Austenland

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Between this and Death Comes to Pemberley, my movie reviews seems to be quite heavily Austen-inspired lately. Anyway, I’ve been curious about “Austenland” ever since I first heard about the adaptation back in 2011, mainly because it stars one of my British crushes (ha! As if my crushes were anything but British) – JJ Feild. Plus, the plot sounds like the perfect fantasy for a costume drama fan like me: Jane (Keri Russell) whose obsession with Pride and Prejudice is ruining her love life, goes to an Austen-themed resort to get over Mr. Darcy once and for all. She finds herself torn between two guys – the Darcy-esque Henry Nobley (JJ Feild) and Martin, the refreshingly normal stable boy who listens to cheesy 80’s ballads in his free time (Bret McKenzie) – but it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s fantasy when you’re in Austenland.

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I enjoyed the movie a great deal, mostly because JJ Feild is so damned charming – he may be the resident Darcy here, but I keep seeing him as Henry Tilney (whom he played in Northanger Abbey), who’s way more fun and kind than Darcy. My filmmaker’s brain, though, has quibbles. I think the movie could use about 10 more minutes in the beginning to really show us how bad Jane’s love life is and explain why she would blow her entire savings on this trip, and that the story suffers a bit because the comedy is too over-the-top. Then again, this is directed by one half of the team behind Napoleon Dynamite, and over-the-top, slightly bizarre comedy is their style.

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The ridiculous production design, on the other hand, I have no complaint about. It looks normal and pretty from the screencaps, but when you watch the movie, you’ll notice all sorts of brilliant touches like the taxidermy animals and tacky decorations. After all, it doesn’t make sense to have perfect, historically correct sets and costumes at an Austen-themed resort. I laughed out loud at the statues with gold leaves covering up all the naughty bits.

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So yeah, I like “Austenland” mainly because of JJ Feild, but I’d recommend the movie if you like a rom-com with a bit of a twist. The book is a fun, quick read, so definitely check it out too.

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Death Comes To Pemberley

I don’t have a book review this month because even though I did read two books, they’re by two of my go-to authors, Terry Pratchett and Bill Bryson (after A Children’s Book, I needed something more fun), so I don’t think my reviews would be interesting. Other than that I’ve been reading mostly short stories and Sandman comics, and none of those can provide an interesting review either, so here’s a review of a mini-series instead – “Death Comes to Pemberley”, based on the novel by P.D. James, which is a murder mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

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First, the story: it’s six years after Elizabeth and Darcy are married, and they are preparing for their annual ball when Lydia, who was not invited, arrives in hysterics, claiming Wickham has been murdered. The body they find, however, is that of Wickham’s friend Captain Denny, and Wickham himself is immediately arrested. What follows is an investigation that uncovers all sorts of secrets and threatens to tear Elizabeth and Darcy apart.

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I really enjoyed this. It’s beautifully shot, the sets are gorgeous, the costumes pretty (it actually has some of the prettiest Regency costumes I’ve seen in post-2000 period dramas. I don’t understand how some of these recent adaptations can’t seem to get the Regency silhouette right. And don’t get me started on the costumes in the 2005 P&P, ugh.) I would like to see more of the “murder mystery” part, because it would’ve been super fun to watch Elizabeth and Darcy playing detective to save the reputation of Pemberley and ultimately, their marriage, but here the series mostly focuses on the drama part. I guess it’s a good choice though, because when the murder itself is resolved, it feels kind of anticlimactic.

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Hard as it is to me to let go of my mental images of Elizabeth and Darcy from the 1995 P&P, I have to admit the cast is good too.  Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys are no Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, obviously, but then again they don’t have to be – they are portraying these characters in a different period in their lives, and their Elizabeth/Darcy relationship is believable. Matthew Goode has a great balance between being charming and creepy, so he’s perfect as Wickham. Jenna Coleman (yep, Clara of Doctor Who) has a face that is too modern to be in a period piece, I think, but she brings some vulnerability to the character that makes Lydia a lot less annoying.

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I haven’t read the book, though a quick glance at the reviews says it’s apparently not that great. Which is a shame, because I would totally recommend the mini-series, whether you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice or not.

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A Hazard of Hearts

I feel like I should ask my sister to write this review, but then again that might not be a good idea because she’s obsessed with this movie (TV movie, to be exact). It’s the start of my sister’s love for anything Regency, which I then got from her. I decided to review it since it’s not very well-known, even among costume drama buffs.

Anyway, A Hazard of Hearts is the adaptation of a Barbara Cartland novel. It stars a very young Helena Bonham-Carter (seeing her now, it’s hard to remember that she used to be quite the ingenue back then), Diana Rigg, Edward Fox and Marcus Gilbert (who sadly disappeared from the screen soon after, I think he’s strictly a theater actor now.)


