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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Live-Blogging PBS' "Jane Austen Season": Part 1, Persuasion

9:12. I arrive late due to a rainstorm and miss Gillian "Lily Bart" Anderson's intro, alas. But just to kick off the post, I'd like to say that Persuasion is pretty much in constant contention with Pride and Prejudice for my fave Austen book, and the 1995 film with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root is my favorite 2 hour feature film of all time. So this production, which has gotten "eh" reviews from the Austen blogosphere, has a high bar to reach. But I am still looking forward to it.

Anyway, on with the heaving bosoms, social maneuvering, marital prospects, chance encounters at social watering places, dashing admirals and lonely spinsters.

9:12 I see Anne Eliot and Lady Russell sitting side by side, sniffing and sniffing with high emotion because Anne once yielded to LR's persuasion, and Anne talking about h0w "rich" Captain Wentworth has become. This does not bode well.

9:13 The leave-taking scene between Elizabeth and Anne feels like a shot-for shot budget remake of the 1995 production, as does Anne's reunion with Mary.

9:15 I'm not sure I buy this Mary as a hypochondriac. Her face is too modern. She belongs in a pair of stilettos or on an episode of Weeds or something.

9:17 but I love Louisa and Henrietta. They are so appropriately tittery. A giggly greek chorus.

9:18 Hmm, but on the other hand, why aren't the Musgroves more jolly? They're supposed to be nice, but kinda crazy-happy-country-folk.

9:20 ahh. This is all going too fast. I need some lingering shots. Where is the stuff where all the Musgroves confide in Ann? That's one of my fave passages in the book.

9:21 Aight, here comes perfect lingering shot, with a window, and flowers and streaming light and stuff.

9:22 So much for the lingering shot. Enter Mr. Right. Hmmm, Wentworth's cute, but not weatherbeaten enough.

"Mr Wentworth, this is my eldest sister Anne." Umm, yeah. I think he knows that already.
I miss the shot from the 1995 Persuasion where she grips the chair subtlety.

I need to stop comparing, right? Right?

Resolved; I will stop comparing.

9:22 This Anne's getting prettier and I like her a lot. But what's with the goddamn diary? Since when do Austen adaptations borrow from Bridget Jones?

9:25 OMG TREASON TREASON WHY IS FREDERICK SAYING THIS LINE AT THE DINNER TABLE? "I am ready to settle down and make a foolish match etc etc." This is not his line! This is supposed to be the Croft's territory.
Also, this is also way too much personal info for the recency era, innit. "I want someone with firmness of charcter, not open to persuasion." Ohhh. I see now. I'm looking at you, Anne.

UPDATE: Okay so as commenter Julie reminded me, it is Frederick's line. But he's not supposed to say it at dinner. He's supposed to say it during a quiet heart to heart with Sophy. Hmmph.

9:26 Anne is playing a funereal dirge on the piano. Such subtlety.

9:28 Charles and Mary argue about which sister Wentworth will marry while Anne walks just ahead of them and emotes. Awk-ward!

9:29 Mary's got no love for the, erm, Hayters.

9:30 Anne falls and Wentworth's marvelously sculpted face floats above her. He lifts her up, scowls.

9:32 Trying to figure out when Anne rejected Charles, Captain Wentworth calculates the intervening years in his head... "I'm not so good at Math you see, but I do look damn fine in a pair of breeches."

9:34 Wentworth roughly pushes Anne forward, lifts her up, and shoves her onto the carriage. How forceful. All women want a man who can put them in their place, right?

9:35 They're already going to Lyme. Damn this movie moves zipplily through hundreds of pages of Georgian prose. It's like Austen on speed. Hello. The camera is supposed to be a substitute for free-indirect-discourse. Everybody knows that.

9:40 A panoramic Lyme shot--what ominous walls leading down to the sea.I wonder who will fall down them and provide a major plot point.

9:42--What happens when you put two ex-fiancees on a winding staircase? Aw-kward x2!

9:43--My boyfriend, a big Persuasion fan says: "Down goes Louisa--this sure went quickly. Are you sure this goes til 11?" ...And he adds "I agree, Mary doesn't look Regency at all, and Wentworth is some pretty boy, he isn't a hardened sailor."

