So you think you know Jane Austen

There are a lot of details in Jane Austen’s six books which you may think you know well enough. Trying out this quiz book by John Sutherland and Deirdre Le Faye may reveal differently. I don’t agree with all their interpretation and, sometimes, guesses but it is fun to look through.

Miss Austen Regrets

This new film is quite the improvement on Becoming Jane. In it we see, what I think is, a more realistic portrayal of Jane Austen’s life. In this case we experience, apart from a short and clever flashback at the beginning, Miss Austen in her 40’s reflecting on her life as she tries to guide her naive niece in finding a husband. Olivia Williams does an incredible job as Jane Austen (you may know her as Bruce Willis’ character’s wife in The Sixth Sense).
We see a great deal more about the difficulty and pressure Miss Austen had to face being a female author in the nineteenth century here than in Becoming Jane. If you really want to get into the Austen head then this is, by far, the better choice. An example. There is a scene when Jane is writing in a room of their cottage (probably the dining room) and Cassandra, her sister, comes in to set the table. Jane’s pen lifts off the page and she stops. The noise continues for a minute until Cassie sees she is interrupting Jane. She leaves the room and as the door shuts the pen lights upon the paper once again. I try to write and flatter myself that I may have something to write, and this scene describes how I feel when interrupted so well. It’s just a moment… but so well captured that you know whoever wrote that part of the screenplay is capturing his or her own frustration. Their true feeling of how difficult the task of writing truly is. It makes Austen’s accomplishments so much more admirable and this movie more to be respected.
This made for TV movie is very highly recommended.

Becoming Jane

This is a movie, of course, about Jane Austen, a woman who was long dead before the height of her fame if, indeed, that summit has been reached. It was written by Jane herself (through her correspondence and other writing) with help from Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams. I enjoyed the movie although I think it could have gone into a little more about her struggles getting her work published including her having to buy back several of her manuscripts from idiot publishers who didn’t know what they had.
I doubt that Miss Austen herself would have revealed as much about her personal life. I understood that she hid the fact that she was writing from her own family at the beginning. But the acting is reasonably well done and the setting seemingly realistic.
Recommended for Austen fans.

Persuasion again

I watched the 1971 Persuasion again last night. And yes it does suffer from 70’s film technique and less quality but I still think it’s pretty good. It certainly doesn’t rush and the characters are much better developed. I don’t think it deserves the poor reviews it has received. There were certainly great efforts made by the actors although they did lack some of the polish of modern Hollywood actors (but I imagine they made the movie in far less takes than actors now enjoy).


I have watched 3 video adaptations of Jane Austen‘s Persuasion: the 1971 mini series, the 1995 movie and last year’s made for TV movie. The latter two are those most people would like: the 1971 effort which I reviewed earlier is only for true Austen junkies (there’s a few in my family).
This is among my favourite of Austen’s novels but I would be hard pressed to say why. It may be the charged interaction between the main characters Ann Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth, which is really the core of this book. There’s history between them before the story begins (an 8-year span of life changing events since she turned down his proposal of marriage). From the exquisite torture which spurned Frederick dishes out to the quietly suffering Ann at the beginning, to Ann’s willful lack of restraint at the end, the audience follows her on a roller coaster ride of emotion.
The feelings explored by the 2007 Ann (played by Sally Hawkins) are incredibly acute. She is seems more real and authentic to me than the sheer control of Amanda Root‘s Ann in the 1995 movie. I felt that Ciarán Hinds (1995) who looked older and more weathered was a better casting choice for a Captain than Rupert Penry-Jones (2007). But these are only foibles; all 4 of these actors are excellent in their characterizations. In fact I enjoyed the acting all around. In particular, Anthony Head plays Sir Walter Elliot (Ann’s father in the 2007 version) with such perfect shallowness, disdain and yet there’s something else there, too, that makes you almost feel sorry for him at the same time you’re hating him!
I thoroughly enjoy both of the newer productions although I am currently persuaded to prefer the new version. It’s been a while since I saw the 1995 version so I’d like to watch it again. Perhaps watch them both back to back: yeah I know I need professional help, thanks!
Of course these two productions are too compressed (120 and 107 min. for 2007 and 1995 respectively) to keep all the delightful and impressive dialogue and events of Austen’s fast-paced and dense prose. If you want a mini-series done on the scale of the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s Pride and Prejudice then you will have to wait (it’ll happen no doubt) or content yourself with the imperfections of the 1971 Granada TV effort.

Pride and Prejudice

It’s about time that I golbed about a favourite book adaptation: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I know that I’ve written about it before but not in any detail and Bride and Prejudice or Bridget Jones’s Diary certainly don’t count even if Colin Firth is reprising the role of Darcy in the latter. In my mind there are only two video versions worth seeing.  That is if you don’t want to read the book or listen to it which, of course, is the best experience. We own both on DVD: the 1995 mini series and the 2005 feature film. The former of these with Colin Firth as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Miss Elizabeth Bennet is, by far, the best. It’s 300 minutes does the genius of Austen justice and seems to really evoke the time. It also doesn’t deviate as much from the text.  The new movie with Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley as the ultimate couple has better colour and some interesting liberties taken but it’s just too short. It’s OK if you’re in a hurry but buy the 1995 DVDs if you want the real experience. Five hours only seems long when you say it out loud but I do not misrepresent when I say that you hardly notice the time passing with the exquisite acting, beautiful landscapes and historic interiors.
The story is a timeless one and you only have to do a search in the Internet Movie Database to see just how captivating the story has been through the generations. I’m not particularly sentimental but Austen really knew how to bring her characters alive on the page and in interesting situations. She is certainly one of the most gifted writers in the English language and well worth my time.
The 2005 film, of course, has many well known names including Donald Sutherland, of all people, as Mr. Bennet and Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourg. Although Dench plays the part very well I don’t find her as convincing as Barbara Leigh-Hunt in the mini series. Perhaps it’s a factor of time; not enough time to develop her character. Sutherland, whom I am a big fan of too, is a poor casting choice I’m afraid. But I do enjoy having both.
In fact I’m trying to collect DVD’s of all of Austen’s work. We have Sense and Sensibility and Emma and I look forward to buying Mansfield Park and Persuasion as well although I’m not as sure about which versions I should get.