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Mar-May, 2010

Jane Austen Movie Night

All Jane Austen, all the time ... it's the perfect antidote ... to life.

Jane Austen Book Club

collage Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice movie marathon

Films are like chocolates. There are some people who abstain -- not good for you. There are those who nibble occasionally -- a savoured treat. And then there are those to whom it is a food group, perhaps an addiction. Not for them the odd Saturday night flick, no, they need an almost daily supply. They are the attendees of marathons and festivals.

For the latter, films are like strings of pearls, each one suggests the next. Same writer, same director, same actor, same theme, same place, or opposites.

Just as for books, there are series, franchises. The most obvious are the blockbusters, the action movies like Star Wars and Star Trek and the adventures of Indiana Jones or Superman.

Which brings us to one of the queens of the novel, the great Jane Austen. Austen was not the proud feminist of Becoming Jane, but an obedient daughter who hid her scribblings if someone else came into the room.

Austen was witty and insightful, she wrote about the monied, and almost-monied middle classes, those with land but not titles. They went to assemblies, they borrowed books from the elegant lending libraries, and they allowed women the professions of governess, companion, or wife. It was for this last profession that most were destined, to live and die in happy or resigned or unhappy wedlock.

The lucky men and women in Austen's stories who marry for love are left heading towards the altar, so we never see their future, or whether their lives and mating work out well, although in Pride and Prejudice we are given a little peek into Lizzie's continuing teasing of Darcy for the good of his soul.

Austen has inspired many a writer in the years since she took up a pen, including the prolific and equally witty Georgette Heyer, for whom Stephen Fry her writings are a guilty pleasure. These stories of a time when the hems were longer and the lives were shorter can be a glorious escape, although Austen was an astute observer of character and character flaws and is not afraid to point her sharp pen-nib at them.

The 1940s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer(MGM) version of Pride and Prejudice is a fluffy, escapist version where everything ends happily. Lydia may find happiness with the nasty Wickham, we're not sure, but we are sure that all five sisters will end up with suitable husbands and Mrs Bennett will be amply provided for by her wealthy sons-in-law. This is the version with the social commentary mostly removed, the chasing of officers toned down, and the business of finding mates for one's children made amusing, not desperate and somewhat akin to the slave trade.

In 1995 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stretched their wings and made a landmark version of Pride and Prejudice, a mini-series in six parts with the inestimable Colin Firth in the role of Darcy. Jennifer Ehle makes a credible Elizabeth and the series has the beautiful and accurate settings that one expects of the BBC. The exception that mars this series is the filming of Susannah Harker as the beauteous Jane. Ms Harker is lovely, and there are one or two shots that show her to advantage, but the haircut is unfortunate, and the camera crew must have had it in for her, shooting her from low angles to show up her generous jawline.

This is the series that made a cliche of Colin Firth, wet.

For Pride and Prejudice in contemporary times, to prove that Ms Austen's themes and characters are truly universal, we have two very different offerings. Bridget Jones' Diarynot only has pride and prejudice, it has a prideful, wealthy and famous character named Darcy played by -- Colin Firth!

Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) is flawed in ways that would have put both Lizze Bennett and Jane Austen to the blush. She is a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking smoker who is in daily touch with her weight. The men in her life are her sexy-beast boss (Hugh Grant) and and the stiff (but not in a good way) Darcy.

Half-way across the world in India, Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) set a modified Bollywood version, complete with Bollywood and western stars. A glorious combination of the classic Bollywood conceits, Austen's themes and western sensibilities, Bride and Prejudice is a wonderful piece of entertainment from first to last.

And if you want to end your marathon with something other than the colourful, tuneful celebration that ends Bride and Prejudice, how about the Jane Austen Book Club, which uses the story of a book club and its members to illustrate that the themes and stories of Austen's books are still in play today.

Ali Kayn

We may not all be decked out in willowing empire line dresses, or fawn trousers and blue superfine coats, but we all live our versions of the stories that Ms Austen told. So, unwrap that box of fantales, settle back, and enjoy!

Ali Kayn
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Feb, 2010.

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