Some Thoughts on the Sanditon Screen Adaptation

Books & Mags, Movies & TV, Stunt Double

As a Jane Austen fan, I’ve followed the birth of the screen adaptation of Sanditon in this blog. Having seen the series and allowed my brain to properly chew it for a couple of months, now it’s time to share some of my throughts.

Note: Spoiler warning is in effect!

According to IMDB, the main writing credits for this miniseries belong to Andrew Davies, with assists from Justin Young (episodes 3, 4, 6 and 7) and Andrea Gibb (episode 5). I haven’t seen any of Young’s writing, but I have seen Gibb’s Call the Midwife episodes and as far as I can remember, I liked them. In the past I’ve had mixed feelings of Davies’s work, but I’d assumed it was due to the material he was adapting (Dickens just doesn’t do it for me).

I may now have to adjust my opinion of Davis’s writing. Although I should like to know how big of a say the producers and/or financial backers had, for his earlier adaptations were much more internally consistent.

The best I can say about the writing in Sanditon is that it was very uneven throughout, which hurt both the characters, plot and pacing. Moreover, the ending was left open, clearly fishing for season 2, but since this first season didn’t give us much to recommend itself, the intended cliffhanger feels rather insulting instead.

Guest blogger Yosa Addiss critiqued the costuming at Frock Flicks. I don’t have much to add except to say that for a fantasy story set in the regency (or regency-like) period the choices would’ve been more acceptable.

The same goes for the sets. Indeed, some of the interior scenes, specifically at the masqued ball, remind me of the 1986 movie Labyrinth. Just compare these two photos below, the first from Sanditon and the second from Labyrinth:

Ethical Hedonist Magazine The Dance Sanditon

Sanditon (2019) via Ethical Hedonist Magazine

Basement Rejects Labyrinth Ball Scene

Labyrinth (1986) via Basement Rejects

There were other sets that looked more period-appropriate, but I don’t know enough of the details of period architecture and interior design to really say. For instance, the Parkers’ house had a room or two with multiple faux framed paintings that were literally painted directly onto the wall (or wallpaper?). That was a very interesting choice.

Frock Flicks Sanditon Ep1 Faux Paintings on Wall

Sanditon (2019) via Frock Flicks

Overall the sets and photography looked gorgeous, and the lighting was just lovely; I just don’t know how well the design choices represented regency in general.

All of the faults would be more tolerable, however, if the adaptation cast of characters equalled that of Austen’s writing. Sadly, it does not.

The best thing about Jane Austen’s characters is that even when they’re superficially the same, they’re all different. They remain their own people. Every single Bennet daughter, for instance, has their own individual personas, habits and characteristics. Poor Jane Fairfax is different from poor Fanny Price. Notable men in their thirties like Colonel Brandon and Mr. Knightley are very different indeed from each other.

In addition, even the most odious of Austen’s characters often have one or more redeeming qualities. The Sanditon adaptation lacks in this respect, too. Our supposed hero, Mr. Sidney Parker, is initially barely distinguishable from his two foppish drinking buddies he drags to Sanditon for a change of scenery, and it looks like we were supposed to fall for the forced, artificially drawn-out, unconvincing hate-love tug-of-war between him and Miss Heywood a la Pride & Prejudice.

(Incidentally, one of Mr. S. Parker’s London buddies surprisingly turns out one of the best invented characters of the series, but I’ll return to him later.)

Miss Brereton and Miss Denham both come across as bickering sour bitches, with the only difference that Clara is a sexually abused gold digger and Esther a lovelorn gold digger. Miss Lambe reminds me of Lydia Bennet, apart from having a fortune, and the young ladies she lodges with are completely bland. The rich Lady Denham is simply a copy of Lady Catherine, only with an ailment and sans a daughter. Mr. Denham’s a slimy git who resembles Mr. Wickham; of him I have very little to say and none of it good.

Young Mr. Stringer, a builder and aspiring architect, was an enjoyable addition, but sadly he wasn’t given much to do besides complain about not being paid, pine after Miss Heywood and eye moodily at his competition, Mr. S. Parker.

