Monday, December 9, 2019

All the Rage: Thoughts on Upcoming Jane Austen Adaptations

Hello, long-lost friends! Well, technically I am the one who is long-lost, I suppose. But with two new Jane Austen adaptations in the making (or having recently come out), I couldn't resist the opportunity to post, however busy I am.  (Plus, I sort of worked it out so this is a project for one of my classes. Win-win.)

Why the period at the end? I'm confused.

First, let's talk about Emma, which is coming out in February of next year.  My original thought when hearing there is to be a new adaptation was "Huh?? But we don't need another Emma. We already a great miniseries and two mediocre movies." And my opinion as far as that goes hasn't really changed much.  However, until an absolutely, 100% perfect adaptation of a Jane Austen novel comes out, I'll always be willing to give something new a try. Even if I do think that a good Mansfield Park or Persuasion would be much, much more beneficial to the fandom and the world at large.

Then the trailer came out, and I had many more thoughts, which I will now discuss in detail.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

Note: all screenshots below are taken directly from this trailer.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse


I could be more pleased with the choice for Emma, that's for sure.  Her face is definitely not what I picture Emma to be.  It's a bit too modern-looking, and kind of... sour?  Also, she is not what I would personally consider "handsome."  But I am trying to keep an open mind.

Anya is currently 23.  I was shocked to discover that for the first time, a Jane Austen heroine is being played by someone who is younger than I am.  But it's fine.  I'm only slightly freaked out.  Don't worry about it.  In any case, it's refreshing to have an actress so close to the character's age.

Anya hasn't done much in the way of period drama in the past, but it looks like she was in a recent film called The Miniaturist, which is set in the 17th-century, and looks pretty creepy.  Interestingly, Romola Garai (Emma from the 2009 miniseries, a.k.a. my favorite) played a significant role in that movie as well!

*begin short rant*
I'm a little disappointed that Emma has blond hair in this adaptation.  Being a brunette myself, I don't know why people find it necessary for inherently "pretty" characters to be blonde, and Jane Austen did not specify.  Also, the actress' features seem more suited to brown hair.
*end short rant*

Anyway.  Just from what I've gathered about her portrayal in this movie so far, I'm guessing she'll rank as my third-favorite Emma (higher than Gwyneth Paltrow but lower than Kate Beckinsale).  I do think that Romola Garai's portrayal of Emma could have been a little more... dignified, and it looks like Miss Taylor-Joy will be playing that element up a bit more, which is nice.

Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley


Not super stoked about this guy.  Mr. Knightley is one of my very favorite fictional characters ever, and it would take a lot for me to approve of an actor playing him.  This guy (perhaps mainly owing to his hair) seems too... scruffy?  I don't know.  I am just not getting a connection here.  But I hope my opinion later will improve.

(Seriously, though, he needs a haircut. Go to London, Mr. Knightley.)

This is not Johnny Flynn's first time in a classic literature adaptation.  He can also be found in the Les Miserables miniseries (2018) as Marius, and in Vanity Fair (2018). 

This brooding scowl looks a little more Rochester-ish, IMO.
I'm guessing that, on par with Emma herself, this Mr. Knightley will rank third on my list, after Jonny Lee Miller and Jeremy Northam.
Emma and Mr. Knightley Together

The little glimpse into the "Knightley Fightley" (as it has been previously dubbed) scene was fun to see.  I haven't seen it done previously with them talking over each other like that, but it should be interesting, as long as they keep it minimal.

In real life, he is 36, which is only a year younger than the real Mr. Knightley, but only makes the age gap between them 13 years rather than 16, which some people might consider to be "sugar-coating" the story. I think it's close enough in technicality, but they do look a bit too close in age.

Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse

In the world of period drama, this guy is primarily known for playing Col. Osborne in the miniseries He Knew He Was Right.  He was a bit of a creep in that show, so we'll see how it goes with him playing the much more lovable Mr. Woodhouse. 