9:45 Me: "Where have we seen Wenthworth before?" My boyfriend, "In an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog?" Snark. UPDATE: True Answer: He played St. John Rivers, and Jane Eyre dumped him for Rochester/Ciaran Hinds in the '97 Jane Eyre. Which is weird because he's now lost out to Ciaran in two (count'em, TWO) separate categories.

9;46. Aww, by asking Anne whether she approves of his plan to tell the Musgroves about Louisa's fall while she remains with Henrietta, Wentworth is implicitly showing her that he trusts her. And she's so happy! Aww. They are such a good team. Aww.

9:48: My gosh, Henrietta has a Williamsburg-hipster haircut. Killer bangs.

9:48: Don't bring up Lady Russell in front of the ex-fiancee whose engagement she helped break off, Anne! That's mad not smart. It might even make Wentworth jump on his pacing steed and ride off into the night. Haven't you read "The Rules?"

9:50 Well the Camden-place snobs are pretty snobby. I'll give you that.

9:51 OMG Mr. Eliot is totally Brutus from Rome! Anne, beware the Ides of March!

9:52--Oooh, a scene between Wentworth and Harville that was only hinted at in the book. How daring, how irreverent. How pointless.

9:53--That Brutus Mr. Eliot. He's so smooth, so charming, but he'll stab you in the toga back when you're not paying attention. Also, does anyone else find it ironic that his character betrays and stabs Ciaran Hind's character on Rome? Just like this movie is betraying and stabbing my favorite movie of all time which starred Ciaran Hinds? Just like he's going to betray Anne?

9:56--That is a looong hand-kiss on the part of Mr. Eliot towards Anne. Elizabeth, needless to say, is not too happy.

9:58--This version is certainly milking the "poor Anne" sentiment" even more than the book, and the 1995 version, dared to. So let's all say it together: "Poor Anne!" However, I'll admit that this Sally Hawkins person is a very good actress. She's doing a good job with the part. They're doing a lot of close-ups of her face and she's handling them in the true Anne Eliot spirit.

9:59--Come on, Anne. Are you going to stand for this treatment of the part of your papa? Say your famous "not the only widow in Bath with little to live on and no surname of dignity" line! Say it.
She said it. Yay.

10:02: Here's a long long scene where the Crofts show up, Anne thinks they’re talking about Wentworth and Louisa and gets all breathless, but oops! they’re talking about Benwick and Louisa. Whew.

Now she knows her ex-fiancee is free once more, and she’s all heaving bosom and tears.

10:04—Bath. Rainy day. Tea-shop. Ex-fiancees are stuck together, mere inches apart. Speechlessness ensues. Then speech. Good speech. Soulmate speech. Austen-penned speech, for once.

10:05—Well, this is a sweet moment. I acknowledge it. Way to show your chops, British actors.

10:06--Mr. Eliot shows up. The men stare each other down. Is this like a reverse catfight for the benefit of the ladies?

10:08--Oh pant, pant, pant, run, run, run right out of the concert Anne. But be warned. You want a proposal from one man, but you're gonnna get one from another.

10:12 Ok, this ticking clock thing is just ridiculous.

10:13 Why do they keep talking about "Haters?" Snark.

10:14--They are adding the deleted scene where Wentworth comes to be an emissary from the Admiral under the mistaken belief that Anne is engaged to Mr. Eliot. Not a happy job on his part. It's almost like that time when Jane Eyre said "screw you and your missionary work. I'm goingback to that blind cripple, Rochester Ciaran Hinds."

10:15--Some nice Firth-esque micro-facial movements on the part of the good Captain when he realizes his ex-fiancee is free. No panting and heaving for him. Still, he loves his Anne so much.

10:17: Why is the invalid Mrs. Smith running through Bath? Shouldn't she be hacking up a lung in a sanitorium somewhere?

10:17--Wha? Huh? "Mr. Eliot has promised to set Mrs. Clay up as his mistress when he marries Anne." Said out loud, on the street, to an unmarried woman. What happened to whispers and gossip and Mrs. Rooke?

