When I watched the new LBD this morning, I read it as a strong commentary on Pride & Prejudice spoilers for Lizzie Bennet Diaries to 12 Feb 2012 )
There ought to be some sort of personality test (or at least reading personality test) based on which is your favorite Austen novel. Of course this only applies to people who have read all of them and in general like Austen, or at least definitely liked one of them.

My favorite is Northanger Abbey, which is an extremely uncommon preference in the field of Austen fans. I've never met anyone else who agreed with me about that (not that I've looked especially hard. Your typical community of Austen readers is not my kind of people. They know way too little about lolcats, for one thing).

Emma and Knightley in this version of Emma are both notably unique. There's a kind of deliberate staid and stateliness to older BBC productions which has been forcibly cast off here. Mark Strong's Knightley (the Beckinsale mini version) I have found to be closest to my mental book-based Knightley in the past, though Jeremy Northam was most infectiously charming: because Knightley's maturity and dryness seemed lacking in Northam, who played him too sunnily amiable. On the other hand, though, Strong's interpretation was too heavy. He seemed inwardly tortured sometimes, and had a slight air of Rochester about him. In short, he seemed too old, and not fun-loving enough, because Knightley has a great sense of humor, even though he is also very serious in matters of duty, manners, kindness, and doing the right thing.

But back to my main point, which is trying to explain why Jonny Lee Miller's Knightley is my favorite, and why I think he is actually the best of these three most recent versions. You see his dryness, sarcasm and humor with a peculiar clarity as the distancing mechanisms they so often are with this interpretation. Everything about his affectation of uncaring and distance, where really he is mentally engaged, is echoed in his body language, where a thread of tension underlies a constant series of elaborately lounging poses. His face is serious, and you see in his eyes when he is caught in thought, but he doesn't make the kinds of exaggerated and revealing facial expressions which Emma does, young and unguarded as she is. You can sometimes see his attachment to Emma, usually if you know what you're looking for, but it's not made too obvious so as to spoil the "mystery without a murder". The acting he does, and Romola Garai's too, build on a palpable chemistry, and are so convincing and so layered, that the connection between them is really intense and moving.

Good screenwriting and directing, too, though not flawless, contribute to keeping the tension more even and providing more of a window to what's going on for Mr. Knightley's side of the story - something that is almost entirely opaque in the book until you go back searching for clues, and which different productions try to handle in different ways, but usually don't alter very much. I appreciate the alteration, though, and think it works very well for the screen. The bits of his point of view build and come together slowly, until by the end of the 3rd episode a pretty whole picture has emerged. You really feel for JLM's Knightley, and Emma starts to as well, though she seems fairly unconscious of what/why; the confusion is very well-achieved.

And the result is probably the most romantic version of Emma I've ever seen, which I really like. And can't wait for the ending. :(
So, I both love and hate the new BBC Emma.

In the process of airing now - two of four have shown - is a beautifully and expensively-filmed version starring Romola Garai as Emma, Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse, Jonny Lee Miller (formerly Edward to Frances O'Connor's Fanny in 1999's Mansfield Park) as Mr. Knightley, and Blake Ritson (formerly Edward to Billie Piper's Fanny in ITV's sucky 2007 Mansfield Park) as Mr. Elton.

This production is, in common with Pride & Prejudice (2005), truly beautiful. Gorgeous locations and lighting, brilliant colors, and modern cinematography that really breaks that old BBC Drama Boxy Room mold where you feel like you're stuck at knee height in a dim, grey room while all the actors move around you. There's sunlight and movement, and an energy to the physical direction that's really engaging. On the other hand, the director comes right out and says in this behind-the-scenes featurette that he wanted to use "modern body-language" in order to update the piece, and unfortunately, he and the screenwriter have both gone so far in their attempts to "update" that several scenes are... rather damaged.

On the one hand, a visually compelling piece, with top-notch, fun, innovative, playful acting and directing - and I think Romola's Emma is strongly reminiscent of Keira's Elizabeth, bringing out and emphasizing her youth with some teenaged mannerisms. On the other, classic lines butchered due to dumbing-down apparently in aid of mass appeal, occasionally requiring a huge extra suspension of disbelief. (These are the same strengths and weaknesses exactly that I find with P&P2005, by the way.) In the carriage proposal scene in this version, Elton actually says to Emma that he "couldn't care whether Harriet lived or died" - which I find pretty much impossible to buy for a clergyman of his era, at least as an utterance, though it was undoubtedly true!

