Archive for September, 2014

Emma Thompson, with her mother, Phyllida Law

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I watched on PBS Great Performances Emma Thompson steal all attention in a concert performance of Sweeney Todd from Lincoln Center (I have yet to discover who was the director) with Byrn Terfel as Sweeney, astonishing if you consider his extraordinary voice against her comic caterwauling. Entertaining (vivid, full of a sense of witty there-ness), it nonetheless did not match the dark and somber — and wildly exhilarating version I saw years ago (16 years ago now, Signature Theater’s opening show) directed by Eric Schaeffer where Todd is a man in an insane rage over what the world has done to him, and the magnificent Donna as dark and saturnine as he is mad, and somehow wildly comic, with blood everywhere, and continual death — but this version does make sense of all the music equally. The darker versions don’t know what to do about the lyrical couple. This Lincoln Center director had re-conceived the piece to be more like a Victorian music hall, partly to accommodate Thompson’s vein of quizzical nervous comedy. The lovers’ duets are done in a analogous vein of an ironic comedy that defuses deeper disquiet, and leaves Sweeney more humanly accessible. It was striking too how Lucy now the mad beggar also emerged as more important, a kind of opposite to Mrs Loveit. You might say this was a woman’s Sweeney Todd as Todd’s daughter became an icon of escape on the stage.

Emma Thompson as Mrs Loveit in the Lincoln Center production of Sweeney Todd: her nervous comedy reminded me of other of her performances and was made to fit perfectly

All this to introduce a transcript of selections from an interview about screenplay writing between Thompson and Charles Brock, a central topic of which is her screenplay for the 1995 Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee.

Jeremy Brock began by asking about her father, Eric Thompson who wrote the playlets for the Magic Roundabout. She said her father would watch the pictures of the Magic Roundabout – and write words for pictures. In screenplay writing you write words for the moving pictures. He did not write for children as if they were separate human beings but for adults and children as of one species.

The Magic Roundabout (Jim and I have watched these together; they are intelligent children’s entertainment, piquant to an adult)

She started writing and performing sketches when she was 16: monologues and sketches from Footlights was what she grew up with. Andy LaTour and she were doing stand up comedy – musicals in Australia – Al Fresco in Manchester – earning money doing sketch shows – and they then went to Edinburgh.

She got a commission to write a sketch show in the 1980s (1986), which she regards as an important signal in her life because it was such a massive failure –- yes it was all political, against that right de seigneur as practiced in modern film-making, against dieting (auto-cannibalism). No one seemed to watch and the reviews said “this is very man-hating.” She felt she loved men, and told herself this is what it feels like to be here writing shooting scripts as a woman now. So she never wrote another monologue or another sketch. It was a violent experience: she had wanted to be Lily Tomlinson.

She: men’s jokes are something this lead to an ejaculation at the end. Women’s comedy is more circular: big laugh, little laugh her, and then big laugh. Goes hand in hand with orgasmic nature.

She then suggested that screenplay writing is a kind of negotiation with a film industry.

On her two best-known successful screenplays become films:

Branagh and Thompson in a typical moment from Dead Again

How did Sense and Sensibility come to her? “It came to me because of that sketch — the sketch she was so attackd for: they showed that series in the US on some obscure channel.” Lindsay Doran produced Dead Again, and as Emma’s friend, Doran thought that’s the woman I want to adapt a Jane Austen novel. Thompson said she’d have preferred Persuasion. “I’ve never adapted anything … I’ll have a go.” She is told to begin by dramatizing the whole book, see what works, and then take out what she wants and link everything together through tiny connectives. Thompson’s first script was 600 pages long and the task was to distill.

“You end up with an imaginative invention of your own. First you adapt the whole thing and much of the language in S&S is arcane.” Thompson said several times she writes her first drafts by hand. She went through 17 drafts over five years for the 1995 S&S. She was not doing this all the time –- she produced one draft while they were shooting Much Ado About Nothing affected by experience. Doran said throw it out and go back to the one before. Everyone needs a good editor – really good at knowing what’s good and what isn’t – editing in film is highly regarded . She, Emma, couldn’t write a decent screenplay without a good editor. Unless you are in conversation with someone you can’t get to final draft – it’s a collaborative writing.

What was nature of Elinor emotionally as seen by Austen and then translated by Thompson, realized by Lee – “Emma’s language is arcane [she kept saying this], late 1700s. What Elinor comes to stand for is the honor of a man,” not the same as virginal intactness. “Elinor Dashwood holds to honor and duty;” Ang Lee has the same line (as above scene), in Eat Drink Man Woman: “What do you know of my heart?” meaning also, “How does a woman act to be honorable? What is honor to her? What her methods?” (Is integrity to tell the truth is about it? yes, I think so.) What’s interesting here is Thompson gives weight and gravitas to Elinor’s decision to keep Lucy’s secret, to support Marianne. They become not just steps in a romance.

