Reading N.K. Jemisin in honor of Martin Luther King Day

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Today the U.S. celebrates the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of the day, in support of people of color and in protest of the appalling inequality POC continue to experience in the U.S., I’m reading my favorite (living) author, Nora Jemisin.

Current Reading How Long Til Black Future Month

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is a collection of short fiction from 2004 onwards and her latest book-length publication. I’m not sure whether she’d describe herself as an #ownvoices author. Whatever the case, her fiction continues to entertain, fascinate, and awe on so many levels.

I’m normally not a great friend of short stories (I prefer novels), but this collection is incredible. Not just her writing is beautiful and technically superb; she continues to open my eyes about the world, give me new ideas and hold me in thrall in equal measure.

Jemisin is also the first writer ever to have won the Hugo Award three years in a row, for all the individual installments of her recent Broken Earth trilogy. (The mere thought of it still gives me chills!) No wonder S.E. Fleenor in an article at SyfyWire listed Jemisin as one the most influential women in genre for 2018.

How are you spending your MLK Day?

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

Emma Thompson Becomes a Dame Wearing Sneakers

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This newspiece is from June, but I just found out: Emma Thompson was made a dame in Queen’s Birthday Honours for her services to drama.

I know her mostly through her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, but I’ve seen her work elsewhere, too, and admire it.

The best thing about the news, though, is that she appeared at the ceremony in sneakers!

The News Herald Jonathan Brady Emma Thompson Dame Ceremony

Jonathan Brady / Press Association via Associated Press.

Women wearing sensible shoes get so much undeserved scorn. It’s utterly ridiculous – why on earth would anyone spend time picking on women’s choice of footwear is beyond me. (Yes, I do know why: patriarchy.)

It’s lovely to see a successful woman not giving a darn and wearing what she pleases!

Found via Yashar Ali on Twitter.

2017 Reading Recap

Books & Mags

For some years now, I’ve kept a tally of the books I read. In earlier years, I’ve blogged about a gender-breakdown on my reading. While interesting, it’s starting to get monotonous. Time to try something else!

As I started 2017 recuperating from an operation, I decided to focus on self-care all year. Among other things, it meant listening to myself more carefully than before and stopping when I began to feel wiped out instead of gritting my teeth and pushing through. I consciously made time for pleasurable activities (like reading) both indoors and outdoors. I’m glad to say my efforts paid off: my health and energy levels have improved noticeably. And yes, I have numbers to back it up. 🙂

Anyway, back to books. Here, alphabetically by title, are the nine most memorable stories I (re)read in 2017.

2017 Reading Recap Collage


All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

I resisted picking up this novella because of the name Murderbot, but I’m really glad I did. A self-aware, self-named, part-synthetic, part-organic grumpy SecUnit bot reflects on personhood and solves a mystery involving sabotage and incomplete data. Also, first person POV that works really well. Looking forward to more in the series!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

The final novel in the Divine Cities trilogy with action, philosophy and politics plus gripping characters and fates. While I didn’t care that much about the two preceding books, I actually felt genuinely sad at the end of CoM.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but works as a standalone. We focus on Pepper and the AI Lovelace and learn more about Pepper’s past (as a genetically modified child slave) in a story that is at least optimistic if not outright happy. Love it as much as Angry Planet; looking forward to July and Record of a Spaceborn Few.

The Five Daughters of the Moon and The Sisters of the Crescent Empress by Leena Likitalo

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, together these novels make up the Waning Moon duology. Beautiful, creepy and haunting all at once. Likitalo is a fellow Finn.

Infomocracy and Null States by Malka Older

Two first installations in the Centenal Cycle trilogy about microdemocracy, a fascinating idea. Looking forward to September and State Tectonics.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

Another fellow Finn. The Red Abbey welcomes a new arrival whose past unfortunately brings problems for all the inhabitants of the island. I enjoyed it so much I read it twice AND dragged with me to Finland to Worldcon 75 to be autographed. I’ve also already bought the sequel, Naondel, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

A murder mystery in space, with clones who cannot remember their previous lives. Awesome unveiling of the plot, characters and timelines.

What did you read last year that was special?


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

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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

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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.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Pride and Prejudice

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Pride and Prejudice (1813) followed Sense and Sensibility to become another commercial and critical success. It was also published anonymously (“by the author of ‘Sense and Sensibility’”). The focus of the story is witty Elizabeth Bennet, one of five young, unmarried Bennet sisters with little economic incentives to entice suitors.

Jane Austen Rewatch PandP

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

JASNA Pride and Prejudice Locations map-pp-1466h

Map of locations in Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen Society of Australia, via JASNA.

