Watching Frank Churchill

amo vitam

FrankChurchill (3)I’ve been watching the 1996 Emma again. No, not that one, the other one. The one with Kate Beckinsale. Yes, I like the Gwyneth Paltrow version a lot too, and the 2008 Romola Garai one – in fact, so far the Kate Beckinsale one has been my least favourite of the three; I only own a copy on taped-from-TV VHS (I know, right?). But I pulled it back out lately for reasons of research completely unrelated to Jane Austen.

You see, I’m using the Frank Churchill in that movie as a model for one of the characters I’m writing at the moment. Just physically, mind you – it’s the actor, Raymond Coulthard, his looks and the way he moves and smiles, that I’m using, not Austen’s Frank Churchill. I’m picturing a young Ray Coulthard, ca. 1996, playing the scenes in my story, which helps with writing them…

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Beauty and the Beast Meets Pride and Prejudice

This just cracks me up: a mashup of Pride and Prejudice with Beauty and the Beast.

The best part about it is how well it works. The “Beast” voice is so much like Matthew McFadyen’s voice, especially when he says “I’ve never felt this way about anyone” – exactly the Darcy tone. I found this video when I was looking up P&P as a version of B&B – because it is, when you think about it, and apparently I’m not the only one with that opinion.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Beast in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a Beauty…

And Yet One More

One more post on Jane Austen, and I’ll have done for the summer.

The term paper is finished – 6,000 words on the P&P and S&S film adaptations (the 1995/2005 and 1995/2008 ones). My main point in it is that the newer movies are as much influenced by the older ones as by the books, and it’s really clearly seen in the characters of Mr Darcy, Margaret, Edward and Colonel Brandon. Film adaptations are a form of reader-response criticism – well, at least that’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

So after three months of full Austen immersion, I still don’t hate her (which is not a given; I can get tired very easily of subjects, especially if I have to do work on them). In fact, I’m more of a Janeite than ever, and now I’ve got the education to back me up. Educated fanatics are the worst kind; look out, world.

I think I could do a whole other course on Austen. I could have things to say about the adaptations of Mansfield, Northanger, Persuasion, and Emma. And I’d like to look at how, or if, Austen created the “romance” genre as we know it today (the storyline of proud rich man/feisty prejudiced girl has been repeated over and over in thousands of Harlequin novels and rom-coms). What did Austen mean when she said “I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem”? (That’s from a letter to the Prince Regent’s librarian, Sir James Stanier Clarke, who wanted her to write a “Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg” – heroic propaganda, in other words. Had that guy even read what Austen usually produced?) Obviously, the term “romance” meant something different then – but what? So I wouldn’t mind exploring Austen’s place vis-a-vis 19th-century Romanticism – is she, or is she not, part of that movement? I think not, but then I don’t know enough about Romanticism (yet). And how do we get from Romanticism to today’s red-hearts-and-Valentines “romance”? The last is where it veers off from Austen a bit – but regardless, suffice to say there’s still so much to think on and study, I could be busy with this for a long time yet. No wonder people get whole PhD’s studying Austen.

And speaking of people who haven’t actually read Austen: apparently the Brits are going to put her on the £10 note, starting in 2017. The accompanying quote, as this article in the Guardian points out, is one that’s a bit of a blunder: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” That’s said by Miss Bingley, for the sheer purpose of sucking up to Mr Darcy. Major irony on Austen’s part. It’s like a fridge magnet I have: it came with a box of herbal tea, and has an oh-so-cute teddy bear in a rocking chair on it sipping from a steaming mug, and bears the inscription: “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort! Jane Austen”. In that case, the quote comes from Emma, and is said by Mrs Elton being her usual annoying self – she really doesn’t mean what she’s saying any more than Miss Bingley does in the £10 quote. But then, I suppose, using as certified Austen quotes some lines that are examples of her incredible gift for irony is, in a strange way, quite apt. Those of us in the know can enjoy our quiet chuckle, and appreciate how definitive of the great Jane Austen those words are, after all.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that – this line is one of the most over-quoted in English literature. So I think I will sign off for now. Thanks for reading my effusions! I’ll be back in the fall with Children’s Literature and Fairytales.

First Draft

Well, the first draft is in the can. Of course, so far from not having enough to say to fill up the 5000-word paper, I had far too much to say, and ended up dropping more than half of what I had planned on and of the references I had copied out to use. I guess there’s good reasons people have written so many books on Austen and the film adaptations of her books.

So now to rewrite this thing into some semblance of sense…

Writer’s Block

Walking through molasses is nothing to this. I have no idea if I can find enough to say on the movies to make a whole term paper. Well, enough that’s intelligent – fan girl squealing isn’t going to cut it for an academic paper. It’s time for a nap, isn’t it?

