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UK DVD cover

UK DVD cover

My day, has not been fabulous. Oh, its been great–class went very well, work was fun, and I even stole a little time not thinking about Dorian Gray perhaps never making it to American Theatres, and then I went to Keene. And there, packed away in a tiny brown box, not even out on display yet, was Easy Virtue. Even better? It was half off! Half off baby!!

Needless to say, my day is now fabulous. And oh, don’t worry, gushing will occur tomorrow if I can find at least a few minutes to let everyone know how great it is. Super excited!

Easy Virtue stars Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, Ben Barnes, and Kristen Scott-Thomas. It just released on DVD in the US.

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If you know me, you know I’ve been closely following this movie since the first on set pictures of Ben Barnes surfaced months ago.  Now I have the unbelievable pleasure of posting the first trailer for Dorian Gray here:

Prince Caspian, your picture has just reaffirmed why it is above my computer.

Dorian Gray stars Ben Barnes and Colin Firth.

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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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