put such skills to good use!).

Mrs. Dashwood and Edward at Barton Cottage

What makes this version different from the 1971 one is Edward does visit the Dashwood family at Barton Cottage after visiting Lucy at Plymouth nearby. It’s mentioned he visited Plymouth in the 1971 version but never stopped to see them, even though Plymouth is near Exeter. First, this does happen in the novel, so that’s nice and it’s good because it introduces Edward to the Middletons and Mrs. Jennings, which allows them to kid Elinor about him when they go to London in front of Lucy Steele, not knowing it’s Lucy Edward is engaged to. It helps create that little bit of chaos in the Edward-Elinor relationship that we all do enjoy, even though we find it heartbreaking. Lucy is shown to be very pretty, if not spiteful and cruel in her own way, while Ann (Nancy in the novel) is very coarse and spinsterish, which fits with how they act and how Austen seems to describe them. You also feel some pity for Lucy because she is faithful to Edward for so long and he is not the best correspondent.

Lucy Steele

Ann Steele (Pippa Sparks) in the Striped Dress with Lucy (Julia Chambers) in Pale Yellow.

There are some weird choices in this version as there were in the previous one. Margaret is gone and doesn’t exist. John and Fanny have no child, and therefore no reason to not want to give any monetary assistance away. Nancy Steele’s name was changed to Ann, which I am puzzled over. Sir John and his wife only have one child, a son, and no other kids. Sir John also doesn’t have any dogs, but at least they show Willoughby out hunting with one (that bitch of a pointer flossy line which always makes me smile). They did include Robert Ferrars and his quest for the perfect toothpick case through is talking (which almost is always cut even though it’s really a funny little tidbit on his character). Charlotte Palmer used to have a really green bedroom in London. I’m not kidding (seriously, it’s GREEN). And as for the dresses, it’s really hard for me to tell if the back of them are buttoned, laced, or have zippers. I suspect that it’s a mixture of all three and depends on if they are a main character, secondary, or just background extras.

Elinor, Marianne, and Willoughby. At least this time, Marianne really does fall down a hill.

I did have to suppress a giggle when they show Marianne writing letters on thick parchment paper (and I mean thick paper). I suspect the paper was art paper meant for watercolour, perhaps charcoal or pen and ink because of the thickness and coarseness that I could surmise. I giggled because whenever they received a letter, it was on extremely thin onion skin type paper. Somehow, magically, thick coarse paper was used by everyone to write letters, but through th magic of the post-chaise, they all became smooth and delicate pieces of paper. There was also the obligatory nightgown with hair all free flowing and loose scene because of course there is. Considering women didn’t wash their hair every day, and probably more like once to twice a month if they qwere lucky, they kept that hair plaited (braided) and in caps when sleeping to keep it clean and free from things like fleas and lice. Free flowing and loose looks romantic and erotic on screen, but not very realistic.

Marianne & Elinor in front of Barton Cottage. I do like the rustic benches.

So while this is very familiar to anyone who’s watched the 1971 version, it’s just slightly different, and updated enough in terms of costumes and hair to be worth watching. I found some of the scenes and lines to be almost exactly like the 1971 version that I was hard pressed to not roll my eyes. While this version is the one most people believe to be the first adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, it is the first one that was shown in the US and it’s probably why it was included int he Jane Austen collection over the 1971 version. So yes, do try and find it and watch it. It’s seven episodes, but each one is short and one can watch this in a day. You don’t have to, but you can.

This version has one of the best Fanny freak out scenes ever.

Marianne and Bradon bonding over books; he looks very Darcy-esque in this version.

Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood pouring out cordials. Not often this is shown as most show tea.

The Dashwoods leaving Norland Park

Sense & Sensibility: 1971 BBC Version

I am actually excited about reviewing these adaptations because Sense & Sensibility was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read at the age of twelve, brought to my good attention by my local librarian (who is still at the same library coincidentally over 20 years later). It was published in 1811 anonymously, but was written sometime during the 1790s. Elinor in the novel starts out to be 19, Marianne is 15 (some places say 16), and Margaret is 13. The novel takes course over a period of two years, which no one ever seems to recall, so most action is speed up. The adaptation was done by Denis Constandorus (who did another Austen adaptation) and directed by David Giles (who, again, did another Austen adaptation). This early version is unique in that it’s not included in the Jane Austen Classic Collection (the 1980 version supplants it) and it was never made available here in the US until recently. I had the hardest time tracking a copy down (it had a long wait time on Netflix), so I did the only logical solution available to me-I watched each 45 minute episode on YouTube.

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Elinor Dashwood (Joanna David) and Marianne Dashwood (Ciaran Madden)

Many people have long espoused this first version to be well worth viewing because it is charming and accurate to the novel. While it does have it’s charm, it’s not entirely accurate to the novel. Joanna David is perfectly cast as Elinor, cool, collected, sensible, but does have emotions when pressed (Joanna David portrayed Mrs. Gardiner in the 1995 Pride & Prejudice adaptation). Richard Owens makes a fairly decent Colonel Brandon; he’s handsome, a little morose at times, but attractive in his own way. Patricia Routeledge sparkles as Mrs. Jennings (she’s better known as Hyacinth Bucket) with her over the top performance which works because it’s done so well. Most of the others are decent in the roles, but not as memorable. Overall, the ensemble works and it’s enjoyable. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any issues.

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Mrs. Dashwood (Isabel Dean) with Mrs. Jennings

Right from the start, Marianne is over the top dramatic and not in a way that is enjoyable. While I love and appreciate Mrs. Jennings being over the top and exuberant in her movements, Marianne comes across as selfish, cruel, and does things to an unhealthy excess. While this works in the novel (recall Marianne is 15-16 years of age), they portray her being 17 in all adaptations (because a 35 yr old man lusting after a 15 yr old is creepy), it’s just too much. It makes her seem childish and wholly unattractive. There is nothing about how she is portrayed that makes it at all probable for Brandon to want to be with her. The way Marianne acts should be a reasonable turn off for Willoughby as well (and I don’t blame him if that’s how she acts).

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Elinor trying to control Marianne as the latter is actually throwing a fit over Willoughby’s rejection at the ball. It was a scene of hysterics worthy of Ophelia. Marianne’s dress is from 1818.

Dress and shawl, 1818. By the beginning of the 1820s, the waistline had started to move down. New historical influences are visible in dress styles. This particular example has a gathered collar in imitation of the ruffs of 16th century dress. The sleeve with a series of puffs down the arm was known as a ‘Marie’ sleeve, after a similar style worn by Marie de Médicis, Queen of France at the beginning of the 17th century.

Embroidered Muslin Dress 1818, Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

Another issue is Edward seems to have a stutter. Now, some people don’t like it but actually I don’t mind. I myself have had issues with pronouncing certain words and cannot to this day say “anemone”  without screwing it up by adding extra syllables. And I’ve taken so many acting classes as a Theatre major and have sung as part of a College choir that it shouldn’t be an issue (but it is). So, for me, it doesn’t bother me. The stutter isn’t done all the time, just in times of stress or when he’s uncomfortable and put in the spotlight, which does seem to suit his character. Edward Ferrars, after all, is being pushed by his mother to enter into a profession such as Parliament or the Law, which would require him to be really good at public speaking. In the novel, as well as every adaptation I’ve seen, he is very reluctant to do so. Having an issue with public speaking on a grand scale would be a reason why Edward would prefer the Church (smaller and more intimate arena for speaking). [FYI, for a good article on what it’s like to have a stutter, I highly recommend this article by friend and fellow author Ewan Morrison: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/word-less/201904/feared-words-and-free-words]

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Edward Ferrars (Robin Ellis); I appreciate he’s given period correct glasses, but very large mutton chops and puffy hair.

Like 1971’s Persuasion, we’ve got an interesting selection of puffy hair for the men, with HUGE mutton chops, and puffy hair (with curls) for the ladies. I suspect most of the hair for the ladies is some of their own with wig pieces added, but it’s very 1960’s bouffant-esque. I do applaud the effort though, even though it’s wrong. The hair in this adaptation is at least slightly better than Persuasion, but only slight. The men have more lift, but they do have some curls and layers too. Mutton chops did exist, just not Victorian style ones. We must keep in mind that this was the beginning of trying to do research and designers did not have access to all the information we have available today.

Boris Golytsin, 1791

1791 Miniature Portrait of Boris Golystin [Public Domain]; most men in this adaptations seem to have hair more along the lines of this man, which wouldn’t be so bad if the novel was being set in the 1790s. Though the adaptation seems to be set closer to 1810).

Rubens Peale 1807 by Rembrandt Peale [Public Domain Image]

1807 Rubens Peale; I chose this because it resembles Robin Ellis as Edward Ferras with the spectacles, it shows the close cropped curly hair and yes, he has mutton chops, but notice how delicate it is (there are images of bigger ones too, but I like this image).

