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: Emma

Emma
By Alexander McCall Smith

My Edition:
Paperback, 361 pages
2014, Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780804172417

Emma Woodhouse has grown up on her father’s large estate, complete with a governess. She’s just finished school and decided to start her own interior design business, but finds herself more interested in the doings of her friends and neighbors. She starts with her governess, Ms. Taylor and after taking credit for successfully fixing her up with family-friend Mr. Weston, Emma decides matchmaking is her new business. She begins sticking her nose into everyone’s business and soon learns that they don’t view her as helpful, but rather meddling and snobby.

I’m now all caught up on the books in this modern Austen project and I’m satisfied with how they’ve all turned out. Despite each novel having its own author and varied voices, I still think they have all captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s novels and feel like a series that belongs together.

Smith’s Emma stands out as more of a spoiled, meddling, brat than the original (though I didn’t dislike her and was naturally excited to see her character growth) and I think that’s because our modern language and times allow her character to be depicted more bluntly. As a result, I think her change of heart and her efforts at self-improvement stand out more as well.

Mr. Woodhouse is a charming hypochondriac and his constant worries about the air quality of London (where Emma’s sister resides with her husband and growing brood) and the evils of microbes had me chuckling. George Knightley was less developed than I would have expected however; he doesn’t play a large part in Emma’s life until the latter part of the novel and I had been hoping for a bit more of a build-up in regards to their relationship.

The ending wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking, but overall this was a cute, contemporary take on the classic. As with the others, I recommend it if you enjoy Jane’s work – really, if you haven’t read any of her work, these modern adaptations might be right up your alley, to give you a feel for her stories without the potential intimidation of an older writing style.

You can check out Smith’s website or Tweet him or visit his Facebook page.

Movie Review: Emma

pic from wiki

Emma
Directed by Douglas McGrath

1996, Miramax Films
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Alan Cumming, Toni Collette, Ewan McGregor, and Jeremy Northam

You can read my book review here.

First off, I just read the tag line on this particular movie cover (poster?) and have to say, I think it’s incredibly stupid . “This spring cupid is armed and dangerous?!” That makes me think of Emma as a gun-wielding murderer,  killing people on Valentine’s Day. At the very least, it conveys a sense of action, which this movie lacks. That is mostly due to the fact that Austen’s novels are character, rather than plot driven, but still. Whoever came up  with that tag line did a poor job.

I watched this movie on Netflix, so I’m not sure if it was their fault, or I’m just not used to watching films from the 90s anymore, but the film quality was grainy and terrible and I just wanted to throw that out there. I think this film did a decent job of capturing the main points of the plot and accurately expressed the characters unlike Mansfield Park, so it has that going for it. Sadly, I felt the acting was very wooden – I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It wasn’t what I would call bad acting, but no one seemed to really convey emotion and as a result I was pretty bored while watching.

I noticed a couple minor character edits. For example, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) is adorable, and while he does look somewhat older than Emma, I think they downplayed the fact that he has 16 years on her. This was probably a good choice, but as this is the biggest age difference in Austen relationships (I think), I felt it was a unique point that was missing from the movie. They also made Mr. Elton appear to regret his marriage to the utterly obnoxious Augusta. In the book, he seems very proud of his match, and together they are an obnoxious couple. I think they tried to redeem his character by making him appear to regret his choice in a wife, and he seemed almost as fed up with her as everyone else.

There were some interesting transitions from scene  to scene where they used conversations. A conversation start and typically Emma would be commenting (sometimes internally) on something that would then apply to a different conversation in the next scene. It’s hard to describe. I can’t say I was blown away by this, but it was a  neat little effect.

This movie seemed to be missing a “rain peril” scene, as I mentally refer to them as. Whether written in by Austen or not, the Austen movie adaptations I’ve seen all seem to include a scene where someone is caught in the rain. In this, Knightley refers to riding through the rain, but we never see it. I’m so accustomed to it that I feel like it should have been included! We are rewarded with a kiss between the happy couple at the end though, so at least there’s that.

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This film was okay – a bit boring, and while the acting wasn’t terrible, it lacked anything remotely resembling feeling and therefore I wasn’t really invested in it. I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching, but I’d certainly never watch it again. I can at least appreciate that it did a fair job of sticking to the source material. If I had to give it a rating, I’d say maybe 2.5 of 5 stars.

Book Review: Emma

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Emma
By Jane Austen

My Edition:
Hardcover, 512 pages
2010, Penguin Classics
ISBN: 9780141192475

From Amazon:  Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

What I liked:
This is the first time readers are given a heroine who is well-off. I don’t think that the Bennets or the Dashwoods were meant to be shown as truly poor, because they probably never would have married  as well, but maybe middle class. But Emma Woodhouse is very well off and isn’t a heroine that’s striving to be part of the upper echelon (even if it’s just to take care of her family) like we’ve seen before. She doesn’t even desire to marry, which felt refreshing. Other Austen heroines do seem to strive for a little something better, and I like to see them achieve that, but Emma has everything she needs in life and would rather see others happily married than herself. I like Emma as a character – she’s confident (maybe overly so), lively, and talented, and watching her matchmaking schemes unfold was amusing.

There seemed to be more over-the-top characters in this book. Mr. Woodhouse, the Eltons, Miss Bates, Harriet, and Mrs. Churchill. Miss Bates was especially ridiculous, with her never-ending speeches. I think we’ve all met someone like that before – you can hardly get a word in edgewise and if you do it’s ignored, because they simply want to talk about themselves or what they know. At one point, Emma says something rather cutting to Miss Bates about all the stupid things she says, and while it was mean, there was a bit of justification. After having to read through so many pages worth of her nattering, I had a little “oooh burn!” moment. Don’t we all want to tell someone off? It was less passive aggressive than most of  Jane’s insults, so it felt fresh.

Emma grows as a character and begins to notice her faults as a matchmaker after repeated blunders. She’s a bit of a silly girl as the book begins, and it was nice to see her mature by the end. Her relationship with Mr. Knightley was different too – most heroines happen to meet the man they marry at a party or something, and then develop a relationship from there. Emma and Knightley have grown up together and are already fast friends when we’re introduced to them.

What I didn’t like:
At first I had a hard time keeping track of the characters. There seemed to be so many more “main” characters in this book than any other Austen book I’ve read. There 5 main couples in this book, plus additional characters like Mr. Woodhouse, and Mrs. and Miss Bates. I actually went on wikipedia to look up who some characters were, because they were being mentioned in the book, yet with no detailed information on who they were, leading me to believe I had missed something. They were later introduced to readers, but I feel it would have been more helpful to have that information early on.

Also, Miss Bates drove me up a wall. I know that was intentional, but her monologues were so boring that I ended up skipping over most of them – if she actually said anything important to the plot, I missed it.

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Overall, Emma is another enjoyable Austen novel. Now that I’ve read all her completed novels, I can say that I don’t dislike any. Pride and Prejudice is still (and always will be) my favorite. I think maybe Sense and Sensibility and Emma rank equally for second place, with Mansfield Park and Persuasion in third. I’m not sure where I class Northanger Abbey – as when I read it, I just didn’t understand what she was going for. I have a better understanding of the plot and her intentions now, and I think if I read it again, it would be right up there with Emma.