Artist of the Year 2022: Jane Austen

Persuasion 1995

Much more visually interesting than other BBC adaptations. A dolly zoom in a moment of shock. Sudden outbursts of handheld photography after Louisa falls. Humorous cutting when everyone is complaining at her. It works very well to inject some visual interest into an otherwise quite good and direct adapatation.

I’m surprised by the usage of lines from Austen’s original manuscript. I wasn’t fond of those parts myself, but I appreciate an adaptation that fully engages with all parts of its text.

Still from Persuasion

Sense and Sensibility 2008

Wastes its longer runtime spending far too much time with the various men in revised or newly invented scenes. The power of the duel confession is that it’s a confession, and we get to read Elinor’s reaction to it. Skipping her learning of that fact deprives the act of its main value.

Morahan performs Elinor with too open a “countenance”, in Austen’s words. We’re able to read her feelings too easily through her facial expressions, which is often desirable in film, but Elinor the character is rather defined by her deftness in navigating and compartmentalizing the internal/external.

Still from Sense and Sensibility

கண்டுகொண்டேன் கண்டுகொண்டேன் Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000)

The musical romance is a great genre for Sense and Sensibility. The song and dance (only sometimes diegetic) lets us glimpse into the minds of the characters, making up for the loss of narration. In this case, it’s mostly used for the characters that’re already most expressive (e.g. Meenu), where the book gave us access to the character who was otherwise careful not to reveal too much.

Impressive in how well it adheres to various plot beats (e.g. Willoughby’s debt) while not drawing attention to its reverence (or even provenance).

Still from Kandukondain Kandukondain

Sense and Sensibility 1995

Marianne wins? This work is strange. We lose the interior voice of Elinor, hiding so many of her thoughts and feelings from us. Her “proper” behavior, rather than being strategic and calculated instead comes of as cold and repressed, which wasn’t my understanding of her character.

Then, Marianne is mocked less, and in fact given new lines and interactions that align the film’s world view with hers. Elinor’s open weeping in front of everyone. Colonel Brandon as the symmetrical rescuer. This has the appearance of being reverent, but is planting antithetical views into Austen’s mouth. I’m conflicted.

Still from Sense and Sensibility

Mansfield Park 2007

The omission of Portsmouth was a great surprise in the moment, and may have been principally a cost matter, but I think it had artistic benefits. Very little of this focuses on the conflicted feelings of home, and so can better focus on the relationships at Mansfield.

This adaptation decenters Fanny a bit, which proved valuable for me. While present in the book, I hadn’t fully absorbed the conflicts of internal/external selves that occur throughout the story (particularly some choice lines from Edmund and Sir Thomas) for relationships that don’t involve Fanny. Due to the lack of the narrator’s perspective, it was easier for me to see them everywhere.

Still from Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park 1999

The way the camera moved at the start was exciting and interesting. Once Fanny becomes an adult, the camera largely steadies itself, even though Fanny herself isn’t as settled.

Fanny is a weird superposition of two different characters rather than a blend. In moments, she’s the shy and careful observer. In others a bold outspoken writer. Which version she is depends on the needs of the particular scene, producing an incoherent portrait of a character I really liked and connected with in the novel.

Her acceptance of Mr. Crawford’s proposal is baffling and I can’t understand its purpose.

Still from Mansfield Park

Metropolitan 1990

Still from Metropolitan

Love & Friendship 2016

The humor in Jane Austen’s writing is typically of the smirking kind. Amusement rather than laughter.

Love & Friendship is different. It left me struggling to catch my breath multiple times. It’s noteworthy that, regardless of whoever wrote the dialogue (either Austen or Stillman), it’s the aural quality of the dialogue that gives it strength, something that would be a challenge in written form. Timing, overtalk, surprise. It’s easy to take the dimension of time for given.

Still from Love & Friendship

Fire Island 2022

This movie loses easily the best part of Pride & Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet. Noah lacks the traits that made that character compelling. One example of many where contorting to fit the shape of the book harms the story (e.g. Dex’s alleged original offense).

If anything, Noah is far more of an Emma Whitehouse than Lizzy: a meddler, conceited not about his own (certain) attractiveness, but his cleverness.

It also doesn’t help that the movie feels excessively in dialogue with social media trends of today. One could hear the hash tag slip through characters’ lips before each online platitude.

