February 2011

Part VI: Persuasion, cont’d.

I hadn’t seen P71 in ages, and I’ve only seen it once.  It stars Ann Firbank as Anne, Bryan Marshall as Wentworth, Richard Vernon as Admiral Croft, and nobody else I’ve ever heard of, before or since.  It was written by Julian Mitchell, who, among other things, also gave us an episode of Elizabeth R, as well as Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, The Good Soldier, Another Country¸ and several episodes of Inspector Morse.  Frankly, I always thought it was a colossal bore, but it’s on the list so I’m watching it.  It’s almost 4 hours in length, so I couldn’t watch it all in one sitting.  That’s why it’s taken so long to get this column up – I’ve had to take notes and synthesize everything so that it makes sense.  Let’s see if I succeeded.

The production starts with a glimpse of Kellynch Hall, and we go inside to see Sir Walter reading from the Baronetage.  I happen to like the way Austen begins Persuasion, but I don’t like hearing Sir Walter reading the passage word-for-word while we meet his daughters. It just sounds weird.  I can’t help but think it would make more to have a voiceover person do it rather than having Sir Walter himself read the relevant section verbatim.  But what do I know?  I’m only a viewer, not a screenwriter.

After the reading, we see the Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Anne, along with Lady Russell and the Shepherds, gathering to discuss the family’s plans to retrench.  One thing struck me as odd right off the bat.  Lady Russell refers to Sir Walter as “Walter.”  I can guarantee you that that would NEVER have happened in “real life.”  Lady Russell was on intimate terms with the family, but not intimate enough that she could have gotten away with referring to Sir Walter by his Christian name.  We are also introduced to Anne’s (in)famous green plaid dress.  If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed out on something special.  The clothes in this adaptation are notoriously awful (along with the hair), and this awfulness is epitomized by said green plaid dress.   At the 15-second mark of this YouTube video you can see some of the dress.  She wears it a couple of times in this series, and it’s earned its place as probably the most well-known aspect of this series.

I don’t like how Anne and Lady Russell talk about Anne’s engagement – Lady Russell insists that Anne only accepted Frederick because he was the first young man to fall in love with her and that she didn’t really love him.  People say that this is an almost slavishly literal translation of the book, but this scene certainly doesn’t come from any of the copies of Persuasion that I own.  Then, as Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay leave Kellynch, Sir Walter takes his leave by kissing Lady Russell and Anne, and referring to Mrs. Clay by her first name.  What happened to Austen’s Sir Walter?  Wasn’t he good enough for Julian Mitchell?

We officially get to meet Mary.  The scene where Anne walks into the cottage is almost word-for-word from the book. This is a Good Thing, because I find that scene to be laugh-out-loud funny in the book.  The reader knows Mary is healthy.  Anne knows Mary is healthy. Mary knows Mary is healthy. But, for some unknown reason, Mary thinks she’s fooled everyone around her into thinking she’s genuinely ill.  This scene is priceless, every time.

Charles looks like a chipmunk. We were just told by Mary that both Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove are large, but Mrs. Musgrove certainly isn’t (so no “fat sighs” from her in this adaptation).  They also both look as if they’re supposed to be more refined than the book would have us believe.  Louisa and Henrietta both giggle so much I want to smack them.

Enter Captain Wentworth.  His hair is bushy and his sideburns are just too much, but he is handsome.  I will say that he doesn’t exactly look like someone who’s spent the past 8+ years at sea.  He’s not weather-beaten at all.  And, in a time where there was no sunscreen, people who spent a lot of time outdoors were affected by the elements.  When he and Anne meet for the first time since the year ’06, they stare at each other before bowing and curtseying.  I think the uncomfortable silence lasts a little too long – maybe it’s because Anne is wearing the Green Plaid Dress and Wentworth is so blinded by it that he can’t think straight. Who knows.  But, after Charles and his sisters go off with Frederick to shoot, Anne tells Mary that she’d recognize him anywhere and that, if he’s changed, it’s only to his advantage.  I could see doing a voiceover for that, but I don’t like her saying it out loud, and certainly not to Mary.

