Archive for February, 2009

fangirling dilemma

dr01Over at The Partly Cloudy Pessimist, a great new observational blog, one of my very good friends has written about her inner turmoil over  Darcy and Rochester. I must say,  I adore her for this post; but I’m biased, I did introduce her to both on-screen adaptations she’s conflicted over. Read it here.

For my own part, I think these two look remarkably similar: hair, even face structure, and both are particularly brooding. Can I just have both? Hmmm… I see an interesting blog war to come on my part…

Anyway, I too see the hugely wonderful appeal of both Stephens and Cowan. They certainly appeal to a mainstream viewing public, and they were good.  I think Stephen’s Rochester was one of the most unexpected pleasures I got see in a Jane Eyre adaptation. I’ll be honest, when I found out he was cast, I had my doubts (huge doubts. mostly because I wanted richard armitage), but he created a strong Rochester that didn’t over power the entire film, and instead strengthened Ruth Wilson’s performance as Jane. It was the first time the story was not defined by its Rochester, but by both lovers. And you know how I feel about Cowan.

Speaking of something Unquiely Austen, everyone should check this out. I hope to go in August durring summer for the tea at least. I think its a particualrly lovely destination Austen trip. Don’t you?

Don’t forget Sense and Sensibility Part II is on PBS Sunday @ 9!


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It is certainly a gray and blistery day out in New Hampshire today and instead of lamenting the fact that it’s just nasty enough outside to make walking to class miserable, but not miserable enough to cancel my last class of the day, compounded with the fact I have a paper due for same said class on Thursday that’s only half written, I thought I would procrastinate with talking about Pride and Prejudice.

I know, I know, why? Well, I retort: why wouldn’t I? The few lullish months leading up to spring make me long to watch the most celebrated version of Jane Austen’s tale. Maybe it was because the first time I saw the miniseries was during this time of year, maybe it’s because I long to see the sun shine like it does around Pemberley during Elizabeth visits already in the new year, or maybe – and this is probably more true – I just want to sit and glory in the wonderful performances of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Yes, I’m talking about the six hour marathon that is BBC 1995 version (there are 4 versions in distribution now), and personally, I believe the best version made of the film. There are three ways I think we can judge why: first, it dedication to the original text; second, its acting; and third, its placement within the greater adaptation field.

Of course, as the epic miniseries it is, we are able to get a great deal of dedication to the original text. In fact, I do believe almost all of the dialogue comes straight from Austen’s original text. Of course, this does not make it the be-all, end-all reason for its betterment. The 2005 big budget version of Pride and Prejudice was beautiful, and I believe they very effectively relayed the story accurately even when changing the text (I think this was mostly achieved by Emma Thompson’s revision). And after all, film is about innovation, and making Pride and Prejudice just as BBC did would be quite pointless. This being said, every clause I’ve ever heard about the 2005 version is, “It’s good for a movie.” The 1995 miniseries has no such clause attached to it.

Adding to this idea of text is not just in reference to the script of the 1995 version, but certainly the acting. Although I do believe many versions of Pride and Prejudice have “gotten it right” in terms of their casting and the casts ability to play there parts has been very good, I will say that 2005’s Darcy Matthew Macfayden did lack something intangible which Colin Firth brought to the character. In fact, I would go so far as to say Elliot Cowan as Darcy in Lost in Austen was a more effective actor. Ultimately, I could see the weight of Firth’s Darcy falling on Macfayden’s portrayal. He knew what fans expected, and instead of using that to his advantage, and to a point not caring about the audience’s expectations, I think it boxed him in out of fear.

Cowan’s Darcy is not afraid to be totally hated; This of course is open to his character because Amanda knows who he “truly is,” but still, there is a deeper sense of risk in Cowan’s acting by making Darcy totally unapproachable. Firth’s Darcy was in no such way portrayed. Unfriendly yes, unapproachable to a point, but as a viewer I never thought I could not count on him as a general acquaintance, Cowan’s Darcy I did.

