Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Masterpiece Theatre tidbits- Emma 2009

There is a wealth of great reading and viewing on the PBS Masterpiece Theatre website, so I will explore this treasure trove in the next few weeks.

Every time Masterpiece airs a new miniseries, they create a great new page or pages on their website.  So you can even go back and look up older favorites like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion or even Miss Marple in their Archive and see what they have.

One of their latest offerings, Emma 2009, has a great audio interview with Romola Garai, who plays the titular character.  She is natural and affectionate when she talks about the production and the other actors in this marvelous miniseries.  About 5 minutes long, it has lots of lovely photos from the production which are synchronized with her commentary.

There is also a wonderful Q & A session with screenplay writer Sandy Welch (who also adapted Our Mutual Friend and Jane Eyre for the BBC) where she reveals some of her thought process and inspiration for this project.  Very interesting and insightful.

If you have even more time to waste, try the Bachelors of Highbury Quiz to see if any of the single men in this production would be "right for you".  Silly but mildly amusing.

A bit more highbrow piece, entitled Reading, Writing and Emma.  This is authored by Dr. Gillian Dow, of the Chawton House Library and the University of Southampton in England.  It covers general topics such as how well read females were in the Regency era and specifics such as how Austen was regarded by some of her contemporaries.

There are also four Behind The Scenes videos, which are similar to the BBC You Tube clip below, but cover different topics.  These are very fun to watch.  From costumes to casting there are some wonderful snippets of interviews which just whet your whistle for more, so see my next post for the BBC version of a Behind The Scenes video.

Lastly, there are general Jane Austen links such as a short Biography, Selected Resources consisting of helpful links to mostly Austen related websites, and a Jane Austen House Slideshow, which shows some amazing photos of her beloved home in Chawton, Hampshire.  Lots to keep you busy for a while on the PBS Masterpiece website.

Emma - Behind the Scenes - BBC One

This is a lovely behind the scenes video of the making of Emma 2009 by the BBC in 2009. It seems that everyone had a wonderful time making this and that the location of Squerryes Court in Kent was a great help to the actors. They seem to really be in Highbury/Hartfield and this authenticity really comes through.
The Irish director, Jim O'Hanlon, a British television director, seemed an unusual choice, but he comes across in this clip as the perfect person to put a fresh, energetic spin on this lovely old classic and send us all running to the book to prolong the exhilaration of this miniseries.
This also shows some of the playfulness of Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Mr. Knightly, and shows some goofing around by some of the other actors which is fun to watch.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jane Eyre 2006

Jane Eyre (Masterpiece Theatre, 2006)This is the most recent adaptation of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and, most would agree, the best.  The book has actually been adapted for film no less than 22 times, the first being in 1910 (a century ago as a silent film!), and the latest version, a film destined for the movie theater will be released in 2011, so stay tuned.  My sister will be interested to note that in that latest, as yet unreleased version, Judi Dench plays the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, Mia Wasikowska as Jane (the lead in Alice in Wonderland from this year), and Sally Hawkins, from Persuasion 2007, as the evil aunt Mrs. Reed and Michael Fassbender from Inglorious Basterds as Mr. Rochester.

But now back to this 2006 version, which is a miniseries length. I happen to really love this dramatization of Jane Eyre.  The leads (Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre) are slightly more attractive than they are described in the book, but they are both a little unusual looking by Hollywood standards and so they work very well.
I have a fondness for this book (my favorite Bronte sister book) and also for the main filming site which was at Haddon Hall in Bakewell, Derbyshire.  The Squire (my husband) and I stayed in Bakewell for 3 days last summer and spent a lovely afternoon at Haddon Hall (pictured above in The Squire's photo).

The history of Haddon Hall is interesting, in that it was a secondary residence of the family of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, and it lay dormant from 1700 until the 1920's when it was restored to a habitable state by the 9th Duke of Rutland, John Manners.  It has parts that are virtually unchanged from medieval times and so has been used for filming other favorites such as the latest Pride and Prejudice and The Princess Bride.  Also not surprisingly, The Other Boleyn Girl and Elizabeth used Haddon Hall as a location.

Back to the adaptation of Jane Eyre, this mini-series works well because it's greater length allows the story to develop without being rushed.  There is truly too much story to be squashed into a 2 hour film (so good luck to the current Judi Dench production).  The script by my new favorite script writer Sandy Welch manages to get most of the book's essence distilled into this production, although it is always best to read or re-read the book to get all of the best bits, especially if the mini-series has only whetted your appetite for Charlotte Bronte.

Toby Stephens, who is the son of the incredible Dame Maggie Smith, really fits the bill as Mr. Rochester.  He often plays bad guys, as in the Bond flick Die Another Day where he played Gustav Graves, so in this he is comfortable with the multiple layered personality of this character.  He has the females swooning, and the chemistry between him and Ruth Wilson is rarely found and well appreciated.  The development of the friendship between Jane and Mr. Rochester, which blossoms into something more passionate, is deftly handled.  The repressed feelings of both leads are conveyed without words, which are not needed here to show us the emotion felt between them.  It will have you both swooning and sobbing in parts.

