DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility , Bride and Prejudice, Becoming Jane, The Jane Austen Book Club, Moliere, Vanity Fair, The Young Victoria

Title:  Pride and Prejudice

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: UK, English

Running time: 127 min

MPAA Rating: PG

Distributor and Production Company: Focus / Working Title / Studio Canal

Director; Writer: Joe Wright ; novel by Jane Austen, adapted for screen by Deborah Moggach; music by Dario Marianelli

Producer: Tim Bevan

Cast:   Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Judi Dench, Matthew MacFayden, Simon Woods

Technical: Arri wide screen

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  marriage for its own sake.  Note the irony of the name of this file on my domain; it has nothing to do with gay rights

First, yes, this is a British period piece, in Merchant Ivory tradition (though not from that company). It’s a bit earlier, late 18th Century, and the garish costumes are a bit muted and countrified. People are well covered, and in those days they only bathed (no showers) once a week, so they had B.O.  The benevolent well-born Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) lets it out only near the end. He approaches Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) with some Ravel-like impressionistic music playing (piano and string orchestra), with a misty nature that suggests he is about to be opened up. For the first time, his tunic shirt is open, revealing a real hairy chest, as he is about to propose to her again, and this time she will accept. It’s all about legitimatizing sexual intercourse, making it carry on a family purpose that seems to justify morally the wealth separation of the British classes. In the very last scene, they are finally married (the wedding not shown) with the blessing of her middle class father (if there is such a thing in 18th Century England – Donald Sutherland). One more time, his shirt is open, and he wearing his tights without his stockings, and she has a shot at his gams. They kiss and she leaves the rest of his body alone. The movie, however tediously directed, ends.

Syndicated columnist Suzanne Fields, in her Thanksgiving Day 2005 column in The Washington Times (“Searching for the stress-free turkey”) points out this ending stretches what is literally in the book, and that the British release has a visually less provocative ending and apparently has the father (Donald Sutherland) more optimistic about marriage prospects for other sisters.

Actually, there is a lot else to see in the film. There is one brief and superfluous but stunning shot of the cliffs near the coast as she stands alone, pondering like the Virgin Mary. There are the delicious details of dining room and cooking and sitting rooms, probably more like what they were really like than in many films like this.

The story manipulates the obsession that people have of using marriage as a tool of social validation. Yes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Well, not exactly. Not if you’re gay. Not if your own identity comes ahead of pair-bonding. But if you must be married to validate yourself, so be it. It is the four (other) sisters who worry about being “old maids” (just as in “Gone with the Wind”). Lady Catherine (Judi Dench) and Darcy seem to be in an arms length battle to control the pairings. In one scene, younger sisters are rebuked for talking out of turn when their older sister isn’t married yet. Moreover, the dead hand is in play. It seems like Charles (Simon Woods) may have lost his inheritance of a rectory for not obeying the family’s wishes; he has been turned down for a marriage that was to keep him in the black. Then Elizabeth turns down another arrangement, and even turns down Darcy once.  It is interesting how the social supports build people up for wanting-to-be-with-your-spouse-forever.

Others have noted the plot devices of English romances, that the heroine has to go through some false starts to find true lifetime loveThat’s pretty much true of soap operas (like Days of our Lives). . (Some comments suggest that all breakout novels need to deal with trial pair bond experiments before a happy-ending marriage.  That would pretty much eliminate experimental thrillers from serious consideration by midlist editors.) Finding a lifetime marriage partner is so important for many people because so much is at stake. Everything in life derives from succeeding in marriage. Does it really have to be that way?

Dario Marianelli has written a music score, largely on solo piano, sometimes with small orchestra, that usually replicates the style of early Beethoven. (There is a round dance that is quite simple.) It sounds a bit later than the period actually shown in the movie. At one point the Henry Purcell theme that became the subject of Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” is played and does not appear to be listed in the credits.

