Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sensational Sensibilities

Minute by minute guide to the appearance on screen of Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) and Willoughby (Greg Wise). I know who my favourite is, but who is yours?

08:43 First appearance of Edward Ferrars in the room.
09: 50 Edward Ferrars attempts to tell his sister to be nice.
10:40 Margaret is hiding and Edward talks nonsense to draw her out.
12:48 Fighting with wooden swords.
15:25 Elinor and Edward talking about ‘quiet of a private life’.
16:09 Elinor and Edward horse riding and discuss occupations.
22:50 Announce moving to Devonshire over dinner, Edward stunned.
23:28 Gut wrenching scene in stable – Edward tries to tell Elinor something.
31:00 Colonel Brandon on horseback. Hears Marianne.
34:05 Cutting reeds – Brandon provides a knife.
34:28 Brandon and Sir John cleaning guns.
35:18 Playing bowls – Mrs Jennings goes too far.
40:22 Willoughby on horseback – the gallant hero. Removes shoe and carries Marianne through the rain.
43:58 Brandon brings flowers but everyone is waiting for Willoughby.
45:21 Brandon and Willoughby meet.
45:39 Willoughby visits Marianne.
49:30 Marianne draws silhouette of Willoughby, Brandon watching.
50:50 Brandon issues an invitation.
51:58 Brandon and Elinor discuss Marianne.
55:20 Brandon called away from the party.
55:40 Willoughby bitches about Brandon.
58:10 Willoughby asks for an interview alone.
59:12 Willoughby sent away by Lady Allen. Leaves Marianne distraught.
110:49 Colonel Brandon visits at London instead of Willoughby.
117:18 Bump into Willoughby at the Ball.
125:11 Brandon to accompany them home and relates story to Elinor of Willoughby’s seduction of his ward.
131:19 Edward Ferrars visits Elinor (and Lucy by accident).
136:35 Lucy and Edward’s engagement
138:48 Brandon has a proposal regarding Edward Ferrars.
140:10 Elinor tells Edward about Brandon’s proposal
143:18 Brandon on horseback.
144:02 Brandon helps ladies out of carriage.
146:50 Brandon looks for Marianne.
147:27 Brandon carries Marianne back in through the rain.
148:51 Waiting for the doctor.
150:02 Brandon ‘What can I do?’
154:19 Mother and Brandon appear.
154:44 Marianne thanks Brandon
155:30 Brandon reading poetry at Barton Cottage.
202:00 Edward Ferrars visits Barton Cottage.
204:52 Elinor makes ‘that noise’ at not married and all leave the room.
206:57 Marianne’s wedding.
207:25 Willoughby looks on.

I recommend for further reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The Screenplay and Diaries by Emma Thompson with Photographs by Clive Coote (London: Bloomsbury, 1995)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

This is my favourite Jane Austen adaptation so I will gush, particularly after the last few I have watched. Sense and Sensibility tells the plight of the Dashwood women after Mr Dashwood dies with his estate entailed to his eldest son from his first marriage. The novel (and this film) centres on the two very different eldest daughters, Elinor who represents sense and Marianne who represents sensibility. Both Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet play the Elinor and Marianne superbly and capture the different natures of each, but also the way in which each relies on the other.

As a whole the film is fantastically cast. Harriet Walter is the fabulously mean and manipulative Fanny Dashwood (their sister-in-law) and one wants to stick a fork up her nose every time she speaks. Imogen Stubbs plays Lucy Steele with just the right mix of saccharine surface and bitchy core. Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs are the incredibly heart Sir John and Mrs Jennings, while Imelda Staunton is a superlative talkative Charlotte Palmer. The funniest and warmest cameo must be Hugh Laurie as the dry and unresponsive Mr Palmer.

And the leading men? I’m not a Hugh Grant fan myself but hurray for him as Edward Ferrars, who suites the slightly comic bemused Englishman act and walks like he has pins in his breeches. Greg Wise is a wildly sexy Willoughby, whose romantic entrance makes your heart plummet. He also carries off being dastardly in London. Alan Rickman is achingly sensational as the dry and rather repressed Brandon, after all who can be unmoved when he is such distress (and slight undress) when Marianne is ill?

The real stars are the script and direction. It manages to be humorous and moving, often within moments of each other, and captures the tedium of their life in the country so well without over emphasising. Willoughby is a big event precisely because Marianne has nothing to do. The Dashood family is tenderly played and much of the humour derives from their exchanges – getting a sense of how well they know and care about each other. The ball in London is hot and oppressive and things are dirty (there is horse poo). My favourite scene is when Elinor sits on the stairs drinking a cup of tea when he mother and two sisters have retreated into their rooms crying.

Directed - Ang Lee
Writer - Jane Austen (novel), Emma Thompson (screenplay)
Producer - Lindsay Doran
Music - Patrick Doyle

Kate Winslet - Marianne Dashwood
Emma Thompson - Elinor Dashwood
Hugh Grant - Edward Ferrars
Alan Rickman - Col. Christopher Brandon
Greg Wise - John Willoughby

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All images copyright © 1995 Columbia Pictures

Next – those hero moments for Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon and Willoughby.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Emma: Film (1996)

1996 - The year of two Emmas!
This is the last time for a while that I review a costume drama I don’t like. What can you say about the 1996 adaptation of Emma that is positive? It is a Jane Austen adaptation with a star studded cast. Obviously there is Gwyneth Paltrow playing the lead role with Jeremy Northam, Alan Cummings, Juliet Stevenson, Ewan McGregor to name a few. Juliet Stevenson makes for a wonderfully vacuous and vulgar Mrs Elton and the good performances are found in the cameo roles, for example Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates.