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Marianne with Colonel Brandon; notice the massive mutton chops. Massive. Though he’s got a nice M notch collar.

Besides the hair, which we must make allowances for because it’s a product of the times, we should then discuss the costumes as well. Like 1971’s Persuasion, the dresses were probably made from polyester blends and you can see some were made fr0m prints that were more late 1960s than late Georgian. The silhouette tells me they were going for a 1808-1810 era, but Mrs. Dashwood was dressed in a style a bit more consistent with the 1790s to possibly the 1800s. Then again, Marianne has fashions dating from after 1815. It’s hard to tell at times because some of the costumes were most likely pulled from storage and altered, which makes it difficult to assess from what period it was originally meant to look like. And that’s OK. While I tend to be harsher on period films starting around 1980, I make allowances for period pieces done prior to the 1980s simply because the information wasn’t as available. I know because I’ve looked into it. Most costume history books before 1980 are full of misinformation and generalities that we now know are just wrong. Extant clothing in museums wasn’t always made available to designers like they are now, and photographs of them weren’t of the best quality when they were available. Technology has really made it possible to have better quality period clothing for stage and screen than previously.

Taffeta “Round Gown”, About 1795-1800  The round gown” style is updated further with a raised waist and gathered bodice which ties at center front. Vestiges of an older style of fitted bodice are visible on the inside. Internal stitching reveals the waistline was raised about three inches. A stiff taffeta material like this still suits the dress, but lighter, softer fabrics will be needed for the slim, clinging styles on the horizon.

1795-1800 Silk Taffeta Round Gown; this gown was adapted from an earlier gown (which is what us costume historians love to see) because the waistline was raised 3 inches up from where it was previously. I think this is what Mrs. Dashwood is wearing. Courtesy of agreeabletyrant.dar.org

Coat Date: 1787 - 1792

1785-1792 Coat (and ensemble pieces) courtesy of the Met; chosen to show the elaborate neck frills as this was shown quite a lot in this adaptation, which again would be fine if it was set in the 1790s.

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Robert Ferrars (David Belcher), Lady Middleton (Shelia Ballantine), and Sir John Middleton (Michael Aldridge); yes both men are wearing the frilly neck pieces as shown previously.

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Elinor in a very 1960s Print gown; the garden is lovely though

An interesting decision made in this adaptation was to include Lady Middleton and the mentioning of one child (William), but none of the others. They cut Margaret (she doesn’t exist), replaced the servant Sarah with an elderly one named Mary (of which I am unsure as to why), and showed both of the Miss Steeles (Nancy and Lucy). It was also fascinating to hear that Brandon’s ward was made to be older at age 18 and had become his niece and not the natural daughter of his first love. They also have Eliza attempting to commit suicide while pregnant, which is not in the novel at all. We also meet Mrs. Ferrars, Elinor is shown drawing, and John Dashwood has no son. So many changes made to fit the novel into four 45 minute episodes, but also some weird choices as well. While I do not mind keeping both of the Miss Steeles, I don’t understand why remove Margaret? She’s a sweet, fun little character who’s barely in it (but in it more than Nancy Steele). They also made the decision to show Charlotte Palmer pregnant and then later on sow her with the child after it’s born (and very slim afterwards too). I think it was wise to show Charlotte pregnant because she is so in the novel, but to then show her being extremely thin afterwards is a bit of a lie (she had no bust, which any woman can tell you is just wrong).

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The Miss Dashwoods meeting a pregnant Charlotte Palmer (Jo Kendall) with Mr. Palmer (David Strong) right where her hand is.

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The Miss Dashwoods in very matchy-matchy traveling outfits with Lady Middleton

Not everything about this adaptation is all bad. The inside shots are done very well and while some of them (if not all of them) are done on sets, they seem to have been done well enough to resemble actual rooms proportion wise and are not so vast and empty as 1971’s Persuasion. While some spaces still seem a trifle large, tis was most likely done in order to maneuver lighting equipment and the cameras, so I am not bothered by it. The outside scenes are noticeably different in terms of filming (which cannot be helped due to technology at the time) but are very lovely and I enjoy the scenery. It’s quite nice to see the views of the countryside. Though I did giggle a bit during the scene where Marianne injures herself while Elinor complains that it’s raining while the scene is perfectly clear with no visible rain drops are seen.  Granted, a fine misting rain would not be visible but it was sunny and dramatically raining in mere seconds.

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Elinor swears it’s raining mere moments before Marianne trips and injures her ankle on this hill. Yes, they called it a hill.

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The dashing Willoughby (Clive Francis) after carrying Marianne in the rain with nary a drop on him.

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The garden outside of Barton Cottage was lovely though.

So, what do I think? I don’t regret watching this adaptation and I think that it’s a product of it’s time. But I also appreciate that some thought went into the script to try and adapt this novel for television. This isn’t an easy novel to adapt because it spans two years in the life of the two elder sisters. Decision were made to cut Margaret out as well as the other young children. But characters that are kind of useless, like Nancy Steele and Lady Middleton, are kept. Mrs. Ferrars is seen and while I don’t mind it, I can easily do with her being mentioned since she really adds nothing to the story other than being a cruel lady who always wishes to get he own way while disregarding the happiness of her children (the opposite of Mrs. Dashwood who puts the happiness of her children first, so it’s a pity these two mothers never meet in the novel). I can also see why people who’ve watched it today don’t like it because they are used to better scripts and costumes, but also why people who first watched it years ago are adamant pothers are missing out. There are some fie performances in this version and while I don’t like some of the performances on their own, when it comes together as an ensemble piece, it’s quite satisfying as a whole. So, if you can find a copy, watch it. If you can’t, then YouTube is the way to go (though do find the ones that play an entire episode and not sections of it). While this is not my favorite interpretation of Sense & Sensibility, I wouldn’t mind purchasing a copy of it for my own enjoyment.

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Marianne, Willoughby, Edward, and Elinor.

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Brandon in a very Fall/Halloween coat

Pride & Prejudice Adaptation 3: 1995’s BBC Version

Now we’ve come to what many consider the best adaptation of Austen’s novel, which is the 1995 BBC/A&E collaboration. This adaptation was written by Andrew Davies, who’s name should be familiar at this point (ITV’s 1996 Emma, ITV’s 2007 Northanger Abbey, ITV’s 2008 Sense & Sensibility, and other notable works such as the original House of Cards from 1980, Bleak House with Gillian Anderson, and most recently BBC’s Les Miserables). Davies is a powerhouse when it comes to adaptations (though I don’t always enjoy them as some do feel more “modernized” than others in terms of language and sexuality). However, this version is usually at the top of any Jane Austen’s lover for the script, costumes, locations and cast.

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The Bennets: Alison Steadman (Mrs. Bennet), Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet), Julia Sawalha (Lydia), Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth), Susannah Harker (Jane), Lucy Briers (Mary), Polly Maberly (Kitty)

This version exfels in showing the chaotic nature of the Bennet household and how it stems from the two youngest members-Lydia and Catherine “Kitty”. Mrs. Bennet is also someone who contributes to the chaos and it’s made clear she encourages the flighty ways of the two youngest, pushes Mary into thinking she has a singing voice, and places on her hopes for a suitable match on the shoulders of Jane, the eldest. Mrs. Bennet is n ot found of Elizabeth, and that’s made clear. Lydia is wonderfully acted as she’s portrayed as being wild, childish, selfish and most likely her mother’s favorite (after Jane of course). Mrs. Bennet comes across as someone who complains to hear her won voice (which is how she comes across in the novel). What Davies and the actors have done is play off of Austen’s portrayal of a marriage based on looks (or lust) and not personality. It’s a theme throughout the novel of being judged on looks and realizing that looks don’t indicate character. Elizabeth herself once states in the novel and the TV series that Wickham has all the looks to indicate he is good, while Darcy is good based on his actions (but  is not as handsome as Wickham).

Lizzie (Elizabeth) and Jane wearing fichus (scarves)

The two previous adaptations have Darcy enter the first ball very haughty, very proud, which is not a bad decision to make. Darcy is proud and comes across as arrogant in the novel. This time, Darcy enters and while he appears proud to Lizzie’s eyes (and the novel is mainly from her perspective as told through an omniscient other), this Darcy comes across as being visibly uncomfortable surrounded by so many strangers. It’s the first time that we see a Darcy who is at odds with how he was described, but how it actually works to create a more dynamic adaptation. Darcy at Rosings Park admits that he felt he could not recommend himself to anyone at this first ball to Col. Fitzwilliam and Lizzie. She chides him for it because in her mind, he should have been like Bingley-carefree and easy going. Instead, Darcy is someone who’s had to raise his own sister, was thrust into being a landowner and provider way before he was ready, and perhaps it has caused him to not attend as many social functions as Bingely has. In other words, Darcy comes across as being shy. this doesn’t mean he isn’t arrogant and proud (because he still is), but shyness makes him vulnerable. It’s also a very good contrast with Bingley’s personality and Wickham’s as both men do come across as being fairly easy going.

