Movie Reviews: Austen Month

To round out my celebration of Jane Austen’s work, I watched a few movie adaptations she inspired. I started with my favorite:

Austenland
2013, PG-13, 1h 37 m
Director: Jerusha Hess, Screenplay: Shannon Hale, Jerusha Hess

If you haven’t heard (read) me say this before, this film is based off the book by Shannon Hale. Back in 2015 my Mum and sister recommended this movie to me and I’ve been in love with it ever since. Last year I got my hands on the novel and loved that too. This movie is a solid adaptation with only minor changes to the original story and it has become one of my favorite films and certainly my most watched over the last year or so.

Keri Russell as Jane Hayes is a charming Austenite trying to get over her Darcy obsession. She takes a trip to Austenland, an estate in England offering an immersive stay in Jane Austen’s world. She finds because she’s paid for the Copper Package that her experience will differ from those of the more wealthy residents, but she’s determined to make the best of it and put her Darcy fantasies in the past where they belong.

my current desktop background

                                my current desktop background

This movie is all sorts of cute and even if you’ve never read Austen’s work, if you like romantic comedies and the Regency era, I highly recommend this. Also, JJ Field 😀

Clueless
1995, PG-13, 1h 40 m
Director & Screenplay: Amy Heckerling

I’m not sure when I first saw this movie, but it was long before I started reading Austen’s work, so I was unaware it was a modern adaptation of Emma.

Cher, typical popular, rich valley girl, sees herself as a matchmaker and when she meets scruffy, but kind-hearted Tai, she decides to give her a makeover and set her up with one of the local hotties. Tai rises to the occasion and soon becomes more popular than Cher, throwing her life into perspective. Cher suddenly begins to see how selfish she can be and works to remedy that, while also taking a shot at love.

I enjoyed this movie more than I thought. Though I recalled the main plot, the little details of the movie made me smile and I now enjoy the parallels to Emma. The entire cast is great and young Paul Rudd is a super cutie. I assume everyone has seen this, but if for some reason you haven’t, give it a chance.

Becoming Jane
2007, PG-13, 2 hours
Director: Julian Jarrold, Writing Credit: Kevin Hood & Sarah Williams

There is actually a book with the same title and though I haven’t read it yet, I’m not sure the movie follows it very closely. I’d seen parts of this movie before, but never sat through the whole thing.

The film depicts young Jane, around age 20, as a young writer who dreams of marrying for love. Her parents would rather she marry for money (the mother feeling a lot like Mrs. Bennet) and are eyeing up rich, young, rather boring Mr. Wisley. Jane instead falls for Tom Lefroy, but if the two marry he would lose his chance at any inheritance and both would fall from polite society.

This movie threw me for a loop by opening with a scene hinting at oral sex between Jane’s parents and frankly I thought it unnecessary. Overall the movie gave off very Pride and Prejudice vibes, but without likable characters. Anne Hathaway is lovely (and McAvoy is a cutie) but she didn’t win me over. There’s three men courting Jane and while I know Lefroy was real and not much is known about what might have been the start of a relationship with him, I think the movie felt the need to jazz up Jane’s life and add a heavy amount of drama. Halfway through I stopped paying attention and it didn’t really matter. Can’t say I’d recommend.

Death Comes to Pemberley
2013, 3 episodes, about 1h each
Director: Daniel Percival, Writing Credit: Juliette Towhidi

I’ve just reviewed the book this mini-series is based on, so this follows the same story of a murder mystery unfolding at Pemberley several years after the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth.

Overall, I think the series did a fairly faithful job in adapting the novel by P.D. James. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet take the place of Jane and Bingley as guests at Pemberley and this added some unnecessary extra drama thanks to Mrs. Bennet’s personality. Mr. Bennet does slap Lydia at one point though, which is super gratifying. The series also amps up how much of a prick Wickham is (which really isn’t needed) and created drama between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana, as well as Elizabeth and Darcy. The added drama felt cheesy to me, but if you watch the series before reading the book it likely won’t bother you.

They did include a paraphrasing of the de Bourgh line about death that I liked, so that made me laugh again. There’s also some Regency sex, which wasn’t necessary and of course didn’t fit with the story being told because heaven forbid anyone even kiss in those novels! I don’t think I’d ever watch it again, but it’s worth a viewing if you have a spare three hours.

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There were a few more movies I would have liked to watch (though I can’t recall most of them because they were saved on my Netflix list but now they’ve all been dumped from the site) and I did try to find The Jane Austen Book Club, but I didn’t want to pay to rent it so I gave up.

Have you watched any of these or any other Jane Austen-related films you’d recommend?

Book Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James

My Edition:
Paperback, 291 pages
2011, Vintage
ISBN: 9780307950659

Elizabeth and Darcy, happily married for six years and parents to two boys, are having their annual ball. The night before the ball, Lydia appears unexpectedly, frantically screaming that her husband has been murdered in the woods of the Pemberley estate. An investigation is launched and the Darcys and their family are pulled into a murder trial that could affect the rest of their lives.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as I’ve read some disappointing sequels and reimaginings of Pride and Prejudice, but from the start I found myself pleasantly surprised by the tone of characters. James has done an excellent job keeping the narrative voice true to the original and the characters behaved as I think they would have should Austen have decided to pursue this genre. I expected a murder mystery involving the Darcy family would have been a bit hokey, but I was interested in the story and constantly trying to guess who the murderer was.

James sets the scene by revisiting some of the events from the original novel and detailing how Elizabeth and Darcy have children now and how they’ve fared since their marriage. There’s also some speculation from the neighborhood as to why Elizabeth and Darcy married and this felt like a natural follow up to the end of the original. James also has Mary happily married and though she’s really not mentioned beyond that in the book, it was nice to see her settled rather than turned into an even more obnoxious character, as is common in other renditions of Pride and Prejudice. As usual, I can’t stand Lydia or Wickham and James managed to make me dislike the couple even more throughout the events in her book.

Lady Catherine even makes a small appearance and has a fantastic little monologue on life and death which made me chuckle:

“The de Bourghs have never gone in for prolonged dying. People should make up their minds whether to live or to die and do one or the other with the least inconvenience to others.”

There’s even a nod to characters from Persuasion and Emma, implying they run in some of the same social circles as the Darcys.

The mystery turned out to be more complex than I expected and my only real complaint with this book is with the latter portion where all is revealed. A murder trial is held and of course the witnesses are asked to speak and in doing so they repeat a lot of what has already been revealed to the reader. After the trial, even more details are revealed and due to the conversational nature of how everything took place, it turned into a massive infodump. The book really slowed down and was dull for me, despite the interesting details being discussed. I don’t think there was any other way the story could have wrapped up other than everyone talking about what happened, but it was tough to get through.

If you’re an Austen fan and the idea of her characters being involved in a murder trial sounds interesting, I think you should give this book a chance. It didn’t disappoint me and if James has any other Austen-inspired work I’d certainly read it.