To the reader: This is a somewhat modified version of the review-essay which was published in The East- Central Intelligencer: The Newsletter of the East-Central/American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, N.S. 12 (Sept. 1998), 12-17. I have since writing that essay done more research whose results I now include in the form of small revisions of the text, added notes, and a select bibliography on film.
The thesis of the essay is
A careful and pragmatic (looking at what's actually on screen) comparison of a three of the post-1995 film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels with the film adaptations made between 1971 and 1995 reveals the post-1995 films differ not so much in historical accuracy (the importance of apparent accuracy in "costume drama" has been appreciated since the early 1970s), but in the use the post-1995 films make of sophisticated camera and sound work, alluring well-known stars, and publicity -- they are known in the trade as "high profile" films. These are the really measurable differences between the pre-1995 films since 1971 (the year of the first of the modern BBC films available on videocassette) and post-1995 films.
As everyone who goes to the movies or reads Austen's novels and the criticism of these knows, within the last three years a striking number of films and staged productions of plays whose texts represent remarkably close adaptations of Jane Austen's novels have proved to be sound investments for film-makers, television networks, theaters, and distribution companies, not to omit various "spin-offs" in sales and rentals of related books and VHS Cassettes, and in the writing and publication of essays about the phenomenon. An example of this last is the "monographic" issue of Topic: A Journal of the Liberal Arts edited by Linda Troost, Jane Austen Goes to the Movies (No. 48, November 1997), which consists of eight essays devoted to these post-1995 movies.
The strength of this collection lies in the variety of approaches taken by its writers. We have essays which measure the movies based on Austen's novels in terms of audience-response, essays which compare the "message" of the adaptations to the message of the original texts, and essays which begin to look at how the techniques of film-making affect the adaptation. John M. Forde's "Janespotting," M. Casey Diana's "Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility as Gateway to Austen's Novel: A Pedagogical Experiment," and Jennifer Foster's "Austenmania, EQ, and the End of the Millenium," are linked because all three discuss why they think people are attracted to the recent movies based on Austen's books. Forde talks of and to New Zealanders whose taste he defends when he argues against the harsh censure of movie critics like Martin Amis -- who has said viewers who love these films are "laps[ing] into a forgetful toadyism, and abas[ing] themselves before their historical oppressors" ("Jane's World," The New Yorker, January 8, 1996, p 31; see also Louis Menand, "What Jane Austen Doesn't Tell Us," The New York Review of Books, February 1, 1996, pp. 13-16). Forde tells us Austen is not to blame for any wallowing in luxury; that the films are clearly fictions, not history (14-5); and these movies satisfy a longing for liberation from the limiting circumstances of real life (16-7). Diana describes an experiment in which she divided her students into two groups; one read Sense and Sensibility first and then saw the Thompson/Lee film, the other saw the movie first and then read the book (49). It may dismay some teachers to learn the first group had a hard time comprehending (never mind responding on any deeply imaginative level to it), and both groups used the movie as a "gateway" into the book or an explanation afterwards. Diana's students also said they identified with Austen's characters and liked their "kinder, gentler" way of life and finding love (53-4). Finally, Foster argues the post-1995 films have been popular because they satisfy the public's desire to believe an individual can center his or her existence permanently on a deep emotional connection to someone else (60-2).
The three essayists are also alike in not criticizing the way the average movie-goer and reader today "reads" -- or, better yet, is unable to read Austen. Yet if it is true, as Foster says, that the modern movie-viewer's intense valuing of an emotional community of characters represents a return to a later 18th century "cult of sensibility" (57-8), there is an irony here. Austen's basic story is of characters whose adventures come from their having or not having access to money and a house of their own. Paradoxically, their deepest emotional pain and self- esteem is the result of how much they are entitled to of a veneer of hoped-for respect, a veneer which depends on their social status and which at turning points in her story Austen rips away. From the beginning to the end of her career (say Love and Freindship through to Sanditon) Austen mocks the cult of sensibility as the product of deluded egotism and barely repressed passions which since Freud we would call their sublimated sexual appetites. At the opening of Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood is harshly ridiculed, and at its close she has been permanently hurt through her determined adherence to an emotional bond.
