The Complete Jane Austen News Roundup: Information Overload Edition

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Sally Hawkins as Anne ElliotWith Masterpiece Theatre hanging its hat rather desperately on The Complete Jane Austen to introduce its new brand to the world, the media coverage is, as expected, rather overwhelming.

First we must point out PBS’ Remotely Connected blog, which will feature guest reviews of each film from the online Austen and blogging communities. First up is Ms. Place of the Jane Austen’s World blog on Persuasion. Laurel Ann has the lineup of future guest reviewers–some familiar names in that group. 😉

The LA Times discusses the Masterpiece rebranding.

The only way to alter such an iconic series is “very carefully,” said John Boland, chief content officer for the Public Broadcasting Service.

It had been obvious that “Masterpiece Theatre” needed to rethink its image in light of revolutionary changes in television and media, said Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of “Masterpiece Theatre” for the last 22 years. Studies had shown that viewers identified the series with PBS, admired its high quality and consistently drew a respectable 1.8 to 2 average household Nielsen rating. The series was beloved by an ardent fan base — as evidenced by numerous parodies, including “Mouseterpiece Theater,” “Rastapiece Theater” and “Master P’s Theater.” It was the most cited reason why people became members of their local public television stations and, most significant, the reason they stayed. But lately some viewers have become confused by shifting time slots and mixed expectations.

“What we wanted to know was why aren’t more people watching it and what would it take to attract a younger audience?” said Bob Knapp, president of Neubrand, a marketing and brand consultant. Viewers had told researchers they perceived the series as a “dusty jewel that was hard to find in the PBS crown,” Eaton said. They wanted to know whether to expect “Jane Eyre” or Jane Tennison, “Bleak House” or “White Teeth”?

The result was a compromise between changing everything or changing nothing, Knapp said, the literary equivalent of “brand new look, same great taste.”

It should be noted that a point is cleared up that troubled a few of us:

In redesigning their introductions, “Mystery!” will include some references to Edward Gorey’s whimsical animations of the old introduction

Huzzah!

In the introduction, for instance, fans will recognize subtle references to the past: Wisps of the familiar “Rondeau” by Jean-Joseph Mouret can be heard in the new theme. Amid the flipping pages, ghostly images appear of Damian Lewis,

HELLO!

Helen Mirren and other actors who have portrayed characters on the series. Even the red backdrop was intended to evoke the classic sense associated with canvas book bindings and theater curtains, Cooper said.

Anderson, an American who now lives in England, was selected to appeal to a younger audience from her work as Dana Scully on “The X-Files,” but is also familiar to “Masterpiece Theatre” loyalists as Lady Dedlock from “Bleak House”. While Cooke and Baker wrote their introductions which ran about four minutes, Anderson has only one minute at most. Although she knew about the content and had astute observations, the writing was a collaboration with Eaton, Cooper said. “We tried to balance the time we had to shoot with her desire to collaborate on the writing,” he said.

If it turns out “Masterpiece” devotees see only red, well, “They will voice their concerns and we will listen to them,” Boland said.

All righty then!

The Washington Post and PopMatters have preview articles…

Then there are the two older productions, which already have devoted followings thanks to multiple airings on A&E and DVD sales. “Someone in our office said, `Jane Austen only wrote six books, why not do all six?’” Eaton recalls. “So we had discussions with people who had the rights, and they allowed us to have it. … So we were partly shrewd and partly lucky.”

…as does the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Everyone has a different reason for liking her novels,” said Margaret C. Sullivan, author of The Jane Austen Handbook, the editor of Austenblog and a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. “But the common factor among readers is that the stories continue to ring true and resonate in a modern way.”

Hey now! 🙂

There are several reviews of Persuasion, from Ellen Gray at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Me, I’m not over Austen just yet.

While “Persuasion” suffers badly by comparison with the 1995 film that’s probably the best and most faithful big-screen Austen adaptation, it’s also one of the hardest of her six completed novels to dramatize, since so much of the drama takes place quietly, in the heart and mind of the regretful Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins).

Simon Burke’s screenplay nevertheless weighs some of its characters down with so much exposition, they never get off the ground (though “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Anthony Stewart Head is amusingly cast as Anne’s peacock of a father).

Robert Lloyd at the LA Times:

This is a rather melancholy, quiet film, played out under white or gray skies and in wet weather with a camera that seems to float as if in a dream. Scenes are played out in long shot or very close-up, and a low, rolling score emphasizes the feeling of being unmoored. As directed by Adrien Shergold (“Low Winter Sun”), there is something dark even in what might otherwise play as comic relief. Where Anne’s father might be conceived as merely a preening boob, Anthony Head (who will always be “late of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ ” to me) goes for the rotten soul beneath the puffery. As his mirror-image oldest daughter, Julia Davis (creator of “Nighty Night”) is similarly disturbing.

But this is a comedy, after all, and when girl finally gets boy, Shergold has her run full-tilt through the streets of Bath to find him, to be rewarded at the end, in extreme close-up, with what is surely the longest approach to a kiss on record.

Oh fine, give away the ending! 😉

Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune:

Anne Elliot has her own battles to fight, but many of them are internal (she doesn’t bother fighting with her awful family members, who ignore her when they’re not blithely using her as a servant). The heroine of “Persuasion” must work hard to keep her composure when her ex-fiance, Captain Wentworth, returns to her social circle and appears to be romancing Anne’s good friend. No matter what century it is, that’s never a good time.

No, it isn’t!

Thanks to Alert Janeite Lisa for several of these links!