Bride and Prejudice (2004, Miramax/Pathe, dir. Gurinder Chada, PG, 107 min, UK, aka “Bride and Prejudice: The Bollywood Musical”) is a loose “Bollywood” adaptation of the same novel, as a musical set in modern day India, then LA and London. (Yes, off the bat there are wisecracks about outsourcing jobs and whole industries to India; such accounts for my own layoff four years ago.) I’ll leave the mapping of the novel to the movie (and to the “other” “real” movie above) for high school English classes analyzing comparative literary forms on Venn diagrams (for classwork points, particularly when a sub is there). Darcy and Wickham match up, sort of. Otherwise I suspect that the association is rather loose. I daresay that this is one of the most brilliant, garish Technicolor movies ever made (I didn’t really notice in the credits if was Techni.. or another process like Deluxe or, Duart), and Cinemascope to boot. So it tries to be a 50s musical, and indeed it is. Darcy is played by New Zealand actor Martin Henderson, and he looks clean and wholesome with his smooth chest. (Everybody gets their showers here; there is none of that 18th century ick factor about personal hygiene or other habits.) Daniel Gillies looks only a little more roughshod as Johnny Wickham, and rich Indian Balraj Bingley is played UK-born Naveen Andrews. Marsha Mason is Catherine Darcy. The two female prizes are the Bakshi sisters: Lalita (not Lolita!) is played by Aishwarya Rai, and Jaya by Namrata Shirodkar. Now the conflict between the male characters ought to be intense and rise and fall as in a typical screenplay; instead it seems shaved out by the lilt of the music to the point that this could almost be a “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” kind of movie. The heterosexism is rampant, as arranged marriage and family continuity as the aim of life is evident. By all means, be fruitful and multiply!  (It’s in the Bible, but not necessarily all other cultures.) Darcy has to struggle with his own hypocrisy over the issue. Toward the end things do come to ahead a bit as the men fight on the stage of a movie theater.   

Sense and Sensibility (1995, Columbia, dir. Ang Lee, novel by Jane Austen, screenplay adaptation by Emma Thompson, 136 min, PG) is another Austen novel with similar concerns about the use of family to control wealth and property in 19th Century Britain. Wealthy Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) leaves most of his fortune to his oldest son John (James Fleet), but his second wife Fanny (Harriet Walter) and daughters Marianne and Elinor (Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson) are left relatively poor. The wealth paradigm compounds itself as the daughters try to marry out of their situation. Elinor tries to marry Edward Ferrars (the peripatetic Hugh Grant, of course) and the family disappears, and Edward (really Hugh, who is very memorable) tries to overcome all with protective kindness.  

Becoming Jane (2007, Miramax / Hanway, dir. Julian Jarrold, wr. Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams, 120 min, PG) is a "fictional biography" of a love affair early in Jane Austen's life with a young lawyer Tom Lefroy (a rather "Jacobian" James McAvoy). Early in the movie, Lefroy's uncle (Michael James Ford) gives him a lecture on what he must do to earn his inheritance; despite his profession, he is a bit of a bawdy playboy, gambling and getting into boxing matches. Jane (Anne Hathaway) Jane, at 15, is under pressure from her family (including a preacher father) to accept a proposal of marriage; her plans to become a female writer are scoffed, and she is warned that she risks living in poverty. When he meets Jane, she finds him a bit conceited, but they fall in love anyway. It is never totally clear what is wrong with the "families" but they make a lot of the fact that "managed care" martial sexual intercourse with the right spouse is important to upper class families in maintaining a pseudo-moral basis for their social and financial positions. The early cricket scene anticipates American baseball, with Barry Bonds and all. Lefroy became the inspiration for the character James Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice."

There is a dinner conversation (the British food looks great) where Jane talks about "irony." There are some personal ironies in my own life, that would be too specific as to person to detail, but they fit the meaning in the movie.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Robin Swicord, book by Karen Joy Fowler; five of Jane Austen's novels are read from an quoted a lot, especially Persuasion and Northanger Abbey; USA, PG-13 (very close to R). Five Sacramento area women (Emily Blunt, Maria Bello, Kathy Barker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace) get together to discuss Jane Austen's novels, one a month, and a handsome, "smooth" young bicycling geek Grigg (Hugh Dancy) joins, more of less to meet women, even if they are older.  Gradually, personal situations accumulate that somewhat relate to romantic situations in the novels. But not that much. A lot of it is external. They go on a skydiving adventure, that is quite spectacular. Then one of the women, a high school English teacher Prudie (Emily Blunt), in a shaky marriage that might be repaired, finds herself drawn to one of her students, a drama kid (the school play is "Brigadoon" which was a movie musical in the 1950s) who also works in the library (Kevin Zegers). Fortunately, from a legal perspective, she staves him off until his eighteenth birthday (obviously she could get fired) and winds up in a tryst at a motel, where she reads "Jane's mind" just in time to save herself and get back to her marriage. As filmed, Zegers is quite breathtaking, and the incident makes it clear that a teacher (even a heterosexual female) with personal problems (like a weakening marriage) can become a temptation mark--a point very difficult and maybe destructive for teachers to admit today. She has also submitted three short stories for publication, and gets rebuffed when the editor recognizes them was reworked "personal stuff" (the analogies and metaphors are quite amusing -- one of them, involving a retarded boy, arguably in bad taste). Allegra (Maggie Grace) makes some overtures of lesbianism, which seems to tease Grigg; there is the thought that the Victorian world of Austen was not as far from gay possibilities as most people think. One of the women says that Jane could have married well if she had wanted to; she didn't really need to after all.  