Ann Firbank is way too old to play Anne. In fact, a lot of the actors are too old for their roles.  Ann Firbank was born in 1933 (38 playing 27); Valerie Gearon (Elizabeth) was born in 1937 (34 playing 29); Morag Hood (Mary) was born in 1942 (29 playing 23); Charlotte Mitchell (Mrs. Clay) is 45.  I’m not sure how old the character is supposed to be, but I don’t think she’s supposed to be quite that old.  Bryan Marshall is only 2 years older than his character, but Georgine Anderson, who plays Mrs. Croft, looks as if she’s his mother, rather than his sister (Mrs. Croft is only 38 in the book).   And Richard Vernon, who plays Admiral Croft, is probably about right for his character’s age (he was born in 1925, and so was 46 in 1971) but he made a career out of playing much older characters, and he definitely looks older than 46 here.  I like Captain and Mrs. Harville, but Captain Benwick looks like a vampire to me  (except for the orange make-up — was that an attempt to make him look weather-beaten?).  I know a lot of people who like him, but I just don’t.  Elizabeth is the best thing about this adaptation, in my opinion.  She does ice queen very well.

It’s a given that the hair and costumes are bad, but there are other weaknesses in the technical aspect of the production.  For example, they seem to have had trouble with their microphones – if a character walks off screen, you can barely hear them.

There are a lot of things about this adaptation that make me scratch my head.  For example, during the Long Walk, Anne stops along the way and spouts poetry.  In the book, she does it to keep herself occupied, not to entertain Henrietta (which is what happens here).  And the poem is all about “throbbing passions.”  Isn’t that just a little too obvious?  Later, when Frederick helps Anne into the Crofts’ gig, we only see it from afar.  This matters.  In the book, I find that scene to be positively swoon-worthy.  Anne does too, because it leaves her completely flustered.  And seeing it from so far away, as if it’s just a throw-away scene, takes away the impact of his actions.  In fact, the whole film makes me feel very removed from the story.  In the book, we are privy to Anne’s innermost thoughts, but here, she often sits and stares into space with almost a smirk on her face.  I actually think she looks somewhat deranged. We really don’t know what she’s thinking.

The constancy conversation is there in its entirety (there are a couple of changes, but the essence is there), but it’s too loud.  The idea that Frederick would have to concentrate to hear them cannot be taken seriously.  And, as for The Letter itself, the climax of the story, I was not impressed.  The book’s letter was written in haste, but this version is far too polished.  I really wish they’d have left well enough alone.  It’s a beautiful letter just the way Austen wrote it.

I’m very glad that we get to hear Anne and Frederick talk about their lives together, but the conversation itself is rather silly.  The language is so flowery and so out of character for the Anne and Frederick in the book that it made me chuckle.  Somehow, I don’t think that was the filmmaker’s intention, but that was my reaction.  I thought it was interesting that we see Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot elope and then the aftermath of this elopement at Elizabeth’s party.  That was a nice touch.

Overall, I’m glad I got to see it again, since I’d forgotten so much over the years, but I did remember one thing – it’s still boring.  I saw none of the beauty and passion that’s in the book.

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve ranted about how much I hate people.  Not that I’ve stopped hating them — it’s just that my ever-evolving sense of “island time” has raised the bar.  It takes a little longer for me to spew the hate than it used to.

KC and I took my car up to Tampa last night to see the Lightning host KC’s Devils.  The Lightning won, and former Islander, Dwayne Roloson, played a good game.  Another former Islander, Sean Bergenheim, is also on the Lightning, and he was another reason I rooted for them.

I’m very glad I didn’t end up having to work in Tampa.  It’s a 50-something mile drive each way, and downtown seems to be perpetually under construction.  And the signage is very, very, VERY bad (it makes New Jersey signage look good, and that is not easy).  We were promised free parking, but that lot was full and we ended up having to pay $15.

