Jane Austen Makes Like FedEx

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…she delivers for PBS.

Masterpiece Whatchamacallit reports that its ratings for the Jane Austen season are up FIFTY PERCENT over last season.

We repeat: FIFTY PERCENT! A fifty percent gain in ratings! We complain about the quality of these productions, Gentle Readers, but we all watched them, didn’t we? Talk about hoist by our own petard. We hope that the folks involved don’t forget that better quality productions would have received just as high ratings, and probably even higher. Just saying.

In other Jane Austen TV movie news, the release date of the Region 2 DVDs of Lost in Austen has been moved back to October 6, so it seems likely that the series won’t be aired in the spring after all. Got another dog on your hands, ITV? Don’t say we didn’t tell you so.

Completion

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Wet Shirt Redux The Complete Jane Austen is now behind us with the broadcast of the second part of Sense and Sensibility. We’ve really run out of things to say, but we’re sure our Gentle Readers will make up for it.

One Minute Book Reviews disputes the perception that Jane Austen’s novels take a rose-colored view of romance. It’s a very short piece so we won’t copy over anything, but check it out and see what you think. Thanks to Alert Janeite Jeannette for the link.

Alert Janeite Laurel Ann sent us a link to Laurie Viera Rigler’s last post in her series on Jane Austen’s novels for About.com’s Classic Literature blog.

I admire that anyone even attempts to brave the minefield of adapting my favorite author. Although it is a truth universally acknowledged that the book is always better than the movie, a good movie often inspires those who haven’t read the book to do so. And the more Austen readers there are out there, the closer we Janeites come to world domination.

Just kidding. But would that be such a bad thing?

These days our own idea is to keep Jane inside a compound surrounded by an electrified fence patrolled by very angry and hungry Dobermans. World domination has its attractions, but it unfortunately involves mingling with the rest of the world. These are the same people who watch reality television and made Paris Hilton a celebrity. This tar-hearted spinster would prefer to keep Jane Austen to herself, but we are just cranky. 🙂

And lastly, Andrew Davies answers your questions about adapting Jane Austen’s novels. Thanks to Alert Janeite I. Miller for the link.

Complete Jane Austen News Roundup: Last Gasps Edition

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Brandon and his Big GunThe Complete Jane Austen begins to wrap up tonight with a two-part presentation of the new-to-us Sense and Sensibility. PBS’ Remotely Connected blog has a review from Laurie Viera Rigler:

Anyway, after I stopped turning cartwheels, a mild feeling of apprehension set in. As an Austen addict whose obsession exceeds even that of the protagonist of my novel, my mind is so full of the text that often I must watch a new film adaptation twice just to see if I like it or not. The first time I watch, my mind is buzzing: Did the screenwriter/director stay true to text? Why did they add this scene or cut that one? Not exactly the uncluttered frame of mind one needs in order to sit back and enjoy the story unfolding on the screen.

But this new Sense and Sensibility? That called for three viewings before I could even see it as a film unto itself. Not only was the novel echoing in my head, but the Oscar-winning Ang Lee/Emma Thompson movie, which is perhaps my favorite of all the Austen-related films, demanded comparisons at every turn.

Nevertheless, I’m happy to report that I find myself in a state of admiration for the new Sense and Sensibility. A review by Amazon UK’s editorial staff addresses the inevitable comparisons to the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson film by suggesting that “it’s perhaps best [to] see them as companion pieces.” I agree. The luxury of this particular film’s nearly three hours of screen time provides more opportunities to stay true to text, which we devotees of text certainly appreciate. However, this film, like most adaptations, includes expanded and even invented scenes, something I have no objection to, as long as they serve the story and character development.

And the Editrix also had her share in the conversation. Well, actually we had some help from perhaps unexpected sources. 😉 (If you haven’t seen the new film yet, the review might make much more sense after you do.)

PBS also has a minisite dedicated to the film, including some behind the scenes videos.

There are lots of media reviews as well, which is to be expected. The New York Times review by Ginia Bellafante takes an interesting view of the pasted-on “seduction” scene at the beginning.

The PBS adaptations of Austen’s novels have been infused with a certain eroticism, and it should be said that “Sense and Sensibility” introduces itself with a bedroom scene that seems to exist as an admonition against incautious sex. Flesh is anathema to Austen purists, but the murkily filmed scene (baffling until you figure out who the players are much later) animates what is implied if not stated in Austen: that in mindless passion there is no substance at all.

