Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I can watch no longer in silence.

I was not pleased with the new Masterpiece Theater Persuasion that aired on Sunday. As you all surely know, this book is my absolute favorite. I've likely read it thirty or so times, have it digitally on my phone, have a pocket sized copy and have visited Lyme (with Julie) to see where Louisa Musgrove fell. I am a tough critic of adaptations. However, the 1996 film was lovely and made only small changes for the sake of timeliness, and the changes did not negatively impact the story. I cannot say the same things for this most recent production. My grievances? I list them for you, in the order in which they appeared in the film:

1. Lady Russell was written in the film to be a) unaware of the direness of Sir Walter's debts, b) out of town when the decision to rent out Kellynch was made, c) colder and more imperious than Jane Austen intended (many, many mentions were made of her in the book as being warm-hearted and loving towards Anne and the rest of her family, despite Elizabeth and Sir Walter's not being worthy of such affection), d) far less involved with Anne in her day to day life than explicitly stated in the book. Consequently, her persuasion of Anne to not marry Wentworth before the story begins seems to be incomprehensible. Why would a woman so removed from their scene have such influence? She was meant to be a second mother to Anne, not a snobbish and diffident neighbor.

2. The Musgroves were written to be too young and too thin. They were not meant to be slender and elegant society people, but rather large and comforting country folk, the opposite of her family.

3. At Lyme, Anne's speech about women's constancy in the face of the loss of hope was intended by Austen to be the final catalyst that spurs Wentworth to confess his abiding love to Anne, not as an aside directed at Benwick that Wentworth doesn't even hear.

4. All the scenes in Bath felt rushed. Mr. Elliott's courtship of Anne and her growing unease towards him were given no development or motivation. Thus, her reasons for truly not wanting to marry him, aside from her hope of Wentworth, were never explained. Lady Russell's desirousness of the match, Anne's own desire to see Kellynch preserved, Anne's doubts of his integrity, all of that was eliminated (except by one brief mention), and thus we were not allowed to see that Lady Russell's ability to persuade Anne to do what she did not want to do for the sake of family was gone, replaced by Anne's own mature desire to do what she knew to be right.

5. Mrs. Smith's one scene didn't convey the extent of her disability and the depth of her friendship with Anne that would lead her to disclose not only the duplicitous nature of Mr. Elliott but the weakness of her own husband. In the book, it was only Anne's firm resolve to NOT marry Mr. Elliott that made Mrs. Smith tell Anne what kind of man Mr. Elliott truly was, and not that Mrs. Smith thought that Anne was going to marry Mr. Elliott and so she had to stop it by telling Anne of his character. That is an important distinction.

6. The Musgroves (Charles and Mary) would not invite themselves to stay with Sir Walter and Elizabeth. That the footmen were carrying their luggage into Sir Walter's house was absurd. Mary was far too aware of precendence to do such a thing and Charles was too indifferent to the Elliotts to stay with them.

7. In the book, Wentworth waited for Anne to read the letter and come down from the hotel to the street. He would not have left, or run off, or tried to avoid her. And why did we not hear the whole letter? It's the lovliest thing ever and we were robbed of it.

8. Most importantly, Anne would NEVER EVER have run through the streets of Bath looking for Wentworth. It is utterly contrary to not only her character, but to the gentility and dignity of the women of her class and time.

9. My biggest complaint, however, was the absurd purchase of Kellynch by Wentworth for Anne. There is no way on God's green earth that Sir Walter would have sold, especially to the sailor husband of his least favorite daughter. It was ridiculous and utterly unnecessary.

I will never understand why, when such flawless source material exists, screenwriters insist on rearranging a book's order of events, ignoring clear character descriptions and adding superfluous and incongrous events when the existing events are not only sufficient but necessary to ensure the continuity of narrative.

As I am not as familiar with Northanger Abbey and it looks sillier and more fun (which is appropriate as it is a parody of the popular gothic novel of the period), so I'm hoping that I will enjoy that adaptation. The rest could be tricky. We'll see.


shellswick said...

Perhaps they were hoping the viewers would all be fans of the newest version of P&P and that wretched Jane Austen book club instead of ACTUAL Jane Austen. Either way, I am sorry.

ible said...

Gee Suzy . Your comments are enough to make one spit.

I'm looking fwd to your reactions as regards the reconstruction of the Spokane house you speak of so lovingly.