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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

emma

This was always going to be an interesting read for me in one sense or another. This books is a new version of Jane Austen’s Emma (a modernisation of each Austen novel was written for a Harper Collins series and this was the third of that series). Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but quite possibly my favourite novel of all time by any writer. I’m always intrigued by book and film remakes/reboots/reimaginings/retellings or the numerous other re-whatevers that are around so I sorted of looked forward to reading this, while also approaching with some trepidation.

Anyway…to condense the storyline for anyone who is not familiar, Emma Woodhouse is a privileged young lady who gets pleasure from trying to organise her friends lives and relationships, and fancies herself as an expert matchmaker. However, her meddling is about to result in a few life lessons learned for Emma…

Honestly, having finished this book I am  not sure WHAT to make of it. I definitely didn’t hate it – McCall Smith has a gentle and genteel style of writing, which makes it easy reading, and this book more or less stays true to the original storyline. However, it never really sits well in the modern age. The characters still seem stuck in the original era, but whereas in Austen’s novel, there is sparkling wit and humour, and Emma seems quite a modern young lady, here she seems old-fashioned and something of a snob. Austen wrote that Emma was a heroine who nobody except herself would like (I actually love Emma’s character, flaws and all) and McCall Smith seems to have actually created this very Emma. There is nothing particularly warm about her, nothing to make the reader understand her or root for her, and attempts to remind us that it is set in the current day – mentions of modern technology, modern transport etc – do seem awkwardly shoehorned in, just to remind us that this is indeed a modern retelling. Thus, even if you take this as a novel on it’s own merits and try to block out thoughts of the original, it still doesn’t quite work.

I would have liked more Knightley in this one – he barely features – and less padding at the beginning; at almost 100 pages in and Harriet Smith still doesn’t warrant a mention!

So overall an interesting experience. I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to Austen lovers, unless like me, you’re curious to see how the story sits in a modern setting.

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Quite simply, this is a collection of short stories all inspired by Jane Austen. Some are set in Jane Austen’s time, some are set in the present day, some are set in a fantasy world. As can only be expected with such a collection, and with such a varying range of writing styles, some are far more enjoyable than others and preferences will probably differ from reader to reader.

My favourites were the ones with a touch of humour, and – surprisingly for me because I am a big Austen fan – I preferred the ones set in the present day.

My favourites were Jane Austen’s Nightmare by Syrie James (where Austen meets several of her characters who berate her for her treatment of them through her writing); ‘Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!’ by Janet Mullany (where several contemporary schoolgirls learn lessons about love and life through discovering Austen’s works), and ‘The Love Letter’ by Brenna Aubrey.

Most of the others were enjoyable enough if not particularly memorable for me, although there were a couple I unfortunately did not like at all – ‘Jane Austen’s Cat’ by Diana Birchall just seemed extremely silly, and ‘The Chase’ by Carrie Bebris, while obviously well researched (it is based on an incident in the Navy career of Austen’s brother Francis) also did not work for me. However as mentioned before, such opinions are of course completely subjective.

Overall, if you have an interest in Jane Austen or her characters, I’d recommend giving this book a try. And as it is a collection of stand-alone stories, it’s one you can easily dip in and out of.

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This three part adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel features Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, and Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood.  The two sisters, together with their younger sister Margaret and their mother, are forced to move out of their family home, after their father dies with his whole estate being bequeathed to his son from his first marriage.  Settling into their new life, both the rational and calm Elinor and the more impetuous Marianne fall in love with two very different men, but find that the happiness they hope for is not to be so easily found.

I loved this adaptation, and thought that in particular Morahan and Wakefield were superb as the two sisters, with the characters being very faithful to how they were portrayed in the book.  Dan Stevens (who was to subsequently find fame as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey) played Edward Ferrars, the young man who immediately catches Elinor’s eye, and he played the role wonderfully – a pleasant surprise for me, as I never enjoyed his Downton character.  Dominic Cooper was suitably seductive and untrustworthy as Willoughby, the young man who charms Marianne over, only to let her down, and David Morrissey was well cast as the honourable Colonel Brandon (with Alan Rickman’s excellent performance from the 1995 film adaptation in my head, I was again pleasantly surprised at how much Morrissey made the role his own).

There were some very moving moments, just as there should be, but there was also a lot of humour in this production.  While I do not really want to make comparisons, I have to say that I preferred this to the 1995  film, as I think the casting was generally much better, and a three hour series gives better opportunity for telling the story than a two hour film.  (However, fans of the novel would be advised to watch both adaptations.)  I definitely recommend this show.