I am a little confused as to his portrayal in this movie, though.  They are definitely not going with the usual doddering, on-death's-door representation we usually see.  While I can justify that in the book to some extent, it looks to me like they are going too far.  Check out the way he jumps to the bottom of the steps at 0:40 in the trailer.  Like... whaaaa?

The only representation of Mr. Woodhouse that I really found memorable was Michael Gambon's in 2009, and I have very serious doubts that this guy can top that.  However, he has my permission to try and get second place.

Mia Goth as Harriet Smith

This definitely looks like Mia's first run around the costume drama block, but she has gained my favor in one respect by being a year older than me.  (Kind of funny, though, since Harriet is supposed to be four years younger than Emma.)

I honestly have no idea what to think of her. I'm interested in their choice of brown hair for Harriet, moving away from the "dumb blonde" stigma.  However, Miss Smith is one of the few characters whose looks Jane Austen actually took the trouble to describe in detail:

"She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness...."
~Emma, Chapter 2

So, interesting choice, yes; but a poor one in my opinion, because accuracy is a thing. 

Josh O'Connor as Mr. Elton

You know, Mr. Elton seems to be a character doomed to bad casting.  He's usually either too slimy or too weird-looking. Not that Mr. Elton himself isn't slimy or weird, but he's supposed to look like a gentleman ought, and be the sort of man a girl like Harriet would have a crush on. 

Looks-wise, I think Dominic Rowan from the A&E version came the closest to the mark, and I enjoyed the acting of Blake Ritson the most.  I'll just have to wait and see how this Josh fellow will rank.

Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton


Less than impressed with this choice as well.  Mrs. Elton needs to be striking in some way: pretty enough to make Harriet jealous, and fashionable enough to brag about.  This actress looks like she'd be much better playing a timid character, which Augusta Hawkins Elton certainly is not.

Rupert Graves and Gemma Whelan as Mr. and Mrs. Weston

You can just barely see him in this photo!

Like many other fans of BBC's Sherlock, I'm looking forward to seeing Lestrade play Mr. Weston.  I have a soft spot for this actor in this role already, and he may end up being my favorite.  Past period dramas for Mr. Graves are A Room with a View (1985) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996).


Not sure what to think of Gemma Whelan.  Her looks don't fit the character in my mind.  She's also known for being in Game of Thrones, which doesn't impress me, but I'll try not to judge her because of that.  In her favor, she's about the right age (38).

Callum Turner as Frank Churchill

I'm not overly attached to any of the previous portrayals of Frank, so I'm looking forward to this one!

He also has some Regency experience already, having been in the 2016 War & Peace miniseries.


He looks a little villain-ish from this shot from the trailer, but since I do argue that Frank Churchill is the closest approximation of a villain in Emma, maybe this will help my cause.

Amber Anderson as Jane Fairfax


I got nothing, girls. She's pretty much an unknown, and I didn't see her in the trailer.  So far, my favorite Jane Fairfax is Olivia Williams in the A&E version.  Laura Pyper in my favorite adaptation left somewhat to be desired (she was too mousy and less than elegant), so Jane's is one of the few spots that could be open to a new favorite. 

Last, but not least...

Miranda Hart as Miss Bates

Miranda Hart as Chummy, left.

My Call the Midwife fans out there are rejoicing to see Chummy make an appearance in this film!  In the existing adaptations, my favorite Miss Bates is a tie between Sophie Thompson in the 1996 movie and Tamsin Greig in the miniseries.  Sophie really brought out the comedic elements of the character, while Tamsin's portrayal evoked more empathy.

Perhaps Miranda Hart will manage to do both?

Other Thoughts

The fact that this is another film being put out by Focus Features and Working Title Co. would be a subject of alarm to me, since they are the infamous perpetrators of Pride & Prejudice 2005.  But, the costumes in this film look pretty amazing and very period-accurate, so it can't be as bad as all that.  It also doesn't seem like their general goal is to modernize the story, or make it "connect" with a modern audience; therein also lies some hope. 