Marilyn Roberts's "Catherine Morland: Gothic Heroine After All?" and John R. Greenfield's "Is Emma Clueless? Fantasies of Class and Gender from England to California" move from accepting what they argue is the basis of the popularity of the recent Austen films to comparing the films with the novels. Roberts says the 1987 BBC/A&E adaptation of Northanger Abbey (Director Giles Foster; screenplay Maggie Wadey) Catherine's delusions (visualized as sadomasochistic dreams filling Catherine with "an orgasmic pleasure") will provide the viewer with a "Lacanian and Freudian" way of understanding Catherine's love of Gothic romance (23-5). When towards the end of her essay Roberts turns to discuss the "sensationalism" of the film's approach and remarks that it camps up and sexualizes the novel grotesquely (26), she concludes the film is "an interesting failure" because it doesn't ethically examine but just exploits the viewer's sexual longing. At one point Roberts comments the "source" text for some of Catherine's nightmares is Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho (23-4). The irony here is the text Austen sought to replace has replaced hers (1). In Northanger Abbey Austen at least consciously means to attack Radcliffe's awakening of irrational fears which lurk within the recesses of the imagination. A film with the same title centers itself on images drawn from Radcliffe's novel so as to provide a visual fantasia of erotic encounters.
Greenfield's essay, Kirstin Flieger Samuelian's "Piracy is our Only Option: Postfeminist Intervention in Sense and Sensibility," and Lisa Hopkins's "Mr Darcy's Body: Privileging the Female Gaze" are the most useful in the volume for scholars of Austen because these carefully analyze Austen's text and words and scenes in the film adaptations. Greenfield compares the two 1996 Emmas (Miramax, director, screenplay Douglas MacGrath and ITV/A&E, director Diarmuid Lawrence, screenplay Andrew Davies) and Paramount's Clueless (director, screenplay Amy Heckerling) with Austen's Emma. He finds Miramax's Emma a "faithful adaptation of Austen's treatment of Emma, with the important difference that the depiction of the specific actress in the film (Gweneth Paltrow) turns the heroine into an "erotic object" for men (32); like the BBC/A&E Northanger Abbey Butler discusses, the ITV/A&E Emma visualizes the heroine's fantasy life at length. This time the heroine's dramatized dreams as still pictures dreamily focused embody Austen's (and Mr. Knightley's) idea that Emma is deluded if she thinks she is in control of the other people's fates (33-5, 38). At the close of his essay Greenfield remarks that in all three films we "learn that only men can confer status on women;" and that "women's attempts to do this are fantasies of empowerment" (38).
If, following Greenfield's line of thought, we note the visual images throughout the ITV/A&E Emma reveals Emma also has nightmares in which she loses Mr. Knightley to Jane Fairfax or Harriet, and that in these she is suddenly pictured as forlorn, downtrodden. In one of these Kate Beckinsale wears a shabby dark coat that recalls Mary Shepard's illustrations for P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins -- except that the coat is too small. This is part of a series of shots which show women touchingly helped by, looking towards, dependent on men. There is a fetching frame of Samantha Morton as Harriet seated and vulnerable, placing her hand in Mark Strong's, who, as Mr Knightley, looks down at her as he chivalrously rescues her from mortification. There is the medium shot (waist up) of an alluringly sexy Raymond Coulthard as Frank Churchill (3) and Mark Strong standing on either side of Jane's piano, with a quiet Olivia Williams as Jane looking strained and tired. In the book Mr Knightley has to prod Miss Bates, Jane's aunt, to protect her from Churchill's demands; in the movie it is Strong who moves swiftly to protect Jane. (After marriage, of course, Jane is on her own.)