 Moliere (2007, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Laurent Tirard, 120 min, PG-13, France) blows up a single episode in the life of French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, pen name Moliere, seen in retrospect of thirteen years. Lanky and handsome Romain Duris plays Moliere, and is visually an icon of masculinity, his hairy chest kept conspicuous by the open petty shirts in the movie, and there is no aging over the 13 years. He visits a woman (identity ambiguous) on her deathbed as she dies of tuberculosis after winning his own theater in Paris in 1658. He recalls the youthful episode when he was rescued from debtor's prison by M. Jourdain (Frabrice Luchini), who invites him to a country estate where he is to help Jourdain act and produce a one-act play that will win the heart of the widow Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier), when he is already married to Elmire (Laura Morant). To keep the deception, Moliere must pretend to be a priest, Tartuffe.  In time, Moliere manipulates the play and Jordain's acting (like pretending to be a horse -- a cheval) for his own desires, to win Elmire.

The script has a lot of discussion of the role of the Actor in theater and society, and moreover about the relative roles of comedy and tragedy. At one point, Moliere says he wants to write tragedy as Elmire tells him that his gift is for comedy, but Moliere seems the two art forms as linked into the same work. The other important idea here (that is surfacing as an almost legal issue in book publishing, in schools, and on the Internet today) is the use of art (stories, novels, and plays) to manipulate the actions of others, and whether the content of a work of "fiction" is "evidentiary" of what an actor will really do in real life. Maybe we should call this notion (called "implicit content" in intellectual property law) the "Moliere Problem."  The idea occurs, of course, in Act II of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (the "play within a play"). The concept is important in literature, but in high school and college, probably only students who take French will encounter Moliere's writings and learn their significance. This is a good film to show in high school (11th or 12th Grade), once available on DVD. The movie itself comes across as a comedy of manners.

The film is quite plush and expansive, in Cinemascope, and looks like a big budget work (a luish soundtrack and stunning photography, with enormous detail in the rooms, and in the stage scenes), though released in the US as an "arthouse" film.  One of the most important films in 2007.

I didn't notice Moliere's friendship with music composer Jean-Baptiste Lully mentioned in the film, as that could make a whole new movie. Richard Strauss's bawdy late tone poem "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" (for piano and chamber orchestra) is supposed to be based on the story of Jourdain.

Vanity Fair (2004, PG-13, Focus, 137 min, dir. Mira Nair, wr. Matthew Faulk, Julian Fellowes, and Mark Skeet; based on the novel with William Makepeace Thackeray) presents an adaptation of the novel that also gives Dominic Dunne’s popular upscale Conde Nast monthly it’s name. The title is meaningful. The novel has all the complications of a soap opera packed into 2-1/2 hours as the lowly orphan Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) (compare to Nicole in “Days of our Lives”) rises up the social ladder with secret marriages and backroom deals, and even her body. There is a subplot, to end tragically in at the Battle of Waterloo, which anticipates a young fellow George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) “buying” his way into the House of Lords through marriage (Jim Broadbent plays the father). This is a very big film for an “indie” release.

 

 

 

The Young Victoria (2009, dir. Jean Marc Vallee 101 min, UK, Canada USA). Emily Blunt learns the limitations of privilege as she fights off the Regency and becomes Queen. Blogger.

Related reviews:. Vanity Fair   Gone with the Wind  The House of Mirth  Oliver Twist  Nicholas Nickleby    Days of our Lives, etc  Brigadoon 

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