Just like Sense and Sensibility, there are several adaptations. We watched five: the 1995 P&P miniseries, the movie from 2005, modernized tales Lost in Austen and Bride and Prejudice plus the zombie action flick Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I’m really not interested in most modernizations like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries or Bridget Jones’s Diary simply because P&P isn’t my favorite story. That’s also why I’ve decided to skip the 1980 miniseries. I confess, however, that I’m a little curious of the 1940(!) movie with Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy, but pretty much only for his sake. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him perform.)

The Pride and Prejudice miniseries from 1995 (adapted by Andrew Davies, directed by Simon Langton) is my go-to version. This iteration stars Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and is well-known in part because of the (in)famous wet shirt scene:

The Lake Scene (Colin Firth Strips Off) – Pride and Prejudice – BBC

I don’t much care for the wet shirt myself. This added scene does, however, add weight to Elizabeth’s thinking that she had essentially walked in on the Darcy family when they expected privacy, and clearly feeling the inappropriateness of it.

This version does have my favorite ever Mr. Bennet, played wonderfully by Benjamin Whitrow. I’ve long dismissed Alison Steadman’s performance as Mrs. Bennet, quite wrongly as it turn out: I happened just recently to see her in a Miss Marple adaptation, and her range blew me away. I clearly need to re-rewatch and pay special attention to her alone!

Besides the acting, the music is lovely and the story flows on smoothly. If there’s something missing, it’s a clearer picture quality and subtitling on the DVD.

My favorite scene: After Wickham and Lydia’s marriage, Elizabeth politely but decisively shuts down another attempt by Mr. Wickham to turn her against Mr. Darcy.

There are many fun and funny details in the Lost in Austen miniseries (2008, adapted by Guy Andrews, directed by Dan Zeff). Unfortunately, I find the lead (Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price) unconvincing and spiritless. The rest of the cast is simply superb, though, and given a lot to play.

Hugh Bonneville excels at delivering Mr. Bennet’s restrained wit, expertly foiled by Alex Kingston’s easily-agitated Mrs. Bennet. Christina Cole (whose Mrs. Elton in the 2009 Emma is perhaps my favorite) does fantastic work as Caroline Bingley, as does Lindsay Duncan as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The latter I’ve long admired for her performances in the 1999 Mansfield Park and Doctor Who special episode “The Waters of Mars”. I like her Lady Catherine surprisingly much; this version is clearly sharp as a tack. Guy Henry delivers a both shoddy and sleazy Mr. Collins, who for some reason has gained three brothers in this version.

My favorite dialogue:

Mr. Bennet [introducing his wife to the Collins brothers]: “[…] and Mr. Cymbal Collins, enlivening a dull Tuesday evening with his amusing trousers.”

Mr. Cymbal Collins: “I trust, madam, you shall come to call me Tinkler.”

Mrs. Bennet: *speechless and flabbergasted*

Mr. Bennet: “Mrs. Bennet will dedicate herself to that end.”

Shriek! Snort! Guffaw!

The only recent movie-length version comes from 2005 (screenplay by Deborah Moggach, directed by Joe Wright). The adaptation has a lot to like: the lively ball scene in the beginning, a stunningly beautiful Jane (Rosamund Pike), a very realistic depiction of a family’s little everyday messes, Mr. and Miss Bingley that actually do look like siblings and sets dressed to perfection, among others. Too bad that Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Mcfayden) don’t have any spark at all. (And Knightley’s pout is sulky rather than sexy.)

Where this particular P&P fails most is pacing. (Oh, time constraints, the foil of every Austen movie adaptation!) The beginning is slower, but especially towards the end director Wright basically just has to run through the plot.

My favorite scene:

Meryton ball scene in the beginning – it’s wonderful to see how much the people enjoy themselves!

P&P 2005 Movie Scene – Meryton Assembly (The Dance) via JV Rañopa

I’m not a fan of zombie stories in general, but I did want to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (written and directed by Burr Steers) when it first came out in 2016 and again for this rewatch.

I have mixed feelings. The movie does kick ass, and does so splendidly! However, there’s not much more than that there.

Jane Austen Rewatch PPZ

Lily James’s Elizabeth Bennet and Lena Headey’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh are ok, but most of the rest of the cast leaves me lukewarm. This Mr. Collins (Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame) didn’t have much of anything to do or say. The character of Mr. Darcy has never had much of an appeal to me; if I cared for him more, I might actively dislike Sam Riley’s version, although he probably did not have much to say on how the poor character was written. Mr. Bennet, however, is marvelous. His portayals tend always to be rather sarcastic, of course, but Charles Dance’s version takes it to an extreme: he is (to borrow Husband’s apt phrase) dry as the Sahara.

