Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

Bridget Jones: On the Edge of Reason is an interesting case study in the modernization and adaptation of classic literature into modern contexts. The film is a sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary, which is said to be a modern adaptation of Austen’s other classic, Pride and Prejudice.  Both Bridget Jones films are adapted from novels of the same name written by Helen Fielding, who has herself declared her work as adaptations of Austen’s classic works.
Despite the fact that Bridget Jones: On The Edge of Reason (2004) has been cited as a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the film has little to do with the classic novel.  Instead, it alters the story to the point where the character of Ann is barely recognizable in Renee Zellwieger’s character Bridget. Much of the dismantling of Ann’s character comes, of course, from the very origins of the film.  As an adaptation of an adaptation, Edge of Reason can barely be expected to hold up to every detail of Austen’s carefully constructed plot and characters.  In addition, the film must deal with the fact that it is supposed to be a sequel to another movie based on a different Austen classic.
Critics argue that the main connection between Edge of Reason and Persuasion is the element of characters persuading the heroines to look beyond the loves of their lives due to minor, solvable circumstances.  In Austen’s novel this can be seen with Ann’s initial rejection of Wentworth; in Edge of Reason Bridget rejects Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) because her friends have her convinced that he is becoming disinterested. In general, critics agree that Fielding’s novel, from which the film strays significantly, is a much truer adaptation of Austen’s work.
Though Edge of Reason cannot truly be heralded as the great modern adaptation of Austen’s Persuasion, the film is very well acted and the characters are multi-dimensional.  Colin Firth, who coincidentally plays Mr. Darcy in the 1995 TV miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, Firth is obviously cognisant of his character’s love for the heroine and the chemistry is definitely there to back up the script.  Zellweger’s acting keeps the material of the film fresh and adds a new spin to the familiar character of Bridget. 
Bridget Jones: On the Edge of Reason may not be our first choice for a film adaptation of Persuasion, but it certainly serves as a pleasant distraction from work on a rainy afternoon.

Passion versus Persuasion

Many of the themes seen throughout Austen’s works come together in Persuasion, the last novel published before her death in 1817. Parenting and social boundaries have been two of the major themes discussed in previous blog posts and throughout this semester in class, both of which are evident in Austen’s final novel. Sir Walter is not only indifferent towards Anne but genuinely uncaring, setting him apart from Emma’s humorously aloof Mr. Woodhouse. Lady Russell serves as Anne’s mother figure of the novel, counseling her on marriage opportunities, attending social events with her, and serving as her general confidant. Like the characters of many Austen novels, social etiquette takes absolute precedent for Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot who value appearances of wealth and material richness despite the family’s failing finances. In Persuasion, parental influence and social etiquette play a major role in the life of protagonist Anne Elliot who finds herself persuaded out of a marriage to Captain Wentworth as a young nineteen year old girl by Lady Russell who disapproves of his poverty. As the novel progresses, it is clear that both Anne and Captain Wentworth have harbored feelings for each other in the eight and a half years they were separated and are eventually united again.

One of the major questions that arise in Persuasion is whether persuasion has the ability to overcome passion. Out of the many Austen’s novels, this is perhaps the one where the passion and true emotions of the two lovers can truly be felt by the reader. Austen spends pages and pages describing Anne’s responses to seeing Captain Wentworth again, responses that are rather passionate compared what we see in Austen’s other novels. Thinking of Captain Wentworth, Anne’s “happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed, - but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half hour” (Austen 150). When Anne is the in the same room as him at the end of the novel when Captain Wentworth is unknowingly professing his love to her in a letter, Anne “tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course” (Austen 178). Upon reading Captain Wentworth’s letter Anne she felt an “overpowering happiness” (Austen 191). Austen makes it obvious that when Anne is around Captain Wentworth she is flustered, happy, and just generally exhibiting typical signs of being in love.

Despite this renewed passion for Captain Wentworth, it is evident that passion has not always been above the powers of persuasion. When Anne learns the truth about her cousin Mr. Elliot from her friend Mrs. Smith, she “could just acknowledge within herself such a possibility of having been induced to marry him…It was just possible that she might have been persuaded by Lady Russell!” (170). And of course, the reader knows that Anne was persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth eight years previously when he was only a poor sailor with no distinctive social rank. When Anne is discussing “constancy” with Captain Harville she claims that women have a stronger constancy in love: “We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us” (Austen 187). This is certainly interesting, for despite these claims, she was still persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth. While it’s obvious that she never fell out of the love with him, she was still persuaded out of the original marriage. It seems as though parental influence and social etiquette were enough to convince Anne not to marry someone she clearly cared greatly for. Do you view this as problematic? What statement does this make about the larger historical picture? Does persuasion trump passion in this novel, or is all righted because Anne eventually marries the man she loves? How important in the role of parents and the social beliefs of the time in the determination of one’s future? At the end of the novel, Anne states that “I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided…I was right in submitting to her” (Austen 198). Was she right in submitting to Lady Russell? Although she does marry Captain Wentworth in the end, there is doubt throughout much of the novel that this will in fact happen. With “persuasion” as the title of this novel, one must ask: does persuasion have the power to overcome passion?