Mr. Parker is defined by his monomania over Sanditon and his irresponsibility, but at least he genuinely loves his wife. I liked the little we were given of Mrs. Parker, but, again, her character fell quite flat; apart from the role of supporting wife and devoted mother, she was good-natured and that was all.

The hypochondriac comic relief characters, Miss Parker and Mr. Arthur Parker, perhaps stay truest to the kind of characters Austen had a habit of writing, and they remain simply delightful throughout.

As I said, it was quite a surprise to find Lord Babbington rise to the level of an Austen hero. He accidentally meets with the pining Miss Denham, falls for and attempts to pay court to her. As we learn more about him, Lord Babbington starts to redeem himself in our eyes and to display quite a different set of characteristics than his drinking buddies (one of whom’s a drunk git and should never have been given as many lines as he was).

Babbington was looking better and better, and the we hit episode 7 where Mr. Denham bursts into a ball and makes a final plea for Miss Denham’s affections despite her obvious disinterest. Mr. Sidney Parker and Lord Babbington physically stop him from getting close to Esther. Later Babbington tells her: “Your brother is not going to make a victim out of you. I’ll not allow it.”

Seriously, crushing hard here! He’d become attractive before, but this kind of determination and caring? Romance novel stuff. Jane Austen romance stuff! This here, right here, is exactly how Austen heroes behave. So why the everloving fork is it that the whiny Mr. S. Parker is the protagonist of the adaptation and Lord Babbington is not?!?

In fact, Lord Babbington and Esther Denham’s story is more compelling to me than that of Miss Heywood and Mr. S. Parker. Babbington and Esther even get the gorgeous wedding at the end:

Ethical Hedonist Magazine Babbington Denham Wedding

Sanditon (2019) via Ethical Hedonist Magazine

I seriously suspect I have a headcanon coming…!

I still need to watch Sanditon again to be sure, but it seems I’m leaning into the direction of not considering it a Jane Austen work, but a more generic (fantasy) regency drama.

Have you seen Sanditon? What did you think of it?

The New Emma Launches Tomorrow!

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Almost time: the new Emma movie adaptation written by Eleanor Catton and directed by Autumn de Wilde opens tomorrow here in the U.S.!

IMDB Emma Johnny Flynn Anya Taylor-Joy

Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in Emma. Focus Features via IMDB

Yay – more Jane Austen on screen! 😀

If, like for me, the wait is almost too long for you, here’s an introduction to the costuming in Emma by Alden O’Brien to tide you over. O’Brien is a curator of costume at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, and a life-long lover of historic clothing. Enjoy!

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

The Trailer for the New Emma Production Is Out

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

It’s almost time for the release of the new Emma production written by Eleanor Catton and directed by Autumn de Wilde that I blogged about earlier this year. Here’s the trailer:

Emma – Official Teaser Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD by Universal Pictures UK on YouTube

Judging by the trailer only (which I know to be a precarious business), I’m not sure what to think, except that Bill Nighy’s Mr. Woodhouse might completely steal the show. And this looks to be a tonally very different reading of Emma than the previous screen adaptations.

It’s hard to say anything about Emma and Mr. Knightley from these super-short glimpses; furthermore, I haven’t seen either actor before (Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn). On the other hand, I know Miranda Hart as Miss Bates is going to shine! The music-making looks lovely, and what we can see of the propping and costuming seems great.

Emma will be released on February 14, 2020, in the UK and February 21, 2020, in the U.S.

I am excite! 🙂 😀

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

Downton Abbey the Movie Is Out on Friday!

Movies & TV

Downton Abbey the movie comes out on Friday! Here’s an official trailer:

DOWNTON ABBEY – Official Trailer [HD] by Focus Features on YouTube

Situated in 1927, this story will have the king and queen – George V and Mary of Teck, of whom I know nothing – visit the Abbey. From the IMDB casting list it sounds like we have a few new characters.