10:18--She's running again. Is this Forrest Gump or Persuasion?

10:19--She's running again again.

10:19--She reads the first two lines of his note: "You pierce my soul. I am half-agony, half-hope." At least they keep this Austen-original gem in.

10:20--Still running. Damn girl. In a corset no less.

10:20--Haha Charles keeps talking about a gun but Wentworth and Anne are all half agony half hope and shit and he... has no... idea!

10:22--She's determined. Get it? She won't be persuaded anymore. She's come full circle. What a character arc.

Let's omit the fact that Anne felt she was right to refuse him those eight years back, even though on some level she regretted it, and that had his pride allowed him to re-propose two years after that, she would have totally said yes.

10:22 Kissssssssy kiss kiss.

Hey, remember the scene in the 1995 version where he takes her hand and the sexual tension jumps off the screen and it's the most important hand-taking of all time ever? Yeah, me too. I liked that scene.

10:22 "Dear Diary. Today I ran a marathon and got re-proposed-to-by my ex-Fiancee."

10:22--She's got a blindfold on. Kinky.

10:23--"I'd like you to to see your wedding present. I got you Wuthering Heights! Not the book, the, umm, house." Camera pans to huge gothic mansion. Austen-ending as real estate commercial. Not entirely inappropriate, actually. Austen was a big fan of real estate.

But what happened to the SEA, Austen's great romantic reconciliation/post-aristocratic utopia?

10:24--Apparently, there's a merry-go-round in front of the new digs, cause they keep spinning.

10:26--Credits roll, previews for next week. Northanger Abbey looks good.

Final verdict: eh. Even badly-adapted Jane Austen is good, and the two leads did a really excellent job of acting. But I'm not sure I get the point of this sped-up, relatively unoriginal production. I bet the un-deleted, sophisticated British version was better. But anyway, with the exception of proving some really good thespian talent, particularly Sally Hawkins, it didn't do enough that was new to wow me. I respect it, but don't adore it, and oh how I long for Amanda Root and yes, Ciaran Hinds.

See you next week, same time/place, for much more unbiased, earnest coverage of Northanger Abbey.


  1. 9:25 OMG TREASON TREASON WHY IS FREDERICK SAYING THIS LINE? "I am ready to settle down and make a foolish match etc etc." This is not his line! This is supposed to be the Croft's territory.

    Actually, in the book, Wentworth does say this line. I've seen 1995 often enough that it jars me too, but if you check the book, you'll see that Frederick says it, not Sophy (as an aside -- Sophy is only supposed to be 8 years older than Frederick, not 28).

  2. Anonymous1:05 AM

    Anne was playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Showing a lot of ignorance here, does Beethoven predate Austen? I thought it was an interesting choice in music

  3. Beethoven was born in 1770. Austen was born in 1775.

  4. You are right, Julie... he says it in private to his sister, not as an announcement at dinner though.

  5. I read another blogger jokingly mention how the director must be a big fan of "Run Lola Run," based on how this adaptation ends. You're right, for a woman in a corset, she sure does do a lot of running around in the last fifteen minutes!

  6. Responding to your comment on Austenblog, which I totally agree with -- I also hated how this film version (at least in the cut version I saw on PBS) didn't bother to show anything of the egalitarian marriage of the Crofts, such an important model for Anne. I am thinking of the passage in the novel where Mrs. Croft steers the carriage!

    Of course the Navy itself was a strongly heirarchical institution, but nonetheless the sea represents openness and egalitarian possibilities for Anne & W (after he unlearns his prejudice about having "delicate" women on board his ships, of course).

  7. Since when do Austen adaptations borrow from Bridget Jones?
    I KNOW.

    The camera is supposed to be a substitute for free-indirect-discourse.
    Haha, I'm having some major flashbacks to last term's Poetics class right now. Thank you.

    As you say, even a bad Austen adaptation is still pretty good - after all, they can't totally fling the source material to the hills, right? - but I do wonder at all these filmmakers feeling the need to constantly make new adaptations. The new P&P was completely superfluous. (Even though that happened two and a half years ago I'm still not over it. Lord.)