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Lake House (2006)

Alejandro Agresti’s The Lake House(2006) is certainly not a cut-and-dry representation of Austen’s Persuasion. In fact, instead of calling this film an adaptation, we would recommend The Lake House as a stylistic, Hollywood film that only makes reference to Austen’s work at various points in the plot.  The Jane Austen Society of North America agrees that the film cannot be considered an adaptation of Persuasion; rather, they include The Lake House in the “For your consideration…” section of their novel to screen adaptations. The film stars Sandra Bullock and Keaneau Reeves as star-crossed lovers Kate Forster and Alex Wyler who meet by way of a mysterious time travelling mailbox. Though the time travelling piece is over exaggerated and a bit confusing, I believe this film does represent some of the main themes raised in Persuasion.
                Both principle actors shine in their roles, but their connection to one another leaves something to be desired because it is developed almost completely through written letters. The limitation of Kate and Alex’s physical relationship and their reliance on the written word is reminiscent of the social restrictions couples faced in Jane Austen’s time. The social code of conduct in Austen’s age prohibited any physical interaction between a courting couple, mirroring the restrictions placed on Alex and Kate because of their two year time discrepancy. The Jane Austen Society of North America cite the similarities between the “letter scene” of the novel in which Captain Wentworth makes his feelings to Anne known and the “letter scene” in which Kate writes a letter to Alex that effectively saves his life and finally brings the two main characters together in time and place. While we are not completely convinced that these scenes align completely, the uniting power of a single letter is shared by both situations.
                Another theme evident in both Austen’s text and Agresti’s film is the characters’ connection to a house. Anne’s longing for Kellynch Hall mirrors Kate and Alex’s strong individual connections to their lake house. Alex’s character is an architect, furthering the theme of place in the film. Ultimately, Kate and Alex are seen entering the Lake House together just as Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are shown at Kellynch in the final scene of the 2007 BBC version. The marked similarities in the characters’ relationships to place in the text and film provide evidence that Agresti  and the writers of the screenplay had Persuasion in mind when they were designing The Lake House.
                The most obvious connection between Austen’s novel and The Lake House, however, is the cameo role the novel plays in the film. Kate recognizes that her favorite book is Persuasion and she discusses this choice candidly when she unknowingly meets Alex for the first time. Their discussion of the novel’s themes brings Kate to tears and is clearly intended to translate into her own plight. In a letter, Kate asks Alex to find her copy of Persuasion which she left at a train station in 2004, the year in which Alex resides. Alex shows up at the train station and sees Kate for the first time, book in hand. The book unites Alex and Kate across time and place, an indication by Agresti of the novel’s key role in his film.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Presence of the Past and the Future in Persuasion

Persuasion is a story so focused on time. It is in this novel that Austen dates the events of the story. She sets it in the summer of 1814 and recalls events that took place in 1806. As mentioned in class, the choice by Austen to set the novel at this time was a conscious one. She wanted to set it at the time of the “false peace”. The historical events that would follow the novel would undoubtedly affect the characters. But still the past comes charge back into the lives of the characters

The impact of the past is felt the most by Anne in the story. She feels it with the return of Captain Frederick. He returns from both a life in the navy and the events of Anne’s past. He brings with him all the feelings that Anne felt for him. At times, it becomes too much for her to handle. In particular, she will interact with him and she becomes physically unaware of it. This occurs when he removes young Walter from her shoulders. The narrator describes “before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it. Her sensations on this discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him.” (69). He crosses over into her presence and she is left without the knowledge of what to do next.

The same can be said for the overall experience of him returning into her life. Will she go back to the great love of her past or continue to soldier on in misery? It comes down to the title of the novel, persuasion. Eight years earlier, she was persuaded by Lady Russell not to accept Wentworth’s hand in marriage. Wentworth proves his undying devotion to Anne through a letter and persuades her to marry him. Overall she is persuaded to welcome the past back into her life.

Once she is though, she must deal with the impending future. The novel closes with this sentiment “the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine” (203). If the novel were to continue on, it may see Wentworth leave Anne to go fight in war.

Examine whether the past has a greater impact on or the future has the greater potential to impact Anne. Overall judge whether events that occurred previous to a novel or hypothetical events to follow matter more to the development of a character such as Anne. Is she more aware of her past or her future in the novel?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Persuasion (1995)

The 1995 version of Persuasion, directed by Roger Michell and starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciaran Hinds as Caption Wentworth, is a fairly accurate interpretation of Jane Austen’s storyline. (Interestingly, the character who plays Mary, Anne’s sister, is the same woman who plays Miss Bates in the version of Emma that we watched for class!) The depiction of characters seemed to align well with the novel, in terms of age and disposition. Indeed, one of the most interesting and seemingly accurate portrayals is that of Anne, as the audience can perceive the physical differences of Anne (or, may we say as we did in class, her “bloom”) evolve from the beginning to the end of the film: she goes from slightly poorly-dressed in dark colors and unmade face, to light-colored clothing and well-done hair by the end. The storyline of the film follows along closely with Austen’s plot, hitting every important scene.