Ruth Wilson was barely out of film school when she filmed this, which makes her sensitive portrayal of Jane all the more remarkable.  She has more recently been doing contemporary drama such as the UK crime drama Luther, and she is rumored to be playing Jaqueline Kennedy in Flying Into Love, a "re-imagining of JFK's assassination" as seen through Jackie's eyes.  You can see from her unusual looks how she would be good for that role. In any case, her Jane Eyre is luminous, showing huge emotion with no dialogue whatsoever, at times.  One look conveys all she is feeling. Even if this is the only thing she ever did, she would be remembered as a wonderful actress.

There has been some criticism of the screenplay, in that it uses less of Charlotte Bronte's original language than some viewers would like, and there is no doubt that it has a more modern feel than it might have, for a four hour miniseries.  However, Sandy Welch tends to like a more modern feel to her screenplays, as we saw in the latest Emma, which I think draws in a much younger audience than it might otherwise.  And that is not a bad thing.  I think it will entice many a teenager to read Jane Eyre, although hopefully not a vampire/monster version (such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) which is probably in production as we speak!  (although there is already a graphic novel version-i.e. comic book for us ancients).  Every generation seems to want to claim works such as Jane Eyre for their own, and the fact that it has been filmed for a full century, and still in print in many incarnations, would be a source of amazement to the Bronte sisters.  I doubt that Charlotte would object too strenuously to changes made to her work for adaptation to film, considering that the works of most of her contemporaries lie languishing in dusty libraries untouched for decades.  She might perhaps draw the line at Mr. Rochester as a vampire, although who am I to say?

 This is a photo of Hadden Hall from the courtyard.  This was just before a little shower, during which we poked around the inside of the house, including the wonderful long gallery, a small portion of which you can see below.

 The Squire got a great photo of the garden with the house in the background after the sun came out that afternoon.  If you click on the photo, and then again to magnify it, it will give you a much larger version of the photo and you can see some of the amazing architectural detail, which makes it such a great filming location.

So if ever you find yourself in the vicinity of Bakewell, Derbyshire in the Peaks District of England, not only will you want to take a peek at Haddon Hall shown here, but you will only be a few miles from Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and location of many other films such as Pride and Prejudice 2005 and The Duchess, both starring Keira Knightley (and interestingly enough, the new 2011 version of Jane Eyre).Stay tuned for more on this production as it has finished filming and is in post production.
Pride & PrejudiceThe Duchess

Well, now I will have to decide whether to go back and view Jane Eyre 2006 again, or read the book again.  Or perhaps both, although not simultaneously as I cannot multitask as well as my teenage sons who are at this moment studying, watching the World Cup Soccer and texting friends.  Sigh!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brontë Sisters Power Dolls

This was a "fake commercial" by Phil Lord and Chris Miller in 1998, for a series of educational shorts about action figures based on historical figures.  Apparently it's educational value was somewhat suspect (I disagree) and it was never aired.  Personally, I think that if this was shown to a group of grade 4 or 5 students, it would be hilarious enough to catch their attention, and might lead to a great discussion of a few topics.  More humor in the classroom!!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Pride and Prejudice Tour of Scotland and Northern England 2009 Part 1

My ideal job, at this point in my life, would be to travel in England (hitting as many of the filming locations of my favorite British Period Dramas as possible) and then write about it.  I was able to do some of this last summer when my husband (hereafter known as the Squire) and I had a glorious 2 weeks in Scotland and England to celebrate our 20th anniversary.  The Squire wanted to see the British Open Golf at Turnberry, on the southwest coast of Scotland, and I wanted to see the North of England, specifically the Lakes district, the Peaks district and the medieval walled city of York.

We started in historic Edinburgh, used often for filming historical drama such as Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South, where it stood in for Victorian Manchester.
This is the view from on top of Calton Hill, which was used for all of the "walking in the park" scenes in North & South and only required minor computer graphic alteration of the skyline to make it historically correct.

This part of the trip was mostly for the Squire, as one day in Edinburgh was spent toddling up to St. Andrew's on the train to see the famous golf course.  St. Andrews is a lovely little town (where Prince William and Kate Middleton met at school) and there was a ruined cathedral over a cliff at the far end of town which was much more interesting than the golf course, for me.

We next drove to Glasgow, where we promptly got lost and discovered that the main street in Glasgow is called Sauchiehall Street (pronounced Suckyhall).  Some very friendly locals helped us find our way, however I had to ask for the spelling of the aforementioned street!  I spent one day happily shopping alone in Glasgow while the Squire was at Turnberry taking in as much golf as he possibly could.  I also popped into the Glasgow School of Art, which was designed by Charles Rennie MacIntosh.

I missed the tour of the school (below) but I was able to poke around a bit and picked up some lovely swag at the gift shop.  I also was able to fit in lunch at the Willow Tearooms (also Mackintosh designed).  I love the high backed chairs which are right from that transition period between the Arts and Crafts period and the Art Nouveau.

