Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I’ve been putting this off. Just as I did with the “new” version of Persuasion. I had a hard time getting around to reviewing it. The motivation was lacking. The production was un-compelling. The original was so exemplary. But then I did. Ugh.

And now I am faced with the same dour task — reviewing (read: picking apart) the newer version of Sense & Sensibility.

I don’t want to. I can’t make me. I know I should. My husband and I sat around tearing this thing to shreds like a couple of bitter cat ladies.  That was way more fun than the actual watching. It was a slog. It wasn’t that it was all bad — It wasn’t. It had many problems, not the least of which was that Ang Lee’s version had so much — so very deliciously much — going for it. But even without the comparison, this version was palid and even tedious.

The main thing…. The very most central problem was the portrayal of Marianne Dashwood. If your Marianne is bad, your production is kind of doomed, don’t you think? Marianne is young. The young can be quite delightful, but they can also be self-absorbed and convinced of their own rightness rather too often. The trick with Marianne is that she is an almost-total delight. But she is also an energy-sapping pain in the neck some of the time. She carefully navigates this delicately treacherous path adeptly, so that we end up championing her causes and mourning her losses right along with her. In the end we worry for her. We’re relieved, but we are afraid her spirit will have been tamed a little too thoroughly. Ang Lee’s Marianne does all this. We feel Elinor’s affectionate exasperation; Mrs. Dashwood’s inability to stop from spoiling her Marianne a bit;  Edward’s brotherly concern; Brandon’s warm attentions.

This new Marianne is (sorry) kind of a bitch.  She sneers. She brushes Elinor aside completely. She simpers…Austen’s (and Lee’s) Marianne would rather die than simper.  Her very first encounter with Brandon is all wrong. She almost deliberately misconstrues his discerning opinion of her piano performance.  Later, she hissingly discredits him completely to Elinor.  Not only is this a fabrication, but it is out of character for Marianne, and sets her up as an insufferable bitch with few redeeming characteristics.

So basically the lynchpin of the story is a bitch. Sorry. I can’t feel any of the requisite sympathy for this bitchy middle sister.

One more thing — her voice is unbearably shrill. Especially when contrasted with Elinor’s deep, mosulated, genuinely delightful, mellow-as-brandy voice. Marianne is a shrill bitch. And that’s just the beginning….

Advertisements

How would you like to be the month called August? It must be difficult and frustrating, trying to live up to the word that means “marked by dignity and grandeur; venerable.”  October, November and December, by contrast, have it much easier. They need to live up to…what?  titles conferred based on their respective (and outdated) numerical place among the months.  April’s got it easy. March — well, time marches on and never more so truly than in the month when the days tramp in like  sodden, angry lion and then prance out like a lamb on a Caribbean cruise. May. Yeah, there’s a tough assignment. Permissiveness abounds in the lusty month of May. The month of Yes You May.

August has a tough time of it. Dignity and grandeur in 90-plus-degree heat is a jeopardous undertaking (and doomed to failure).  Dignity and a sweat-soaked armpits? Grandeur and a wilted hairstyle? Have you ever heard of a venerable heat wave? These intimidating adjectives have no place in a beach parking lot packed with SUVs. They gain no purchase when the thermometer is bright red and someone asks “What’s for dinner?” and suddenly all you can think of is retreating to a dark closet when you can bang your head against a wall until the world cools down to at least the 80-degree mark.  A straitjacket hardly conjures images of dignity.

Sometimes, when watching some BBC miniseries, some Dickens adaptation, some Austen story brought to the screen, I think of the modern conveniences such as anti-perspirant, ceiling fans, daily bathing and cold beer in frosty bottles — and I wonder why no one thought to question the wisdom of corsets, chemises, farthingales, petticoats, cravats, waistcoats, bonnets, gloves and starched collars. At least during the month of August. Dignity can take a hike. But not in petticoats and a corset.