Has someone told Andrew Davies? 😉

The reviews are overwhelmingly positive: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Los Angeles Times, Cleveland.com, USAToday, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette all have rave reviews. Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune thinks Willoughby is too obviously a cad for belief, the Mercury News thinks it’s a little slow, and the Long Beach Press-Telegram thinks it’s not lively enough for Jane Austen.

What did we think? We thought it quite good, definitely the best of the latest set of adaptations, though not quite as good as the 1995 film, although at times we felt more like we were watching a remake of that film than a new adaptation of the novel. We particularly enjoyed Daisy Haggard’s turn as Miss Steele (quel surprise) and thought Hattie Morahan as Elinor was a real bright spot in the production, very much the emotional center of the film and a very strong performance. We liked Dan Stevens a lot as well, though he reminded us more of Henry Tilney than of Edward Ferrars. We found the story rushed and a trifle sloppy in places–why in the world did Marianne call Fanny Dashwood “Aunt?” And then how does Edward, Fanny’s brother, become Elinor’s cousin? We don’t mean to nitpick, but we find such changes confusing, distracting, and most of all unnecessary. And see if you can spot all the lines stolen from P&P, because Jane knows we can’t have an adaptation that doesn’t reference P&P.

That being said, we think our readers will, for the most part, be very pleased with the new series. Let us know what you think.

It's Miss Woodhouse's Turn

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The break is over, and the Complete Jane Austen is back with a broadcast of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale, first broadcast on A&E about ten years ago. How interesting to ponder the later careers of some of the actresses involved: Kate Beckinsale, Samantha Morton, and Olivia Williams. We also get a big kick out of Raymond Coulthard’s take on Frank Churchill in this one (as seen to the left). He’s handsome and charming, just as he ought, and yet you believe he can be feckless. We often think that we would like to combine this version with the Gwyneth Paltrow version to make a very tolerable film version; though don’t make us pick a Miss Bates. We imagine most of our Gentle Readers have seen this one by now, but we’re sure you would like to discuss it anyway.

PBS’ Remotely Connected blog has two reviews of the film: the first is by Jessica Emerson, a/k/a JaneFan of Austen-tatious.

Self-knowledge is highly regarded by Austen, so a character who is ignorant of his or her own faults is clearly in need of correction before he or she can marry a worthy partner. On this path, Emma (Kate Beckinsale) walks a very fine line. If she were fully aware of her faults at the outset of the novel (therefore acting with willful disregard towards others) she would be a horrible person, and a hateful character. It is her naivete, her self-ignorance, her “clueless”-ness, if you will, that saves her from our scorn. We certainly do not admire her, and may even pity her.

Erica S. Perl is not a fan of period films, but was won over.

And then, something happened. I’m not exactly sure when, but my hackles came down. It might have been when the egotistical, self-satisfied Emma and the absurdly-rich-yet-unpretentious Mr. Knightly swapped their first flirty smile, or it could have been when the gullible Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton) appeared like a vision to the trolling-for-a-DIY-project Emma. All of a sudden, the characters seemed complex, edgy and flawed. In a word: modern. Not in their dress, or manner of speech, of course. But their emotional frankness and sly sense of humor took me by surprise. And hooked me.

So, Gentle Readers: how YOU doin’?

"Celebrating the Complete Jane Austen" on PBS

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Alert Janeite Ben M. let us know that during the break in “The Complete Jane Austen,” as part of their fundraising efforts, PBS is showing a program called “Celebrating the Complete Jane Austen.” It appears to be showing at different times on different PBS stations, so as the saying goes, check your local listings–and it seems to be broadcast more than once in many places. Laurel Ann has posted a review at AustenProse.

Host Lisa Daniels gives the introduction to the program teasing us with the prospect of learning the inside story of the making of The Complete Jane Austen with interviews of the executive producer Rebecca Eaton, screenwriter Andrew Davies, and Austen scholar Dr. Marcia Folsom. She continues with exclaiming that Jane Austen is the ‘it’ girl of the twenty-first century. Ok. You’ve got my attention.

Fifteen minutes into an hour program, you cut to a local pledge drive and then jump back and forth between the two like a tennis match for the rest of the hour without much new information revealed.

This is now The Complete Jane Austen Torture.