Since there seems to be little hope of another Jane Austen production (beyond Sanditon, which has not been released yet, and another Emma, which is of very unknown quality) I guess Downton will have to do. Even though I’m not really a fan of the era, I am looking forward to seeing the fabulous, fabulous acting (especially Maggie Smith!), multi-faceted characters, and gorgeous costuming and sets again.

I do, however, confess that the rigid adherence to artificial rules of “good” society really rubs me the wrong way at times. Sadly, a royal visit makes it sound like there might be overly much of the artificial, but we’ll see.

Cross-posted from Co-Geeking.

A New Emma Production Is Filming

Books & Mags, Movies & TV, Thumbs Up

Great news for Janeites! Just after I blogged about the casting for Sanditon series penned by Andrew Davies, I found out that we’re about to get a new screen version of Emma!

Instagram Autumn de Wilde Emma Day1

Autumn de Wilde on Instagram.

It’s written by Eleanor Catton and directed by Autumn de Wilde. Neither name is familiar to me, but I do recognize a few names from the cast list released thus far: Bill Nighy plays Mr. Woodhouse and Miranda Hart Miss Bates – if her previous performances are anything to judge by, she’ll be brilliant! Anya Taylor-Joy heads the film as Emma; I have seen her in an episode of Endeavour, apparently, but unfortunately I don’t remember her.

The director-writer team sound new in the field: Emma is de Wilde’s first feature-long project (she’s previously worked as a photographer as well as music video and commercial director), and Catton has only written one miniseries before (based on her novel The Luminaries which won the Man Booker Prize in 2013; she’s the youngest author to win the literary award). That should guarantee a fresh take on the classic!

IMDB lists the movie as filming at this time, and MSN reports that release is expected in 2020.

I can’t wait – the world can never have too much of Jane Austen on screen if you ask me! 🙂

P.S.: Just FYI: this is not an April fool’s joke.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

Cast Announced for Andrew Davies’ Miniseries Version of Sanditon

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In 2018 we got news that a screen version of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon was being produced. Now we also know some of the cast!

Re-reading Jane Austens Lady Susan

According to the PBS, Rose Williams will play the protagonist Charlotte Heywood and Theo James appears as Sidney Parker, a young man she meets at the up-and-coming seaside resort of Sanditon. I have unfortunately not seen Williams before, but I know James from the Divergent movie series and one episode of Downton Abbey. The head of the Parker family, Tom Parker, will be played by Kris Marshall; I haven’t seen him on screen before either.

Lady Denham, another person of note in Sanditon, will be played by Anne Reid, whom I’ve seen in passing in episodes of the Doctor Who reboot and Doc Martin. Crystal Clarke was cast as Miss Lambe; she appeared in Assassin’s Creed and had a small role in both Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Episode VII The Last Jedi but I can’t say that I remember her.

In addition to the cast list, IMDB has updated its listing for Sanditon. Yay, it’s really happening!

For a full cast list, visit the PBS article.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

A New Hope for a Sanditon Adaptation

Books & Mags, Movies & TV, Thumbs Up

Over two years ago, I spotted news that a screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished last work, Sanditon, was in development by Fluidity Films. To all appearances, their project never got any further than that.

Now there is a another project commissioned by ITV and executive produced by Rebecca Eaton at Masterpiece with Belinda Campbell at Red Planet Pictures. The script is written by Andrew Davies (who also wrote the 1995 Pride & Prejudice, 2007 Northanger Abbey and 2008 Sense & Sensibility, among others), and the eight-episode series will be distributed by BBC Studios.

Re-reading Jane Austens Lady Susan

According to PBS, filming is expected to start in spring of 2019. No casting details have been announced. I also couldn’t find Sanditon on Davies’s IMDB page yet; I guess it’s too early still.

But, nevertheless, hooray! Double yay!! We’ve long been overdue another Austen adaptation.

Relevant reads:

Plus the multiple(!) articles in the Spring 2018 issue of Persuasions (Volume 38, No. 2), accessible online at the JASNA website.