I sympathize with the impulse to modernize, to an extent, because when you squint at Austen, it sometimes seems that it almost works in another context. Emma is a little princess, which made the valley girl element in Clueless apt. But Clueless didn't put the valley girl in the Regency - it put Regency (though not directly) in the valley girl. I saw The Taming of the Shrew at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival with a 1950's setting one time, poodle skirts and all, with the props and sets and all very cleverly updated a la Romeo+Juliet, but the dialogue kept the same, and that, I think, is much more insightful and clever, and functions much better. I would love to see Emma transferred in the same way to, say, England in the 1930s. Rather that than the sort of tweaks that make me scowl and say "Not period!" (This is why I hate reading Regency AU fanfiction. It's practically always got something wrong. Admittedly, Emma is not on the Fall Out Boy/Lost in Austen level of bad.)

On the other hand, though, I find this the most memorable and engaging and pretty Emma I've seen, and Romola Garai's girlish, sulky interpretation is fresh and exciting. It doesn't hurt that the script and director really put in space for visual sparks between her and JLM's dry, snarky Knightley, because this is something that I often find lacking in screen productions, and which is even a little unsatisfying on the page, but which a film version has an awesome potential to rectify. (Paltrow and Northam - the chemistry just wasn't there. Mark Strong in the Beckinsale version was smoldering and intense, but Kate's reciprocal attachment wasn't quite so convincing onscreen.)
A hilarious music video: Period Drama Montage "It's Raining Men" by DreamyViper @YouTube. Fairly decent vidding relying mostly on Austen films, Hornblower, and Wives & Daughters. There's some stuff like North & South that I haven't seen; the absence of Master and Commander struck me forcibly, especially given Hornblower's presence.

But then, even more striking is the extreme lack (in existence, I mean, not in the vid) of other dramas from near the same period as Austen. I want more delicious production design and costumes. Sigh.


Feb. 27th, 2009 01:39 pm
It's possible that pink netbooks have gone too far. I mean, cotton candy is one thing and Pepto Bismol is another, not-too-bad thing that I even kind of like, but this is like, 90's Barbie box. My retinas may need a recovery period.

In other news, Marvel is serialising Pride & Prej in 5 issues (here). The cover's cool, but on the inside Mrs Bennett looks like Jabba the Hutt, the sisters look like Real Dolls, Mary has an inexplicable mid-90s wig with sort of Old Hilary Clinton bangs meets Early Buffy Layers, and everyone is wearing black lipstick. Still... the cover is nice.
Well, you know, it's not like Merlin is trying to be historically accurate. It's not even disregarding it so much as ignoring the existence of historical accuracy. Even aside from the fact that Arthurian legend is not exactly history, Merlin is rather like, oh, The Flintstones. Your inner medievalist no more need cringe than your inner archaeologist or evolutionary anthropologist need cringe at The Flintstones or BC (that hideously stupid comic strip).

I was trying to apply a similar principle to Lost in Austen, and I found that, as I saw someone else post about Merlin, that was much more enjoyable once my inner Regency-genre fan (to say nothing of my inner P&P fan, because it's not just history but also all semblance of characterisation that went by the wayside - true blue badfic, there. I'd be surprised if the source text didn't include some tittering Author's Notes with missing commas) fainted dead away. In Lost in Austen, of course, one doesn't have to go all the way to Flintstones-esque allegory, since a great deal of evidence seems to point more to the whole thing being set inside the rather dim protagonist's mind (which should explain the lack of historical detail, and her limited reading comprehension can explain the lack of characterisation). (It's as if, as [livejournal.com profile] wax_jism said, she's read P&P 50 times but it's the only book she's ever read, and she didn't really understand it very well.) I saw some signs that the Regency world simply represents a blue-collar protagonist's fantasy of a more upper-class and mannerly world, and the surprises she finds there certainly make more sense if it were modern. Of course, people are people (and thus people are assholes) everywhere. Also all the gross changes to Austenian canon introduced - ie the characters of Wickham & Georgiana, Mrs Bennett and Miss Bingley - speak to class, with the upper class (GD, CB) villified at the expense of lower-class characters (W, Mrs B) who are found to be more worthy/substantial than in canon. (The side-effect is to remove any sign, in the text, of the true gender power imbalance in the period - which again makes sense if it merely represents modern life, where women's agency is not such an issue.) Ultimately this still doesn't do much to explain the claim that she's actually been literally in love with Darcy, a fictional character, since childhood; but I suppose that her choice, in the end, to throw aside reason, logic, and everything she's now learned about her chosen world and choose it anyway for the sake of her personal attachment to Darcy - that is the artefact of the romance genre, and probably doesn't need to be explained any other way.

