I consider Jane Austen to be one of the greatest authors of all time. I thoroughly enjoy everything she did, have reread several of her works, and owned several movie versions of them well before I met Joy.
This week, I am sad to report, we have seen two of the most disappointing film renditions of her works we have seen. They were shown on the new Masterpiece Classic in January, and my mother thoughtfully recorded them for us. These reviews notwithstanding, we do appreciate it.
1) Northanger Abbey (2007) with Felicity Jones, screenplay by Andrew Davies - not our favorite of the books anyway, but this movie decided to add several scenes depicting the Gothic romance books the heroine fancies. This was rather dark for Joy. When Catherine then started reading aloud about a voyeuristic monk, in detail describing what he saw, we just shut it off and said, "NEXT!"
2) Mansfield Park with Billie Piper, screenplay by Maggie Wadey - I love M.P. I think it's my second favorite of her works, though Emma is close. If you assigned M.P. to a freshman English class and asked them to write a 3-5 page paper on the plot, this is the movie you would get based on their summaries. It's choppy. Scene shifts are sudden. There is no subtlety, whether in acting, stagecraft, or filming. They give you one blunt, bludgeoned sentence to give you the fullest character of each person and fail miserably to develop anyone any further. With such a view of it, you can imagine the snarky comments I might add when I discovered that Jane Austen was not even credited in the film for having written the novel - Maggie Wadey gets that honor.
Most of the main scenes are there, but in such a choppy fashion that it's a wonder anyone who hadn't read it could follow it. Fanny gives you a brief introductory narration, and from then until halfway through the movie she does not speak - she just looks a little severly at everyone. She spends most of her time pouting. Edmund, when he realizes who he loves, is feverish and frightening and does a terrible job emoting love and affection. He spends most of his time looking like he needs to run off to the lavatory, but has to look dignified until the director yells Cut. They almost completely removed Aunt Norris and one of the sisters from the movie (and how do you understand what Fanny has gone through without Aunt Norris??).
They also almost completely cut Mr. Crawford's romancing of Fanny. He says he intends to pursue and she says he lacks constancy. He then meets her in the garden and says he has proved his constancy! Did I blink and miss it?? The next scene is when they learn a plot spoiler. She doesn't even go home to her own family! Mary Crawford was done halfway decently but, lacking Ms. Austen's subtlety, her lifting of her skirt to show her ankle, her blatant come-hither glares, and her demanding air make her much more of a tyrannical temptress than a decided clergyman-to-be would consider. The one humorous note is that the oldest brother, Tom, is played by a Mr. (James) D'Arcy.
I could go on, but won't. We'll just settle back and be thankful for Keira Knightly's ability to do justice to a long story in a short amount of time (screenplay by Deborah Moggach), sip the rapturous tea of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and delight at Gwennyth Paltrow's follies. As long as we have these, "Mr. Bennet, nothing you say shall ever vex me again. "
Mr. Bennet: I'm sorry to hear it.
(Thanks to PBS.org and IMDB.com for helping me get names and credits right and to Masterpiece Classic ... for trying.)