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Movies in May: How Hollywood Ruins Jane Austen — 37 Comments

  1. I always like a rebel, Jack, so thank you for going against the current!

    I agree that no adaptation does justice to Jane Austen’s remarkable ability to make fun of the world, and yes, the Darcys and Lizzys of the Hollywood adaptations take themselves too seriously. Jane Austen famously said about her novel: “Upon the whole… I am well satisfied enough. The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story: an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and general epigrammatism of the general style.”

    Of course, she is being facetious, but it’s clear that she prefers the “light, and bright, and sparkling” and “playfulness” to more solemn forms of writing.

    Having said that, I think as a society we’ve inherited the tendencies of the Brontes and the Romantics and like to see love more as a tempest than a storm in a teacup, which the “novel of manners” tends to do. Hollywood, of course, is not known for the subtlety of its humor generally. It’s easier to focus on the love interest rather than on the satire.

    Bravo, Jack. No pitchfork from me.

    Having said that — I do love the Darcys in all their guises 😉

  2. I have always viewed the various adaptations of JA’s work the same way I do fanfiction – enjoyable but never quite right. No one can be Jane but the attempts are often such fun. Some are closer than others, to be sure, but even the 1940’s vaguely-resembling version of P&P had moments of delight. Pride, Prejudice and Zombies was an unexpected pleasure – I laughed throughout at it’s cleverness, the badass Bennet girls, and the best proposal scene ever. I am very curious to see how the writers have translated Lady Susan into a movie script and I am all anticipation for Love & Friendship. I’m fairly certain I will find something to like in it. I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, Jack, but these adaptations are impressions of Austen, and we all have our own. And that’s part of the fun!

  3. I agree that the best P&P adaption is the 1980 one. I watched the 2005 film twice and judged on just being a film and not P&P it is bad, and I can no longer watch the 1995 version without wanting to throw something at the television – so many things wrong with it including the portrayal of Mrs Bennet, Lydia, Collins. And I have watched Colin Firth in better roles

  4. I have seen (and own) all of the adaptations and I watch each of them for a piece of what we all love…with that said, you just cannot beat the original for the prose and interaction. There isn’t enough time for Hollywood (of any incarnation) to get it on film. Another thing is that NONE of us are EVER going to agree on the “right person” to play Darcy, Lizzy, Anne, Capt. Wentworth, Emma, Mr. Knightley, Elinor, Marianne, Col Brandon…etc. We all have that personal vision, thus the beauty of books. Maybe that’s why I don’t watch many movies, but I do enjoy the Austen ones because it is a passive dip into my favorite place, even if a skewed one.

  5. I have been in trouble with many groups for disliking almost every adaptation around. I do have copies of many of them but won’t touch that horrible Rozema Mansfield Park. I agree about that Persuasion . The Billie Piper Mansfield Park was also bad. Many of those who make the films disagree with Austen and hate Fanny Price and Emma so have to change them in the movies.
    There are many others who say that the movies led them to a full interest in Austen.

    • You are in good company here, my dear. And it is true that the films led many to Austen. Hopefully, they have discovered her famous prose and timeless humor for themselves. Thanks!

  6. Good points, Jack. “Hollywood” is always working out the latest generations’ daddy and mommy issues on works from the past. We can’t expect they will be faithful to Austen. Come to think of it, much of the JAFF I’ve read in the past does the same.

    Maybe your next novel should be: Jane Austen, the International, Multi-generational, and Intellectual Rorschach Test We All Love.

  7. I agree. While I love the 1995 P&P, we lose the humor in it, and the same with S&S. I enjoy the movie versions as a delightful diversion from real life, but they aren’t the same Austen that got me kicked out of my university’s reading room for laughing our loud while reading S&S.

    Plus, my favorite Austen novel is Mansfield Park, and so far the movie versions have sucked! They just can’t get Fanny right. The Ciaran Hinds Persuasion had its moments, mostly thanks to Sophie Thompson’s brilliant and hilarious performance as Mary, but as we know, Hollywood seldom does complexity right, and both MP and Persuasion are complex stories with complex characters.

    Great post–very thought-provoking!! 😀

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

    • The issue I have with the otherwise-excellent 1995 version of Persuasion was its portrayal of Elizabeth Elliot. I saw her as foolish and shallow as her father (see the 1971 BBC version), not mean and vicious. Thanks, Susanne.