On the other hand, I read a very interesting chapter by John Wiltshire in The Cinematic Jane Austen on “period lighting”, and how film makers use it to say “heritage film”. The fact is that in Austen’s time, everything after sunset was marked by darkness, the only light coming from candles or oil lamps (although gas lighting was being invented and started to come into use in her lifetime; but it would be unlikely that any of her characters would have seen or used it). Some of the film adaptations completely ignore that fact, noticeably the 1995 P&P. The evening scenes all take place in brilliantly lit rooms, with the candles just a token image in the background, merely decoration.

Incidentally, I’m using the terms “film” and “movie” indiscriminately to mean “moving picture”, regardless of what medium the picture in question was originally meant for. I think both “film” and “movie” technically means “cinematic release”, with the other being “telefilm”, “TV adaptation”, “TV series” or some such thing. That’s too awkward, though, especially as today we just watch all of them on the small screen via DVD. So I’m just using the shorthand.

Intertextuality

Knee-deep in research for the term paper. Re-watched both P&P and S&S movies in the last week, as that’s what I’ll be writing about – so that’s about 12 hrs worth of Austen film. Tough, but someone’s gotta do it.

Part of the point of my paper is going to be the issue of intertextuality, how one “text” (in this case films are considered “texts” as much as the printed version) refers to another, and how our reading/viewing of one is influenced by the other.

We had an argument last night in the family about whether the 1995 P&P, which we’ve watched incessantly, actually includes the scene from the book where Bingley says that if he decided to leave Netherfield, he’d be gone in five minutes – which he says in a sort of self-deprecating way, “Haha, I’m so impulsive,” whereupon Darcy tells him off, saying that he’s really indirectly boasting of being like that. It’s a fairly significant character point in describing both Bingley and Darcy. One of the family thought they were absolutely sure that scene was in the movie, and thought they remembered hearing Colin Firth delivering the line “I see your design, Bingley. You dislike an argument, and want to silence this.” But the fact is, that dialogue and this particular line are not in this movie adaptation; Colin Firth never did say that. But having watched the film so often, on every re-reading of the book Mr Darcy now speaks with Colin Firth’s voice, to the point where it’s difficult to separate the movie memories from the book ones.

Conversely, I only just twigged to the fact that in the 1995 S&S Emma Thompson’s Elinor is not, in fact, nineteen, but more like twenty-eight. I had always watched the film with the “knowledge” in my head that Elinor is nineteen and Marianne seventeen, and purposely in my mind glossed over the very obvious age difference of the actors (Emma Thompson was thirty-five to Kate Winslet’s nineteen) – sort of told myself to suspend disbelief, made myself read Elinor as nineteen even though she obviously wasn’t (kind of like watching Shakesperean boy actors play girls, you just make yourself accept it). I was watching the movie through the lens of the book. But in fact, Emma Thompson wasn’t trying to play a nineteen-year-old. The character is written and acted as a mature older sister, daughter of a fifty-year-old mother (not the forty-year-old of the book), looking after her flighty little sisters and running the household (“denying” them sugar and beef, for example, because it’s too expensive) – in fact, being the responsible mother-figure in the family. That’s how the film character is written and played (and played well), but I didn’t really see it because I was looking for the Elinor of the book, and so that’s what I saw.

And then of course there’s the fact that the movies heavily influence each other – in the case of Sense and Sensibility, the 2007 version directly quotes the 1995 one over and over, visually, verbally, in allusions, in character development, in scenes – sometimes purposely contrasting the one with the other. For example, in 1995 it’s Willoughby riding on a white charger to the rescue of Marianne who is collapsed in the rain; in 2007, Colonel Brandon gets to ride the horse to find Marianne, whereas Willoughby is on foot in that first scene. The Colonel-Brandon-carry-Marianne-into-the-house scene is not, I’m sad to say, in the book – Austen was obviously lacking the proper romantic sensibilities for appreciating such a scene. Good thing we’ve got Emma Thompson and Andrew Davies to make up for it.

Emma and Persuasion, the Movies

I never did let loose with my opinion on the Persuasion and Emma movies, after finishing with the books. Yes, I did watch them – of course. I own the lot of them, some on VHS, still, taped off the TV, but most on DVD. So here it is, my entirely personal opinion on them in a rather large-ish nutshell (coconut, I presume).

So, three versions of Emma – both of the 1996 adaptations (what were they thinking, making two adaptations of the same book in the same year?), and the 2009 one with Romola Garai in the lead. That one is my favourite, as are all the mini-series film versions of the books vs. the theatrical releases (the same goes for Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility). You can just pack so much more detail into three or five hours than into an hour-and-a-half. The theatrical or shorter TV version have to, of necessity, leave out a lot, cut whole characters or events, or greatly simplify character or plot development, whereas the more leisurely pace of a miniseries allows for much more storytelling. They’re more booklike, if you will. Granted, the theatrical versions can pack more punch, in some ways – they’re a different medium again, not as far different as movies from books, but they’re not the same. If movies and books are apples and oranges, perhaps TV versions and theatrical releases are Granny Smith vs. Golden Delicious.