The culminating and magnificent sequence of pictures in this film adaptation of Austen's Emma begins with a jump shot from an extreme close-up of Knightley leaning down to kiss Emma to a distanced frame which turns slowly so they appear to be embracing and very small against a fountain in a vast garden as the universe whirls around them. The viewer is then treated to another distanced frame of an agricultural landscape filled with men bringing in the hay as high on his noble horse Mr. Knightley overlooks them and Alistair Petrie as Robert Martin is seen in the distance "all glowing and brown and gleaming with sweat" (I quote Davies's screenplay). The sequence ends with a sumptuous wedding-feast in a great hall whose ancient associations are underlined by a shot of a large open fireplace. Although there is nothing even approaching this in Austen's novel -- the penultimate paragraph of the novel is given over to Mrs Elton who declares, rightly, of the Knightley wedding that it was "a most pitiful business!": ""Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business"); there are extended sequences like this in George Eliot's and Thomas Hardy's books (Adam Bede, Far from the Madding). Mr Knightley is seen from the side as at the center of a table as he welcomes all his tenants. The cynosure of civilization is the Top Male. Emma is glimpsed sitting quietly by his side. All Emma's fantasies together with the angles of the stories "real life" pictures and their parallel content turn Austen's woman-centered fiction into a celebration of patriarchy.
In Clueless Greenfield finds "Austen's message about class snobbery translates well into the teen world of cliques and the 'in' versus the 'out' crowd," and that "the workings of the high-school social scene, especially in a place as conscious of class and status as Beverly Hills, are every bit as worthy of irony and satire as Highbury society" (35-7). Greenfield admits "the gender issue is less prominent" in Clueless because in the 1990's gender alone does not limit women as it did in Austen's era, but says that "like Austen, Heckerling makes the [parallel] point that a community of women -- even high-school-age women -- is not a viable option" (37). Greenfield neglects to concede how much of a sheer teen film this is; the lure of the analogy is far more a matter of some surface likenesses, and minor plot points than it is of characterization, theme, or mood (4).
Kristin Samuelian's argument is the 1995 Thomson/Lee Sense and Sensiblity "discredits current feminist critique" because it demonstrates that "feminist protest is both tolerated and satisfactorily answered by courtship." Although the film "appears to be sympathetic to the goals of feminism, [it] ends by undermining them" (39-40). By a close analysis of the film's content Samuelian demonstrates it "engenders a complacency" about women's roles in our world by subtly revising Austen's text so as to make the men the sisters marry attractive, so as to "ally" courtship "with passion rather than opposed to romance," and most importantly, so as to present the laws at the time as depriving women of any choice or power in life. Thus the viewer can say, well, the laws have been changed so Elinor has another option besides "piracy" while, as Samuelian suggests, custom and mores are as responsible for keeping women financially and therefore emotionally vulnerable to men as predators.
Hopkins's essay is revealing because her thesis that the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice "fetishizes the looks of the heroes" and "foreground[s] that fetishization by a variety of devices" depends upon her argument that the camera continually focuses on Colin Firth as Darcy; by arguing that we watch many of the events on screen from Darcy's vantage point (2-4, 8), she makes clear what I have just shown in the ITV/A&E Emma, the importance of point of view in a film (2-4, 8). The problem here is that careful scrutiny of sequences in the film reveals the camera has been even-handed, and the viewer gazes at Jennifer Ehle alone or watching others as often as she or he gazes at Colin Firth alone or watching others. Although the shots of Firth at a window are done so expertly they become memorable, when we track the camera angle and count frames in any given sequence, say, to use a turning point in the film and novel, Darcy's writing a letter after Elizabeth rejects his proposal, and Elizabeth's reading it, we find as many flashbacks and invented scenes which cut away from Jennifer Ehle's face or figure as Firth's. Both their faces dissolve into scenes and their voices continue in voiceover as they are remember or imagine the past; in fact we could argue that Ehle's point of view is more emphatic as the matter of the letter is switched to allow us first to have 16 shots cutting away from Firth and then 17 cutting away from Ehle (Bobby Bodenheimer, e-mail to Austen-L, March 9, 1998). Colin Firth himself has written the greatest obstacle he found to acting Darcy in this film was he was not only not continuously on screen, but for long stretches was not even needed on the set (Sue Birtwisle and Susie Conklin, The Making of Pride and Prejudice [London: Penguin, 1995] 100).