I guess PPZ really is a straightforward action movie with a side of Jane Austen, not a Jane Austen movie with a side of action – and the latter really is what I’d like it to be.

The 2004 Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice (screenplay by Paul Mayeda Berges, directed by Gurinder Chadha) is a really fun take. The script omits many plot points and even characters – for example, there are only four “Bennet” sisters – but what is included makes a coherent whole. And the dances and colors! Wow!

Jane Austen Rewatch BandP

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is great as Lalita Bakshi (Elizabeth Bennet), but I’m seriously underwhelmed by Martin Henderson as William Darcy. Nitin Ganatra’s interpretation of Mr. Kohli (Mr. Collins), on the other hand, is as magnifient a performance as every other Mr. Collins I’ve seen.

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Sense and Sensibility

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Getting back to the Jane Austen rewatch mini reviews! Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first commercial and critical success. Published anonymously (“by a lady”) in 1811, the novel focuses on two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and their very different approaches to life and love.

Jane Austen Rewatch SandS

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

JASNA Sense and Sensibility Locations map-ss-1200

Map of locations in Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen Society of Australia, via JASNA.

As befits a well-loved story, there are several adaptations. We had access to the 1995 movie and miniseries from 1981 and 2008. I might eventually want to check out Kandukondain Kandukondain (I Have Found It, 2000) and possibly Scents and Sensibility (2011); I think I’ll skip the 1971 miniseries.

The 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie written by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee is excellent; in fact, it used to be my go-to version. Unfortunately it’s tripped up by the same problem that pretty much every Austen movie adaptation suffers from: time constraints. Miniseries fit Austen’s nuanced storytelling so much better. Even with that in mind, Thompson’s screenplay is perhaps the most skilled movie-length adaptation I’ve ever seen. And Ang Lee’s direction is visually beautiful, at times breathtaking.

If there’s a problem with the movie, I’d say it’s the age of the actors: almost every main actor is older than their novel counterparts, from Emma Thompson’s Elinor to Hugh Grant’s Edward and Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon; only Kate Winslet’s Marianne and Greg Wise’s Willoughby are even close. All performances are fantastic, there’s no mistake about it. They’re just too old: Elinor and Marianne are supposed to be 19 and 17, respectively, Edward and Willoughby in their mid- to early 20s and Brandon in his mid-30s.

My favorite scene: As Marianne is singing and playing the pianoforte at Barton Park, Colonel Brandon walks in and is stopped breathless by her performance and beauty.

Sense & Sensibility – “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” via waningautumn

The 1981 Sense and Sensibility miniseries (adapted by Alenxander Baron and Denis Constanduros, directed by Rodney Bennett) has the same primary problem as the Thompson movie: the actors are too old for their roles. In addition, the plot is rushed through at quite a clip. The series theme music is rather nice, but parts of the dialogue are lost due to the poor sound quality (with no subtitling on disc). Finally, there are some odd directorial choices (angles and cut-offs); the version definitely shows its age there.

I understand the omission of Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister, from the point of view of time constraints, but I think it’s a failing. Also, very unfortunately, Irene Richards doesn’t convince as Elinor Dashwood. Tracey Childs as Marianne is better, and Bosco Hogan’s Edward is very personable and friendly once his reserve is broken through. I could imagine someone falling for a considerate man like him.

Peter Woodward, who played Willoughby, is the only actor I knew beforehand from his role in the Babylon 5 spinoff series Crusade. Like Hogan, he does a great job. It’s so very nice that the actor sings, too – Willoughby and Marianne are able to sing together like in the book. Other adaptations don’t really do that, sadly.

My favorite dialogue:

Elinor: “[Colonel Brandon] is a sensible man, and sense will always have its attraction for me.”

Marianne [astonished]: “Elinor!”

Elinor: “Yes, Marianne, even in a man over thirty.”

LOL! 😀

My favorite of the three adaptations, though, is Andrew Davies’s 2008 miniseries (directed by John Alexander). It stars Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne. Both were new to me, but I was familiar with the significant male actors: Dan Stevens (Mr. Edward Ferrars) is in the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon) portrays the confused faux-Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor”, and Dominic Cooper (Mr. Willoughby) as young Howard Stark scratches science to see if it bleeds in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (and rules as King Llane Wrynn in the Warcraft movie).