So in the 2009 version, they really build the backstory of Mr Woodhouse, of Emma, of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. You actually see little Frank and Jane being sent off to live with other people (in the movie, Jane is being sent away as a really small girl, to the sobs of her aunt and grandmother, whereas in the book it’s a far more gradual process – she just goes for visits with the Campbells, and then goes to live there when she’s 11 or so. Not nearly as heart-wrenching as they make it out in this film.). It’s also the only version in which Mrs Weston’s pregnancy isn’t ignored, and right towards the end she has her baby girl, which event miraculously restores Mrs Bates to speech – now she becomes so loquacious poor Miss Bates can’t get a word in edgewise. Not anywhere in the book, but funny nonetheless. Mrs Bates is, in fact, in none of the movies like the Mrs Bates of the book; they all make her out to be quite senile and mostly speechless. It’s one of the instances of movie adaptations taking as much from each other as from the source book. The 2009 Emma takes a lot from the Gwyneth Paltrow version (which is my other favourite). Even in looks – both Gwyneth Paltrow and Romola Garai are blonde and beautiful, whereas Kate Beckinsale in the other 1996 version is dark (but also beautiful).

I very much like all the Mr Knightleys in these three movies – as for a favourite, it’s a toss-up between Jeremy Northam and Jonny Lee Miller. The former is more elegant and handsome, the latter quite well fits the “plain gentleman” that Mr Knightley is meant to be in the book. Another character that’s really good in all three versions is Miss Bates; I guess she’s such a caricature she’s not difficult to write and play. The most memorable (and quotable) version of the three is probably Sophie Thompson’s, shouting at her real-life mother Phyllida Law as Mrs Bates: “PORK, Mother! ANGEL, Mother!” The three Harriet Smith’s are also all excellent; the 2009 one (Louise Dylan) perhaps the best by sheer screen time which allows her to build the character, while Samantha Morton opposite Kate Beckinsale gives her usual fantastic performance which really brings out Harriet’s sweetness and naïvete (I love her bubbly enthusiasm about Mrs Martin’s “sweet little welch cow”).

Emma is not a difficult character to bring to screen; all three of these films are very “successful” (I’ll rant about that word some other time). Emma is someone very easy to understand for 21st-century audiences; we “get” the headstrong heroine who gets in trouble because of her overdose of self-confidence. Emma’s declaration that she will never marry rings an easy bell for women who have grown up with feminism; there’s no difficulty for film makers in translating her attitudes to an audience. It’s much harder to make today’s audiences understand and relate to the Dashwoods, for example, or the Bennets, who must marry or be destitute.

Now, some quick words on Persuasion. I’m not entirely sure why they bothered making the 2007 version. Mind you, I’ve only watched it twice, but to my opinion, it doesn’t do anything that the 1995 movie doesn’t do, and do better. They alter the denouement, and the ending, which does away with one of the main points of the story, and the characters of both Anne and Wentworth are quite changed, too. In fact, this is a bit of a Jane Eyre version of Persuasion – Anne is perpetually downtrodden and unappreciated by everyone (including the Musgroves), while Wentworth is a scowling, resentful person, who in the end becomes Anne’s rescuer, restoring her to her rightful heritage (but only after she chases him, hatless, through the streets of Bath, partially accompanied by an inexplicably healthy Mrs Smith, to beg him to take her back). I’ll have to watch this version again a time or two, it might grow on me, but I’m not so sure.

However, the 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds is, quite simply, the most beautiful film of any of the Austen adaptations. It is every time a delight to watch. The visual storytelling, the acting, the softness and the power of the characters, the beautiful artifice and yet utter naturalness… By the latter I mean especially the final scene, the commedia dell’arte pageant sweeping by Anne and Wentworth, who are so absorbed in each other they are completely untouched by the glitter, noise and hubbub of the circus, until they are left in the stillness of the street with just they two of them, arm in arm, walking through Bath. And this self-conscious staging throws into relief the naturalness of the setting and costumes – this is one of the few adaptations where people actually have messy hair, and look like they’re sweating after having just climbed a hill on country hike, and get red noses when they’re out walking in November. It feels “real”, somehow. And that in turn makes it so much more believable when Anne gets more and more pretty as the story progresses. Every time I watch this movie I so enjoy the art of the film makers; it’s a wonderful piece of work.

(And I wonder if the red cloaks Henrietta and Louisa are wearing on their walks and in Lyme aren’t the same ones that Kitty and Lydia have on in the 1995 P&P. Sir Walter’s ridiculous daisy-print coat makes a re-appearance in the 2007 Mansfield Park on the back of Tom Bertram, so they certainly re-use costumes from one film to the next.)

I’m knee-deep in studying background materials on film adaptations, and the Austen films in particular, for my term paper. It’s quite amazing how much has been written about that topic already. Seems almost presumptuous to want to add to that…