If the flaw in Hopkins's argument is its impressionistic basis, she has at least has made us attend to how the film has been edited and the problem of internalizing film narrative conventions. All too often essays on these post-1995 films are almost wholly derived from a writer thinking about a film's content, with the result that we learn again and again that Austen's "message" has been undermined or reversed. In, for example, Deborah Kaplan's "Mass Marketing Jane Austen: Men, Women, and Courtship in Two of the Recent Films," she teaches us the subject matter of the films diverges from that of the novels so as to "harlequinize" Austen's novels; in Kathryn L. Shanks Libin's "'--a very elegant looking instrument--': Musical Symbols and Substance in the Films of Jane Austen's Novels" Libin reveals that Austen's distrust of an intense responsiveness to music is in the films proof of a character's worth by pointing out that Thompson has turned Frank Churchill's gift of a pianoforte to Jane Fairfax into Colonel Brandon's (or Alan Rickman's) gift of a pianoforte to Marianne (Kate Winslet). What in Austen reveals a dangerous if shared pleasure in the illicit in Thompson reveals an attractive and shared capacity for imaginative joy (Persuasions 18 , 171-81; 19 , 187- 94). In Linda Troost's introductory essay to her collection,"Jane Austen and Technology," Linda Troost says it is ironic that an author whose stories have long been identified with traditional communities has become a "hot property" (the phrase is Amis's) because technology has made her works available to modern audiences (iii).
Taking my cue from a literal reading of this clause what is missing from most essays on Jane Austen movies is a discussion of how the new technologies work and the recent commissioning of well-known stars to play leading roles. These new technologies have for the first time made these post-1995 films exciting enough to ordinary movie and TV-viewers to allow them to compete as films to popular audiences. Film scholars continually take into account the centrality of hiring alluring archetypal actors and actresses who enact mythic roles in the dream world of the screen (5). The tendency of literary scholars who discuss Austen films is simply to ignore the technology and the hiring of stars for reasons that are not far too seek. The former requires familiarity with the history and development of camera, lighting techniques, and sound; the latter displaces the discussion from sociological and psychological interpretations dear to much of the above literary scholarship. A careful and pragmatic (looking at what's actually on screen) comparision of a three of the post-1995 film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels with the film adaptations made between 1971 and 1995 reveals the post-1995 films differ not so much in historical accuracy (the importance of apparent accuracy in "costume drama" has been appreciated since the early 1970s), but in the use the post-1995 films make of sophisticated camera and sound work, alluring well-known stars, and publicity -- they are known in the trade as "high profile" films. These are the really measurable differences between the pre-1995 films since 1971 (the year of the first of the modern BBC films available on videocassette) and post-1995 films.
I have room to give details from only one example, the 1983 BBC miniseries production of Mansfield Park, directed by David Giles, screenplay Ken Taylor, and "starring" Sylvestra Le Tousel as Fanny Price, and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram. It will have to stand for the 1971 Persuasion, the 1972 Emma, the 1979 Pride and Prejudice, and the 1985 Sense and Sensibility, all BBC products. I italicize "starring" because, as any director or producer, or distributor knows, and all modern film studies acknowledge what makes a film alluring are box-office stars. Le Tousel and Farrell are not that, and they are plain; Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford and Robert Burbage as Henry Crawford are plainer still. The women are unheard-of today. When the decision was made to adapt the novels in the post-1995, most of the time before, or directly afterwards (with the proviso that the "star's" services could be obtained), box-office and sexually alluring stars for the leading roles were hired. It did not matter that Jennifer Ehle's characteristic hair and colouring were altered to such an extent it becames hard to recognize her: what was important that her name be linked to "Lizzie's" (as the character is called in the The Making of Pride and Prejudice. These films drew audiences into the movie-houses because well-understood marketing techniques were applied to them.
