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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis

“PERSUASION” My rating: C (Netflix)

107 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The Jane Austen purists are hating the new Netflix adaption of Austen’s Persuasion. They object to the many rom-comish liberties screenwriters Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow and director Carrie Cracknell have taken with the novel.

But then the Austen hardcores also hated the 2005 Kiera Knightley “Pride and Prejudice,” which I found quite swoonworthy.

Rather more shocking are the reactions of the mainstream British press: “A travesty.” “Torture.” “At no point do you ever get the sense that anyone’s actually read Persuasion.”

A critic for The Guardian declared it the worst movie ever made, and offered similar thoughts about American actress Dakota Johnson’s lead performance…which suggests to me that the reviewer has only recently come to the job.

Well, this “Persuasion” isn’t very good. It’s not that the filmmakers shouldn’t be free to toy with the source material…just that in almost every case they fail to make their case.

The plot centers on Anne Elliott (Johnson) who several years earlier rejected the love of the Naval officer Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis); friends and family members argued persuasively that he was beneath her. Now officially a spinster, Anne rues that decision.

But wait…Wentworth has returned. He is now the wealthy is captain of his own ship and in the market for a bride. Torn between shame at her earlier behavior and a slow-simmering longing, Anne doesn’t know what to do. This is Regency England after all…individuals are not encouraged to break social norms by speaking their minds.

Then there’s Anne’s wealthy cousin, Elliott (Henry Golding), who comes a-courting but seems, well, disingenuous.

Those who have seen the 1995 “Persuasion,” which took Anne’s predicament as a source of near-tragedy, may be shocked to see how much the new film yuks up the material.

Dakota’s Anne may tell us she fears a life of solitude, but she sure as hell doesn’t act like it. She’s sassy and witty…it’s impossible to feel sorry for her, especially when she spends so much time chugging red wine and stroking her pet bunny. She’s like your fun auntie.

Moreover, Anne treats the camera as her confidante, talking directly to the audience and often rolling her eyes in our direction when members of her family act stupidly, which is always.

The surrounding cast members (in keeping with other post-“Bridgerton” period pieces, they represent a variety of races) offer little support. Most of the women are encouraged to overplay their comic roles (one commentator has suggested the whole thing might benefit from a TV laugh track) while the men are uninteresting stiffs. (The exception is Richard E. Grant, delightfully shallow as Anne’s pompous spendthrift Papa.)

Weirdly enough, after messing ruthlessly with the tone of the piece (surely this is the first time we’ve been treated to the sight of an Austen heroine squatting in the woods to pee), the filmmakers have taken pains to faithfully recreate the costuming and decor of the early 19th century. It’s all been nicely captured by cinematography Joe Anderson, who polishes every image as if it was meant to be framed.

I didn’t hate this Persuasion. I almost wish I did…that would be better than my utter indifference.

| Robert W. Butler

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Kate Beckinsale, Tom Bennett

Kate Beckinsale, Tom Bennett

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” ┬áMy rating: B

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Cinematic evil has a new name…thanks to the unexpected alliance of Jane Austen and Whit Stillman.

Well, maybe not so unexpected. Stillman’s comedies of manners (“Metropolitan,” “Damsels in Distress”) have always shared Austen’s concerns with social status and ┬áromantic self-fulfillment while casting a satirical eye on human foible.

It’s just that this time Stillman has gone to the source and, for my money, come up with the best film of his career.

“Love & Friendship” is based on Austen’s unfinished novel Lady Susan, which was not published until 100 years after her death. It is largely unknown even to fans of her masterpieces, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, largely because it is unbelieveably dark, with a “heroine” who would be repulsive if she didn’t so effectively couch her sociopathy in Georgian good manners.

One of Austen’s big topics — the necessity of single ladies finding suitable mates — is once again explored, but this time without a shred of romance. All is calculation, subterfuge and scheming.

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (a sensational Kate Beckinsale) is cast adrift without a man or the money to continue her highfalutin’ lifestyle. About all she has going for her is reputation for desirability and borderline scandalous behavior — that and the ability to charm her way past weaker minds (which in her reckoning means the rest of mankind).

As “Love & Friendship” begins (and the title is supremely ironic), Lady Susan pays a visit to her sister-in-law, Catherine (Emma Greenwell) and her kindly, impossibly thick husband (Justin Edwards). There’s never a question of thanking her moneyed in-laws for putting her up. Lady Susan operates on the principle that as a special person this simply is her due.

Any discussion of her paying her way, she observes, “would be offensive to us both.”

Her agenda — shared only with her friend and co-conspirator, the American Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) — is to find suitable mates both for herself and for her mousey daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who is about to be thrown out of her ritzy boarding school.

 

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