And what a waste that is.

The plot is very standard “Gothic romance” – plucky heroines, brooding heroes, scheming villains. Serena (Helena Bonham-Carter)’s father (played by Christopher Plummer, wonderful even in this short role) loses everything when he gambles against Lord Wrotham (Edward Fox), including his own daughter (he wagers her hand in marriage.) Lord Justin Vulcan (Marcus Gilbert) steps in to win back the money and the girl, but a tiny bit too late – Christopher Plummer (what’s his character’s name? Something Staverley) has killed himself. So now Justin is stuck with Serena, and social propriety dictates that they must marry, or at least he has to be responsible for her. Justin takes Serena back to his family mansion to put in the “care” of his mother (Diana Rigg), and all sorts of intrigues, duels and of course, romance, ensue.

Overall the movie is a bit cheesy but enjoyable. The cast is good; Diana Rigg and Edward Fox are especially fun to watch. Marcus Gilbert is not at all bad to look at (he’s how I always imagine St. John Rivers from Jane Eyre would look like), but you can tell he was more used to the stage than the camera, because his performance is a little stilted compared to the others’.

The look of the movie, though, is a bit dated (some of Diana Rigg’s costumes are so 80’s it hurts – as you can see.)

So check it out if you like a bit of light romantic costume drama. I certainly enjoy it. (I wouldn’t say the same for the novel though… unless you like the kind of romance novels with Fabio on the covers :P)

P/S: Since Downton Abbey won’t be aired in the US until January 2012 (congrats to the show for winning all those Emmy’s by the way. I’m especially happy for the director, Brian Percival), I might hold off the recap and try it on American shows first.


The Three Emma’s

I thought I’d do something different from my usual movie review and compare the three versions of Jane Austen’s Emma (there are numerous adaptations, of course, but these are the three that I’ve seen.)

The Movie: Miramax’s Emma (1996)

My least favorite, because I can’t stand Gwyneth Paltrow. She makes Emma so much more annoying than the character already is that I just want to slap her. And Toni Collette is, in my opinion, a baffling choice for Harriet Smith. The only good thing about this movie is Jeremy Northam. His Mr. Knightley is my favorite, but even he can’t save this one.

The TV Movie: A&E’s Emma (1996)

Out of the three I think this is the least-known version, starring a young Kate Beckinsale (before she started playing all those vampires) and Mark Strong (before he started playing all those villains.) Kate Beckinsale’s Emma is my favorite – she has the perfect mix of self-importance and vulnerability. And Mark Strong is great, as always. Overall an adequate version. I would’ve liked it better if not for the weirdly drawn-out ending.

The Mini-series: BBC’s Emma (2009)

This one has the best overall cast. Romola Garai did a good job as Emma, and Johnny Lee Miller is cute, though his Mr. Knightley isn’t gruff enough (I think.) However, Emma isn’t enough material to fill 4 one-hour episodes, so this version is kinda boring.

Honorary Mention: Clueless

I know that this, technically speaking, isn’t an actual adaptation of Emma, but it’s my favorite because it manages to capture the spirit of the story and the characters.


Bright Star

I was debating whether to do a review of Captain America or not (I went to see it last Saturday and quite enjoyed it), because even though it’s technically a period movie, it’s too much of an action/comic book/popcorn movie to fit in with what I want to put on the blog. But then I saw Bright Star playing on TV, and knew I’ve found the movie to write about.

Bright Star, written and directed by Jane Campion (who did The Piano) is about the romance between John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne. I saw the movie when it first came out, and loved it, despite finding the story a little wandering and the characters unfocused. However, after I watched an interview with Jane Campion, where she said the movie is a sort of love triangle between Fanny, Keats, and Charles Brown, Keats’ friend – not with Fanny in the middle but with Keats in the middle – the story does make more sense to me.

Look-wise, though, the movie is fantastic. Fanny Brawne was a seamstress, so of course the costumes are stunning (but you can still tell that she made her own clothes, which I love.) The cinematography and the design are also absolutely gorgeous. So, without further ado, here’s some screencaps, just to show you what it looks like (really, this whole post is an excuse for me to look at Bright Star screencaps :D)

This shot reminds me of a Caspar David Friedrich painting… only less depressing

Fanny and her sister’s dresses are made out of the same material. I love little touches like that

I want those shoes

Screencaps courtesy of Long Ago Capture.

If you still want to hear my thoughts on Captain America, let me know. Mind you, I only went to see it for Richard Armitage and JJ Feild (each of them has about 5 minutes of screen time… maybe even less than that), so my opinion is horribly tunnel-visioned.