Year of release: 2008

Director: John Alexander

Producers: Rebecca Eaton, Jessica Pope, Vanessa De Sousa, Anne Pivcevic

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, David Morrissey, Janet McTeer, Dan Stevens, Dominic Cooper, Lucy Boynton, Mark Williams, Linda Bassett, Claire Skinner

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Click here for my review of the 1995 film adaptation.

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This is not the first time I’ve read this book, but it is the first time I’ve read it since I started blogging about the books I read, and so I haven’t written a review of it before.  I LOVE this book, and will say from the outset that I doubt I can do it the justice it deserves (so you just ought to read Emma for yourself!)

Emma Woodhouse is a spoiled, snobbish, but ultimately well-meaning young woman, who – wrongly – believes herself to be a talented matchmaker.  She has no interest in marrying herself, as she would never want to leave her widowed, worrisome father, but she is determined to make couples among her friends.  She  decides that the local vicar, Mr Elton, would make the perfect husband for her naive young friend Harriet, and sets about getting them together; a plan which rapidly turns into a disaster.  Meanwhile, the whole village of Highbury is excited by the arrival of two visitors – Frank Churchill, the son of Emma’s friend Mr Weston, and who enjoys a flirtation with Emma; and Jane Fairfax, an elegant and quiet young lady – the niece of Miss Bates, a kind-hearted but (to Emma anyway), somewhat wittering villager.  As the story proceeds, secrets are revealed, relationships are put  under the microscope, and Emma learns a lot about herself.

So that’s the bare bones of the plot.  There’s more, lots more, but I’m reluctant to reveal it, and anyway Emma is so much more than just it’s plot.  What I really love about it is the humour – because this is really a very funny book – and the insight into human nature.  Each character is so well drawn and described – from the insufferable Mrs Elton, with her inflated sense of her own importance, to the kind-hearted and indiscreet Mr Weston, and even the lesser characters, such as Emma’s sister’s husband, John Knightley, with his dislike of social interaction, and irritation at well, most other characters, you do feel like you know these people.

Emma herself is precocious, judgemental, sometimes unkind, and often completely obtuse to what’s happening right in front of her, but for all that, I still really like the character.  She displays unending kindness and loyalty towards her father, where many would get annoyed or exasperated with him, she is able to recognise her own flaws, and she is charitable towards the needy in her village.

I cannot talk about this book without mentioning Mr Knightley.  He is Emma’s brother-in-law (his brother is married to her sister), and good friend, as well as often the voice of reason and conscience.  He is also my favourite Austen hero – I’d take a Knightley over a Darcy every time.  Mr Knightley is compassionate, sensible, honest, and very fond of Emma, but certainly not afraid of telling her off when she behaves in a way that is beneath her.

For all of these reasons and many more, Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but also one of my very favourite books of all time.  I wholeheartedly recommend it.

(For more information about Jane Austen, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1972 mini-series adaptation of Emma, starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation of Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film adaptation of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini-series adaptation of Emma, starring Romola Garai.

Click here for my review of Clueless, the 1995 film adaptation of Emma, starring Alicia Silverstone.

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Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a Jane Austen obsessed, unlucky in love American, who decides to travel to Austenland – a British Austen-themed resort, where clients can totally immerse themselves in the Regency period, and find romance.  However, when she gets there, nothing is quite what she expects.

Based on Shannon Hale’s book of the same name, and with a similar theme to the 2008 mini-series Lost In Austen, this film is a lot of fun, and you don’t need to be a Jane Austen fan to enjoy it.  It’s definitely played for laughs, and it’s fair to say that some of the characters are completely over-the-top (Jennifer Coolidge as a fellow holidaymaker is ridiculously funny).  I can see how it would polarise audiences – reviews were very mixed, with many Austen fans hating it – but I thought it was a perfect way to spend an hour and a half, if you are able to switch your brain off and just enjoy the ride.

Russell was sweet and very likeable as the heroine of the story, and the aforementioned Coolidge provided much of the humour.  Jane Seymour was suitably acidic as Mrs Wattlesbrook, the manager of the resort, who treats Jane like a second class citizen, because Jane has not paid for the most expensive package available.  James Callis and Ricky Whittle, as two of the actors employed to play Regency gentlemen to the female guests were also enjoyable.