We took I-75 to get there, and found not a single sign telling us how to get back home.  We did, however, see a couple of signs for I-275. We even saw one that promised to take us towards the South, and so we innocently trusted the sign and made the turn.

Unfortunately, that was the only sign with an arrow heading South and, after a good 20 minutes alternately spent cursing and laughing (that maniacal laughter one does to avoid crying), we headed onto I-275 North with the intention of getting off at the next exit and turning around.  The exit for which we were in the exit-only lane led directly to MLK Boulevard (Road?  Street?  Avenue? who cares?).  We looked at each other and realized we could be having a true-life Bonfire of the Vanities experience, but luckily all it required was a U-turn to get us headed in the right direction.

But I digress.  The above is a good reason to dislike people (the city planners, the construction workers, etc., of Tampa), but it’s  not necessarily a reason to hate them.  My reason to hate them came a little later in the drive home.  We were cruising along the interstate when we approached the toll plaza for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  I got into the far-right lane because there was only 1 car in it, as opposed to 3 or 4 in the other lanes.  We sat there for at least 5 minutes, watching the toll-taker do something that looked suspiciously like filling out forms.  Then the car in front pulled up a few feet and the toll-taker wrote down the plate number. They futzed around for long enough that KC threatened to reach over me to honk the horn, proving without a shadow of a doubt that, even though you live in Paradise, and even though you can take the girls out of New York (or, in KC’s case, New Jersey), you really cannot take the East coast ‘tude out of the girls. When I finally pulled up to the booth, I asked the man what happened.  Apparently, the person in front of us had no money, and that he was the 3rd person of this man’s shift who had no money.  This is insane.  I can understand not having exact change (especially if you’re not from the area and have no way of knowing), but this driver didn’t have any money at all on him.  It’s not like he’s on the GW Bridge and they want $8.  The Skyway is only $1.  How hard is it to come up with $1?   How can you get in your car and drive on a major thoroughfare late at night with no cash at all on you?  To say that we were gobsmacked is putting it mildly.

How much do you want to bet that he’ll get the bill in the mail and ignore it?

Part VI: Persuasion, cont’d

I just finished Persuasion, and have gathered my thoughts.  It has long been my favorite of Austen’s oeuvre, and nothing I’ve seen or done in the year since this project started has changed my mind.  I still think it’s a beautiful, almost haunting, story.  I still think that Anne Elliot is a wonderful heroine, and that Frederick Wentworth is a dashing, appealing hero.  Both are very real, very human characters.  Anne is the kind of person I aspire to be: she is kind, she is thoughtful, she is giving, she is smart and she is calm in the face of adversity.  Frederick is the kind of man who women want and who men want to be.  But neither is perfect.  Far from it.  Anne has her faults.  There are people out there who think she’s a doormat.  But I still don’t see it.  The entire Musgrove family wishes that Anne had married Charles.  They confide in her, and they trust her judgment without question.  The Harvilles like her.  Captain Benwick likes her. The Crofts like her.  In other words, everyone but her own family likes and appreciates her and, given what we know about them, why would we trust their judgment?

Frederick certainly has his faults.  He’s resentful and even almost cruel to Anne at times.  But he’s still essentially a good person.  We see that early on, when Mrs. Musgrove grieves for her dead son.  Frederick knows full well that Dick Musgrove was a waste of space, and the reader knows it too, but Frederick doesn’t let on for a second.  He lets Mrs. Musgrove remember her son the way she wants to.  He sees how tired Anne is during the Long Walk and gets his sister to take her home in the carriage.  When Louisa does her swan dive, Frederick refers to Anne reflexively by her first name (which is quite a shock, given the formality of the period), and lets everyone know how much respect he has for her and her abilities. If people can forgive Darcy for how he treated his best friend, I don’t understand why some people have trouble forgiving Frederick for having been resentful.  I don’t blame Frederick for being resentful.  The woman he adored, and who he thought adored him back, dumped him.  Sounds pretty straightforward to me.  His declaration of love is arguably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read.  He lays his soul bare and gives Anne another chance to stomp on it. But she doesn’t.