Mrs. Bennet trying to convince her husband to visit Bingley.

Charlotte Lucas (Lucy Scott)

I do love that Charlotte Lucas is again a very elegant and lovely woman, instead of making her plain as the previous version did. She is a mature woman and the thought many have is women at her age (27) were not marriageable and most ladies married young. While Jane Austen tended to show young people marrying in almost all of her novels (Persuasion being the exception), historically women Charlotte’s age and older married quite often and for the first time. This was a time of constant conflict and most men were either in service (military) or another profession that wouldn’t allow them marrying due to finances. We have got to recognize that older, mature ladies marrying was not the exception, but normal at this time.

Fitzwilliam Darcy (Colin Firth) at a men’s club

While not mentioned in the novel at all, showing Darcy at a gentleman’s sports club is historically accurate. They show him fencing, but gentlemen at this time also partook of boxing from famous puglists (professional boxers) at this time. Swimming, of course, is used later on and has become an iconic scene. However, while there was no need to put this in an adaptation, I do believe it was the right choice. Men did these things to stay in shape and one would expect Darcy to belong to such a club.

Jane, Mary, and Lydia

Now, onto the costumes (because many people comment on how much they like them). Dinah Collin designed the costumes and makeup, stressing herself that she spent months researching extant clothing, portraits, and trying to find a way to make the costumes appeal to modern eyes. I think she succeeded and should be applauded for the effort. While stock costumes from previous adaptations were used for extras, an effort was made to choose clothing that would compliment the designs for the main cast. Use of pale colors and prints for most of the young ladies gave an impression of lightness. While Charlotte Lucas’s clothes were richer looking than the Bennet girls, her dresses were not as rich or luxurious looking as Caroline Bingley or Mrs. Hurst. It helped give a visual social hierarchy without having to be reminded that the Bingley’s were wealthy (due to trade) while the Lucas’ had a title (due also to trade), but not necessarily as much money as Bingley or Darcy. The Gardiners especially come off as being refined, which is how I’ve always pictured them, and really are what we would consider middle-class. Aunt Philips is also not made coarse, but is seen as ore of a proper gentlewoman who happens to be part of the middle-class as well. This is important as there is a lot of dialogue regarding class and social hierarchy in this novel more than any other. Elizabeth is not considered suitable because her father is a gentleman, but not wealthy, and only a minor landowner. Her family connections are seen as vulgar because of trade, which is funny considering Bingley’s wealth is due to trade, but it seems society can overlook the stench of Trade if one is extremely well-off, which the Phillips and Gardiners are shown to not be of the same social sphere. And this all came across in the costumes. Richer people had better materials and the more money they had, the greater their social standing and the more expensive the costumes looked.

A look at the gowns from the Lucas Party which occurs. Charlotte Lucas’ gown is much nicer material wise than Lizzie’s, but not so out of place for the area in which she lives. Notice behind her is Mary sitting with Maria Lucas (Lucy Davis) as Jane is talking to Bingley (Crispin Bontham-Carter).

Similar scene (it’s from a ball scene, but cannot recall which one) showing Caroline Bingley (Anna Chancellor) in a ball gown. Her dress is much richer, having been made of a finer material, with an underdress of a different color, with jewelery and a turban to complete the look. She appears socially superior to the other single ladies.

The Netherfield Ball; with one glance you can tell Maria Lucas’ gown is of a better quality than Elizabeth’s, yet both are not so rich looking as Caroline Bingley or Mrs. Hurst. Also notice the uniforms of the Militia are period correct and lovely. And footmen are seen (uniforms and wigs)\

One item of interest to me, but probably not anyone else, is because the crew on this adaptation wanted to be so historically accurate, it’s easy to tell that the main characters (and sometimes the extras as well) are wearing period undergarments. This is completely different from any other adaptation at this point since most tended to use modern undergarments. And yes, this would make a difference in terms of performance. Period undergarments force an actor or actress to sit, stand, and move in a certain way. It can restrict movements such as bending down, running, etc. I include men in this because this was an era in which men did wear corsets to achieve a more pleasing shape, as well as padding things such as calves or shoulders. While I have never noticed any men in these films wearing such garments, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility to see someone like Sir Lucas wearing a corset for the Netherfield Ball to look slimmer. Or for Mr. Collins to wear padded calves because his around as nice as other men (because men can be vain about their appearances too).

George Wickham (Adiran Lukas); notice the fine detailing on his uniform and how less bright it is than the previous adaptation. His military jacket was made in Italy.

Lizzie getting her hair done (possibly by Hill, the ever faithful Bennet servant) while Lydia is in her period correct petticoat. Now, while the corset looks to be worn underneath, the correct layering should be a chemise, corset, then petticoat, then dress. Pantalettes wear worn (think crotchless pantaloons), and stocking that were tied a the knees.

Layers worn by a typical Regency Lady (courtesy of the Oregon Regency Society of North America)

The steps to getting dressed, simplified but showing the basic layers (courtesy of Tzarina Regina at Deviant Art)

Now, there are issues with the costumes which should be addressed. The necklines, while correct, are not used correctly. Let me clarify this:  low necklines did exist during the day, but were filled in or covered up because it wasn’t appropriate. So Mary’s outfit is more correct in being a true Day Dress, as is her mother’s, than any of her sisters. Low necklines showcasing one’s décolletage was only appropriate for evening wear. Now, many have criticized this because it gives a more sensual feel to the piece that what should be there. I actually don’t mind simply because when the average person is trying to find images from that time period, even the ladies who’ve had portraits done around this time are not always wearing anything to cover themselves up. So perhaps while we think everyone covered themselves up, it’s simply not true. Extant gowns for day wear exist in museums around the world and when they are showcased to the public, it’s often not shown with anything to cover up the décolletage area. Of course, they wish for everyone to see the neckline (the shape, where it lays, etc), but this instills a certain image in the public of how these gowns were worn. And perhaps because we did get women covered up during the day (Mrs. Bennet, Caroline Bingley, Mary Bennet, Maria Lucas, Mrs. Gardiner, Charlotte Lucas Collins), it’s enough to show some period correct ways of dressing during the day, but also allowing the others to not be so covered up because I;m sure there were women who didn’t. It is perhaps more authentic to have a mixture than everyone covered up or not. And we did get examples of the Bennets wearing day dresses with the décolletage covered up (which most who criticize seem to forget). This means even with the main characters, there was variety. Plus, certain necklines looked better on certain people. I enjoy the variety.

Lydia & Kitty wearing day dresses that are covering them up (and being historically correct).

Mr. William Collins (David Bamber) and Mrs. Bennet; notice Mrs. Bennet is wearing a neckline filler (or tucker), mob cap, and shawl. She is completely covered up and is appropriately dressed.

Charlotte after she’s married Mr. Collins; notice the mob cap, fichu, and high necked day gown, which is all period correct. Also notice Sir William Lucas (Christopher Benjamin) and Maria have finally made it to Rosings Park.

The hair I think is some of the best I’ve seen in any adaptation. A few of the main characters are wearing wigs (Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet) and you cannot tell that they are wigs because they have been dressed and look very good. Colin Firth had to darken his locks while Susannah Harker had to lighten hers (and yes, that IS her real hair). They greased David Bamber’s hair to mimic the look of a comb over, which I am on the fence about. It does tell you his character is a trifle vain, it makes him look hideous, but sometimes I wished they hadn’t gone that route. Maybe because in real life he looks like a complete sweetheart, so I don’t like him looking ill. Lucy Briers also had her hair greased out to make her ears stand out, but at least they also dressed it with a period hairstyle so it looked like Mary makes an effort to look pretty. Again, she wears glasses, but at least with the hair having some attention paid to it, I can live with it.

Mary with a decent hairstyle (although greased) with curls and very light period correct frames, which I like because they don’t overwhelm her face.

Mrs. Hurst (Lucy Robinson) with very lovely hair and with a gorgeous turban to match the silk evening dress she wears. Notice the very nice necklace and matching earrings.

Some things I did not like about this adaptation, which is hard to put out there as many consider this the gold standard in regards to Austen Adaptations, is some of the casting. Now, I love Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine. She played it extremely well and very much like an Austen version of Lady Bracknell, but with a streak of cruelty.  I’ve always thought Lady Catherine to be roughly 20-25 years older than Darcy. Meaning if he is 30, then Lady Catherine is about 55, which really isn’t too old. It seems when it comes to casting Lady Catherine, the norm is to go for someone very old and looking close to their 70s even though she has a daughter close in age to Darcy. I guess I am tired of women who are close to 40 having to be made up to look older and not being allowed to portray characters of close to their own ages. Then again, we have a habit of casting people as old as 30 to portray teenagers in films, so clearly that pendulum swings harshly both ways. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy her interpretation, because I did. Only it’s a pity this role tends to be cast as a pseduo-evil crone type of figure instead of middle aged lady, which is (historically) she is.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Barbara Leigh-Hunt); I do love the attention paid to her outfits.