Jane finds herself torn between two men while staying at the resort – Martin the groom, played by Bret McKenzie, and Henry Nobley, with definite shades of Mr Darcy (he is offhand and cool at first, but soon finds himself becoming fascinated by Jane), played by JJ Feild.  They were both ideal for their parts, with neither Jane nor the viewers sure whether they are being themselves, or playing a role which they were hired for.

The ending is perhaps a little bit predictable,  but the same goes for most rom-coms, and in any event, it was nicely done.  If you like romantic comedies, and don’t want to take the plot seriously, this is a very enjoyable film.

Year of release: 2013

Director: Jerusha Hess

Producers: Robert Fernandez, Dan Levinson, Meghan Hibbett, Stephanie Meyer, Gina Mingacci, Jared Hess, Jane Hooks

Writers: Shannon Hale (novel), Jerusha Hess

Main cast: Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, Ricky Whittle, Georgia King, Jane Seymour

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This film is very loosely based on the life of Jane Austen, prior to her becoming a successful author.  Jane (Anne Hathaway), whose mother wants her to marry a rich man, meets and falls for penniless lawyer Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).  Their relationship inspires her writing, and in particular, her novel Pride and Prejudice (called here by its original title of First Impressions).

If you are looking for a biography of Jane Austen, this film is not it.  In fact, the real Jane only referred to Tom Lefroy in a couple of letters to her older sister Cassandra, so this film merely seems to take that as a jumping off point, from which to create a love story.  The subject of the story could just as easily have been a fictional character, but I imagine that to make it about Jane Austen drew in fans of the author (it’s what made me want to watch it).

Although it received quite bad reviews, I did enjoy the film for what it was.  Anne Hathaway is an unusual choice to play Jane Austen, but I thought she did well, and her accent was convincing; had I not known that she is American, I would have believed she was English based on this film.  James McAvoy was also very good as Tom Lefroy, and I thought the two of them had good chemistry.  The supporting cast consists of several well known names, including Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell and Anna Maxwell Martin – unfortunately all of them were somewhat under-used, but made the most of their parts.

I found it interesting that the first part of the film mirrored somewhat the plot of Pride and Prejudice – a headstrong and intelligent girl is determined to marry for love, while her mother implores her to marry a rich man, who can support her and her family.  Indeed, Jane is portrayed very much as a Lizzie Bennet type character, and there were also some witty lines and comic scenes.

The second part of the film is more dramatic, and anyone who knows much about Jane Austen’s life, will know whether or not the romance with Lefroy works out.  I thought the ending was a bit too long, and the film could have ended about 30 minutes earlier, but all the same, it tied up all the loose ends nicely.

Overall, an enjoyable film – if you are a Jane Austen fan, approach with caution and be aware that it is very much an imagined version of this part of Jane’s life, but if you are okay with that, then give it a watch.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Julian Jarrold

Producers: Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Nicole Finnan, Tim Haslam, Joanna Anderson, Robert Bernstein, Graham Broadbent, Noelette Buckley, James Flynn, Morgan O’Sullivan, Douglas Rae, James Saynor

Writers: Jane Austen (letters), Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams

Main cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell, Ian Richardson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Joe Anderson

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Think of Jane Austen’s Emma, transported to a 1990s Beverly Hills High School, and you get Clueless.  Alicia Silverstone is Cher, a spoiled teenager, whose life revolves around clothes, shopping and being one of the most popular girls in school.  She and her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) take new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) under their wing and give her a makeover, in the hope of pairing her up with good looking Elton (Jeremy Sisto).  However, nothing goes to plan, and Cher starts wondering if she’s really as good at this matchmaking business as she thinks she is – or is she really just clueless?

As a big fan of Emma, I was intrigued to see how this modern day version worked, and – although I suspect I’m a bit older than the audience at which this film was aimed – I did enjoy it a lot.  Alicia Silverstone was just the right combination of loveable and infuriating, and Brittany Murphy was lovely as Tai.  Paul Rudd was adorable as Josh, and Breckin Meyer and Jeremy Sisto both provided good support.

You don’t need to have any knowledge of Emma to enjoy Clueless – it can either be viewed as a retelling of the story, or as a sweet film in its own right.  A likeable cast and some funny moments make it well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1995

Director: Amy Heckerling

Producers: Twink Caplan, Barry M. Berg, Robert Lawrence, Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder

Writers: Jane Austen (based on novel ‘Emma’), Amy Heckerling

Main cast: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya

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Click here for my review of the novel ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series adaptation of Emma, starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series adaptation of Emma, starring Romola Garai.

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