  8. I love the 1981 version of Pride and Prejudice and dislike the new one (do not get me started on my opinion as the faults. My favourite Mansfield Park is the 1983, although I do agreed Sylvestra La Touzel, does look uncomfortable, but maybe she was playing Fanny as a she awkward and shy character. Do not mention the 1996 version of Emma, Gwyneth Paltrow was too blond, american and annoying, they cast Toni Collette as Harriet and she was suppose to be blond and petite, Ewan McGregor(who I think is a fine actor) look like he had a thatched roof on his head. The only redeeming feature for me was Jeremy Northam

    • The main reason I like 1983’s Mansfield Park is how they treated Sir Thomas. He’s a guy who married poorly, but tried to do the best he knew how. Throughout the production, Sir Thomas learns how wrong he was, and he attempts to correct his mistakes. It is too late for Maria, but in the end he becomes the father Fanny never truly had.

  9. I prefer the books to the movies. I always find the errors in each one. The Colin Firth one drives me crazy with the wet shirt…the I shall conquer this, Mrs. bennet, Lydia and Collins. Most often the characters are not the right age for their parts (usually too old). A movie can’t equal the written word. I have seen many of the adaptations more than once and each does have redeeming qualities. The only one I could not get past the first 10 minutes of was the 1940 version. It was beyond painful. Thank you for this thought provoking and ‘loaded’ post.

  10. I happen to agree with just about everything you said. The 1980 (my DVD says 1985) version of P&P has always impressed me as being truer to the book. And that is even with David Rintoul’s performance. I have already seen Love and Friendship (with Claudine) and we laughed all the way through it. I also had to read the 3 books and see the movie with the Zombies theme and that also had me laughing – you might gag when you see that they included a swim in a pond with wet shirt scene in that. A nod to 1995. And I so agree that they ruined the whole film by having “Anne/Sally Hawkins run all over Bath and then that prolonged kiss is painful IMO. Yes, books are always better but movies require little input – just sit with your popcorn, sigh, laugh, groan. Bride and Prejudice: have watched it over and over again. Collins/Mr. Kohli is so over the top with his acting. My only problem there is that the culture where the filming was done does not allow even one kiss. I missed that and I do know that JA didn’t have kisses other than on the hand type versions. But in my movies I want a little of that. But to each our own.
    The earliest version doesn’t even resemble the book IMO as the actors are so much older to begin with and the ending is so very wrong.

    Happy Birthday.

  11. You make some valid points, Jack. I own and enjoy most of the adaptations, but the medium itself is limited.
    The need to cut things out and take shortcuts to condense to a 2-hour format is responsible for a lot of the desecration. As to the loss of Austen’s humor, there again I think the medium is at fault because it necessarily eliminates the narrative, where so much of her humor resides. The same happens with Dickens. Based on the film adaptations, I didn’t think I’d like his writing – all poverty, rags, and people with hideous teeth. So I was surprised to find so much wit and humor in the books.

  12. I probably find something to like and dislike about every adaptation, but who cares. I admit it! I’m a hard core junkie which is why JAFF is my fix day in and day out. By the way, I loved Elizabeth Garvey as Lizzy. She sings! Plus she had those large luminous eyes to draw in old “wooden” Rintoul. Fun Post. Happy Birthday! Jen Red

  13. Happy Bday one day late!! “….even with David Rintoul’s unfortunate wooden performance.” Love that line…alas even with Elizabeth Garvey’s lovely performance…it’s almost unwatchable because of the original robot Darcy. 2008 S&S(which is more Elinor’s story than Marianne’s story, whereas the reverse in 1995, perhaps why some Marianne haters don’t like it) has no humor? Carpeting beating anyone? I must put in a word for my big hearted and funny Emma 2009, my favorite adaptation. I have a Mrs Elton in one of my bookclubs and love to play Emma’s rant.

  14. ’95 Persuasion is my all time favorite adaptation, followed by ’95 P&P. Then I get very nitpicky. Haven’t seen the ’80 P&P. Guess I’ll have to make it a mission. My MIL (former English teacher)and all women of the extended family would have a ’95 P&P marathon every New Year’s for 20 years! We indoctinated 2 of the 3 granddaughters. Our DD (16) cannot bring herself to read or watch P&P yet. Her horrid 9th grade honors English teacher dared call it chicklit! “Mom you’d hate her.” Did you defend me and tell her it’s akin to satire, social commetary with a dash of romance?! “No, because I haven’t read it yet.” (Cut her some slack. She just read Dicken’s “Nicholas Nickleby” for fun and loved it. “I’m having Dickens withdrawl!”) I love the humor of the ’95 P&P adaptation, however, I take it at face value. I wouldn’t say it is awful, just not quite what JA intended. I LOVE to listen to my unabridged audio CD’s of all six of JA’s works. That puts the imagination on overdrive and blocks out even my beloved CF. Thanks for your opinions! BTW don’t get my kids started on this debate as pertaining to “LOTR” and “The Hobbit”! You’ll be sorry…

    • Gwyn, you gonna hate the costumes used in the 1980 P&P. Just ignore them and focus on the script. I think you will find it superior to both 1995 and 2005. As for LOTR and The Hobbit, IMHO, they did the best they could with LOTR (which I find very good), but screwed-up big time with The Hobbit.