Well, we’ve done our duty by letting our Gentle Readers know about it! 🙂

Alert Janeite Maria also has a suggestion for combating the Complete Jane Austen Break Blues: play P&P–literally!

Jane Austen Film News Roundup: Coming to a Television Near You Edition

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While we’re taking a (probably needed) break from the Complete Jane Austen, a few interesting pieces of news crossed our desk.

According to a column by the president and CPO of Twin Cities Public Television, despite all the Janeite complaints, the ratings for the films have been quite good.

And suggesting that “Masterpiece Theater” has “settled” for an all-Jane Austen format is simply incorrect — “The Complete Jane Austen” drew the highest audiences for the program in more than a decade.

Yep, they might stink, but we watched them like the big Janeite saps we are, and that’s all that matters. Sad but true.

For those of you outside the U.S. and UK, many of you are going to have the chance to see some of the new films, if you haven’t already. The BBC has sold rights to S&S07 and Miss Austen Regrets around the world.

Meanwhile, acclaimed screenwriter Andrew Davies’ adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” sold to 11 markets, including Japan, Sweden, Poland, Canada and Korea, and Jane Austen biopic “Miss Austen Regrets” also enjoyed solid sales.

Naturally, if we hear anything we’ll let our Gentle Readers know!

There’s even a tidbit of Becoming Jane news of sorts: a profile of Laurence Fox, whom many of us adored as Mr. Wisley, reveals that he originally was offered another role in the film, but turned it down.

“…With Becoming Jane they wanted me to be another part who was a bit jokey and buff but I didn’t have any interest in it. I quite liked the concept of going, ‘Maybe there is an alternative for everybody. Here is this shy guy who’d like to be able to express himself but can’t.’ Which is probably more like me anyway.”

Soooooo, who was it? Jokey and buff? Henry Austen, perhaps? Or–dare we say–Tom Lefroy himself? Because who else COULD it be?

Crudely tattooed on his left wrist is “Mrs Fox 31-12-07”, a memento of their honeymoon in Mexico. “Drunken moment in Playa del Carmen. And she’s got ‘Mr Fox’. But don’t tell the agent.”

Just how Fanny and Edmund would have spent their honeymoon, eh?

Lastly, a lot of viewers seemed to really like the music video that PBS put together for the Complete Jane Austen set to the music of Coldplay’s “Fix You.” It’s on YouTube now, so you can rewind to your heart’s content. (And a PBS representative told us about it, so the self-appointed Jane Austen Copyright Police can go have a cup of tea or something.)

Complete Jane Austen News and Stuff Roundup: Firthmania Edition

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Colin sez: Oh yeah. You want me. The last part of P&P95 aired tonight on Masterpiece Whateveritisthisweek, and we have to admit that even your tar-hearted Tilney-lovin’ Editrix’s toes curled a bit at “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” And then we’ve been bombarded by overstimulated Alert Janeites letting us know that there’s a very special treat available for auction at eBay for Firthaholics–a Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Edition DVD set signed by His Darcyness himself, AND a personal note from Mr. F. (tee-hee) to the winning bidder! There also are some other auctions featuring Colin’s other work, so do a search and see what’s out there. It all benefits Oxfam, so open your wallets and bid. You know you want him. 😉 Thanks to Alert Janeites Karen, Lisa, and another who sent a message through eBay and didn’t leave his or her name.

In other P&P news, the 15,000 members of Australian bookseller Dymocks’ booklover program have chosen Pride and Prejudice as their favorite novel. Several Jane Austen novels ended up in the Top 100: Persuasion at No. 57, Emma at No. 69, and Sense and Sensibility at No. 72. Thanks to Alert Janeites Lisa, Maria, and Lucy for the info!

In other news related to the Complete Jane Austen, Alert Janeite Liz let us know that the Behind the Scenes show from ITV, featuring the making of MP07, NA07, and P07, are available at YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. Liz said, “Some questions are answered but don’t expect to find any explanation about Billie Piper’s hair.” Darn!

And lastly, Alert Janeite Marybeth wrote to tell us something interesting about P07:

It seems the PBS broadcast includes two very small scenes – totaling 20 seconds -that did not air on ITV and is not on the Region 1 DVD.

In the American broadcast, during the scenes at Lyme, after Anne and Captain Harville’s conversation about Captain Benwick’s ability to get over his recent loss, the sequence introducing us to Mr Elliot for the first time is edited out and instead the scene switches to a shot of crashing waves and then a shot of Anne standing on the Cobb looking out at the sea and then into the camera. (Neither of those shots were a part of the original British broadcast.) The PBS version then picks up with the British version showing Anne in front of the mirror at the inn.