How To Get The Girl and Still Keep Your Shirt On

FD: Knightley, you dog, how great to see you. We never see you, buried as you are out in the country. What do you find to occupy your time there?

GK: Darcy! An unexpected pleasure! I have been very much occupied…um… at Donwell, and um…a visit to my brother John, and then…

FD: To hear John tell it, you’ve gone and gotten yourself mixed up with a woman….but he would say no more.

GK: John mentioned that, did he? Well, mixed up is not exactly the word. I am considering settling down, is all. Just not exactly sure this is the right time or perhaps I should wait. The lady in question might be a bit young for marriage…or for me…our families might…Yes, well, there is much to be considered…

FD: Local girl?

GK: Ah. Yes indeed. Local. Young. I’ve known her family for years. Just..she might need more time to get used to the idea of marriage. I’m not sure she’d have me. Not sure she thinks of me…you know…quite that way…

FD: She’s driving you out of your mind, isn’t she.

GK: Ghhhhaaaaa. Yeeesss. So relieved that you get it. You know what I’m talking about. Mad! She’s making me mad. Crazy. She’s all I think about. I…there’s…I can’t get anything done. I’ve missed meetings. Forgetting things. Social engagements.

FD: Don’t worry about that. It just makes you more of an enigma. And I know from enigma. Look, man. Get hold of yourself. You have this image to live up to. This literary image.

GK: Well, that’s not exactly my problem, is it? I mean isn’t that Jane Whatsit’s problem? She’s the one who wrote me into this damned buttoned-up character..

FD: Yes! Exactly! Which is why you need to find a way to take care of this particular yen for this local girl without blowing your image. You’re considered this…um…this…

GK:Thinking Woman’s Sex Symbol?” Ugh. Please. Damned embarrassing. Lame. I’ve heard that. Yes. On those Austen discussion boards. You should talk, Darcy. You’re practically at the top of these ridiculous lists.

FD: Which is why you need to listen to me. Find some way of staying in character while you take care of this distraction. It’s what…1801 or something? You can’t exactly take her to your place and seduce her…

GK: More’s the pity..

FD: That’s not in character, pal.

GK: That’s more Churchill’s line of work.

FD: Churchill. Frank Churchill?

GK: Total prick.

FD: What a tool.

GK: Right. So what your saying is I need to find a way to get what I want ..

FD: …but still stay in character. Right. The reader trusts you, Knightley. You have to keep your honorable, chivalrous nature.

GK: God I hate that woman, Jane Austen. Does she even realize how difficult this all is? Leave it to a woman to tie her male characters in knots.

FD: Don’t let her get the best of you, man. Play along! Beat her at her own game! Find a way of declaring yourself that stays in character AND gets you the girl. If you play your cards right you could even work in some quotable line, like…

GK: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

FD: Ooooh. That’s good. Unfortunately, it’s been used.

GK: How about, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment…”

FD: Hackneyed. Clichéd…

GK: Maybe I should just tell her that I cannot make speeches. That if I loved her less I might be able to talk about it more…

FD: Good! That’s good man! Go with that!

GK: You think?

FD: The lady won’t know what hit her. And neither will that Austen witch.

GK: Excellent.

FD: Just don’t do anything rash like jumping in a pond with your shirt on. Or undoing your cravat. Ask John Thornton about that one. Entire message bords, swooning over that one.

GK: Got it. No wet shirts. No undone cravats. What if I just get two different fellows to play me in two different film versions?

FD: You’re catching on.

“For months I have had all this on my mind without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature.” – Elinor Dashwood

Twice I have watched the new Persuasion. Twice. It debuted in January and I have held my tongue. I have kept my council. In vain I have struggled. It will not do. I need to spill about this new, upstart version of my favorite Jane Austen book.

Ugh.

