We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Older v newer Austen films: the 1983 BBC _MP_, a Chekhovian marvel · 17 May 07

Dear Judy,

Thank you for your reply. Today I watched Episode 2 of the 1983 MP and was deeply engaged by it. It seems to me these early faithful adaptations were subtle and nuanced in ways the later ones aren’t; that is, while the 1995 mini-series for P&P cannot be faulted for being too short, a lot of its time is taken up by added material: while some of it is meant to flesh out Darcy’s character and evolution, a lot is not and is to my mind just added noise, frenetic activity, and broad slapstick (David Bamber as Collins for example is egregiously overdone).

In the later single episode adaptations, it’s not just the the longer original language is dropped, but that a crude substitute is found for what is there. For example, Yvette and I watched the 2007 MP together; she liked it and I liked it better. I noticed this second time there was an attempt to critique society and justify solitude, depth of feeling, but the film went so swiftly and gave no time for development through any scene or resolution of action. More: there was no need to substitute snarls from Sir Thomas to Fanny where in Austen there was austerity. In the 1983 MP Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas upon bidding adieu to Fanny says he suspects there has not been much improvement in her since she was 9; it’s not a kind remark, but but David Hodge as Sir Thomas is made to berate Fanny. The latter isn’t even realistic or probable.

Speaking of the themes and turning to the patterns of Austen’s own novels, this afternoon I revelled in the sequence in this 1983 MP at dinner before everyone goes to Sotherton, and the long development of the “musical chair” (minuet-like) sequence at the gate is beautifully done, varied, intelligent, funny and moving too. I had not noticed how beautifully and tastefully Jackie Smith-Woods as Mary was dressed at dinner and again in the evening. They talk Austen talk frok the novel as real people might. Quietly too the film-makers conveyed that Fanny loves to ride and wants to. We see her revelling in riding. She holds back from complaint because she feels she must. but she is anxious, eager to ride. The film included the long dialogue by the window where Fanny and Edmund begin to speak of “harmony,” “repose,” and the stars. It helped me feel better about life. The stern morality of the film strengthens me somehow too. I’m glad this film disapproves of coldness, sarcasm, and ruthlessness.

The mood is Chekhov like; the music in both the recent MP and this first one is 1920s, violins, from some great hotel now torn down. Say Elgar. Despite the oppression of Fanny and petty and large cruelties we see, there is a deep sense of something ever so sweet lost.

Sylvestre Le Tousel is a great actress. Her face is mobile; so too is Nicholas Farrell very good. When after he realizes Fanny has passed a nearly hellish day in the heat, and says, “I blame myself,” a hoarse tone wells up from deep within himself, and a biting tone that is utterly real.

You make an interesting comment about melodrama. Its excess allows us release; its concerns (often the conflicts of sex, family, class) are just what trouble us in the real world only they are heightened and made more palatable by the distancing effect of costume. The surroundings solace us.

When I’m sad if I can the best thing for me is absorption in writing. The activity takes my mind up (so to speak) and time goes by quickly unnoticed. By the end I’ve grown satisfied by having made the effort, and can be at peace.


Posted by: Ellen

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