Lady Catherine and her daughter, Anne (Nadia Chambers); Anne is made to look sickly, which is what we are told she is by Elizabeth in the novel.

Elizabeth Sparrow of Bishton Hall, William Owen, ca. 1815; SCBPC PCF 5

Elizabeth Sparrow of Bishop Hall, c1815. This woman is dressed similar to Lady Catherine. This woman is also in her sixties.

1816 Baronin Sophie Waitz von Eschen-Rheinfarth by Sebastian Weygandt (Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel - specific location unknown to gogm) inc. exposure

Baronness Sophie Waitz von Eschen-Rheinfart, c. 1816; this is what I’ve always imagined Lady Catherine to look like. While this woman is in her late 30s, early 40s, if Lady Catherine had Anne when she was 16 (some married very young), then being 46 would be possible.

Another criticism (not mine) which hangs about this production is THE SCENE, of which anyone who’s ever watched it knows what I am speaking of. We’re speaking of Darcy swimming at a pond on his property. Apparently this scene was titillating to people, which is odd considering we have a scene with Darcy shirtless earlier taking a bath (then standing and being covered up with a banyan/dressing gown so nothing is seen). Why the bathing scene is passed over but the pond swimming scene is fantasized about boggles my mind. First, I appreciated that they showed how people of wealthy would bathe, in a copper tub (which is quite small) and then dressing afterwards. A nice touch was the servant pouring water over his head. And they show fabric(linen) in the tub because no one wants to sit on metal, let’s be honest here (and yes, that is historically accurate).

Darcy taking a bath; yes, fabric would have been draped for comfort reasons.

The scene: fun fact but Firth isn’t the one jumping into the pond as a stuntman does it due to the threat of Lyme Disease at the time. Firth dives into a tank in a studio.

Now, many see the lake scene as being very sexualized and over the top. It’s been referenced in other films since because it has become part of our media culture. I don’t see what all the fuss is about, actually. Darcy has been riding from London, he takes a break at a pond on his estate and goes for a swim, but he’s still fairly dressed with breeches and a shirt. It seems like a logical thing a man might do. The funny part, for me, is him trying to remain calm and collected running into Lizzie dripping wet. For me, it’s funny, not sexy. It also shows us he’s human and has the same little quirks everyone else has. I just want to know who’s job it was to hose down Colin Firth for the walking scene, because I can imagine both Firth and the person just saying “sorry” to each other the entire time.

Lizzie

Lydia

Another criticism I’ve come across is people truly think Lizzie and Lydia are too “fat” to be realistic representations of women during the Regency Era. Excuse me? I know people have tended to cast much thinner women in these main roles, regulating the fuller figured actress (or even actor) to the smaller, comedic roles, but women were not these stick thin figures. Most portraits of thin women at this time are portraits of very young girls-some as young as 10. To base the assumption then that all women were likewise is simply preposterous.

Portrait of a Woman in a White Dress by Unknown American, 19th century

Unknown Young Woman, early 19th Century (Courtesy of the Currier Museum of Art)

1811 Mary Anne Nugent-Temple-Grenville, Lady Arundell of Wardour, three-quarter-length, in a mustard dress, holding a portfolio and pen, leaning against a tree in a landscape. John Hoppner, R.A. (English, 1758-1810). Oil on canvas. Lord Arundell of Wardour married Mary Anne Nugent-Temple-Grenville, daughter of George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham, and Mary Elizabeth Nugent, 1st Baroness Nugent, at Buckingham House, London.

1811 Mary Anne Nugent-Temple-Grenville, Lady Arundell of Wardour (1787-1845) [Public Domain Image; portrait was sold privately by Christie’s]

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1816 Franciso Lacoma y Fontanet [Public domain Image]

Henri-Pierre Danloux PARIS 1753 - 1809 PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG LADY IN A WHITE DRESS

1809 Portrait of a Lady in a White Dress (courtesy of Southeby’s)

1802. Louise, reine de Prusse, d’après Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun.

1802 Louisa, Queen of Prussia [Public Domain Image]

Henry B. Bounetheau's Aunt by Edward Greene Malbone, ca. 1804, Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of my favorite miniature portraits in the collection of over 400. Miniature portraits of watercolor painted on ivory were popular before the advent of photography. The size is about 3 x 4 inches. The details of the sitter's skin tone, hair style, clothes, and gaze are exquisite.

Henry B. Bounetheau’s Aunt when a young girl (miniature) ca. 1804 (courtesy of the Smithsonian)

Caroline Darwin 1816 (aged about 16 years) by James Sharples. Caroline Sarah Darwin (1800–1888) sister of Charles Darwin, married Josiah Wedgwood (grandson of the first Josiah Wedgwood) (her first cousin).

1816 Portrait of Caroline Darwin, aged 16 (sister of Charles Darwin) [Pubic Domain Image]

Looking at the first image of the unknown young lady, the miniature, and the portrait of Caroline Darwin, one can state that those are typical images of women during the regency. Except this is wrong. The second portrait (Mary Nugent-Temple) is also that of a young lady, possibly about 16 years of age. Yet she is not thin, but has a very full figure. The other three images are of women in their 20s, so this belief that women of all sizes didn’t exist needs to stop. One would expect in a family of five daughters in the instance of the Bennets to have variety in terms of their shapes. And we see that in this production. Jane, Lizzie and Lydia are all ell-endowed. Kitty and Mary are not well endowed. This should be applauded and not criticized. Clearly Bingley fell in love with Jane over her manners, not her shape (which men should do as it’s shown Mr. Bennet married a pretty face and lives to regret his decision the rest of his life).

Bingley and Darcy; both gentlemen fall in love because of women with personalities, not necessarily body shapes. Though Darcy has a thing for eyes.

Even Bingley’s sisters have different body types; Caroline is tall and willowly while Mrs Hurst is more curvaceous.

Overall, there’s a reason this remains as the gold standard of Jane Austen adaptations. It’s got a wonderful script, cast and crew. While there are some issues, they are very minor ones and shouldn’t detract from this lovely, bubbly adaptation. Real effort went into getting the costumes, hair and makeup correct. And time was spent getting the cast ready with horse back riding lessons, dance lessons, and getting them comfortable with each other as an ensemble piece.  This is also the first adaptation of Pride and Prejudice to end with the joint marriages of Bingley & Darcy. They also get the wedding garments correct with veils on bonnets and the dresses being ones that can be worn afterwards as best gowns. Everyone should watch this version. If you are really into Austen, owning it is a must. It’s just beautifully done.

Bingley, Jane, Darcy, Lizzie. I do love the light streaming through the windows.

A Brief History of Breakfast (or for God’s sakes it’s “just” a vitamin commercial)

As many of you may have be aware, there has been a great to-do about an Asian/Chinese Centrum commercial featuring Mr. Hiddleston. The uproar over this has been baffling to me since I don’t understand the un-comfortableness people are experiencing over a basically boring commercial (no offense to Mr. Hiddleston, but the Jaguar commercials I liked much better).

It’s really quite a boring bottle, but gets the point across.

Most of the comments I’ve seen on-line relate to the question of why vegetables were being served (along with a fried egg and some fresh fruit) for Breakfast. Well, visually, the vegetables and fruit were laid out and displayed to mimic the brands iconic rainbow design, but in such a way as to not be so blatantly obvious. Clearly the intent was to showcase that the same vitamins and minerals found in these food items are also found in the daily pill. It’s very simple advertising (and yes, I took a class on Modern Art in Advertising in Grad School-it was summer and I was bored).

A screen-shot of the infamous vegetable plate with fried egg. There are blueberries on the plate as well (not shown). I am just impressed with the heart shaped egg actually (yes, I know it’s a mold).

Basically, it’s a pretty decent commercial, a bit boring and the only saving grace is the fact that Mr. Hiddleston is in it. But if you’ve ever seen commercials for the Asian markets (China, Japan, India, etc) that feature Western stars, they tend to be weird by Western standards. I believe it’s because people in the west truly don’t comprehend that there are more people who are Asian and of Asian decent in the world and yes, we’d like products featuring stars we like catered to us. Advertisements in general can be awkward and strange.

Yes, that’s Bob Hope endorsing a soda that no one has ever heard of. Hollywood has a history of endorsing products.

Nicole Kidman for Omega Watches. This advertisement was only placed in Asian countries and in Asian magazines.