I did go to one day of the Open golf and the view of the Ailsa Craig rock just off the coast was amazing.  I'm sure the golf was good too, but I was mostly there for the view.  This is the place where they quarry for the granite they use for curling rocks (called Ailsite).  I got to see Tom Watson up close, who almost won the tournament, but alas, no Tiger Woods.  He didn't make the cut, possibly due to exhaustion from juggling all of those mistresses.
I have to say that the drive down the Ayrshire coast, towards England was gorgeous.  We left the golf just as the sun was getting low in the sky, to head for our B&B in Dumfries.  The road was winding and the view was breathtaking.  Well, I am going to leave off here, at the break between HIS part of the trip and HERS.  My goofy idea, other than generally to see the beauties of the North, was to try to see where Elizabeth Bennett wanted to go on her trip with the Gardiners (The Lakes District) and where they actually travelled to in the book (Derbyshire and the Peaks District).  Stay tuned to see how this plan actually panned out.

North and South Episode 1 part 3

This is a clip from North & South which shows the view of Calton Hill in Edinburgh pictured in the photo from my blog entry above.  The scene is almost at the end of the clip at about the 9 minute point.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Emma 1996 revisited

EmmaI just re-watched the Gwyneth version of Emma last night and I have to revisit my previous way too short review.  This adaptation really has to be taken on it's own and not compared to the newer, longer BBC miniseries.  This one is absolutely lovely.  The line when Mr. Knightly proposes to Emma, "Marry me...marry me my wonderful, darling friend." cannot be beaten.  What girl would not melt into a puddle if these words were spoken to her?  Not moi.

And although I have mixed feelings about Gwyneth Paltrow, (you only have to check out her website, GOOP, to know what I mean-it's filled with instructions on how to dress, eat, exercise and think like Gwynnie) she does a very affectionate, fun version of Emma and I really love her dresses in this.  OK, very shallow, and yet very true.  I really want this one for myself:

And yet, it would look totally stupid on me.  OK, I want her toned 24 year old body as well (or for that matter her toned, post baby 37-year-old body). 

Anyhow, enough with Gwyn, and on to the perfection of Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley.  Except for the excess of hairspray, which is likely attributable to the mid 1990s filming time and gives him rather the look of a newscaster, he is truly hard to beat in this role (OK, he is tied with Jonny Lee Miller in the new Emma).  He does a great job of joining understated comedy with leading man yumminess.   I have to say that the only quibble I have with his portrayal of our leading man was the slightly effeminate nature of his dancing with Emma at the ball.  I had to look him up on IMDb to make sure of his orientation, but as he was married in 2005 to a Liz Morro, apparently the unmanly dancing was only that.  Still, badly done...badly done Mr. Knightley (just kidding, only my husband rolls his eyes excessively anyway at these English Country Dances and I have to admit this one [see You Tube video at bottom] makes me want to burst out laughing).

Now, while on the topic of rare criticisms of this film, the only other thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the fright wig on Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill:
I mean really!  It is only outdone by his real hair in mullet style from about the same era:

Tee hee.  I had to pop that one in.  Although we all have photos from the 1980s and 1990s which we would like to forget, so I really shouldn't have...If you really want to get a good dose of Ewan looking very cute in Victorian garb, check him out opposite Renee Zellweger in Miss Potter.  Cute and sweet all at the same time.

And there are wonderful, exquisitely acted scenes throughout which did not register with me in the previous dozen or so times I have watched this over the years.  If you watch the performance given by Phyllida Law (mother of Emma and Sophie Thompson) as old Mrs. Bates...I have never seen a wordless performance so nuanced and hilarious.  Now I see where her daughters got their talent.  She randomly tunes in and out, and watching her pick at some dainties on a plate, well...take my word for it.  It is worth another viewing just for her performance.  I believe she may have gotten her inspiration for this character from her mother-in-law Annie, who was deaf and lived with the family for 17 years.  She turned her notes (the best way to keep Annie involved in the household gossip and funny stories) into a book , Notes to my Mother-in-law, which will be on my Christmas list this year:
Notes to My Mother-in-Law

And her daughter, in real life as well as in this film, Sophie Thompson, gives the ultimate performance of Miss Bates.  Just watch her adjust those spectacles and talk, talk, talk.

Toni Collette does deserve a mention for her sweet Harriet in this version.  On watching this again, she is not so over the top as I remembered, and altogether really delightful.  I think it was just swinging that stupid butterfly net that put me off her performance.  The final scene between her and Emma where she explains how she had accepted Robert Martin's offer of marriage is adorable.

And I will repeat that Juliet Stevenson as Mrs. Elton, "There is a shocking lack of satin",  is another joy to watch.  This is a role that she absolutely owns.  Every time she cuts off Mr. Elton's speeches, or when she chomps that sandwich and then rubs her fingers together, or speaking with her mouth full...she is so much fun to watch, it is hard to feel for her the disdain which I am sure Jane Austen intended us to feel.  I think the only role in which I love her more was as the mother of Kiera Knightly's character in Bend it like Beckham, "Get  your lesbian feet out of my shoes!".  Bwah ha ha!!!

Well, if that doesn't make you want to rent this version of Emma or buy it, or dust it off from your collection, then you might want to find another blog dedicated to another topic.

P.S. To my sister-you were right about this one.  I stand corrected!



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