I love Anne and Frederick.  I love seeing these two lonely people get their happy ending.  Anne is good, kind and selfless.  She’s Fanny Price with more personality, more physical strength and more experience. She’s a better judge of character than Elizabeth Bennet.  She’s as emotionally strong as Elinor Dashwood, yet as much of a romantic as Marianne.  As I said earlier, she’s the kind of person I aspire to be but will never succeed in being.  Frederick is as honorable as Edward Ferrars or George Knightley, as romantic as Colonel Brandon and as enigmatic as Fitzwilliam Darcy.  In other words, I think he has it all.

As for the rest of the characters, I’ll start off by saying that I don’t hate Lady Russell.  She did what she thought was right, and I don’t blame her. We know what happened to Miss Frances’ marriage to Mr. Price in Mansfield Park, and Lady Russell understood that this same kind of future was a distinct possibility for Anne if she were to marry a penniless sailor with no prospects.  Captain Harville was injured and he and his wife lived on relatively little, but Mrs. Harville was not the privileged daughter of a baronet who was accustomed to considerable luxury.   Lady Russell loved Anne enough to worry about her, which is more than her own flesh-and-blood did.  Sir Walter was too snobbish to allow the marriage.  Baronets’ daughters couldn’t go out and get jobs to help support their families, so Anne could have been destitute.  No mother (or surrogate mother) worth her salt wants a beloved daughter to suffer, and Lady Russell was worried that marriage to Frederick would mean that Anne would suffer deprivations that she was not prepared for.  None of us has 20/20 foresight, so Lady Russell did what she could with the knowledge she had. Given Frederick’s behavior at the time, she was right in advising against a marriage.

Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mary are three of my favorite comic characters in the Austen canon.  I laugh every time I read Admiral Croft’s comment that he (Sir Walter) would never set the Thames on fire.  The description of Mary as being less repulsive as Elizabeth also makes me laugh out loud. Elizabeth is a piece of work.  Mary is just ridiculous.

Mr. Elliot is not a sexual predator the way Wickham and Willoughby are, and his subplot is not as fleshed out as it could be, but he’s still quite villainous.  Anne shows us just how good her judgment is when she tells Lady Russell that she and Mr. Elliot would not suit.

Once again, I finish Persuasion in awe of Austen’s abilities.  I love this book more with each reading.

I am not an early adopter.  Part of it is due to financial constraints (after all, how many of us had the requisite $400 or so to buy a Kindle when they first came out?), and part is due to my being rather skeptical by nature and I’d rather let other people try things out before I lay down my hard-earned money for them.  I come from a long line of such thrifty skeptics — my parents didn’t get their first color television until 1981; I didn’t get my first VCR until 1987; I didn’t convert to CDs until the early 1990s.  I didn’t get an iPod until the 2nd generation Nano came along.  You get the idea.

My latest “late to the party” purchase was a Miche bag.  I pride myself on being a very low-maintenance kind of girl, and I HATE changing purses.  I have a simple leather Coach shoulder bag (it’s not as sturdy as the Coach bag I got bored with before it wore out back in the 80s/90s) that I use a lot, but I realized I occasionally needed something with more room and also something nicer looking for the occasions when I dress up. Enter the Miche bag.  They’ve been around for a couple of years now, but I never got around to buying one until a few weeks ago. I got the ‘basic bag’ and now have 4 shells.  One is very casual (black denim with fake ostrich trim), and the other three are dressier.  My latest shell goes perfectly with one of my favorite outfits, so I’m content with my decision to break down and buy a Miche.  I’ve noticed that there is at least one ebay vendor who sells handmade shells, and I can see myself patronizing her store to add to my collection.