The bottom line is this: while I think the film is rather superfluous and won't be the best version, I am looking forward to seeing it and will probably be among the first in the doors of the theater once it is released.  After all, this is the first feature film that is an adaptation of one of Jane Austen's novels to come out since my devotion to that authoress began.

Before I go, I'd like to briefly talk about ITV's Sanditon, which is coming out next month.  When I first heard they were adapting Jane Austen's unfinished novel, I was sort of excited, but also apprehensive-- especially when I saw that Andrew Davies was doing it.  Don't get me wrong; he's done a few of my very favorite period dramas.  But those were made back in the 1990s, and I feel like the older he's gotten, his love for the racy has gotten rather out of hand. 


And indeed, from the reviews I've read, it sounds like my concerns were justified. Anything Jane Austen wrote is used up in the first half of Episode 1 (of 8), and after that it contains lewd content that Jane Austen would certainly never even think to include in one of her stories.  Even if she lived in today's culture, I think she'd be ashamed to have her name branded on something so... cheap

Now, I have come across period dramas in the past that have one or two unfortunate scenes, but the rest is gold, so you just skip those.  Watching the trailer and the teaser from PBS, I am 100% sure this will not be the case.  Let me go over some reasons. 
  1. The music in the trailer.  What was that??  If that's how we're trying to market the show, guys, I am so not sold. 
  2. The heroine's hair is down. Almost all the time. This bit of inaccuracy is a dead giveaway of "we don't care about what would really have happened back then; we care about visual aspects." 
  3. There is some obvious racial drama in here.  Don't get me wrong: I have no objection to characters of African descent being included in a story in any time period, if it makes sense.  But this trailer is very clearly shouting "we don't care about what would have been realistic back then; we care about connecting this to a modern audience and/or making certain political statements."
  4. Blehhh.  There's nothing (or at least very little) in these trailers that point to the wit of Jane Austen.  It seems, by all accounts, to be a money-grab hoping for success because her name is slapped on the cover.

After all that, the show apparently doesn't even have a satisfactory ending.  So, am I excited about this new adaptation?  No.  In fact, I'm rather dreading it, and I don't intend to watch it unless I come across a compelling reason to give it a try.  And you can take a look at the reviews from those in Britain, where it has already aired-- the show is already pretty much just an object of ridicule.  

There are some opposing views, like this one: but this is written by "the show's literary advisor," which feels kind of like a lawyer defending the criminals who are paying him to do so.  Also, I think her opinions are rubbish, and could address them all if anybody liked; and this is one small reason why I think it would be cool to have a Ph.D. in English and be an "Austen Expert" with the best of them: so I could have the piece of paper to back up my name while I refute their nonsense piece by piece.

Well, that's all for now, folks.  It's been lovely to talk to you all again, and I look forward to reading what you are/aren't looking forward to in the comments!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.


Livia Rachelle said...

I read the bit of Sandition that we have, and I thought it could've ended up being my favorite so I was NOT PLEASED that an adaptation was coming out. NO, non-geniuses do not attempt to finish the work of geniuses. Also, reading other bloggers descriptions, it sounds like it turned out the type of story JA herself would parody!

I didn't watch the trailer for Emma, intentionally. I heard about it and thought, but we already have a new Emma (oh wait, that IS 10 years old). And although I thought Emma herself was inaccurate and too old, most of that movie is decently accurate, hilarious, and just overall bright and lovely.

And I agree, Emma shouldn't be blonde. I was introduced via the Kate Beckinsale version (before I read the book), and that version was long my favorite. Kate Beckinsale herself is the most accurate Emma, but the newest version is now my favorite, it's just better except in the main character. So, I already pictured her dark. In addition 1) most people aren't blonde and 2) she is mentioned in the book as having hazel eyes which I think points more towards brunette. I don't know what it is that makes me dislike or at least like less, a heroine that is blonde, even per the book? I don't hate my blonde siblings.

Naomi Pitts said...

Haha the only reason I would watch this is for Miranda Hart tbh.
The 2009 version satisfied me enough to not want to watch this one.

And Sandition doensn't look too great. Agreed.

Would you rather hear the story...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...