Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Wasn't Persuaded...

Being a Janeite – I am making sure I watch all of the upcoming Masterpiece Theatre adaptations that will be shown on Sunday nights between now and April something or other. The first one up to the plate was a new version of Persuasion. Before I say what I thought, I have to qualify it. Any time there is something to watch with British accents and costumes, I give it an immediate three stars. It is worth watching for that alone. Unfortunately, this version of Persuasion does not climb above the three obligatory stars I had assigned it simply for being made. They should have saved the money and aired the 1995 Persuasion that starred Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. It was MUCH better.

The problem with this Persuasion was that it simply fell flat. The actress who played Anne Elliott seemed boringly mopey, too self pitying and her sister Mary was cartoon-ish and wasn’t three dimensional at all. Captain Wentworth, played by Rupert Penry-Jones appeared younger than Anne and too damn nice too soon. He wasn’t grimly stiff and looked soft. Captain Wentworth is supposed to be SEASONED, a self made man of means, a NEW kind of gentleman who was REFUSED by Anne. There should be a sense of bruised pride that emanates from Wentworth. The blonde Penry-Jones was lovely to look at, but it seemed as if he couldn’t possibly be captain, or old enough to have amassed his own fortune. He looked more like a mid-shipman if you ask me.

In the 1995 version Sophie Thompson played Mary Musgrove, Anne Elliot’s hypochondriac, self absorbed but younger MARRIED sister. She was completely insufferable. And wonderful because of it. Amanda Root as Anne in the earlier versions perfectly fit the fading but kind and competent heroine. She was never mopey, just quietly resigned to her fate. The newer Masterpiece Anne (Sally Hawkins) was too ‘blooming.’ She was almost exotic in her looks, with full lips and lovely, peachy cheeks. Although they tried to make her appear dowdy by dressing her in dreadful, bland costumes, (dreadful hats, absolutely DREADFUL) she was still entirely too lovely. In the book, Anne is clearly on the waning edge of her youth and the beauty that comes with youth. Remember, back in 1819 or so, a 27 year old unmarried woman was getting up there. Jane Austen wrote this book when she was past HER own bloom and was a confirmed old maid. Like a deeply exhaled sigh, Persuasion is a wistful imagining of an unlikely reality. Anne Elliot is clearly NOT a young beauty, “A few years before Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as, even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.” Jane’s words, not mine. Masterpiece didn’t read closely enough! They used too much blush.

The scene where Louisa Musgrove (Mary’s sister in law, the lady Wentworth is now courting) stupidly throws herself from the sea wall was underplayed. There should have been a tension created. In the book, Jane Austen makes much of this pivotal scene, showing us Louisa’s youthful idiocy compared to Anne’s calm level headedness. This is the turning point when Wentworth realizes he needs to try again and put aside his pride. In the Masterpiece theatre film, it was thrown away and acts as a perfect example of the rushed and compressed script. Okay – I will say it. It just wasn’t good enough. So there.

That is my first review. Northanger Abbey is next. They will reprise the Colin Firth P&P and the A&E Emma. I will enjoy watching both again. I am really looking forward to Mansfield Park (my current Austen favorite) since I hated the politically correct screed of a version that was made a few years ago. I may even enter the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) essay contest contrasting the book with the movie. All in all, it is going to be a lovely four month wallow in all things Jane

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Words to Live By

" desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil - widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower."

Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) Middlemarch

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