As an aside, I learned yesterday that my local Borders is one of the stores on the chopping block (in fact, pretty much every Borders on the West coast of Florida is closing).  I am very upset by this.  When I worked in downtown Sarasota, I was there almost every Friday. Once I lost my job, I had to stop going and, now that I’m working in downtown Bradenton, it became a hassle to get there for a trip that might end up with no books.  But I did visit this morning to say good-bye.  I picked up one of every single cross stitch magazine on the shelves for 40% off, and also found both of Laura Lee Gurhke’s new books for 20% off.   RIP Borders.  I will miss you. 😦

Well, maybe not, but it certainly has to be on my list of top bottom 10 worst shows ever.  What am I talking about?  Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? I can’t even begin to tell you how horrible it was.

A couple of friends and I watched it the other night and it hit me that Joan and Melissa must know we’re all laughing AT them rather than WITH them.

Mustn’t they?

I used to like Joan Rivers.  I was impressed by her as a woman in a man’s world.  She was funny.  She made me laugh so hard my sides hurt.  The documentary, Joan Rivers, a Piece of Work was hilarious.  But one day, she decided to change with the times and get coarse. She’s downright disgusting now, and distinctly unfunny. It’s a real shame.

It took longer than I’d have liked, but I did make several Christmas presents along the way, so I don’t feel too guilty.  The Indigo Rose Fine China project is done.  I think it’s beautiful, but you can decide for yourself.  I’m quite proud of it.

Of course, I can’t be without a project for very long, so I reached into one of the boxes o’ stash that isn’t in storage and came up with this:

It’s Summer Glory by Mary Hickmott.  I just love her designs.  The Rose Family of Great Britain piece I bought a few months ago is also one of hers. Her website is here.  You can order just the chart as a download for $6 or $7 (depending on exchange rates), but it’s difficult for people in the US to do it because they are intended to be printed on A-4 paper, which I’ve never seen here in the States.  This is not to say that it’s not available at all, it’s just that I have never seen it when shopping at Staples or Office Depot or wherever.  I’ve downloaded her charts and printed them out on ledger paper (11 1/2 x 17) because A4 is bigger in all directions than our standard letter size (legal size won’t work either).

I started Summer Glory the other day and had to rip out more than 1 square inch because I’d miscounted.  I hate frogging (“rip it” “rip it” – get it?), especially in a case like this, where the piece requires Anchor floss and it’s so hard to get Anchor down here in SW Florida.  I could easily get it up North, but not here.  It’s silly to call Tawny at Where Victoria’s Angels Stitch for one or two skeins, but I’m sure I can come up with something else to buy while I’m at it. *grin*

Happy stitching!

I’ve taken a break from Persuasion because my interlibrary loan book arrived much sooner than I’d expected.  So, since it’s got 500+ pages and is due on the 17th, I had to read it.

The book is South Riding, by Winifred Holtby.  It was written in the mid-1930s, and takes place during that same era.  I was convinced to read it after I learned that the BBC have made a miniseries based on it starring Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, Peter Firth and Penelope Wilton.  PBS will show it at some point.

So far, I am enjoying it. Anna Maxwell Martin plays Sarah Burton, who is the new headmistress at the local girls’ school; David Morrissey is Robert Carne, a farmer who married above his station and is suffering because of it; Peter Firth is Alderman Snaith; and Penelope Wilton is Mrs. Beddows.  In looking at the cast list, I don’t see some characters who appear in the book, but hopefully they’ll be there anyway.  The more I read, the more I can see this turning into a series.  Apparently Yorkshire Television made one back in 1974, but I never got to see it and so cannot tell you how good it was.  There’s also a 1938 movie based on the book (with Sir Ralph Richardson as Carne), and I’ve never seen that one either.  Maybe some day I’ll get to watch both of them.  In the meantime, I need to finish the book by the 16th.