It’s just a frustrating attempt any way I look at it. It seems damned, doesn’t it? It tries to remake an excellent film adaptation of the (arguably…but since this is my blog, let’s just accept it) best book by (possibly…see earlier parenthetical caveat) the best author in the English language. And it flails. And fails. Watching it twice was tedious. I am not sure if I wanted to like it or I wanted it to fail because I wanted to remain (ridiculously) loyal to the loved version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. In the end I wanted to like it just so I would have another interpretation to love. Like having two Emmas. Like having two pints of Hagen Daaz in the freezer.

So I watched it. And watched it again and picked it apart with my husband and made polite mouth noises when asked about it by casual acquaintances because God forbid I am branded a snob. Which I am. I hate me for being a snob, but it’s all I’ve got.

Persuasion

Avoiding comparisons between the 1995 motion picture release version (let’s call it P1 for short) and this upstart version (let’s call it P.U.) for short are inevitable and unfortunate and telling. On it’s own, PU might be an acceptable story. If one had never read the book, with it’s mature, melancholy prose and the quietly hopeful tone that seeps slowly into the plot, PU might be a diverting and pleasant tale. In fact the one advantage PU does have over P1 is that it takes much of Anne Elliott’s internal dialogs and turns them into diary entries, thereby injecting it with more of Jane Austen’s own words.

PU has only two things wrong with it: The cast and the plot. The direction, too. Oh, and the characterizations. That’s four things. Wait. The script, too. OK, that’s five.

Wentworth. Let’s start with Wentworth. PU’s Wentworth is nice looking (when he smiles) but has no charisma, no Hey!-Whoa factor. No thang that sets him apart. P1’s Wentworth is played by an average looking actor. But as Wentworth, he becomes so charismatic, so charming. Lots of Hey!-Whoa. PU’s Wentworth is not up to the task of making a woman like Anne pine for years. P1’s Wentworth shows his gallantry as well as his resentment. He also does a great job showing us how he still pines for Anne…and is doing his best to fight his growing feelings.

Mary Musgrove. She comes off like a character in a community theater production of some Beatrix Potter story. She’s a comedic rodent. Like a little badger or hedgehog with the whiny snurffly voice, dim ways and inexplicably poor posture. To hear her saying nearly the same lines as the amazing Sophie Thompson is a travesty.

Charles Musgrove: Like a high school actor reading his lines in the first run-through. What a dork.

The Crofts: Here is a real loss. P1’s version of Admiral and Mrs Croft conveyed the couple’s absolute devotion to one another in a few beautifully key scenes. The way Fiona Shaw warmly smiles at her husband, and her quiet assertions that as long as she and the admiral were not parted, she was never ill and her life was complete. Admiral Croft’s sweet, natural way with children, his easygoing, sincere affection for Anne as he takes her arm and tells her of Frederick’s letter indicate that these are the kind of people Anne considers good company and makes Sir Walter’s dismissal of them all the more telling. PU’s version are a typical couple of twittery English people. No depth. No humanity. PU’s version of Mrs Croft is not the right age either. That’s Wentworth’s sister? No way.

Sir Walter. This was a killer. Hard to watch this particular misstep. PU’s Sir Walter is a fop, but he is a mean, angry fop and it does not work. He screams at Anne. Sir Walter was more aware of how aristocracy should behave than anyone. Scream at his daughter in front of servants? Raise his voice in front of Smith and Mrs Clay (when he hears his tenant is a Navy man)? No. P1’s whiny, petulant, casually vain Sir Walter with the shallow conversation and the desperate pompousness was too perfect and exactly like Austen characterized him.

Mr Elliott: He is supposed to be a fop. Not Ichabod Craine. P1’s pretty, unctuous Mr. Elliott was shades better.

Mrs. Smith: What? She’s out on the street walking around? Running? Wow! Quite the cure Bath offers the desperately infirm.

Elizabeth: Let’s forget for a moment that instead of 29, this Elizabeth looks older than Lady Russell. She looks about 45. She does not get to screech as much as P1’s Elizabeth. “Perhaps! It might have been! She is a Viscountess! A Viscountess!” I miss my screeching Elizabeth.