What a great excuse to re-read Austen. 🙂

P.S. Belatedly I realized that my headline sounds like a Star Wars – Jane Austen crossover. If only! I’d watch that! 😀

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Persuasion

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The last but certainly not least in our Jane Austen rewatch, Persuasion is a novel of pressures, choices and second chances, posthumously published in 1817. The heroine, 27-year-old Anne Elliot, has never come to terms with her refusal to marry the great love of her life due to the prudent advice of a friend in loco parentis. The he returns to the neighborhood 8 years later…

Jane Austen Rewatch Persuasion

JASNA provides a map for tracking the physical locations of the story:

JASNA Persuasion Locations map-pers-1200

Map of locations in Persuasion. Jane Austen Society of Australia, via JASNA.

Like Mansfield Park, there aren’t terribly many screen versions of Persuasion. We rewatched the 2007 and 1995 movies, although apparently also a miniseries from 1971 is available.

The newer movie (from 2007, screenplay by Simon Burke, directed by Adrian Shergold) stars new-to-me Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. Rupert Penry-Jones, whom I know from the British spy series MI-5, plays Captain Wentworth. Unfortunately, I find both performances listless and unenergetic, even though the script – bafflingly – has Anne indefatigably running all over the city of Bath after Captain Wentworth at the end of the movie.

Minor performances, for example by Anthony Head (Giles! from Buffy!) as Sir Walter Elliot, are ok. There are some other oddities in the writing, filming and music which diminish my enjoyment of the story, but it looks like they actually went to Bath, which is great.

The 1995 Persuasion, however, is excellent. The screenplay is by Nick Dear, and Roger Mitchell directed Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth. I really like Root’s understated and considerate version of Anne; Hinds works well enough even if a few scenes tend towards hammy.

Although the picture quality is grainy, the soundtrack is nice, and there are subtitles (not a given on older DVDs). The props, locations and costuming are also great. This is my favorite version so far – in an ideal world, of course, we would be due another adaptation.

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Emma

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Emma (1815) was the fourth and last of Austen’s works to be published during her lifetime. In it we follow the titular character’s growth from a good-intentioned meddler-in-romance to a more mature and self-aware young lady.

Jane Austen Rewatch Emma

Here, again, is a map provided by JASNA for tracking the physical locations of the story:

JASNA Emma Locations map-emma-large

Map of locations in Emma. Jane Austen Society of Australia, via JASNA.

Our rewatch included three versions: two movies and a miniseries. I’ve since discovered that there’s a version transposed to India (Aisha, 2010), which sounds interesting. Clueless I’ve no interest in, and I’ll skip the 1972 miniseries, too.

Extraordinarily, the year 1996 saw two movie releases based on Emma. Both are solid adaptations with decent plot arcs, very good acting, and wonderful locations and sets.

The first is written and directed by Douglas McGrath and stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley. Occasionally Paltrow delivers some of her lines in an overly whiny manner, but fortunately those are rare. I haven’t seen Northam in anything else, but his Mr. Knightley was quite good – efficient and proper but not as acerbic as Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightley.

A very neat tidbit is to see young Obi-Wan Kenobi Ewan McGregor singing – he has a fabulous voice! One thing I cannot stand in the McGrath movie, though, is Paltrow’s changing hairstyles – it seems like the production might have employed two different hair designers, one of whom wasn’t up to the job.

My favorite, incredibly dry line delivery:

Mr. Knightley [to Emma when they’re practicing archery]: “Try not to shoot my dogs.”

The other 1996 Emma is written by Andrew Davies, directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and features Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley. Overall, I’d say the casting is stronger in this version. The otherwise excellent Olivia Williams (elsewhere e.g. in Dollhouse) is a little wooden as Jane Fairfax, but I love the rest of the cast. Bernard Hepton’s Mr. Woodhouse is such a darling!

My favorite speech comes when the self-important Mrs. Elton discusses foppish young men:

Mrs Elton Scourge of Puppies

Mrs. Elton: “Ah! But you must know I can be very severe upon young men. I have a vast dislike of puppies, quite a horror of them. Had he turned out to be a puppy I might have said some very cutting things, you may be sure. I am a scourge of puppies, am I not, Mr. E.?”