It was a gutsy choice of Davies to begin the series with Willoughby’s explicit seduction of a 15-year-old girl, an event which happens very much off-screen in the novel and most adaptations, but becomes the crux of the plot.

Another interesting scene that Davies lifted from between the lines is the duel between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. It was nice to actually see how seriously the society took the former’s transgression. I also prefer Stevens’s livelier Edward to Grant’s monotonous interpretation.

The series does have some issues. For example, the Devonshire “cottage” that the financially strained Dashwood ladies had to accept was turned into a literal cottage instead of a good, solid house from the novel. The events are condensed, sure, but their pace doesn’t feel rushed like in the movie versions. Most of the writing, acting, propping and costuming are solid to excellent.

Acting-wise, Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon has one too many clunky “I’m not intruding?” moments, and his furrowed brows are a-plenty, but otherwise I like his performance. Mark Williams (father Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) is a simply fantastic Sir John Middleton! And I just adore Margaret (Lucy Boynton) in this version, although she is a much more outspoken character here than in the novel. I can’t wait for the new Murder on the Orient Express for more Boynton.

My favorite line:

Margaret [dryly observing her expected role in the society]: “Girls just sit and wait for things to happen.”

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Northanger Abbey

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Our grand Jane Austen rewatch continues. Northanger Abbey (c. 1798-1799, posthumously published in 1817) parodies the wildly popular gothic novels of the time.

Jane Austen Rewatch Northanger Abbey

The 2007 movie version (screenplay by Andrew Davies, directed by Jon Jones) is the only one I’ve ever seen, although apparently there’s a version from 1987 as well. (Note to self: find it! That one has Cornelius Fudge er, Robert Hardy!)

The story covers a young naive heroine’s adventures first in Bath and afterwards at a remote country estate with a dark secret. JASNA provides a handy map for tracking the physical locations of the story:

JASNA Northanger Abbey Locations map-na-1200

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

Felicity Jones stars as Catherine Morland, and Mr. Tilney is portrayed by JJ Feild (elsewhere e.g. Captain America: The First Avenger). Felicity Jones has also appeared in the brilliant Agatha Christie Doctor Who episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” and later in Rogue One.

Both leads are top-notch, especially Felicity Jones as the wide-eyed and innocent Catherine, but the supporting cast is thoroughly excellent, too. I have no qualms with the adaptation; it’s a solid job through and through.

My favorite scene:

In the beginning, Catherine is actually shown running outdoors playing with her siblings instead of replacing her active, unladylike childhood with a voiceover introduction.

Unfortunately no-one’s uploaded a clip of that online, so here’s the PBS trailer instead:

NORTHANGER ABBEY | Official Trailer | PBS

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.

2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Lady Susan

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Starting off the mini-reviews for our grand Jane Austen rewatch with Love and Friendship!

Lady Susan is one of Jane Austen’s earlier, less mature works. She started it circa 1794 and finished in 1805 when Austen was about 19; it was posthumously published in 1871. To my knowledge, it hasn’t been adapted to screen before Whit Stillman wrote and directed Love and Friendship, which was released in 2016. (I fansqueed about the production earlier.)

Jane Austen Rewatch Lady Susan

The original epistolary novel feels rather hastily wrapped up, as if Austen became less and less satisfied with letters as the sole plot-carrying devices. The adaptation naturally takes liberties, but the added dialogue and most of the scenes feel convincingly Austenian.

One successful change is the introduction of all major characters with almost still vignettes upon their first appearance. Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan Vernon is impeccably nuanced; a glorious performance of an odious character.

However, a new-to-me actor, Tom Bennett, completely steals the show as the rich, kind, thoroughly good-natured but unfortunately dim-witted Sir James Martin. Check out a glimpse of his cluelessness in the trailer – look for the “tiny green balls” and “Churchill” scenes:

Love & Friendship Official Trailer #1 (2016) – Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny Movie HD via Movieclips Trailers

Sir James Martin [at a dinner table]: “How jolly. Tiny green balls. What are they called?”

Reginald de Courcy: “Peas.”


Sir James Martin [while visiting a country estate by the name of Churchill]: “Churchill? That’s how you say it – all together like that. I’d heard ‘church’ and ‘hill’ but couldn’t find either. All I could see was this big house.”

There’s unfortunately some clumsiness in transitions (maybe due to cutting decisions?) and in a few scenes. The supposed appeal of Lord Manwaring also totally escapes me. I don’t think he was even given any lines at all in the screenplay (as opposed to a completely redundant country curate who did get to speak).

All in all, though, it’s great to see the story finally on screen.

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.