Love & Friendship (B). I cannot find anything to criticize in Mom Under Cover’s fine review, so I will simply register my agreement. I expect Whit Stillman will get an Oscar™ nomination for his screenplay, adapted from the work of the divine Jane Austen, and I won’t be surprised if Kate Beckinsale (Whiteout) scores a nomination for her entertaining turn as the hilariously self-interested Lady Susan. Still, I don’t think this movie is quite up to the same level as Stillman’s amazing trilogy of movies Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994) (co-starring Mira Sorvino), and The Last Days of Disco (1998) (starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny, just like Love & Friendship does). If you like Love & Friendship, by all means look up Stillman’s earlier work. (Damsels in Distress (2011) is not quite in the same league as his trilogy.)
Incidentally, Stillman had also published a novelization of Love & Friendship that sounds very interesting. From what I have read, this novel is written as though it were the work of one of Lady Susan’s relatives, and he attempts throughout to defend her utterly indefensible behavior as described by Jane Austen. (The full title of the book is Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Fully Vindicated.) It sounds pretty funny. He also published a novelization of The Last Days of Disco, with the expanded title The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterward, which I have also never read.
Another movie that feels like a play is Amazon’s first feature film adapted from Jane Austen’s unfinished epistolary novella, Lady Susan. Whit Stillman (Metropolitan 1990, Barcelona 1994) kept the dialog sounding true to period, witty with barbs. Kate Beckinsale, as Lady Susan Vernon, delivers beautifully. The plot is much like a Shakespearean comedy. Lady Susan is a widow without means whose attempts to score a new hubby (Xavier Samuel as Reginald De Courcy) are almost undone when the intended becomes interested in Lady Susan’s daughter, Fredica (Morfydd Clark), who is much closer to his age. Solid performances by Stephen Fry, Justin Edwards, and Chloë Sevigny.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (D). I love Jane Austen and I am pretty fond of zombies, so this seemed like a can’t-miss proposition: Take the characters, setting, and basic plot of Pride & Prejudice, add a liberal helping of brain-hungry undead, and mix well. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast, but I thought having lovely Lily James (Cinderella) play Elizabeth Bennet and an eye-patched Lena Headey (300) play Lady Catherine de Bourgh could only help the cause. I was right, but unfortunately the ladies’ charms can’t rescue this murky, mucky production. The scenes that are lifted more or less intact from the novel are all right, although I found Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent) underwhelming. The zombie scenes are uniformly a mess of quick cuts and unintelligible action. The additional plotline involving the zombies made no sense to me. I say skip it. If you’re craving love in the time of zombies, check out Warm Bodies instead.
Sense and Sensibility. This is a new stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel by Kate Hamill, and it was my first experience with a Dallas Theater Center production. It was excellent, so I urge you to see it before it closes next weekend. It is the story of loving sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. They find themselves in reduced circumstances after their father dies unexpectedly, and since this is Austen, the plot naturally turns on whether they will find happy marriages despite their precarious position in society. Sensible Elinor loves shy, stammering Edward Ferris, while passionate Marianne falls head over heels for the dashing but perhaps not entirely trustworthy Willoughby. Fine performances all around. I was surprised that the actors were not miked, but I was sitting in the fifth row and could hear everything fine. I do wonder if the folks in the back could hear as well. It makes me want to go back and rewatch Emma Thompson’s 1995 film version, and maybe even the cheesy remake From Prada to Nada (2011).
Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman (2009). I think I picked this little volume up through Daedalus, a dealer in discounted books. It’s a pretty good little book, if you’re into Jane Austen. It gives a little biography of the author, focusing on the titular topic of Jane’s fame as an author. Turns out she did manage to sell some of her novels during her lifetime, and they were apparently reasonably popular, if not runaway bestsellers. But she died so young, and with such a small output, that she seemed destined for obscurity. And yet, somehow her novels continued to interest enough readers to keep her in print, and by the end of the 1800s she was popular enough to justify more and more editions of her works. Critical attention followed, and of course by the end of the 1900s Hollywood had done its part to propel Jane’s popularity into the stratosphere. So, it’s a reasonably interesting book for Janeites. Other folks probably would not find it quite so interesting….
Pride and Prejudice (B). This is the 1940 version starring Greer Garson (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) as the spitfire Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier (Clash of the Titans) as the dashing but aloof Mr. Darcy. I’m a Jane Austen fan, and I enjoyed this film just as I have enjoyed most films based on her novels, but I have to say this version of P&P didn’t really capture me the way the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley did. Garson was fine, but she seemed a little old for the part, and Olivier was a little too reserved even for a stiff like Darcy. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie. Note that the screenwriters included Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame, and that the filmmakers noticeably change up Austen’s portrayal of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Emma, by Jane Austen. Time to scratch an item off the bucket list — I have now read all six of Jane Austen’s novels. Lots of folks know Emma, of course, from the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version from some years back, or from the enjoyable updating of the story in Clueless, or both. And as best I can tell, the Paltrow film was very true to the book. Emma Woodhouse is a well-born and wealthy 20-year-old girl who is the acknowledged queen bee of the social life in a sleepy little village outside of London. Attractive, quick-witted, and basically good-natured, she gets herself into trouble by dabbling in matchmaking and generally thinking herself much more perceptive and knowledgeable about human nature than she really is. Of course, Austen being Austen, you must expect that things will eventually come right in the end. I enjoyed the novel quite a bit; if it has a flaw, I would say only that it may be a little too long (over 400 pages in the edition I read). How does it stack up against Austen’s other novels? It’s middle of the pack, I would say. Pride & Prejudice is undoubtedly my favorite, and I think I probably prefer Persuasion and Mansfield Park just slightly over Emma. But I probably liked Emma better than Sense & Sensibility, and certainly better than Northanger Abbey. But they are all good, and if you like to read at all, you owe it to yourself to give Austen an honest try.