Lady Russell: OK. It’s a draw on Lady Russell. P1’s is more formidable and composed. PU’s is a bit more as the book portrays her. I call a tie.

Louisa: She look about 10 and talks like she’s 12. Captain Wentworth asks, “When did Charles want to marry Anne?” Our little Mensa member answers, “I don’t know exactly. But it was before he married Mary.” Even my 9 year old son said, “Well, duh!”

Let me take a side street here to talk about the script. Why would they take Austen’s words and feed them to the wrong character? Why did they feel the need to hit us over the head with the plot points? It’s a patronizing script in many ways, and teeth-grittingly daft in other ways. WHY have that beautiful letter of Frederick’s then only read half of it? Why have Anne speak the lines about women loving longest when all hope is gone and waste them on Benwick AND HAVE FREDERICK NOT OVERHEAR THEM? HE’S SUPPOSED TO OVERHEAR HER! THAT’S HOW HE KNOWS SHE LOVES HIM STILL, IDIOTS. OK, ok, and why have Mrs Smith suddenly able to run a half marathon alongside Anne. Why dear God why have Anne run in circles all over Bath? It’s so bad it’s funny. And why have Louisa make a speedy recovery? She is supposed to linger at Lyme listening to Benwick’s poetry and falling in love with the poor sod. And when did Anne go to med school so she can diagnose and re-set a dislocated collar bone? And Charles and Mary Musgrove never check on their child. Not even to  peek in the room. And why in hell did you have so many close ups of Anne? Why that long, embarassing, excrutiating pause before the kiss in the middle of the street? She looked like a guppy. Why is there a servant with an inkwell in a random doorway at Kellynch? And someone answer me how Frederick Wentworth wrangled Kellynch away from Sir Walter or Mr. Elliott or whomever it belonged to by the end?

I need to let go of all this exhausting bitterness I feel toward the toads who made this.

One last thing. Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliott. You get a gold star for trying, Sally. And putting up with the special-needs director who made you do all these un-Anne-like things and wear that pencil-headed unflattering hairstyle. I liked Sally best in Layer Cake. She plays a coke-addled girlfriend  as well as she played Anne Elliott….that is to say very well. But Amanda Root from P1 is incandescent. And her chemistry with Ciaran Hinds’ Wentworth is exactly as Austen wrote the romance between Anne and Wentworth.

“There is no more telling characteristic of a man than his choice of spouse.” I am not sure who said this. I found it in a book of notes I took while reading something Bronte-esque. It sounds Austen-ish, but I can’t find it definitively.

Nevermind. It’s true. Or at least I believe it’s true. I think Austen felt this way, too. Her stories are riddled with excellent examples of characters marrying either their mirror image or their complement: Jane and Bingley, Darcy and Elizabeth, Emma and Knightley, Admiral Croft and Sophie, Louisa Musgrove and Benwick, Ann and Wentworth, Lydia and Wickham. I think we can even make an argument for Charlotte and Collins. Well, Charlotte certainly made a strong argument for it. I think we’d better keep Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill till another day because – damn – what the hell. I don’t think I will ever be able to figure that one out.

It is absurdly easy to diagnose a marriage from the vantage point of a casual observer. From the side of the road. But in my shallow assessment I believe there is the kernel of truth. Spouses come in two forms: Bookends and Shoes. The Bookends are the matched set. Two of a kind. Bingley and Jane. Lydia and Wickham. Louisa and Benwick. The Shoes are cut from the same cloth, and are whole all by themselves, but really need one another’s strengths to move forward. Darcy and Elizabeth. Emma and Knightley.

