Leap day, February 29th, is a date that only occurs, obviously, during Leap Years — those annum that are evenly divisible by 4. Seems like the perfect occasion to venture off onto something altogether different. As scary as that sounds, and with that in mind, it is time once more for the blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I to add another of our duo posts in the series we started in the Spring of 2010. For this one, we, meaning I, will attempt to break new ground as we examine the novel/film pairing of a particular book by famed author Jane Austen.
Yes, you are reading this correctly. That Jane Austen. Meaning, the same ‘guy’ that has reviewed science fiction (dystopian and otherwise), gritty crime stories, political and tech thrillers, and seminal horror adaptations, will give it a go at examining a work of English romance by none other than the queen of that particular genre. As usual, the wordy one will look at the text of the well-known novel later adapted to the screen, which I will review. In this case, she’ll be looking at the last novel of Austen’s, Persuasion, which, from what I hear, was published posthumously in 1818 (guess we won’t have any references to what the author thought about the screen adaptation or its casting). I’ll look at the 1995 version done for the BBC Masterpiece Theatre production. Rachel’s book review can be found here:
A brief synopsis of the film: earlier in her life, Anne Elliot, one of the daughters of an aristocratic English family, broke off an engagement to one Frederick Wentworth. Miss Elliot was persuaded to do so by those who trouble themselves over such matters as the young seaman’s family connections and class were deemed to come up short. Years later when her father (going through belt-tightening times) rents out the family estate to an Admiral Croft, Frederick re-enters Anne’s existence since his sister is married to that high-ranking officer. Plus, Frederick is now a rich and successful Captain, making him a highly eligible bachelor in the midst of the upper crust. Whom will he marry? One of Anne’s relatives vying for the honor? Or will he and Anne rekindle that old flame, one supposedly as dead as her current prospects?
[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]
“He had no fortune, no connections. It was entirely prudent of you to reject him.”
What the Hell was I thinking? Since my blogging colleague has been ever so accommodating with the novels/films I’ve suggested throughout this series, in all fairness I did put forward the idea of doing a romance novel/film pairing sometime back. What is that quote from Apocalypse Now that seems so befitting at the moment?
“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.”
As Captain Willard did, I’ll just salute and carry on with the mission. If I can suffer through a colonoscopy prep, I can muddle through with this, as well. It’d also be a disservice to my colleague if I was less than candid in my thoughts of the film. So, here goes. If you’ve seen this production, there is a scene when Anne’s father, Lord Retrench (okay, Sir Walter Elliot, marvelously portrayed by Corin Redgrave), is at vocal recital attended by all sorts of the upper class. And he’s sleeping through it. I instantly connected with him.
I’m far from an expert on Jane Austen as it gets, but I am familiar with the author by reputation. Known for her refinement of the English novel, and especially in her delving into the distinction of the class and society of a recognizable period, she is famed for her work as a writer and observer of relationships. Especially those of friendship and romance. Of course, it’s my belief that my gender comes up short (again, there’s that term) with regard to understanding such connections. I believe we are genetically, or perhaps it’s better said ‘not genetically’, wired to this. Take this example of my hypothesis:
“Anne’s sister’s husband’s sisters”
Mention this to any male you know and you’ll get an unmistakable puzzled look in return. Much like when Sandra Bullock spoke Mandarin Chinese with a German accent at last Sunday’s Academy Awards. We, the ones with the Y-chromosome, just won’t get it. You’d have to visually draw it all out on paper, with us watching you do it, before we even grasp the linkage put forth. If I mention this to my wife, she’ll simply say, “Yeah. And?” She, like most of the women I know, is more than capable of following and grasping relationships, their connections, and all their intricacies. Me? I have trouble saying it. This is what I was faced here.
Granted, I’m not saying anything negative toward the adaptation of the novel in this BBC production. Far from it. The period piece appeared richly done. The locations, by all appearances, were what I’d have expected (I based this upon my limited, sporadic public television Masterpiece Theatre viewing through the years, mind you). I must say, I loved the dinner table scenes lit oh so beautifully by candlelight. And Amanda Root, as the forlorn Anne, and Ciarán Hinds, as intrepid but hesitant Captain, made for comely romantic leads in the film. The latter especially so after I caught his work last year in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
“If I may, so long as the woman you love lives, and lives for you, all the privilege I claim for my own sex, and it is not a very enviable one – you need not covet it, is that of loving longest when all hope is gone.”
My issue with these compositions is my lack of understanding for the genre of the romance novel. Too many times, the flowery language of the piece was daunting for someone like me to understand. Like, “Wait… what the Hell did they just say?” (see above) Too many times I found myself searching if someone placed their crib notes online to help me understand it all. It was far too easy for me not to keep up. Again, it was not the source. Perhaps it came down to that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language” aspect that threw me similarly off. Much like when I read Ted Lewis’ 1969 novel, Jack’s Return Home (for our Get Carter duo post).
I’m sure I’ll have folk across the pond cringing when they’ve read how I’ve juxtaposed the genteel of eighteenth century Bath with the sordid blokes found in Newcastle of the 1970s. Really, I’m just the messenger here. And though there were times I experienced trouble keeping up with it all, wanting just to chuck it all in and fall off like Sir Elliott at that recital (or guiltily wishing it had been Lady Russell taking a certain flying leap near the harbour instead of the other silly maiden), I found I could, and did, get through it all.
The themes Austen is known for are well on display in this adaptation. The women’s (along with the men’s) positions in society, and their constrictions, are never far off as the tale of second chances unfolds. I never had the sense the filmmakers were overstating the environment these people lived in, though privilege (for both Anne and Frederick) did have its rewards. Yet, I found, outside of those two, I did not suffer well most of this class. I kept myself wondering what was happening with the lower strata Charles Dickens wrote so clearly about during my screening.
No criticism of Austen is intended with that remark, let me be clear. The issue is solely with the viewer. And it was the romance that’s center stage with this story. It’s understandable why many are drawn to the subject. I do get that (see Ruth’s and Paula’s look their favorite period heroes that offered me a better understanding). Now, I’m not saying I am ready and willing for an attempt at Sense and Sensibility, or even Pride and Prejudice, anytime soon. Far from it. But, I will admit the story’s redemptive chance at love (besides, getting to see Anne make her way to join her Captain on deck at the finale was touching — the accompanying beautiful sunset wasn’t bad either) was not the worst thing in the world.
Parallel Post Series
- The Maltese Falcon
- Rosemary’s Baby
- The Hunt for Red October
- The Day of The Jackal
- Somewhere in Time (aka Bid Time Return)
- Starship Troopers
- Jurassic Park
- Free Fall
- Get Carter (aka Jack’s Return Home)
- Devil in a Blue Dress
- Angel Heart (aka Falling Angel)
- The Lathe of Heaven
- The Princess Bride
- A Scanner Darkly
- Children of Men
- Minority Report