Once the movie-goer has come inside, contemporary film-makers know they must compete with action-adventure TV shows and the explosion in expensive technical gimmickry in most 1990s films. They must, to echo the people who made the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice and 1996 BBC Emma, provide "vitality", "action", and a sense of continual movement, all of which is caught up in the ubiquitous use of the word "fun". Fun refers to an affirmative sensual and pleasurable enjoyment. When one reads what has been said about film-making today, one learns that not only the wholly money-oriented, but respected film- makers like David Lean plan everything in a film out in such a way as to keep his audience from getting impatient. Lean's first thought is always, Is this a bore? (Kevin Brownlow, David Lean [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996] 648). The fear of creating something "too serious", something which would somehow announce itself as intimidating and "boring" and not "bright" enough permeates the discussions of the post-1995 films.
It is thus no coincidence that the difference between the earlier films and these post-1995 films is a camera-driven continuous level of excitement or tension. In the 1995 Pride and Prejudice and 1996 Emma is the screen is hardly ever still. Action and gesture also accompany everything. Colin Firth goes for a swim and fences, and Jennifer Ehle runs up and down fields because they must be doing something. The closing shots of Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong which pan out to make the garden a universe and then move quickly back and forth between internal and external scenes do not only hold a sociological meaning, they project continual changing information and movement, light, colour, music to the viewer's brain. To use technical language, bridging shots, "cheat" shots (we see only a part of what is going on), jump cuts, parallel editing (a way of intemingling shots from two or more scenes), and montage characterize the post-1995 films while the films between 1971 and 1995 are still: we watch the actors on what feels like a stage; even the outdoors is pictured in a frame.
The new technologies are intended to -- and succeed in -- casting a mesmerizing "psychological spell" over the public. The goal is to bring the viewer into the hallucinations and concoctions placed before the eye on screen. Francois Truffaut calls this kind of film-editing and shooting "the contrary of variety," a use of a variety of technologies to paradoxically blend into a single impression of unity within which this host of technologies assault the viewer continually (John Andrew Gallager, Film Directors on Directing [London: Praeger, 1989], 266). Read interviews of producers and directors and you will find that at some point early in their remarks they will refer to the use of magnetic film for sound and computer optics for color. Ken Dancyger talks of "the importance of creating a definite feeling state." Among other films, he cites both Heckerling's Clueless and Thompson's Sense and Sensiblity as films which downgrade plot in order to induce a "self-reflexive dream state" (The Technique of Film and Video Editing [Boston: Focal Press, 1997] 187-90).
A successful realization of this technical virtuosity is the secret to the spell-binding appeal of the Thompson/Lee Sense and Sensibility and the much-praised intensity and closeness in spirit to the original of the 1995 BBC Persuasion (director, Robert Michell; screenplay Nick Dear). A close comparison of these two, including the screenplays with the 1988 BBC Mansfield Park reveals the 1983 Mansfield Park has many more long scenes of intense psychological interplay and dialogue than either of the later films. The actors in the earlier movie are filmed as if the landscape were a stage in a play, and the camera acts simply as a still eye which places the viewer in the position of someone in a theatre audience. If you are to be moved, you must be moved by Sylvestra Le Tousel's performance as a girl on the edge, one who becomes shattered when she is mortified by Aunt Norris (in a realistic, quiet, and unforced performance by Anna Massey) and begins to shake helplessly and cry with a poignant touch of hysteria when berated in a still attic room with no fire by Sir Thomas. For Sir Thomas Bernard Hepton offers a restrained yet at moments touchingly emotional performance; it is revealing that he is to be found as Mr. Woodhouse in the ITV/A&E Emma. Yet an honest impression of comparative "dullness" comes from viewing the 1983 film in 1997; you have to sit down and lend yourself to the earlier adaptation with expectations that are closer to what you bring to a theatre.
