Six degrees of separation: Jane Austen in the movies

September 4, 2007

Starting to feel like Jane Austen is everywhere lately? Well, you’re not entirely wrong. All roads do seem to lead to Jane Austen these days. Here’s my (somewhat spooky?) six degrees of separation explanation:

One of the most popular adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the 1995 BBC/A&E miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett. However, Jennifer Ehle also starred in a slightly more scandalous (but still period) romance called Possession, with Jeremy Northam as her lover. Northam in turn played Mr. Knightley’s voice of reason to Gwyneth Paltrow’s matchmaking Emma in the 1996 big screen version of Jane Austen’s Emma (the inspiration for the film Clueless).

Paltrow, who, as it happens, is also one of the stars of the film Possession, is perhaps best known for bringing the theme of star-crossed lovers to new Oscar-worthy heights in Shakespeare in Love. However, making sure her love is star-crossed in Shakespeare in Love is Colin Firth (Lord Wessex), the British actor who famously introduced a dripping wet Mr. Darcy to a contemporary audience in that very same Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Jennifer Ehle.

Firth also played Mr. Darcy in a modern Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Bridget Jones’s Diary. Playing Mr. Wickham (or rather, Daniel Cleaver) to his Darcy in Bridget Jones was Hugh Grant, who also jilted women (but much more elegantly) in Emma Thompson’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Hugh Grant’s part does not end there, however. Grant became famous for playing a confused but lovable character in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Playing an important love interest in Four Weddings was Anna Chancellor (Henrietta), an actress who also played the formidable Caroline Bingley in, again, Jennifer Ehle’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Anna Chancellor, who, probably unsurprisingly, is actually related to the real Jane Austen, is also related to Crispin Bonham-Carter (and thus, Helena Bonham-Carter as well, his cousin), who played Anna Chancellor’s brother, Mr. Bingley, in that omnipresent Pride and Prejudice miniseries.

Crispin Bonhman-Carter also had a small role in Bridget Jones’s Diary, although unfortunately many of his scenes were cut. Appearing in Bridget Jones as well was Gemma Jones, who played the mother in both Bridget Jones and another Hugh Grant film, the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility. Gemma Jones can also be seen as Madam Pomfrey in Harry Potter, which additionally stars Julie Walters as Mrs. Weasley. Julie Walters, incidentally, takes on the role of Mrs. Austen, the “real” Mrs. Bennett, in Becoming Jane, in which James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway (as Jane Austen) play, of course, star-crossed lovers.

James McAvoy can also be seen in the upcoming adaptation of Ian McEwan’s book Atonement (Dec. 7 in the US, go here for Empire’s review of the film), in which he stars alongside Keira Knightley. Keira Knightley herself got her first Oscar nomination for playing Elizabeth Bennett in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Joe Wright (the director of Atonement). Knightley, in turn, also starred in Love Actually with Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice) and three stars of Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant – Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman are also in Harry Potter together, alongside Julie Walters and Gemma Jones).

Back to Hugh Grant again then, the Brit plays an enamored bookstore owner in the romantic comedy Notting Hill, which also features Hugh Bonneville as the down on his luck Bernie. However, Bonneville can also be seen in a 1999 film adaptation of Austen’s Mansfield Park, which additionally stars James Purefoy. Purefoy himself seems to favor period dialogue, as evidenced in HBO’s Rome, where he played Marc Antony. Also starring in Rome was Ciaran Hinds, as Julius Caesar.

Besides doomed leaders, Hinds also does well portraying Austen men, as can be seen in the 1995 movie version of Austen’s Persuasion, in which he plays Capt. Wentworth, the former suitor of Anne Elliott’s main character. Persuasion also starred Samuel West as Mr. Elliot who, surprise surprise, also appears in Notting Hill with Bonneville and Grant as a, well, backside-obsessed actor.

Not to be forgotten, however, is Embeth Davidtz, who was also featured in Mansfield Park alongside Bonneville as the beautiful but scheming Mary Crawford. Davidtz additionally took on the role of romantic foil in Bridget Jones’s Diary, as Natasha. What’s more, the Bridget Jones movies were in fact written by Andrew Davies, who, it turns out, is the mastermind writer behind, yes, the Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Jennifer Ehle.


Becoming Jane: the aftermath

August 13, 2007

Faith Black of The Huffington Post is wrestling with the many demons of a Jane Austen lover: to watch or not to watch a movie that is not true to Austen’s life? See her struggles here.


Becoming Jane

August 11, 2007

Do not take guys to see this movie. Trust me on this one. Aside from the not-so-subtle snickers I heard from the guys in the audience when I saw it, and the fact that my boyfriend turns slightly white at the mere mention of names resembling “Darcy” or “Bennett,” this is simply just a chick flick. It’s got weepy romance, fancy outfits, period dialogue, and sweeping music – and if that doesn’t get them, the awkward skinny dipping scene with male nudity most definitely will.

If you’re still interested, and as an admitted Jane Austen junkie myself I certainly still was, this movie is basically the “true story” of Pride and Prejudice, loosely based on people and events in Jane Austen’s life. If you’re in the mood for it, it can be a thoroughly enjoyable and sort of cathartic romantic experience. It’s got everything: unrecognized and star-crossed love, meddling parents and would-be lovers, and of course, the premise of being based on real life (although no one, after seeing this movie, would mistake its story for a true story; this never pretends to be a biography).

Unfortunately, the film can’t quite decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be a dramatic romance, complete with “you’ve captured my heart and soul” type dialogue and gut-wrenching partings? Or does it want to be a slightly silly and risque romantic comedy, complete with blatant and somewhat foolish sexual allusions? (at one point, James McAvoy’s Tom LeFroy tells Anne Hathaway’s Jane Austen that she must “widen” her horizons with experience – and the emphasis on “widen” is not mine – after reading to her a description of birds engaged in, shall we say, naturally necessary acts) Or does it, as a Miramax movie, want to be a serious art-house film, with elaborate outfits and settings and grave discussions of class and women’s position in society?

Sadly, it never makes up its mind. But while it’s muddling that over, you can enjoy watching and crying over two pretty people having fun with complicated dialogue and passionate love scenes. Bring Kleenex and a (girl) friend.