While this is all well and interesting (not really), I want to address the issue many people are really having a hard time with, which is having vegetables for breakfast. Breakfast is, I think, historically a very interesting meal to look at because what was once eaten has changed over the years due to shifts in society and economy. Back in the time of Jane Austen (and generally this applies to the Georgian Era well into the Victorian Era in terms of food offered, not necessarily the times), people (not the servants) woke up before 8AM, had a cup of tea, ale, or hot chocolate and a piece of toast (maybe two). This was done in their nightwear, usually women would be wearing a bedgown/robe and men would be wearing a Banyan or Dressing Gown. They then would spot clean, get dressed and do their hair. They then exercised (walking, rode horses), wrote letters, gathered flowers (if they were into wanting fresh flowers in the home), practiced piano playing (specifically this refers to Jane herself) and then sat down to Breakfast at about 10AM.

https://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN00101/AN00101162_001_l.jpg

Le Bon Genre 106, 1817 (Doggy Meal is the basic French to English translation of the piece); Courtesy of the British Museum; this is meant to be satire, but one gets the general idea of what a typical Regency Era meal for just family may look like.

'A Brighton Breakfast' or 'Morning Comforts' by Charles   Williams

A Brighton Breakfast or Morning Comforts (Oct 1802); drawn by Charles Williams depicting Mrs. Fitzherbert (Prinny’s illegal Catholic Wife, my ancestor by marriage Maria Weld) and Lady Lade (one of Prinny’s mistresses at the time). Courtesy of the Regency Town House website

A typical Georgian & Regency breakfast (remember, this is being served around 10AM) may include eggs, kidneys & liver (I’m not a fan of organ meat, so bleh), various cold cuts or chops leftover from a previous meal (typically cold chicken or turkey, game birds, beef, ham, etc). Kippers or some kind of fish (this tended to be seasonal and more typical for homes along a coast or access to a constant source of fresh water, so think Lyme Regis, Brighton, Bath, but not necessarily London), game pies, tongue (bleh), and perhaps jellied eel (again, bleh). More tea and hot chocolate was served, though Prinny and other Dandies at the time preferred ale (alcohol was available to drink 24/7 at this time because water was not safe to drink). Ale and Stout were also reported to be a healthy beverage to consume for breakfast, so women were encouraged to drink it to help encourage fertility (seriously, I am not kidding here). Cakes spiced with things like Caraway seeds, Ginger, citrus, fresh or preserved fruits, honey and saffron were typically seen. Hot rolls, toast, butter, preserves, French Brioche (particularly posh) along with fried potatoes and any fresh seasonal fruit was served as well. While no research (meaning my ongoing 20+ year one) has yet turned up any evidence of milk or lemon barely water being drunk at this time, I have come across both being touted for invalids and children, so I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibilities to see them made available for those that wished for them (especially if children were involved). This was mean to be a fairly relaxing, communal, and most likely lasted close to an hour as people came to eat at their leisure, which must have been a nightmare for the servants.

The Full English (well, one example of it anyways). There are many variations of it in the UK, but there are at least 2 types of meat, beans, tomatoes, toast, eggs and sometimes mushrooms (some places have potatoes instead of mushrooms). Tomatoes are also usually fried, though raw wouldn’t bother me.

Sometime in the mid Victorian Era (late 1850s to early 1860s), breakfast not only meant the Georgian/Regency meal as stated above, but a newer, smaller hot meal. The English Breakfast Society dates the Full English to the early 1800s, yet I’ve never been able to find any evidence of this. While I do believe it evolved from the Georgian/Regency meal (which did offer a variety of meats, eggs, and toast), tomatoes were NOT widely eaten at that point in time. Tomatoes were seen as poisonous and the only way people consumed them was they had to be cooked, preferably in a soup format and possibly jellied IF one wished for a cold remove for a dinner (remove is a very fancy terms for a side dish). The closest I’ve seen to a Full English is from Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management (it’s free on Kindle and yes, I’ve read it):

Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.

This is her description of hot food items for breakfast. She does mention the use of cold meats, including tongue, potted meats, cold game pies, as well as bread, sweet rolls, and pastries. Typical breakfast fare for inns, pubic-houses and for the working class (servants too) consisted of eggs, bacon or ham, bread, butter, and ale.

Kedgeree is considered a typical British Breakfast dish (courtesy of the BBC)

Now, one item I have not discussed yet is Kedgeree. Now, I’m American, but I am also half-Desi and I love this dish. I have made this dish and variations that are more traditional (as in Desi traditional) when I was living on my own in Grad School. For modern eaters of this dish, it contains rice, smoked haddock (I prefer Salmon, but Tuna is also considered acceptable), hard boiled eggs, parsley, butter or cream. Some UK recipes insist on adding curry powder (which is a very British thing; curry for us Desis means it contains tomatoes), and sultanas (raisins; like potato salad, just no). This modern dish dates to about 1790 from a recipe book by Stephana Malcolm of Scotland and is believed to have been created by Scottish Militia who missed the spices and food of India once they returned home. Traditional Kedgeree (Khichri or Kishri or Khichdi) dates to 1340CE, but is probably much older. Ibn Battuta wrote in 1340CE of a dish he enjoyed and referred to as Kishri of moong dal cooked with rice (basically, lentils and rice most likely topped with butter because yes, Indian people did know how to make butter).

Masoor Dal (Red Lentil) Khichri. There are many recipes and variations of Khichri out there. Notice that vegetables play a key factor here. Yes, VEGETABLES for BREAKFAST.

The oldest known written recipe for Khichri dates from around 1590 CE and remains extremely popular in the Gurajat region of India where it’s often served with a spiced yogurt called Kadhi or Raitia (they are different dishes actually, but I’ve eaten it with Raitia, so don’t “at” me Desi brothers and sisters). Fish is and was probably added along the coastlines of India, where fish and seafood is widely eaten. Eggs are usually not part of the dish, traditionally, but I’ve added some boiled eggs on occasion. I’ve also added Paneer instead. Like I stated before, there are so many variations of this dish in the Desi community, most can find one they like. Or go with the UK version.

Seal of the East Indian Company (the British one as there was a Dutch one too). Courtesy of North Central College (Naperville, IL)

Now Kedgeree (yes, I’ve gone back to the UK spelling) is never mentioned in Mrs. Beeton’s book and is never acknowledged as being a dish served during the time of Jane Austen. For some reason, it seems to magically appear around the 1830s, disappear,then reappear in the 1880s. But briefly and only in passing (I am referring to extant novels). It is mentioned in Evelyn’s Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted (pubslihed in 1945) and Mary Wesley’s Camomile Lawn (published in 1984); both books are cited by Americans who blog about wanting to try Kedgeree because it’s mentioned in these two British novels (they are also often shocked at the ingredients and typically don’t like it).

An illustration depicting what a Georgian/Regency Scottish Officer would be wearing (1780s-1820s). We can thank the wife of one of these gents for writing down the first UK recipe for Kedgeree. Courtesy of Brown University (Rhode Island).

This was probably a dish that most men in the military brought back with them (because, as we should now, the East Indian Company sent Army men to India, China, Japan (and more) for close to 300 years (December 1600 to June 1874). Because Austen had no relations involved in that venture, it is possibly she never heard of it (her three brothers joined during the Napoleonic Wars-two in the Navy and one in the Oxford Militia). Tough I do find it odd that it is not mentioned by Sir Walter Scott (considering the UK version comes from Scotland). Oh well. Personally, I am fairly certain Colonel Brandon, Sir John Middleton, Colonel Foster, and Captain Wentworth would have heard of it and eaten it. Definitely Admiral Croft must be included in that list.

Corn Flakes

This brings our breakfast journey right to Battle Creek, Michigan (I’ve got family near there, no lie) and the Kellogg Brothers. Dr. Kellogg was a Seven Day Adventist and hard core vegetarian. I do mean hard core. He was fine with dairy being consumed, but not meat, not eggs, no fish, etc. Hopefully you get my point. He ran a sanitarium (Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) and did some pretty shady crap. He tortured and trained a wild wolf to turn away from the instinct to eat meat as “proof” man could curb his instincts for consuming flesh. He believed in using masturbatory devices to curb unhealthy sexual activities between married couples (vibrators people); he firmly believed sex should only take place to produce children. Any “urges” had to be taken care of scientifically. Basically, he was nuts himself (see the 1994 film Road to Wellville as it’s surprisingly accurate). His brother, Will, on the other hand, was more practical. While also an Adventist, he wasn’t too keen on the whole vegetarian thing, but he was into philanthropy. Will noticed that rich people ate eggs and meat for breakfast while the poor tried to survive on oatmeal, farina, gruel (you get the point) which filled them up, but didn’t provide enough nutrients. So he came up with corn flakes, which is just toasted flakes of corn mush. It was cheap, it was filing, and because you ate it with milk, you were getting some protein. Post Cereals (now known as General Mills) copied this concept with their own version, but added sugar.

How many of us grew up with the concept of this being the normal breakfast?