If we except the literal plot-designs of the differing screenplays for each adaptation of the six different novels, which naturally differ in accordance with the texts and demands of the original novels, I would maintain that just about everything other than this hiring of "stars" and sophisticated active camera work in the pre- and post-1995 films remains the same. If Emma Thompson made a creative use of minor 18th and 19th century poetry, Ken Taylor was astute in his use of Elizabeth Inchbald's play. He took words and scenes from this and allowed us to watch at Mansfield Park the love-making, and in a room to the side of the Rushworth party in London, a starved kiss between Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram. All of them -- the earlier and more recent films -- use many individual lines and dramatize many of the pivotal scenes of Austen's novels; it is in fact astonishing that audiences should so patiently sit through somewhat archaic dialogues. The 1941 Pride and Prejudice (which did "err" in this respect) is the sole extant film still available in libraries and commercial outlets not to pay close attention to historical authenticity when it comes to clothes, houses, landscapes; and small minutiae. Not that the accuracy is for real: what we get is a mirror image of what people imagine the earlier period to have been considerably cleaned up, made symmetrical, cleaner, and altogether brighter (6). In all of them we are invited into luxurious houses which are lavishly redone to reflect a glamorized and generally speaking opulent version of the early 19th century.
A smaller aspect of this similarity is that for the minor roles the same actors and actresses show up in these films. They fit the character types. In 1983 Maria Bertram was played by Samantha Bond; thirteen years later she is Mrs Weston in ITV/A&E Emma. Jonny Lee Miller was the young Edmund Bertram in the 1983 Mansfield Park; he is the adult Edmund in the 1999 Mansfield Park. Lucy Robinson moves from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice to become Mrs Elton in the 1997 BBC Emma. The only actors who do not move from film to film are the stars of the post-1995 films. Costumes too are more similar than the production staffs like to admit. I noticed a striking similarity between a bonnet worn by Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford in the 1983 Mansfield Park and a bonnet worn by Jennifer Ehle; admittedly, it was probably simply made from the same pattern. Still since both seemed to have a dark blue/wine red sheen, I wondered about the capacity and continuity of the BBC costume shop. These surface details count: they are part of what an audience comes to a "costume drama" (the term is still apt for all these films) for (6).
A film which presents itself as a visual and dramatic representation of a novel can enrichen one's experience of that novel. The earlier films (this time beginning with the 1941 Pride and Prejudice and recent BBC productions at least mean to do just that while remaining faithful to what is perceived as the audience understanding of Austen as comic, fundamentally genteel (no overt sex), even including the 1995 emotional Persuasion, finally "light- hearted". In the 1983 BBC Mansfield Park, David Giles and Ken Taylor did not shy away from letting the viewer quietly watch and listen to the scene of Fanny Price and Mary Crawford sitting in Mrs. Grant's garden with Fanny musing on memory and the imagination, and the later scene of them in the schoolroom when Mary says goodbye and herself goes into a delicate reverie filled with loving feeling; the many intimate scenes between Edmund and Fanny brought home to this viewer how often the two are together over the whole stretch of the novela, how this prepares us for the denouement. Since the viewer is allowed simply to watch a scene, I caught how Angela Pleasance playing Lady Bertram seemed to echo Le Tousel's subtle evocation of intense nervousness at the edge of apparent calm. In comparison, in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice film the equally realistic projection of an ironical yet kind presence by Benjamin Whitlow as Mr. Bennet in two key scenes with Elizabeth in his study (before and after the Lydia debacle) becomes an unimportant moment, a kind of rest. Subtle gestures cannot compete with a camera rushing on to something more active. The tension that is expected to grip the viewer is made by the camera.