  15. Adaptations of Jane Austen have soothed my heart so many times that I cannot really fault any of them, well except for Mansfield Park. Because, really, what is this woman with her dyed blond hair doing in that movie? And she should be wearing her hair up, she is not in the schoolroom anymore! And Edmund! Dear Me! Not that he is my idea of a hero anyway, but why so spineless and sticky like glue? I will not speak of the other adaptation I saw which left me wondering what it had to do with Jane Austen.

    I have delighted in every version of Emma that I saw though. Everyone of them. Although we may not agree. Well, I do agree that in the Gwyneth Paltrow version Harriet was odd… but I loved the humour … it was really “kitch” as we say in French, meaning an object in bright cheap colors not in the most elegant of tastes, but I like “kitch” sometimes.

    As for Pride and Prejudice, I have never watched the 1980 version, but you have me quite tempted now. As for the 2005 movie, well the music was really beautiful, at least the piano part. And Mr Darcy was the handsomest ever. And that voice… Well I am a romantic at heart. But everyone else is cast wrong. And I will not mention the odd house the Bennets live in and the not so subtile sexual implications. And, dear me, proprieties! Rambling the countryside or leaving Netherfield without gloves or hat or even a coat. I will not mention that her hair is down several times and that she is not dressed befitting her station in life. Being independent and witty does not mean Elizabeth cannot be a proper gentlewoman. Sigh…. As for the 1995 BBC version, I like it much better although … I wonder… about Elizabeth’s gowns… why does she have to look as if she has missiles instead of a bosom? And why this make-up transforming her into a geisha? But I love Jane Bennet in this version. I was not impressed at all by the wet shirt sleeve scene, although Colin Firth has such a pleasant voice. To deepen my confession, I have always wondered what he found in Elizabeth in this adaptation because her wit is rather sharp and cutting. All of this did not prevent me from watching the video maybe a dozen times, I have to confess. As for the rest, I draw the line at zombies and vampires in my fanfiction life, so I shall never have an opinion.

    Mothanger Abbey delights me so… I love Mr Tilney and his sense of humour and, of course, he is a loving brother to his sister and he knows a muslim!

    Sense and sensibility… I love the movie – such beautiful music – and the last TV adaptation. Of course, the actors are always a little bit too old and no-one really knows what Marianne is about and why she marries Colonel Brandon in the end. However, both versions but especially the last, enlightens the huge changes these women go through, leaving a life a privilege and the protection of a husband and father for a small cottage, with little independence, few prospects, and unsure how to find their way in the world.

    What truly grieves me though is Persuasion… It is my favourite Jane Austen novel and I cannot abide what Hollywood has done to Anne Elliot. She is written – black on white – as an elegant and pretty woman having lost her bloom. Yet she is still elegant and pretty. So why the inferior clothes and inelegant hairdo? I understand the authors wish to highlight the differences between Anne and her sister Elizabeth, but nonetheless it grieves me. And running throughout Bath without even a bonnet or gloves???? And that kiss!!! I am pained for the actors everytime. Well, maybe they wished to show the passion that lies at the core of Anne’s heart, but are eight years of pinning and unrequited love not enough? Or maybe they wished to depict her joy… but she is not exhuberant! The only cure is reading the novel again to forget all this unjustice. Such a perfect and mature novel.

    Despite their faults, if any of these adaptations can draw a few people to read the true Jane Austen and enjoy her perfect style, wit, humour and the deep love she has for her characters, I shall have no cause to repine.

    Happy belated birthday Jack!

  16. Update to this post. The wife and I saw Love & Friendship last night. While not 100% true to Austen’s novella, it was true to the spirit of that charming psychopath,Lady Susan Vernon. The few changes made only added to the film and made it one of the truly funny movies I have seen in the last few years. Get ye to a movie theater, posthaste!

    Still haven’t seen P&P&Z.

  17. A very belated Happy Birthday, Mr. C. I’m catching up on email after a vacation.

    Oh how many times have I thought ‘they ruined it!’ when watching a film adaptation of a much loved book. Couldn’t begin to count. Even a recent televised adaptation of my most favorite book series of all time, into a lengthy mini-series, and very well done just barely satisfies. 🙁

    But, after the 1995 BBC version, and the Emma Thompson S&S, I asked myself, ‘why the heck hadn’t I ever read the original?’ How did I manage to get through school and some college (English Lit.) without reading ANY of Jane Austen? I decided enough was enough and committed to reading the entire oeuvre of JA. For goodness sakes I was in my late 40’s at the time. Then I started reading history and biography about her. Eventually I discovered JAFF. Before Amazon Kindle, in the library, searching the card catalogue.