This really did change the landscape for breakfast. Think about all the cereals that have come out of this concept. We have cereals made from corn, wheat, oats, and rice. And yes, I know I did not mention pancakes, waffles, etc because I don’t have time for that and I am focusing on just the concept of breakfast, not a book on the history of it. Eggs generally were eaten on weekends (at least, for me growing up) because cereal was faster to prepare.

Vegetable Stuffed Omelette from Betty Crocker’s website. No, I’m not kidding. This is an actual recipe. Chosen mainly to highlight that, yes, we do eat vegetables for breakfast.

This brings me back around to people freaking out about that Hiddleston commercial. If vegetables are in a quiche, an omlette, or a quinoa breakfast bowl, no one is bothered by it. We accept that it’s perfectly fine to have vegetables for breakfast, but only if it conforms to certain standards (meaning Western standards). But what if the commercial was done for a Desi audience and the dish he prepared was a traditional Khichri? Most people in the UK would probably recognize it as being similar to a Kedgeree and wouldn’t be bothered by it. Americans would still have a fit because it’s rice being eaten for breakfast (rice, of course, is ALWAYS Basmati; that Texas grown “Texati” stuff is disgusting). I’ve worked with people from Mexico and have had eggs smothered in beans and Cholula Hot Sauce (which I highly recommend! The beans were cooked in mole sauce and onions).

On the left is regular brown rice. On the right is brown Basmati rice.

Breakfast is simply  the first meal we eat to break our fast after sleeping. There is no wrong food to eat. There is no right food to eat. I can tell you that as while in College (and Grad Schools), I ate things like grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, Khichri, oatmeal, eggs (lots of eggs, which I still do), portabello mushrooms, ice cream (I’m an adult), cereal, beans on toast (Heinz of course as I am not a savage), shami kabobs, tuna sandwiches, lox on bagels with smear (ask your Jewish or NYC friends), and on occasion, pancakes or waffles.

This is what I had today for Breakfast: homemade Paneer Jalfrezi on a bed of spinach. Followed by an apple (Envy variety! Delicious) and tea.

So yes, I have eaten vegetables for breakfast. I’ll probably continue to do so in some fashion the rest of my life. It’s really not that weird of a concept. I didn’t think the commercial was weird in showing that. FYI, the shuffling people say occurs near the end? Most likely slipping shoes on. Most Asians take shoes off at the door and put the on when they leave. This is not a creepy or weird thing. It keeps floors much cleaner. I really do think people need to learn about other cultures so things like this won’t be found to be offensive or awkward in the future.

Tomorrow? I think I’ll have some vegetables with my eggs topped with cheese. And a glass of milk. Then again, I may have a protein smoothie.

Pride and Prejudice: 1980 (or 1985) Adaptation

So this adaptation has the distinct oddity of having two release dates. It was first aired in the UK in 1980, but wasn’t aired in the US until 1985. Which makes it vastly confusing when you are trying to find out more information about it because the DVD copy I own (part of the Jane Austen Collection that I have mentioned before) lists it as being made in 1985 and I was under the impression that this is when it was first seen. So, why the confusion? I believe in this case since the DVD collection is geared towards the US market, it changed the year on this particular adaptation (and this is the only one in the set to have been aired in a different year than it’s UK airing) to jog the memories of audiences in the US. Though I wish they had not done so as it made it incredibly difficult on my end to find out any particulars.

This version is the fifth BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. The first four were done in 1938, 1952, 1958, and 1967. All I could find out was the 1958 and 1967 versions were highly praised, and a cast list as well as the episodes listing is all that remains. Unfortunately, both of these versions are considered lost and there isn’t any verifiable cast pictures to inform us of what the sets and costumes look like.

Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet

There are many reasons why this adaptation is still held in great esteem even with the much praised and beloved 1995 version. Simply phrased, this one is superbly charming and well acted. Charlotte Lucas is plain, but not unpretty in her own way. Lizzie is vibrant, bubbly, and everything you imagine her to be from the pages of the novel. Darcy is arrogant, proud, and a bit of a pretty boy (perhaps a tad vain). Mrs. Bennet is shrill land annoying while Mr. Bennet is bored and uncaring. The adaptation was done by Fay Weldon (an award winning novelist) and one can tell she spent time in crafting this version to be accurate, but also understanding it needed to be paced for television (she did work for ITV and BBC prior to this adaptation). That effort shows and unlike the 1940 version (which is fun, but not wholly accurate), this one maintains the charm of the 1813 novel.

Sabina Franklyn as Jane Bennet

The Assembly Ball

One scene that stands out is the Assembly Ball. Not only is it our first introduction to Darcy and Bingley, but also how the Bennet girls behave in public. I liked that there were soldiers present in Militia uniforms, though they did appear slightly more gaudy than what I was expecting (very bright and bold colors). But I do see this as a sign of the times (this was filmed in 1979 afterall) and the lighting that was used. Still, it is good to see the men in uniforms. There was also a table laden with food and I had to pause and rewatch it a few times (yes, because it was for research) to be surprised to see the food was period correct. I don’t know if any or all of it was edible, but I did see a plethora of fruits stacked neatly, jellies of all sorts, cold meats, and sweets. Perhaps a little over the top (some recent criticism has not enjoyed it stating the foods are too colorful), but they are fun, colorful, and something that is period correct. Food was usually served at these events and the Assembly Ball was local, small, and would have had such a display as a way to inform the Officers that this was an area worth being in.

Irene Richard as Charlotte Lucas with Lizzie

While I believe the script to be of an excellent quality, the costumes are very much a product of their times. One modern complaint is that they are very pastel Easter Egg looking and yes, I can understand why this may be a reason not many people have enjoyed this version. We have in our minds that all young ladies wore white because of more recent adaptations of any Austen novel. Yes, white was a preferred color for young girls making their debut into Society and no doubt for the first year or two, many of their evening dresses would have been white. For example, considering that Jane, Lizzie, and Mary have probably been “out” for more than two years, I would not expect them to wear white. They can, if they choose to because it was popular for decades and practical. Practical in that one’s white gown from two or three Seasons ago could be updated with trimmings or embroidery or lace and still worn. Lydia, Kitty, and even Maria Lucas on the other hand, I would fully expect to be only wearing white since they are so very young and I suspect Lydia has only been “out” for a few months in terms of the novel. AS to the Easter Egg pastels, yes they are not period correct. There were some pastels that did exist, but these tended to be blues and greens (with light grays thrown in for good measure). Most colors were medium to dark in color. If one wanted them to appear lighter, then a layering of lace on top usually did the trick. Now, I may be wrong in the pastel coloration. Fashion plates at the time do show more pastel colors, but keep in mind colors may have faded over time and fashion plates were colored in with watercolours, which are opaque to begin with. I have looked at so many dresses from this era in my 20 years of research that I truly cannot recall if I have seen any in these more modern Easter Egg pastel colors. This doesn’t mean that somewhere, out there, there might be a few in existence.  But I feel it’s best to err on the side of judgment and state that I don’t believe they existed.

British 7th Royal Fusiliers Officer's Uniform, circa 1795, front view.

British 7th Royal Fusiliers Officer’s Uniform, circa 1795, front view (Courtesy of Military Heritage website); chosen to show what a period correct Military Uniform would look like in terms of the colors and decorations.

A set of Coatees and Infantry officer's hat as used by the 96th Regiment. From left to right they date from 1796-1816, a short-...

A set of Coates and Infantry officer’s hat as used by the 96th Regiment. From left to right they date from 1796-1816 (Courtesy of Clash of Steel website); also chosen to show how the style changed from 1796 to 1816, but the decorations are still not bright yellow and white.

Underdress, c.1810. This simple silk piece would've been worn beneath an overdress made from a sheer fabric, such as patterned organza or embroidered muslin.

Yellow Silk Underdress, c.1810. This would be worn underneath an overdress made from a sheer fabric, such as patterned organza, embroidered muslin, or even lace (Courtesy of the John Bright Collection UK); I chose this image to highlight the brightness of the colors that were available at this time.

muslin gown with embroidery.

Sheer Embroidered Muslin Overdress c. 1810 (Courtesy of a Russian Heritage website); This is an example of the type of overdress that would go over the bright yellow silk pictured above. While the sheer material would dull the color somewhat, the yellow would not appear pastel.

Ball Dress, 1812

Ball Dress C. 1812 (I believe Ackermann’s Repository); this is probably what we tend to have in mind for ball dresses at this time. It’s white, fairly simple yet elegant. Yet notice the fringe on the dress and petticoat and the puff detail that was popular (and would gain in popularity well into the 1820s) that we don’t see in adaptations. Note Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 and this is from 1812.