Macfayden, in many respects, paled in comparison to those actors around him. Although it could have been more a product of the director’s attention, he fails to fully steal a scene by just being Darcy in it, unlike Firth. Keira Knightley, for the first time, had the story connected with its heroine’s name. The 2005 version was not known as Macfayden’s Pride and Prejudice, unlike the ’95 version which is called Colin Firth’s, it was Knightley’s. It is not a particularly important point, yet it highlights how the fans have viewed the story. For once, it was not seen as a story where Elizabeth, after being “foolish”, finally lands the prefect catch of Edwardian England, but as a story where Elizabeth finds love on her own terms. In other words, the focus is not on Darcy’s story through Elizabeth’s eyes, but finally just Elizabeth’s story. The point is subtle, but the assumptions with how the adaptations are viewed, additionally influencing how people see the book, are important trends to be viewed when looking at literature adaptations, especially of Austen’s work.

There are two ways to view the rest of the acting in versions of Pride and Prejudice: that the dedication to the original text hinders the acting, or that use of the text is the only proper way to pay homage to the story. I feel it is a mix of both. Certainly 2005’s script additions added in places and allowed the actors to flesh out their characters more clearly, but the screenwriter’s choice to paraphrase lines normally fell flat to this fan’s ears.

Conversely, there are many moments in 1995’s version where the dialogue seems long winded and in desperate need of cutting. In this case, it was much of the supporting character’s dialogue. This frustration only presses the viewer to lessen the value of the minor characters. The 2005 version liberal use of license got rid of all the clutter and also made very brilliant use of the silent scene skimming; the montage at Bingley’s ball is a fine example of supporting character development without dialogue.

Of course such use of cinematic techniques is influenced by the time of their creation, which leads to my final point: where do we place these two adaptations within the greater genre of period dramas? The 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice revived the love of period drama for many. In most circles it has been heralded as be-all to end-all adaptation ever made by the BBC. With such comments it is hard not to agree. The miniseries was one of the first to be shot on location and not on sound stages like many adaptations pre the mid 90’s and presents Pride and Prejudice almost as perfectly as the book. In fact, I have had many friends say they will never read the book, or can’t sit through reading it, to which I tell them to watch the ’95 version and read the last 10 chapters of the book. The 2005 version came at a time when people were ready for a fresh take on Pride and Prejudice and has its own wonder reasons to love it.

But when it comes to a gray day in February all I want to do is scramble on to the couch, grab some tea, and hear Mrs. Bennet holler about Mr. Bingley’s arrival in the neighborhood.

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This image, my dear friends, is from the new Wuthering Heights. Now before everyone goes crazy: yes, this is an American Masterpiece Theatre version; no, this is not the BBC/big budget version slated for 2010, that version has Spartans in it.

The short summary? I thought it was good, very well done considering it was an American production with an American director (at least, by the cinematography it was clearly shot in a style popular for American-audiences).

But first! And what I think is epically more entertaining, let me tell you how I came to know about this production …

Our Masterpiece Theatre is rather spotty and very poorly promoted here in the States. For example, I only found out Tess was on when I flipped to the second episode by chance. Needless to say, I should just bookmark the site and check regularly. But anyway, a lovely post over at shocked me out of my normally quiet friends page skimming. My first reaction was I’d been totally out of the loop and off my game. A costume drama I didn’t know about! And Wuthering Heights no less! Was this the one Natalie Portman dropped? And then there was the promo picture.

I quickly shot over to watch the episodes and learn more. But first, I have to tell you about learning who Heathcliff was. Now, I’ve been called a crazy movie watcher, and yes I’ve seen A LOT of bad movies, especially when it comes to SciFi. They just always look so promising! And then they fail epically. Well, I thought Heathcliff was being played by this guy because of his hair. (Random note, I had to find him (and that movie) through the female lead who I remembered from another movie I remembered the name of.) BUT NO! It turns out to be Tom Hardy who I didn’t recognize until I saw this picture. This might show my true epic nerd fail, but I literally went “Oh, Oh…OH!” because I loved Nemesis and I had an epically huge crush on young Picard (Tom Hardy). I swear, its his lips.