Emma is hideously glossy and the continuous soft focused lighting makes you think the characters all lived in a Hovis advert. Highbury is very clean – the roads don’t appear to have mud or horse shit – and it never rains in this twee corner of southern England. Even the poor peasants are clean, only the gypsies are dirty and they look like road protestors. The main focus is on Emma as a match maker and relationship tangles, not her snobbery or boredom. Mr Knightley is not harsh on Emma as much as vexed and the whole production plays the novel as comedic but fails to be humourous. The story is occasionally told through thoughts in Emma’s head, presumably just in case we failed to get Paltrow’s performance, which unfortunately means we have to hear more of Paltrow’s bizarre nasal whine (I think it is meant to be RP English). Ewan McGregor has the most ridiculous hair cut and is far more sexy as a Jedi (in my opinion) and I’m afraid Northam’s breeches are just not tight enough for me.

Silly facts

The music played at the dance at the end of the ball is the same as the infamous Darcy and Lizzie dance-conversation in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Mrs Bates and Miss Bates are played by real-life mother and daughter Phyllida Law and Sophie Thompson, who are also related to Emma Thompson (screenwriter and star of the infinitely superior Sense and Sensibility).

Images courtesy of Miramax
Directed by Douglas McGrath
Written by Jane Austen (novel), Douglas McGrath (screenplay)
Gwyneth Paltrow – Emma Woodhouse
Alan Cumming – Mr. Elton
Jeremy Northam – Mr. Knightley
Toni Collette – Harriet Smith
Polly Walker – Jane Fairfax
Ewan McGregor – Frank Churchill

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Mansfield Park (1983)

This 6 part adaptation of Mansfield Park follows Austen’s story very closely and belongs to the, for the time, opulent costume dramas made for the BBC in the 1980s. Although stagey in parts, particularly when the actors walk away from the main sound mikes, it uses outside footage complete with wobbly cameras and parts of it are clearly filmed in an eighteenth-century house and not a set. The script concentrates on the dialogues between the main characters, though some first-person narration from Fanny Price in the form of letters to her brother is used to move the plot along. It is rather slow moving, though that does allow the tedium of Lady Bertram’s conversation and daily life at Mansfield to be captured rather well.

I am, as said before, no fan of Mansfield Park and would unashamedly go for Henry Crawford rather than the staid Edmund Bertram. Here Robert Burbage physically resembles Byron (bar the clubfoot) and clearly models his snakish rakish Henry Crawford on him. The dandy style of Mr Yates and fashionableness of Tom Bertram come across well compared to the older dress of Mr Rushworth, Edmund Bertram and Sir Thomas. Anna Massey is superb as the interfering and supremely catty Mrs Norris and manages to convey the right amount of spite in her trite comments.

Although the selfishness of all, bar Fanny, in this bleak novel is portrayed well, the screenplay is slow moving and lacks sparkle. There is very little sexiness given that the novel concentrates on appropriate and inappropriate sexual attraction. It is hard to see why Mary Crawford is so captivating or how Maria had the spirit to elope and Edmund and Fanny bore each other into marriage. I rarely agree with Kingsley Amis, but his comment that Fanny and Edmund are complete prigs who could not be worse dinner companions is dramatised well by this adaptation.

Trivia fact: Jonny Lee Miller appears as Charlie Price in this adaptation and later went on to play Edmund Bertram in the 1999 film of the same novel.

Directed – David Giles
Writing – Jane Austen (novel), Kenneth Taylor
Samantha Bond – Maria Bertram
Robert Burbage – Henry Crawford
Nicholas Farrell – Edmund Bertram
Sylvestra Le Touzel – Fanny Price
Anna Massey – Aunt Norris

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Emma (1996)

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma for ITV squeezes Austen’s longest book into a two-hour drama and manages to do it rather well. If it does not sparkle in the manner of Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion that is mainly to do with the plot and manner of the book as on the surface nothing dramatic happens. It is essentially a story of village life centred around a spoilt, snobbish and headstrong young woman and none of the characters, bar Mr Knightley and the Westons, are particularly likeable.

The rustic nature of the novel is clear from the opening shot of the theft of chickens, the comedy of which is followed by some delightful comedic small talk about boiled eggs and apple tart. There is also more comedy in Emma’s imagined marriage sequences. Class and snobbery are made much of in this adaptation and Emma’s snobbery is reflected in a more vulgar fashion in Mrs Elton, which appals her. The tension about class and a good match in Emma and Harriet’s friendship for example both underline the rustic setting but also undermine the sense of its’ unchanging nature since class boundaries are shifting.

Davies manages to get the essence of the characters across in his dialogue, though at times the more emotionally intense scenes towards the end seem rushed. Prunella Scales is superb as the garrulous Miss Bates while Raymond Coulthard is deviously charming as Frank Churchill. My favourite character was always Jane Fairfax, who is played with discretion by Olivia Williams. Kate Beckinsdale is good as the scheming Emma who eventually sees the error of her meddling ways and Mark Strong is a brotherly and stern Mr Knightley. However, I always found the novel rather passionless and I think this adaptation reflects that.

Directed – Diarmuid Lawrence
Writing credits – Jane Austen (novel) Andrew Davies
Producer – Sue Birtwistle

Kate Beckinsale – Emma Woodhouse
Mark Strong – Mr. Knightley
Samantha Morton – Harriet Smith
Prunella Scales – Miss Bates
Raymond Coulthard – Frank Churchill

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