Like I said, the whole thing takes about 20 seconds and replaces a sequence that lasts for 1 minute and 20 seconds. My guess is it was done to help match up the musical cues. But still, I just find it rather ironic that after all the scenes that were taken out, they decided to add something in for us.

The same thing happened with the second Hornblower series–the American cut was different from the British cut, and then the DVDs had less stuff than was shown on the television broadcast, and other stuff that wasn’t shown on the television broadcast. It was very weird.

Marybeth also sent a link to Ask Andrew Davies a question via PBS. Hope he has a bouncer handy.

P&P95 Part 2 Postshow Open Thread

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And your stupid opinion would be...?

Don’t pay any attention to Cranky McJerkpants and the Superior Sisters there. Chat away. 🙂

Oh! and we forgot to link to the latest post on the PBS Remotely Connected blog. Seth Cassel discusses Lady Catherine de Bourgh:

While Lady Catherine does have a role in the plot of Pride and Prejudice, her primary function is to give us a better understanding of other characters in the novel. Lady Catherine’s bout with Elizabeth over her relationship with Mr. Darcy is used to reinforce Elizabeth’s character as strong and impertinent. Austen sees Elizabeth’s nature in a positive light and sets her apart from the other women in the novel as a type of heroine, standing up to Lady Catherine by saying “I am only resolved to act in a manner which will… constitute my happiness, without reference to you” (298). Another fascinating use of Lady Catherine is how she is used to spotlight the personality change of Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine and Mr. Darcy have similar amounts of wealth, which puts them fairly close in terms of rank. However, while Lady Catherine disapproves of Elizabeth’s “obstinate, headstrong” nature (296), Mr. Darcy relishes Elizabeth’s character, which the reader observes in her confrontation with Lady Catherine. Mr. Darcy’s differing opinion from Lady Catherine, despite their common rank, helps establish his divergence from the social norm. The juxtaposition of the two characters highlights Mr. Darcy’s change from prideful and conceited, which characterizes Lady Catherine, to not being “selfish and overbearing” (308). A minor use of Lady Catherine is to help establish the character of Mrs. Gardiner as compassionate and understanding, as they are both aunts. Lady Catherine’s interaction with her nephew, Mr. Darcy, can be clearly identified in her antiquated insistence upon an arranged marriage between Mr. Darcy and Miss De Bourgh. This relationship is contrasted with that between Mrs. Gardiner and her niece, Elizabeth. Mrs. Gardiner simply offers suggestions to Elizabeth, such as recommending the “understanding and opinions” of Mr. Darcy (271). The difference in the way the two aunts offer opinions to their relatives makes the caring and nurturing nature of Mrs. Gardiner apparent to the reader.

PBS responds

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Several Gentle Readers have written to PBS to complain about the editing of the first four films in the series, and have shared the responses with us. They all seem to be a copy and paste (or very close to it) of the information given in this post on the PBS forums.

EDITING OF OUR PROGRAMS
Some of our vigilant viewers noted that MASTERPIECE’s versions of the Austen programs varied from those seen in the UK. As we’ve discussed in various forums, our programs are routinely edited to fit our PBS time slot, which is different from the UK’s. Depending on whether our UK partner is producing for a commercial broadcaster or the BBC (i.e., commercial breaks vs. no commercial breaks), the episodes may vary from between 3-5 minutes to 10 or more. In the case of Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, approximately ten minutes were deleted from each film. Almost always, it is the UK producers who determine which scenes should be trimmed from the U.S. broadcast. Our goal is to deliver to you the film that is closest to the original intent of the producers.

DVD VERSIONS
The good news is that many MASTERPIECE films are becoming more widely available around the world than ever before thanks to DVD and home video offerings. Because of various formats and contract stipulations in different parts of the world, there may be some differences in content. In some cases, a DVD available in the US or Canada (such as those released by WGBH Boston Video) may only contain the US version, while in others, a DVD may contain the original UK version. This is further complicated by the fact that running times that appear on various websites may be an approximation of the running time, or more frequently the timeslot of the film was intended for (e.g., a 100-minute film may run in a 120 minute timeslot, and that longer timeslot information may end up on websites, DVD packaging, etc., despite the actual shorter running time of the film). While we can’t control the marketplace, we will be happy to post DVD information on the MASTERPIECE website when available that may inform your purchasing decisions.

