Miss Austen Regrets, the day after


Most of the British press, now that the movie is past, seemed to like it well enough. Perhaps if they had said so before it aired, it wouldn’t have lost in the ratings to Midsomer Murders. Or maybe not.

Here’s an article we missed on Sunday, from the Times.

What she calls the “Janeites” – the legions of (mainly female) fans obsessed with Austen and all her works – are already complaining online that Olivia Williams, the actress who plays Austen, is too tall

Where is all this complaining going on? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

The Telegraph has a thoughtful look at the film.

Above all, she reflected on her own romantic history, as Fanny’s questions (put, it seemed, on our behalf) constantly raised the issue of why she’d never married.

To its credit, the programme didn’t come with a simple answer to that – or a simple emotional response. Instead, Austen pondered her single state with a mixture of bullishness, puzzlement, satisfaction and sadness. In a touching scene towards the end, one of her old suitors, the Rev Bridges (Hugh Bonneville at his most gently benevolent) asked her if she was at all sorry that she hadn’t married him. “What would be the point?” said Austen.

Sam Wollaston at the Guardian liked it despite his allergy to bonnets. (One longs to quote Edward Knight in the film–“If that’s what you think Aunt Jane’s books are about, perhaps you should read them again.”)

OK, so I’m not a Jane Austen freak, I’ll admit. I have subject-matter issues, plus an irrational hatred of bonnets, carriages, marriages, gravel, ribbons, mazes, and all that. But this dramatisation, by Gwyneth Hughes, of the second half of Austen’s life really was beautifully observed and thrilling to look at, with performances that left me weak with admiration (sorry, I’m getting carried away). The real star was Olivia Williams in the lead, who lifted this from standard Sunday-night BBC1 costume drama to something special. Her complex Austen was witty and brilliant, as you’d expect, but also moody and a bit mean, sometimes bordering on bitter. Suddenly it was clear: of course, that’s exactly what Jane Austen was like. A classy film.

The Times (again) has another reviewer who professes to hate Austen, but praises the film.

The central performance from Williams was a knockout, complimented by harsh unglamorous close-ups of a harried face, pale and careworn, and sad, soulful eyes. But best of all, however, were the silences. Whereas the wearisome Austen brand mistakenly equates prolixity with charm, here the words were cut down to a minimum. Gorgeous scenes, composites of close-ups, of Austen alone, staring, reflecting and aching, all underscored by the pining piano of the composer Jennie Muskett, somehow described Austen’s crushing loss and confusion without a line of dialogue. The closing topper, where Austen revealed that she was pressurised into remaining unmarried by her sister, and was thus a novelist by default, made complete sense.

What? Did anyone else get that from it?

And for all you soundtrack fanatics out there, Music from the Movies reviews the soundtrack, which (as we posted previously) is available for download on iTunes and will be out on CD next week.