21 Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett

15 other people, or Lizzy with other people (Mrs Hurst & Miss Bingley, Charlotte Lucas, Bennett sisters; Lizzy+Jane, +Wickham, & +Charlotte)

29 )
I noticed two film!Stardust pieces about Robert DeNiro's swishy, amazing Captain Shakespeare. They're remarkably similar, except for length.

  • Names, Navigation, and Other Issues Arising on the Caspartine. This is from the POV of Shakespeare's first mate and follows his whole career from long before the movie. It's of medium-length, not truly epic, but it does justice to that original character without really moving the focus away from Shakespeare either, and allows him to be admired as I, at least, felt he deserved after the movie.

  • To Sir, with Love is a little drabble on the same theme, also from the point of view of an OC first mate, with a slightly different feel.

And then some odds and ends -

  • Terry Pratchett - Nation Hands Across the Sea. "The young Princess Ermintrude, heir to the crown of England, stared at the paper in front of her and tried to think how to begin her letter." It's just about perfect in every respect. I could have kept reading ten times as long, but at the same time, it's not too short to feel complete in itself and entirely convey its purpose in just the tone of the book, sensitive and hopeful and wry.

  • The Chronicles of Master Li Three Jade Mice, a funny casefic with some really delightful details of magic and mystery to make it memorable.

  • Jane Austen - Emma Poignant Sting A very good and authentic-tasting (which you might not think meant much until you consider that I've never recced or even bookmarked a Regency-period AU or an Austen piece before, because I consider that nearly everyone fails at getting period voice right) look at the Austenian world of Emma through a darker and more supernatural lens.That isn't something you would automatically think would work, and yet it does. A little heartbreaking perhaps, but ultimately heartwarming and engrossing. Featuring Emma's and Jane Churchill's pregnancies, Mrs Elton's frustrated social ambitions, and Miss Bates, the Cassandra of Highbury in a more literal sense than is usually meant!

And yesterday in the Die Hard 4 recs I forgot one which I had lost in my initial orgy of reading, I don't know how. It's one of the best Die Hard stories I've read in quite a while in fact:

  • I'll Be Hard for Christmas, A solid, funny, quirky, satisfying, believable sequel to the movie, all about the War on Terrorism and John and Matt's War on Congressional Committee Hearings.
Potential babysitting today was going to be a drag when I had to look into bus connections to find the every-second-hour bus that runs from downtown to Brother Windows's on Saturday, and BW's dad-in-law as baby-dinner help (the dude's nice, but he never talks - he's like a grizzled little mime and it's just kind of unnerving, okay?). But! It turns out Brother Linux and his pregnant wife Lady Linux are coming from out of town to help me instead, and they're going to give me a ride out there! \o/

Okay, so, Sense & Sensibility is my least favourite Austen novel. In fact, I almost never read it because I get so annoyed. It's not poorly written although it's less mature than her later work, certainly: it's just a too-accurate portrayal of Marianne, and we probably all know someone like that, and I just get incensed and crazily frustrated that no matter how many times I read it, everyone keeps on not smacking the hell out of her. Figuratively, I mean. I always feel that she doesn't deserve Brandon when I read it. The Kate Winslet version is, at least, a) much, much shorter than the interminably long book, and b) kind of shiny, but the casting doesn't work for me and it drives me crazy the way they're wearing makeup, and although I like Emma Thompson personally, I kind of hate her in the role.

But I watched the newest miniseries version starring Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Janet McTeer, Dominic Cooper, Dan Stevens, and David Morrissey... uh... a while ago, anyway. And I really loved it. Charity Wakefield's Marianne is still a spoiled asshole, but she keeps Marianne's youth and idiocy and her family's indulgence at the fore, which makes it somehow less obnoxious. Hattie Morahan is the best Elinor I've ever seen, and the artistic direction, locations and costumes are as delicious and delightful as those in the recent ITV Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which were both aces I think.

Sadly the Mansfield Park starring Billie Piper sucked an incredible amount, because while, as [livejournal.com profile] isilya would say, the Fanny of my heart is Frances O'Connor, liberties so huge as to be laughable were taken in everything from gratuitous lesbianism to gratuitous sex to gratuitous implications of rape and possibly pedophilia or incest or something like that. Anyway, it was about time for a decent version, and that... was not what we got last year. And I've seen and disliked the 1983 miniseries before (in stark contrast to the pre-Colin P&P from 1980, an excellent adaptation) (I've never seen the Laurence Olivier version, sadly).


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