I would argue that on the most fundamental level, Austen's novels are made up of stories which slowly and quietly emerge from the inner life and circumstances of a group of intimately- connected characters. Those public scenes she dramatizes most often focus the reader on the outward manifestations of some inward embarrassment, misinterpretation, or frustration from boredom. The narrator's tactful ironies which are not overdetermined are central to the effect of these books. Now although all of the films made from Austen's novels can offer scenes of beautifully-patterned dancing, none escapes the obligatory still moments of characters simply sitting in a room together -- Austen's characters may be said to be conceived in terms of how much understanding they have of themselves and other characters while they sit around on chairs or walk side-by-side. Yet the staple ingredient of moving pictures is quick visual movement and mesmerizing music and sound, moments of which become memorable to the movie-goer when epitomized in a catchy snatch of dialogue (as in "I make him an offer he don't refuse"). Film-makers are also wary of the "over-voice": it feels too literary; the audience response depends on a quick conceptualization of the nuances of a line or lines. Deprived, then, of matter for what films do best and supplied with matter for what films often eschew, all film- makers of Austen's books have resorted to alluring costumes and lavish props. They have assumed or created and catered to a yearning to enter a beautiful place. They have also assumed that the name "Jane Austen" is associated with ideas that there once was a golden world for country gentry, before the railways, before the speeding up of time and space and the spread of industrialization over the countryside. In the older films we find ourselves watching a plain still two-shot frame of two relatively-unknown actors, one whose budget does not permit such a lavish recreation of this earlier imagined world of England, and one whose techniques look upon "costume dramas" as products of studio techniques, inside studio art. In the post-1995 films no expense is spared to get the right impression of the dream world, and once the actors are placed in it, the camera proceeds to regale us through astute uses of zoom lenses, panning, with finally a focus on still highly varieed many-changing angled shots of two famous attractive stars in a scene of as fast-moving emotional catharsis as a close attention to Austen's text will permit.
In sum, while the volume in question includes essays which give us insight into our ideas about the real sociological and economic conditions of Austen's times as found in her novels and as opposed to what is dramatized in film adaptations, and tell us much about the state of post- modern literary criticism today, especially in its feminist phases, it ignores what really are the differences between the recent films adapted from Austen's novels (post-1995) and all those that came before: film adaptations of Austen's novels have become popular not because they cater to false or real comprehension in the audience of subtle issues, but because the production staff and movie companies now hire well-known physically alluring actors and actresses for the leading roles, avail themselves of sophisticated technologies which are used on location and absorb or excite the viewer's attention -- and plan and execute long-range, well-planned and expensive advertisement compaigns. The phrase "high profile" film is used frequently about these post-1995 films and does not turn up after the 1941 Pride and Prejudice. But quite what or who such an advertising campaign aims at, how it operates and what is the measurement of profitable success is beyond my province.
1. This reversal of Austen's meaning to precisely the opposite of what Austen consciously intended ought to be dwelt upon more. It is not clear whether this reversal comes out of a genuine impulse which expands the nuances that are really in Austen's rich text or the predilections, tastes, and values of our own era. A particularly interesting adaptation of Austen in this regard is Matthew Francis's stage-play, Northanger Abbey. New York: Samuel French, 1997. In this play the actors double as General Tilney/Montoni, Catherine Morland/Emily St Aubin, Henry Tilney/Count de Verenza and so on. What is curious is how much of Austen's dialogue is retained in the Mysteries of Udolpho scenes and how the two phases of the play blend so easily together.
2. This is especially true of Emma Thompson's script for Sense and Sensibility, where Marianne becomes the most sympathetic of the two heroines.
3. There is a remarkable physical as well as archetypal resemblance between Raymond Coulthard and the subversively kinky blonde Alessandro Nivola, chosen to play Henry Crawford in the 1999 Miramax Mansfield Park, written and directed by Patricia Rozema.
4. The essays on the likeness of Clueless to Austen's Emma ring true only until the viewer sees the movie. The plot points, names of the characters, and a general outline of story-design do not make a similar product at all. This is one of the many times one discovers exaggeration in film criticism.
5. I take my examples from among the most respected books in the field: Lester Asheim, "From Book to Film: A Comparative Analysis of the Content of Novels and the Motion Pictures Based Upon Them", 1950 Ph.D. Dissertation, The University Of Chicago; Parker Tyler, Magic and Myth of the Movies, introduction Richard Schickel. 1947; reprinted New York: Simon and Shuster, 1950; Brain McFarlane, Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996; Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, edd. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Fifth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
6. See revealing commentary in Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, The Making of Pride and Prejudice and The Making of Emma. Penguin BBC Books, 1995 and 1996 respectively. The comparison may be seen in the de-emphasis given to such matters in Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. New York: Newmarket Press, 1994.