    I do so love your versions, J.C. Not all of them have humor. But all beautifully researched, which is what I enjoy the most from my top of the list authors of ANY historical fiction.

    Great post, Mr. C. Great examples. You could’ve just said: ‘How Hollywood ruins books,’ but yes, this is JANE AUSTEN VARIATIONS.

  18. Books and films are different art forms, and they get their messages across in different ways.
    Although you prove me wrong in this post, I have always thought that each round of adaptations appealed to a different generation. My mother loved the 1940s P&P, which I find unwatchable. I know women twenty years older than me who swear by the 1970s & 80s adaptations, with their awful clothes and theatre-style blocking. I find those unwatchable, too. I like both the 1995 & the 2005 P&Ps, the 1995 (?) Persuasion, and the Mark Strong Emma in 1996, not the Gwyneth Paltro one the same year, though that her Mr Knightly was superb. I have not found the series of adaptations that came out around 2007 held my attention at all.
    Consider the ending of the 1995 Persuasion – where the book tells of their joy, the movie shows a gleeful parade that they don’t even notice, though what’s in their hearts is perfectly expressed by the joy around them.
    A movie that ties itself too closely to a book betrays its art form and does not successfully represent the novel it is based on.
    We have to agree to disagree here. It was fun to see another point of view.

  19. It’s so very interesting how people from the USA, from Britain etc. are responding to the many Austen-movies. Being at home in Central Europe and certainly influenced by my scholarly profession and engagement in 19th century research I humbly claim my own subjective perception. I fully agree with Jack’s statement that P&P 1979 is the truest compared with the original. It’s not the fault of the movie’s creators that their funds were limited, Pemberleys facades , therefore, looking a bit shabby (not the gardens!). There is only one major flop: Lizzy running madly from Lambton to Pemberley and bursting into Mr.Darcy’s privacy – a severe violation of proper Regency manners and Jane Austen’s character.
    I like P&P 1940 despite there is no much connection to Austen’s book. It is simply turned into a spirited screwball comedy in the Hollywood style and as such in my view a glorious success.
    I like and/or love P&P 1995 not only because of Jennifer Ehle’s perfect Elizabeth – a better one I cannot imagine. Of course there are other features to praise yet it cannot be denied that several characters are turned into – funny but unaustenish – caricatures. Where Jane Austen demonstrates subtle irony this introduces carnival elements. As the actors are all excellent I do not protest. Even where the persons appear close to their literary models P&P 1979 offers a deeper understanding of Austen’s intentions. Moray Watson (1979)shows alle the negligence one expects but he has a hidden dangerous core which sometimes appears at the surface. There is nothing to say against Mr.Whitrows rousing and adorable interpretation (1995). He, however, is a nuance too weak.
    Just a remark on the main couple: David Rintoul (1979) is not wooden, he is stiff – just as he ought to be, only slowly unbending. When he moves a corner of his mouth it reminds of J.Ehle’s mimic art. Elizabeth Garvie is undoubtedly the second-best Elizabeth, a great actress with big and interesting eyes (but less sparkling than Ehle’s). Her handicap: she radiates only an average prettiness not the outstanding attractivity which is so characteristic of Lizzy. Colin Firth is not bad and a very good actor. Despite his achievements I regard him as a somehow wrong type. He is great in slightly grotesque characters (e.g. in “Nanny MacPhee”). I can understand the strong response to him as he follows a 20th century ideal of man. He, however, does not give the appearance and the mind of a Regency aristocrat.
    In P&P 1979 Mrs.Gardiner impresses as an older version of Elizabeth – great! In P&P 1995 the Gardiners are playing well but I classify them as wrong in type.
    I admit, I mostly dislike P&P 2005. When I first saw the movie I thought that Keira Knightly might become a good Elizabeth sometime in the future (today I regard this as a false estimation). The most disappointing figure, however, was Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy. Sorry, I can’t help it: he is a complete failure, quite helpless in this role. Wooden is too flattering a term, a real log would have played better. Once more: Sorry! But I remember a rather convincing Bingley in this version. Nevertheless I’m missing too much of Austen spirit.
    One of my favourites is “Lost in Austen”. Here we meet another ideal Darcy: Elliot Cowan. His breast in a wet shirt is by all means more virile than Colin Firth’s.

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