Still from Fire Island

Pride & Prejudice 2005

Curious how this feels to people who didn’t read the book, as I find it moves through plot points with great speed. I didn’t mind, as I’m familiar with them, and it let the film focus on those it cared more about (without dropping important arcs).

Above all, the expressionistic details are what make me love this. The moment of isolation in the crowded ball. The muffled embarassing conversations of family. A sudden downpour upon learning an unfortunate truth. Day passing into night in a long glance at a mirror. The rapid passing of uneventful seasons on a swing.

Still from Pride & Prejudice

Bride & Prejudice 2004

Situating Darcy’s pride in the distinction between America and India is an interesting approach, but this doesn’t pull it off. His weird judgements just get forgotten without ever being resolved directly.

Lalita’s particular flavor of outspokenness is a great rendition of Lizzie in a modern context. Freed of most period propriety, she gets to deliver great barbs about “India without Indians” and America after 60 years “killing eachother over slavery”. The character implied by those lines isn’t the one on the screen, though.

Still from Bride & Prejudice

Bridget Jones's Diary 2001

Still from Bridget Jones's Diary

Pride and Prejudice 1995

Perhaps the best example I know of a “videobook”. While there are some bits removed, and others added, this is basically a book-on-screen. The book is also low of physical action, so being visible on screen largely means embodying the narration in setting, but all action in the book is dialogue, which translates directly into a series of close-ups.

Still from Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice 1940

2/3rds of a good movie. After that point, the movie excises, collapses, and rewrites a lot of plot points that ultimately harm the overall story. Lizzy falls in love for basically no reason, Darcy learns nothing. Rejecting faithfulness is fine so long as you actually improve something other than runtime.

Mary benefits quite a bit from being on the screen. We see/hear her remarkably little in the text. Being on the screen lets us indulge in the way she is where narration falls short.

Still from Pride and Prejudice

Emma. 2020

Rewatched with commentary by Autumn de Wille, Eleanor Catton, and Christopher Blauvelt

Also rewatched at home on my own TV, rather than my parents’. This helped me appreciate all the lovely textural detail in the costumes and settings much more.

Still from Emma.

Emma. 2020

Emma as vibes. It’s remarkable how little dialogue is preserved in this version, resulting in relationships that I don’t quite buy. In fact, this entirely drops the Emma-Frank dynamic.

Watching the deleted scenes, there are a number of dialogue heavy scenes that were shot, but ultimately left out. This places a greater emphasis on physical acting (Joy in particular is great at expressing irritation in her face and hands), but leaves much of the plot unmotivated.

Gorgeous textiles everywhere. They cut out Mr Woodhouse’s best line (the shawl).

Still from Emma.

Emma 2009

Emma is insufficiently unpleasant here. While reading the novel, I complained to anyone who would listen of how terrible Emma Woodhouse was. This isn’t that same person.

The 4 hours is used to mixed results. It makes the development of the relationships feel more genuine, where in the shorter adaptations they’re unbelievable. But this runtime is padded with new material that doesn’t need to be there (such as Mr. Martin discussing “expansion” plans with Mr. Knightley). The audience need not witness everything.

Mr. Woodhouse is too serious.

Still from Emma

Emma 1996

Strikes me as overtly interested in faithfulness. To the period, which is perhaps the only reason to make Kate Beckinsale wear such an ugly hat. And to the material, with its being largely a vehicle for dialogue. It doesn’t do much with its visual elements other than perform faithfulness to the period, though some of that may be the made-for-TV scale/budget.

I appreciated the very explicitly funny Mr. Woodhouse, and how this version succeeds in making visible the staff who support the characters’ lifestyles (most notably in the scene of the dropped lounge chair).

Still from Emma

Clueless 1995

Enertaining for those who don’t know it’s based on Emma (as was the case for my first time watching), but even stronger for those that have. The Mrs. Elton analogue doesn’t get much time here as Mrs. Elton, but knowing her eventual fate makes all her scenes funnier.

Most of all, I like how playful the movie is about the prestige of literary reference: “tis a far far better thing doing stuff for other people”

Still from Clueless

Emma 1996

This has grown on me as I’ve watched more adaptations since. The middle part has some excellent editing. Both cutting as ellipsis to show the passage of time, in a way that would be a challenge in written form, as well as cutting for humor, to give us greater access to Emma’s interior thoughts without relying directly on voice over.

Still from Emma