Or is it President’s Day?  I never know.  Are we honoring one of them (Washington?  Lincoln?), or Washington AND Lincoln, or all 44?

Regardless, both the courts and the banks are closed and, since the majority of my workday is spent dealing with both, I was off today.   And how did I spend my time?  Reading Sense and Sensibility while at the mechanic’s, waiting for him to fix a window in my car.  It took longer than we’d anticipated, so I got a lot more reading done than I’d expected.

Every time I read an Austen novel, I notice things I’d never noticed before, and this re-read is no exception.  For years, I loved Emma Thompson’s adaptation of S&S, even though I’d known that it diverges from the novel on several counts.  But lately, I’ve noticed more and more differences between the novel and the adaptation, and this particular re-read of the novel is in an attempt to determine just how faithful the various adaptations are.  Again, I have enjoyed Emma Thompson’s script over the years, but now I think a large part of that is because I saw the adaptation before having read the book.  I say that because, after having read the book multiple times since seeing the adaptation and having seen other adaptations since this one, I have decided that, while S&S95 is a wonderful movie, it is NOT a wonderful adaptation.  Emma Thompson gives us too much Margaret and too  much Mr. Palmer, but not enough Willoughby.

I believe that Willoughby is arguably Austen’s worst villain, and I also believe that S&S95 barely touches on his toxicity.   This is a young man who preys upon fatherless, powerless young women.  He impregnates one and deserts her.  He leads another on, making her think he will propose, deserts her too and then publicly humiliates her.  He marries a third because of her money and then wishes that she were dead.  But S&S95 glosses over all of this, and allows the viewer to think he is merely troubled.  I beg to differ.  He is a textbook narcissist who loves no one but himself and spends a lot of time blaming other people (particularly Colonel Brandon) for his problems.

As for my assertion that Thompson gives us too much Mr. Palmer, all I can say is that an awful lot of people who see S&S95 love Mr. Palmer.  But in the book, he is barely there and, when he is, he is beyond surly and is not even remotely interesting.  I know that Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie were at Cambridge together, but is that an excuse to take a rather unappealing character and turn him into an appealing one?  After re-reading the book and seeing all of the other adaptations out there, I can honestly say that I don’t think it is.

After the mechanic, I took myself to see A Single Man.  There were 3 of us in the theater, me and 2 other women from the New York area.  We all loved it.  The cinematography was particularly striking — I found it interesting that all of George’s happy memories are in brilliant color, but his day-to-day life and his bittersweet (and even sad memories) are in sepia.  It worked very well and I believe that Colin Firth deserves his Oscar nomination.  I’ve seen him in some absolute trash (A Thousand Acres, anyone?) and I’ve seen him be brilliant (Conspiracy) but he’s really surpassed himself here.  I don’t really care about the Oscars (trite, revisionist garbage like Titanic is the best picture of the year?  I think not.) but I do hope he wins this year.  The story was intriguing, the ending took me by surprise, and Firth gave the performance of a lifetime.

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