My absolute favorite, though, is the Emma miniseries from 2009 (adapted by Sandy Welch, directed by Jim O’Hanlon). The version has several strengths, starting with excellent casting. Romola Garai stars as Emma Woodhouse, and – yay, again a treat for me! – Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. His is by far the most enjoyable Mr. Knightley performance I’ve seen. Mr. Knightley is often played as rather curt and strict, which I find not just offputting but a mistake. The interpretations of Harriet Smith by Louise Dylan and Miss Bates by Tamsin Greig are also the most enjoyable I’ve seen.

All major characters are introduced at the beginning of episode 1, which helps people new to Austen. Moreover, this version does the epilogue clearly and succinctly, without massive infodumping. In addition, I immensely enjoy the music, the set dressing, costuming and propping, and other visuals.

It’s a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable Emma. In fact, if the same team were to make other Austen adaptations, I’d go to great lenghts to see them. Finally, let’s face it: the longer form better fits the depth of Austen’s genius, and that’s that.

Enjoy this sneak peek from PBS:

MASTERPIECE Classic’s Emma begins Jan 24, 2010 | A Sneak Preview | PBS

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Mansfield Park

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Moving on with our grand Jane Austen rewatch. Mansfield Park (1814) was Jane Austen’s third published novel and her first to be conceived and written when she was an adult. The story follows the growth of poor Fanny Price, who is de facto adopted by her wealthy relatives and transported miles away from her family.

Jane Austen Rewatch Mansfield Park

Here is a map provided by JASNA for tracking the physical locations of the story:

JASNA Mansfield Park Locations map-mp-1200

Map of locations in Mansfield Park. Jane Austen Society of Australia, via JASNA.

We only had access to two movie versions: one from 1999 and the other from 2007. I’d also like eventually to see the 1983 miniseries, for I see several familiar names among the cast.

Unfortunately, both adaptations have some issues. The 2007 Mansfield Park (screenplay by Maggie Wadey, directed by Iain B. MacDonald) casts Billie Piper (Rose in Doctor Who) as Fanny Price, and she does a good job. However, I don’t like Blake Ritson, so this Edmund Bertram remains uninteresting to me. There are also some pacing issues and an odd scene or two.

If you like Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, you might want to check this one out, though, for she’s very good – a believably lively and charming but wily Mary Crawford. The rich but simpleminded Mr. Rushworth is expertly played by Rory Kinnear (who also performed Tanner in the three latest Bond movies).

What I really like, though, are two supporting characters: first, Fanny’s dear brother William is included (which the 1999 movie doesn’t do); second, Jemma Redgrave’s interpretation of Lady Bertram makes it believable that someone would’ve wanted to marry her (whereas the 1999 Lady B. is almost implausibly lethargic).

The older of these two Mansfield Park movies (written and directed by Patricia Rozema) is based not just the novel but also some events gleaned from Austen’s letters. It’s an interesting choice, and had we a dozen or so adaptations I’d probably appreciate it more, but as Mansfield isn’t often filmed I think it creates more missed opportunities than not. Another miss is Fanny Price’s wardrobe – bleah.

This movie is a treat for me in other respects: one of my favorte actors, Jonny Lee Miller, plays Edmund Bertram. He’s more recently – and deservedly – starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary. Lead actress Frances O’Connor projects Fanny’s vulnerability beautifully. The rest of the cast are great, too. For example, Lindsay Duncan gives an excellent, excellent double performance as both Fanny’s mother Mrs. Price and aunt Lady Bertram (even though I disagree how the character was written), and Hugh Bonneville’s Mr. Rushworth thoroughly demonstrates the actor’s genious and range.

Favorite fleeting moment: Hugh Bonneville’s Mr. Rushworth wiggles his pinky in his ear (presumably) to clean it while walking outdoors with his new fiancée, Miss Bertram. You can see it in this official trailer:

Mansfield Park | Official Trailer (HD) – Frances O’Connor, Jonny Lee Miller | MIRAMAX

How… quaintly… charming (not!) of the character, and a simply brilliant piece of acting!

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.