Rather than focus on the things that the movie does well, I am going to point out two discrepancies with the text. In the film, the presence of the poor can be seen often, something that is not often mentioned outright in the novel. The poor watch the Elliots leave their home, they are working by the sea gutting fish, and they are begging at the doorsteps of Bath. It is interesting to see these depictions of the poor; in Austen novels, they are always there under the surface, making the difference between their social station and that of the wealthy gentry. However, in a film depiction where the loss of funds is central to the Elliot family, the focus on the poor always present shows how stark their lives are even in comparison to the “depleted” resources of Sir Walter.

Another interesting point in this film is the inclusion of scenes on the ocean on war ships, both at the beginning and end of the film (something that Austen herself does not depict). In the beginning, the Admiral Croft and Wentworth are seen among other naval officers celebrating the end of war on ship, and beginning to return home to England. At the end of the novel, Admiral Croft is seen telling a dinner party that Napoleon has returned and war will commence again (which goes against the “period of peace” that Austen is working with in her novel, as the characters do not end knowing that war is returning). The final scene of the film is a wedding scene between Anne and Captain Wentworth on board a war ship, something discrepant from the ending of Austen novels, as she never shows the wedding itself. These discrepancies pull the film somewhat away from how Austen herself ties up her stories. However, overall the film is a well-done tribute to Austen’s words.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Persuasion (2007)

Adrian Shergold’s 2007 version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion features Sally Hawkins in the role of Anne Elliot and Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth. Though the film strays several times from the novel’s plot line, these minor discrepancies accompany the territory of film adaptation and the movie as a whole remains faithful to Austen’s work. Persuasion most noticeably focuses on Anne Elliot’s sense of isolation as an outlier in her family, and on a larger scale, society in terms of her age and lack of marital status. From the instant we are introduced to Ms. Elliot (the very first opening scenes of the film), she is separate from her father and sister, taking charge of the house’s affairs. Dressed in frumpy clothing that does not seem to mirror her family’s high social status, she clearly juxtaposes the rest of her family as Sir Walter and Elizabeth are donning refined and luxurious-looking clothing. Anne’s struggles in dealing with her past and the reappearance of Captain Wentworth are portrayed through unique camerawork and narration by journaling. Her constant eye contact with the camera is reminiscent of Fanny Price’s character from the film adaptation of Mansfield Park. Anne breaks the fourth wall, engaging in direct, figurative “conversation” with the viewer. These moments are significant because they function as the narrative voice we encounter throughout the novel, lending insight into Anne’s pain and internal turmoil. In addition to the common occurrence of journaling, Shergold’s camerawork is an intriguing and crucial component to the film. Close-ups are frequent, invading the space of the characters and bringing the viewers directly into contact with them as a means to further emotional connection and understanding. Besides close-ups, the camera often follows Anne, lending the audience a better view on the literal isolation she experiences, generally when walking with her family and others. When Anne, Charles, and Elizabeth encounter Wentworth in the woods after arguing whose affections he is after, the camera quickly switches to the Captain’s point of view and then returns to Anne’s. As discussed in class, Anne’s moments of interaction with Wentworth often omit the present, as she loses self-possession and can only function in the past and future of those fleeting occurrences. Incredibly difficult to capture this on camera, Shergold instead portrays Anne’s struggles through the mise en scene. Immediately after Wentworth places Anne in the back of the Crofts’ carriage, the camera pans back to capture her riding alone in the back while Mr. and Mrs. Croft discuss the inevitability of the Captain marrying either Henrietta or Louisa. Though some may think of the camerawork as awkward and distracting, Shergold’s employment of certain angles and shots serve to further the artistry of the film and highlight Austen’s craft.

Accurate portrayals of Persuasion’s characters through the perfect selection of actors and costuming also participate in the creation of an enjoyable adaptation of Austen’s novel. Anthony Head, playing Sir Walter, epitomizes his character’s despicability and vanity. Constant references to appearance, admiration of himself, and his treatment of Anne all work to further contempt and disdain for Sir Walter from the audience. Mary’s absurd and annoying character is nailed by Amanda Hale, who is clearly her father’s daughter, eager and willing to leave her injured child in the hands of Anne in order to dine with the Crofts. Though Mr. Elliot did not appear as I had envisioned him (he was slightly too akin to a young version of Abraham Lincoln for me), he captured the charming yet deceitful nature of his character. I was slightly disappointed that Mrs. Clay’s “unfortunate” looks were not mentioned by Sir Walter, as her freckles and tooth had the potential to offer comedic value. Unlike many of the other films depicting Austen’s works that we have watched, this version of Persuasion does not incorporate the bits of humor and wit that are generally inherent to her books and rather takes a more somber and dark route. Finally, I was thoroughly impressed with the characterization of the Crofts, as they were likeable characters whose love and affection for each other illustrates, as mentioned in class, their potential to be classified as one of the only truly genuine couples from Austen’s novels. Overall, despite several minor differences and changes to Persuasion’s plot, this TV movie is a viable adaptation, as demonstrated through its focus on Anne’s isolation, camerawork and narration, and actor selection.