Imagine our astonishment when tonight’s presentation of Pride and Prejudice–which just about every Janeite we know already owns, sometimes in multiple copies–was two hours long.

Complete Jane Austen News Roundup: Familiar Territory Edition

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We’re not sure if any of our Gentle Readers has actually never seen P&P95, which begins tonight as a three-part series on Masterpiece Classics, but we’re going along for the ride anyway; because what “Complete Jane Austen” would be complete without P&P?

There doesn’t seem to be much about it in the papers, but the PBS Remotely Connected blog has a review from Myretta Robens, doyenne of the Republic of Pemberley; an appropriate choice, as P&P95 was the inspiration for the founding of the Republic.

By the time this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was first broadcast in 1995, it had been long-anticipated by many Janeites. But it took others by surprise, turning totally unsuspecting people into Jane Austen fanatics. I don’t think any of us of anticipated the visceral response we all experienced. One day we were perfectly normal people going about our business and the next the day we were raving obsessives. I watched the first two episodes, went to the phone and paid $100 (which I really couldn’t afford) for the tapes, because I knew I would want to watch this repeatedly. And, for some reason, we all went to the Internet looking for kindred with whom we could discuss this sudden obsession.

And so it began!

Kathryn Hughes’ article in the Guardian isn’t really about the Complete JA, but we thought it certainly germane.

When the new crop of this winter’s costume dramas was announced by the BBC last October, it spawned a lot of breathless chatter in the press about the return of romance to our screens. Attractive young men and women would soon be circling each other in endless scenes of glorified country dancing (when did Strip the Willow become so sexy – I don’t remember that kind of erotic charge as we lumbered round the school hall when it was too wet for netball?) before surrendering to the inevitable, 10 minutes before the final credits.

As transmission drew nearer, Andrew Davies, responsible for last month’s Sense and Sensibility, was drafted in to explain that the opening scene of his adaptation would comprise a seduction scene that was downright filthy. “Oh, he’s just ‘obsessed’,” we huffed, while making a mental note to be seated with five minutes to spare when January rolled round.

Hee.

But over the past 12 weeks it’s become clear that the romance narrative that lay at the heart of classic BBC drama such as Pride and Prejudice in the mid-90s is signally lacking in the latest batch of Cranford, Sense and Sensibility, and Lark Rise to Candleford. What drives these new stories forward is not true love but economics, the very real business of getting by in a world of dwindling pounds, shillings and pence. The emblematic character on our Sunday evening screens is no longer a man with tight trousers and a sneer, but a woman bending over her account book with a worried frown.

Take Cranford. Never was a novel so devoid of sexual interest – as the narrator, Mary Smith, explains on her opening page, it is a community given over entirely to women. Clearly worried by this, the producers of the recent production clumsily spliced in a tepid romance from another Elizabeth Gaskell short story involving an incoming doctor. The good doctor did what heroes in costume dramas are supposed to do – he galloped up a crunchy gravel drive and managed to get the wrong girl to fall in love with him –

Actually, several! Ha!

but it was hardly this that drove the narrative.

What really mattered was the economic ruin of Miss Matty, a sixtyish spinster who loses her money in a bank failure and ends up having to keep shop, selling posh tea to keep body and soul together. Miss Matty might – and this is the bit that really kept us gripped – even have to leave her prime bit of real estate, otherwise known as a sweet little cottage in the Cheshire vernacular. It was Northern Rock all over again.

Which is interesting since that particular episode isn’t reached until the fourth of five episodes, we believe (it’s been a while since the, er, rogue satellite signals reached AustenBlog World Headquarters–but we can heartily recommend Cranford when it appears on PBS–just have a box of tissues handy for the Gaskell Parade O’Death™). Meanwhile, we get to see a beautifully played romantic story for Miss Matty with overtones of Persuasion. Mrs. Gaskell’s stories are quite similar to Jane Austen’s in many ways, but the social questions are not dealt with as subtly, and leaving them out of a film would be more noticeable. Thus you have in North and South the stories of the mill workers, and in Cranford Miss Matty’s situation. The movies would be much less rich without them; but sometimes we wish more of the adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels pick up the oh-so-subtle undertones rather than just concentrating on the Big Romance. Can’t do that in 90 minutes, though, that’s for sure.