So, why I am focused on costumes for this particular adaptation? Probably because it was the fifth version done by the BBC at this point I would expect a little more historical accuracy and effort put in. While I can forgive the errors in the 1970 versions that are out there, by this time, the BBC should have made more of an effort. Another pet peeve I have with the costumes is I can see no visible means of getting the actresses in and out of the gowns. A majority of the extant gowns that you can see on-line (which I do love how Museums have taken photographs to make these things available to us), show us two main back closures-buttons and lacing. Lacing, of course, indicated one was wealthy and could afford an Abigail (a maid devoted to your personal appearance) to dress and undress you daily. Buttons may also indicate the ability of affording a maid, but more likely an upstairs maid and not an Abigail per se. Buttons, of course, would also make is easier for female relations to assist each other in dressing. Front closures where also popular and I think wholly underused in adaptations. If one was not wealthy, then a front closure would be practical. I sometimes get frustrated at the lack of common sense research that is done for historical costuming. Also, important is because of the way the gowns sit upon the actresses, I am well aware they are not wearing period undergarments.

Ah, yes, the obligatory nightgown scene. While the use of a sleeping cap is a historical touch, the hair would have been braided.

Because I cannot find any known way for these actresses to get into these costumes, I can then only surmise they have side zippers or hidden back zippers (plackets) that are not being picked up by the camera. Whitson Judson of Chicago patented the zipper on August 29th, 1893 (it was clumsy and streamlined by engineer Gideon Sundbach in 1913 after which is became widely used). Basically, I am saying that if any designer is using a zipper pre-1913, they will get the WTActualFrog reaction from me (Theatre Productions are the exception because of quick changes).

Priscilla Morgan as Mrs. Bennet

Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Now that I’ve had my rant about the costumes, there are some unusual changes made to the script from the novel that should be addressed. Maria Lucas is not seen and I do believe she is not even mentioned, so I am fairly certain Maria was removed from the adaptation.The Hursts, likewise, have mysteriously vanished. Aunt Phillips is shown and portrayed by Shirley Cain as a woman who is genteel, but of the middle working class background. I’ve never liked version who portray her as being silly and uncouth-she is written as being genteel in the novel and genteel is how she should be portrayed. Lady Catherine is much younger than she is usually portrayed and cast. And I have to admit that I like having Lady Catherine not so old as she is generally made to be. She is meant to be a little older than Darcy’s own mother, so I do question why she is often cast as being in her dotage when in reality, she could be much younger. If Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne is of a similar age to Darcy (30) and Lady Catherine was married by the time she was 17 or 18, then she may only be around 50 instead of the 70 she is usually seen as. Anne, I should note, is not made to look overly sickly and ill, but more delicate and frail looking, which I do feel works. We only take it for granted that Elizabeth’s description of Anne looking sickly is the truth. We must recall that Elizabeth is wishing everything that is cruel and hateful upon Mr. Darcy because of her loyalty to Wickham. Showing us an Anne who isn’t so sickly informs us, the audience, how Elizabeth is blinded by Wickham’s lies.

Malcolm Rennie as Mr. Collins

Now, let’s talk about hair. Hair, like costumes, is vastly important and often overlooked. And I have to say that for this version, hair was done fairly decently. I don’t mind Mr. Collins’ quasi-curled locks. It shows that he has some vanity, but at the same time, isn’t so fashion forward as he thinks he is, which is pure Collins. His sideburns are also not bad and not overly long.

David Rintoul as Fitzwilliam Darcy

Darcy’s hair is curly (and sometimes it looks very curly), but it also looks like the hairstyle Darcy would pick. It informs you he is a man who can afford trips to get his hair shampooed, cut, layered, and overall maintained to have that tousled look. Yes, shampoo did exist (thanks to an Indian who came to Ireland in the 1790s named S. D Mahomed and his steam baths that he started in 1806 in London, then moved to Brighton in 1814, adding champu to the regiment, though I’m fairly certain he was probably messing about with the concept in 1806; and yes, people of colour did live in England prior to the Victorian Era even though Mark Gatiss doesn’t believe it :::insert eyeroll:::). Even if Darcy wasn’t using champu, Pears soap did exist and is gentle enough to wash one’s locks with (because I have actually done this).

Tessa Peake-Jones as Mary Bennet

Now, I have always had an issue with how Mary Bennet is treated in every single adaptation. In the 1940 version, while she had glasses and was somewhat silly at times, her hair was still well done and pretty. that has been the only time Mary Bennet had ever been given anything fashionable in any version of Pride and Prejudice since and I hate it. No where in Austen is Mary described as being ugly, overly plain, and not well dressed. No where and I have tried to find any evidence to the contrary. In fact, I can find no evidence that Austen mentions Mary wears spectacles. to me, it seems someone decided that since Mary loves to read, and tends to be serious, then glasses must surely indicate her unsuitability to be seen as attractive. Notice that wearing spectacles never affects the suitability of any man’s lack of attractive qualities. This is where as a person who wears glasses I have never fully enjoyed Pride and Prejudice adaptations because of this stereotype. I am a studious person, well read, and yes I wear spectacles. In the world of Austen Adaptations, this makes me wholly unattractive simply because of the wearing of glasses. My wit, my charms, my overall pleasant manner can never overcome a pair of spectacles. This is wrong. This is a disservice to women as well. Austen writes heroines who are loved for their wit, their charms, their inner beauty. Making Mary Bennet perpetually ugly for no reason is an affront to Austen. There are other ways to make Mary seem ridiculous. Her lines alone do that well enough. Her inability to carry a note does this as well. People who wish to adapt this in the future, do better.

Michael Lees (Mr. Gardiner) and Barbara Shelley (Mrs. Gardiner)

Some other weird changes from the novel, to which I do not comprehend why it was done, was the change in the amount both Bingley and Darcy have per year. In the novel, Bingley as 5,000 pounds a year and Darcy 10,000. In this version, Mrs. Bennet states Bingley will have 5 to 6,000 a year, while Darcy will only have 8,000. I don’t understand why such a change was done. Also, when Lizzie goes to visit Charlotte at Rosings Park, Darcy is all ready in attendance with his cousin,, Colonel Fitzwilliam, arriving later. Both gentleman arrive after Lizzie in the novel. Likewise, when Lizzie receives the letter from Jane regarding Lydia’s elopement, she runs all the way to Pemberly from Lambton (which I believe was supposed to be a few miles off) because her uncle is fishing there and the aunt is mysteriously missing. I don’t understand the reasoning behind that at all. Unless they wanted to mimic her going to see Jane at Netherfield (in an earlier scene) with a similar scene at the end. I also believe the Gardiners are not given any children in this version as well, which is weird.

Lizzie & Mrs. Gardiner touring Pemberly

Lastly, they drink water. Water was not drunk at this time unless it was in the form of tea or barley water. The reason for this was, of course, of outhouses and sanitation. there were such things as water treatment plants available back then. Water came from streams, wells, ponds, etc, and there were farms everywhere. Yes, that’s a gross thought. Tea was safe because it was boiled first as was barley water. But can you imagine the uproar kitchen staff would have over someone requesting water to drink? It would require water to be boiled then filtered (yes, filtered) through a series of natural filters such as various rocks, sand, clay, etc, before being declared safe to drink. Water was boiled for tea, for washing clothing, and for baths (which occurred once a week if you were wealthy-most spot cleaned with a washcloth daily). Hair was most likely washed once a week to one a month. It was a dirty, smelly time. Yet we romanticize it.

Marsha Fitzalan as Caroline Bingley

So, do I recommend this version? Honestly, I do. Disregarding the issues with costuming and some weird script choices, this is a very good version of Austen’s novel. The sets are much better than what we were seeing in the 1970s and the outdoor scenes are very lovely. Improvement in filming meant there wasn’t this harsh transition from indoor to outdoor scenes. Lighting was much improved by this time and you can tell that a great amount of detail was spent on trying to use natural light whenever possible, which is a very good choice. Jewelry and makeup is used and used well. I don’t understand this more recent trend to not using makeup or jewelry for Austen adaptations because both existed and were used. Makeup especially considering the heavy use of it during the Georgian Era would not magically disappear with the French Revolution. It continued to be used, but the trend was for more natural looks (much like today we women are told to look natural, but if we wear no makeup, we are chastised for it; I suspect a similar attitude was prevalent back in Austen’s day). Much like the 1940 version, this ends with the Bennets being very happy to know that they will soon have two more daughters wed.

Lizzie & Darcy

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.

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

 

Emma: Part 4 (2009 Adaptation)

I now conclude my Emma adaptation reviews with the most recent adaptation available, which is the BBC version done in 2009. This adaptation was written by Sandy Welch as early as 1995/1996, but was put off due to the film version which came out in 1996 and the Andrew Davies ITV version that same year. Can’t say I blame the BBC for waiting over a decade before doing an updated Emma. Unlike the BBC 1972 version, which was 6 parts, this one is only 4 parts, making it much shorter and a little more abridged, which is not a bad thing for an adaptation to be. There were, at times, I felt the 1972 version seemed to drag because it was overly long (it’s definitely one you don’t want to try and watch all in one sitting). This one, if one chooses to, can easily be watched in one day or weekend.