From that moment, I had sincere hope that this adaptation would be, at least, good. I knew Tom had the acting range to play such a horribly injured character and maybe, just maybe, he might also be able to pull off making us all love Kathy as much as Heathcliff does.

Critique on the adaptation

Again, I want to start off by clearly saying I have never read Wuthering Heights. I have picked up the book at least twice (that I clearly remember) to read it and after the first 10 pages I’ve had to throw it against a wall. (I will have to read it next year though for my Senior Seminar in English, of which I cannot wait for.) I have however, seen the 4 prevailing movie versions and read a slew of summaries to know what is cannon and what is not.

I watched the whole thing in one sitting, which isn’t really hard, and started at about 11 at night, it runs about 3 hours total, and that was after watching Prince Caspian, Dracula (1979), and half of Rocky Horror. Needless to say, there was a legit chance that if the movie got boring I would have definitely turned it off and went to bed.

It wasn’t boring. In fact, I found it to be one of the best versions made. I liked how this version began with Kathy and Heathcliff’s children, let alone included them. Some of the tragicness of the story seems softened by the fact that their children(in a strange – no biological Heathcliff baby gets to live way) find love. I thought the transition from the past to the present was very good, although by the time it happened I had checked the file twice to make sure it wasn’t episode two.

I generally think there are two ways of portraying Heathcliff. Either, Heathcliff hates Kathy for him loving her, or he loves her and hates that she’s chosen someone else. Whichever way, Kathy comes out as not the greatest lover of all time. What I think the adaptation did particularly well, though, was showing Kathy’s fear in loving Heathcliff, and Heathcliff’s vivid affirmation of revenge even though he still desperately loves her.

As we follow our anti-hero through his revenge upon Kathy through Isabella, I found the director’s choice to be rather compelling for Heathcliff. Instead of having it be a pure motive for revenge and Kathy’s destruction, Hardy filled his line, “So little [people] look to find the good in me, it makes me want to try to love you” with so much emotion that I really did believe he wanted to try and love her (and then his face as they embraced kinda killed it, but I still hoped).

Of course, I didn’t like Kathy as a character, she does after all, make her choice of her own free will; And we certainly can’t judge her when Heathcliff leaves her angry, with no word for three years; Clearly she is no Anne Elliot, but I didn’t hate her either. I actually felt bad for her when she died. Of course, I do think this stems more from Heathcliff’s love of her and Tom Hardy’s acting than from Kathy herself.

And I’m sorry, but Tom Hardy was just hot with his cleaned up looked when he came back. I know its the Darcy fangirl in me talking, but really, if Heathcliff wasn’t so filled with sudo-sexual/rejection-fearing angst, I would wish for him for Christmas.

Returning to the present Heights, I always in general found it interesting that Heathcliff took to Hindley’s cast off child more than his own. Although there is precedence (Linton did live away and Hareton with Heathcliff), it is interesting Heathcliff identifies and treasures, not his own son, but a child who is placed somewhat in the same situation as himself when he was a child.

The ending I found strangely forced, and I certainly don’t think the supernatural overtones in Bronte’s book comes clearly through (although Heathcliff’s necrophilia was an interesting twist). I enjoy the story more when Heathcliff is haunted to death. Instead, we see him die of a broken heart and Hareton sobs over his body as Heathcliff did with his own father: a rather fitting parallel to the beginning of the movie.

Overall, I thought the movie an adaption in the tradition of the new modern BBC drama. Someone definitely did their homework and watched the latest adaptations of Jane Eyre. It certainly lacked a finesse that Sandy Welch could have brought to it, but I still found the acting compelling and the adaptation valid. For anyone who is unsure about Wuthering Heights adaptations in general, I think this is certainly a good version to check out: fresh faces, intriguing acting, and beautifully tense moments make it a piece to watch.

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