My brother’s ex-wife was destined to be exactly what she is: A thorn in his side and a general pain in the ass. Till death do they part. No divorce papers could ever sever the ties of parenthood, and so he is shackled to Broomstick (as we call her) for life. Ophelia, Desdemona and Lucrezia have each married someone who I would never have thought to choose for them. And without, of course, intimately knowing the dank corners hidden away in every marriage, I can say that each of these brothers-in law are marvelous men – if only because they intrepidly chose to entangle themselves with these stubborn, scary women. Whatever I think on any given day of my sisters – love them or loathe them for whatever reason – they each chose fine men. Complementary in skills and temperament, intelligent, wise, kind. The intemperate sister chose the man whose voice and approach could soothe a skittish colt. The intransigent sister married the skilled persuader. The overly frilly sister married the laconic salt of the earth. Each hard-working, clever sister married an equally hard-working man.

For myself, I wonder what I did to deserve a spouse so generous, skilled, affectionate and devoted? A small voice within tells me what I already know: I did nothing to deserve this. I can only rise to the task of being equal to this blessing. To pay attention to the areas where he is weak that I might take up some of the burden and be his complement when it is needed.

In the case of someone like Marianne Dashwood, who believes she has chosen well when she falls headlong into love with Willoughby, it is tempting to think that Fate stepped in to save her from her own bad judgment. Or that Brandon is being rewarded somehow in marrying Marianne. As if she is a prize. Which makes the whole thing seem less wholesome. Less right. I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. I believe Marianne is rewarded in finally choosing Brandon. She learned some painful lessons when Willoughby broke her heart. And one pf the things she gained was the wisdom to see that she and Brandon might not have been the bookends that she and Willoughby appeared to be, but rather that they are well-matched shoes. Each aiding the other and working together to progress through a happier, more full life together.

Isn’t that telling of both their characters?

Intermezzo

Its complicated, but I am facing a few physical challenges that have kept me away from the computer and this blog. On the mend, though, and soon to return. Stay tuned. Your indulgence is appreciated.

Thomas Hardy was a real ray of sunshine, wasn’t he? Tess of D’Urbeville. The Mayor of Casterbridge. The Woodlanders. A really sunny disposition, that one. What happens to these people – these artists – that they manifest such a bleak view of the world in their art? I always wonder. If I have read a lot of an author’s books, or listened to a musician’s works, I usually end up reading at least one biography – just to get a bead on the roots of their world view.

Hardy struggled with his faith and how to reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with what he perceived as the hopelessness of this earthly life. Big surprise. No one really comes out of his stories well. The Woodlanders is just one long keening wail of sadness. What was the problem, Thomas? No friends in grade school? Called up last when the boys were choosing sides to play cricket or rugby or whatever you handlebar-moustache people played? He wasn’t starving or terminally ill or threading his way across a killing field at any time in his impressionable youth.

I probe around in all these authors’ and artists’ lives. After basically soaking in a vat of Oscar Wilde for a while, I became entirely engrossed in his personal and sad romantic connection to Bram Stoker (He was in love with a woman who fell in love with and became engaged to Stoker), which lead me down a twisting garden path of literary biographies. The lives of these gifted people are sometimes more fabulous and intricate than their prose. And sometimes, as in the case of The Brontes or Jane Austen, the opposite is true.

My current fixation is The Restoration and Charles II. To this end I have chalked up two biographies and a huge, sumptuously illustrated reference book on The Restoration, The Plague and The Great Fire. And I really think I am just getting started. His is an amazing, fecund age. The Merrie Monarch brought his country out of a dark, puritanical time (thanks, Cromwell, you big prick) and reinstated the performing arts and much-needed commercial freedom to his country. He met huge challenges reasonably and head-on. All of this after seeing his father beheaded, then spending much of his youth in ragged, itinerant exile. Not without his faults (poor man suffered from nymphomania), he never the less is remembered as accessible, kind, reasonable and having a great sense of humor. What a marvelous character to be born of such a troubled, dramatic youth.

Makes me want to ask Thomas Hardy, “Hey, what the hell is your problem, anyway?”