Romola Garai is Emma Woodhouse

Romola Garai is a fine Emma Woodhouse. She’s young enough that when she makes the mistakes that she eventually does, you do feel bad for her, but also acknowledge that she knows no better due to her age. Michael Gambon is Mr. Woodhouse, and is more subtle in his paranoia than previous versions, which is different but a choice I do not mind. They also show Emma’s mother in the beginning, show her death and thus explain why Mr. Woodhouse is overly concerned with health and his daughters being close to him at all times. It’s never mentioned as to why he behaves the way he does in the novel, so having some kind of explanation does help make him a more sympathetic character. It was a bold decision to make and one that I enjoyed seeing.

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse

I really didn’t see the point to showing little Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax shown being taken away as children from Highbury (and being seen by Emma as a young girl). To me, it was interesting visually, but made no sense in the overall feel of the adaptation. Especially since I do believe Mr. Weston moves to Highbury and then marries Miss Taylor in a few years, so the removal of Frank from his father took place elsewhere. It’s just an odd thing to have added which didn’t need to be added. While I do enjoy the little scene of John and Isabella flirting in the gardens, I do not like seeing both the Woodhouse girls with their hair down. I’m sorry but too many portraits of well-bred young ladies exist showing that little girls did not have their hair down past a certain age. I can see possibly if they were under the age of 12, but once they were old enough to be sent away for schooling, they would have they’re hair up. Children were dressed like little adults at this time. Clothing specific for children really wasn’t’ a thing until the mid-Victorian Era (this includes hair).

Emma with her hair down. Just no.

Mrs & Mr. Woodhouse with baby Emma.

This is the only adaptation to show Mrs. Weston pregnant. While the 1972 version hints at why Mrs. Weston is “indisposed”, they do not show her pregnant, but later on state she’s had a child. She’s not mentioned as being pregnant in either the 1996 film or ITV version, so this is the only accurate depiction of Mrs. Weston we have post marriage. It’s good to see her wearing maternity clothes (basically gowns made to be fuller in front) that are period correct. And yes, she would not be seen much out of doors during her confinement (towards the end of the pregnancy, women basically stayed at home). It’s such a little thing to be excited about, but it makes me happy.

Emma & a pregnant Mrs. Weston (portrayed by Jodhi May)

Mrs. Weston

One criticism is the hats. While lovely and period correct, they don’t always seem to fit on Emma’s head correctly. They seem to be in constant danger of falling off, as if they are placed too far back for the purposes of filming, which may be the case. Then, one would think they would use hat pins to secure said hats in place to make them more secure. Alas, the lack of hat pins is a vexation to me! They do seem to randomly appear, like on Box Hill or on characters such as Miss Bates or Harriet Smith, but not always on all the ladies consistently. Which is a pity, I find.

Emma’s magical hat. How did it stay on?

Emma, Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) and Mrs. Elton (Christina Cole)

Another odd choice that I do not know if I like or not is they made Mrs. Elton resemble Harriet in terms of hairstyle and looks, but Emma in terms of the colors of her clothing. She is the blending of the two and it’s just visually odd to me. Now, this may have been done on purpose, to show that Mr. Elton was attracted to both ladies, but wanted to marry Emma because she was well connected and rich. Harriet, of course, is the natural daughter of nobody (natural daughter is the polite term meaning she is someone’s bastard child). Some people may like the way Mrs. Elton was costumed and her hair and others might not. I have not decided yet.

Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith.

The Portrait Scene

Louise Dylan is very delicate and pretty as Harriet Smith. She and Romola have amazing chemistry together and you truly believe these two have become close friends. She has this incredible ability to have a sense of wonderment and innocence in her eyes throughout the adaptation that when she is hurt, you truly feel for her. You can sense why Emma has become her friend and cares for her .While I have enjoyed the relationship between Harriet and Emma, I confess that I did not like the portrait scene. In the novel, Harriet is described as sitting down. So the 1972 and the 1996 ITV version adhered the the novel. the 1996 film and this version are basically identical in have a Greco-Roman-esque pose which shouldn’t exist. This feels like the BBC is trying to compete with the Paltrow version. If they wanted to do an entirely different pose, then I would have liked to have seen try something wild, like sitting on a swing (which is very Georgian). Or something Arthurian, like she’s the Lady Elaine or a scene from Ivanhoe (which was popular during Austen’s time). There was just so much potential here and they went with copying the film version.

Emma & Harriet

Costumes are not bad in this version. Emma’s clothes tend to have a quiet elegance about them which is quiet nice. I like the addition of having sheer sleeves added to gowns, which can be seen as an under layer added for protection under the sun but also for warmth on chilly spring days. I do enjoy seeing the use of layers because that is how people dressed. Women would have under shirts and wear sleeveless gowns on top, then have a shawl, Spencer jacket, or pelisse when going outside. Men would wear scarves, vests, outdoor jackets and hats. Fob watches were worn by both sexes, so I do applaud showing Emma wearing one as well as Mr. Knightly. And I did like seeing buttons and lacing for the back of the gowns instead of lacing, which seems to have become the industry standard of late (while lacing was done, buttons were also used and both should be shown). There was a point were Emma was shown wearing wide sashes around her waist. When she was younger, that was a look (Robe a la Reine) made famous by Marie Antoinette shortly before she was removed from the throne and beheaded. It hails form her Petit Trinon days. Think Aristocracy does Peasant look. It’s actually a very sweet look. But sometimes, they show a more grown up Emma still wearing a wide sash, which confuses me. Not sure what the purpose was.

Marie Antoinette in a Robe a la Reine

Young Emma in what looks like a take on the Robe a la Reine

Hairstyles, for the most part, were fairly good. I have no issues withe the hairstyles gearing more towards the 1820s considering Emma was published in 1815, so setting around 1815-1820 gives the designers 5 years to play around in. I do think Johnny Lee Miller’s hair as Knightley was too short. Even if it was meant to be a la Titus, it was too modern and short for that particular hairstyle. It needed to be longer in order to be layered correctly. Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton has a much better a la Titus. Some of the older gentlemen are shown wearing a wig at times, which would still occur. You would expect the older generation to still hold onto their fashions like wigs for years past the time it was even fashionable. I’ve read accounts were people were complaining the local physician was wearing a Georgian wig in the 1830s! Granted he lived in the rural part of the US, but it was a fashion item no longer in use.

Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton. This is a good a la Titus.

Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. This is a bad a la Titus.

Portrait from around 1800-1810 showing the a la Titus hairstyle. Notice the layers.

Now, I am not all doom and gloom. The dancing scenes I thought were lively and accurate to the period. Some adaptations like having them stately and dull, but these dances were lively, fun and loud! I love it when the dance scenes show them full of vigor and movement. These are meant to be fun gatherings, not boring mind numbing affairs. Why else would Lydia and Kitty Bennett be begging for a ball to be held at Netherfield if they were so dull?

Balls are meant to be loud and fun.

 

1972 BBC Version

1972 BBC Version: Absolutely faithful to the novel. This version is long and can get tedious at times because it’s so long. However, the costumes are lovely (especially the pleated hat Emma wears), the sets are gorgeous, and the acting is sublime. This is the first adaptation of the novel and it was very well done. Be warned that because it’s in six parts, you may want to watch it over a period of a few days.  You can watch it over a weekend, but I recommend watching an episode a day and stretching it out over the span of a week because it is so long and dense. Advice I should have taken myself. It is part of the Classic Jane Austen  Collection, so if you purchase that collection, you get the first adaptations of all the Jane Austen novels (which is worth it).

1996 Film Version

1996 Film Version: I don’t mind this version, but it’s not one that I would personally purchase and own. Too many issues with the costumes makes it hard for me to enjoy besides some of the odd casting choices. That’s not to say it’s a bad adaptation. It’s fairly decent and it’s our only film version so far (our second film version is set to come out in 2020). It’s short and an easy watch. If you haven’t seen it, most local libraries have a copy or can get one through inter library loan.

1996 ITV Version

1996 ITV Version: I highly recommend this version and I own it. It’s wonderfully adapted and has a great cast and crew involved. It’s a better version than the film that was released the same year. My only complaint is that it’s shorter than the film and I wish it were at least 10-15 minutes longer so it could have included possibly the Coles party scene. It’s also the only time we see a non-blonde as Emma. No where in the novel does it state Emma is blonde. The only reason they have cast a blonde as Emma is because the first person to portray Emma (back in 1972) was a blonde.

2009 BBC Version

2009 BBC Version: I actually really like this version. I think it was really well done and even though there are some issues that I have with it, they are minor things that don’t affect my enjoyment. I do believe that when I have the funds, I will consider purchasing this version to add to my collection and I have not considered purchasing any of the more recent adaptations at all. But this one was truly well done and I wouldn’t mind owning it, which is considerably high praise coming from me.