Thompson with Kate Winslet as Marianne

Emma Thompson went from there to ask and to answer the question, What is a female hero? Where is she? What does she do? She suggested we need to define and see female heroism existing in the ever flowing river of human behavio … in details Detail of human life acts of heroism stitched into last flow. This reminds me of George Eliot’s praise of Dorothea’s life at the close of Middlemarch, but she went on to say for her it’s not enough to know you’ve protected others and helped them by your little acts of heroism. She’d also to be the one who goes out and be the active hero – she instanced Clint Eastwood.

On the Jane Austen society: “she’s very protected,” and her adherents easily “excited.” They had been no picture since 1940: she means movies, reinforcing this idea that what’s on TV doesn’t count. Thompson told someone in the JASNA organization that she had cut Nancy Steele and the person walked away – the woman was so appalled.

She then talked of Elinor and Edward as characters and said she saw in them the potential for a connection to contemporary relationships. Edward and Elinor (she and Hugh Grant) had to lay in a deep humorous understanding of one another, a shared sense of honor. There is a frisson of sexuality embedded in Austen indirectly and as screenplay writers you write it into the script directly. The script is the muse for the performer; you leave open for such a thing to have happen offstage: our problem is how little we know of Austen from her letters since so many were destroyed: I did like how she said “I want to kill Cassandra for burning much of JA’s correspondence. The books show selfish people getting what they want, they stay selfish, Lucy is extremely selfish and carries on; that is the realism of Jane Austen.

So how do you approach a classic novel: you must bring your own feeling to the work. The way it’s done is dramatize the book. Go through it dramatizing as you go, and then start to cut. You eventually recognize some keystone, some central crucial incident or theme and build a structural integrity around that. This keystone enables the director to navigate the filming the film, or it’s a loadstone attracting everything to it like a magnet. You build around keystone if it’s taken away, the arch of the film’s arrangement of scenes will fall. It has these angles to it. The screenplay holds water like a balloon – a good one will carry on holding its water, some water might move and change shape but not burst.

Great screenplays – making a screenplay to film — after dramatizing the whole book, you take out the bits that don’t work. You have to cut the bits that don’t work. Essential in screenplay you’ve adapted it to film, I can see it, it’s implicit, there already, so I don’t need to have that scene

In thinking of her screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, she remembers Howards End where Margaret talks so famously of only connect. Everyone said and Jim Ivory too, we’ve got to have it in. Well theye shot it, and in the movie it wasn’t there. We didn’t need it; the idea of only connecting was watched all movie long.

Adaptation process is double: there’s book to screenplay and screenplay to film. Editing is the final rewrite of the film where people see what the film doesn’t need. Now when you excise something you can make juxtaposition of the two remaining scenes much more powerful. That is key to power and effect.

About ellipses, it’s a matter of taking out everything; then what’s left really pings out because of whaty ou have taken away. And performance art all to do with energy

The ending of a film should ideally be like a magnet — scenes, characters and words – all are piles of iron and then pulled to end into the magnet. All the odd filings have gone whosh and you go out filled up with energy – magnet’s your ending.

Elinor’s last scene with Edward is the last scene of S&S for real (so she discounts that marital montage orgasm the studio insisted on) – she’s all about withholding, well I wrote it all first and saw how much you can withhold. Now sometimes people take out too much; you must be able to follow – she’s accused by sister of having no feeling, but she’s nothing, she can do about it nothing as everything having do with being active is against what she has been taught. Thompson said that “every time I read it, I cried so I didn’t change it.” That last scene was written quite early. When Grant began to rehearse it with her, he asked “Are you going to do that cry all the way through my fucking speech. She answered “Yes, because it’s funny, it’ll work I promise you it’ll work. He all right, I’ll do it,” and it did work.

Long languors, they can be written or just performed. This is not to deny that stage directions are very important –- they need to be witty, well written – cursory or banal. “Then I am willing to read bloody dialogue — every single word must be the most beautiful things. It has to be as perfect as it can be and then you do hand it over to other people’s art” (acting, production design, costume, directing).

Later she was asked, Where do you keep the box of drafts? In the attics – she does not go back and reread – she ddid find the box of drafts for S&S and was asked by Jeremy to bring them to the interview. She begins by writing by hand, and goes through 3 or 4 drafts by hand. She becomes more neat – nearer all the tie –- you have to copy by hand so you get to know your text when you barely do copying and pasting.

Turning away from Sense and Sensibility gradually Brock asked her, “To what extent do you bring actors’ antenna to writing and the journey. She referred him to her comments on the DVD feature accompanying The Remains of Day. She will tend to act all the roles as she writes. She will not write something that cannot be spoken. You test that continually. “You can learn bad writing. Good writing goes into your system. Such a joy, such a pain. When it’s good, you are so grateful.”


She turned to her other well-known script: Nanny McPhee. How did she come to write a screenplay for this child’s book? Well, hovering in the room which has got best of the books in my house, Matilda by Christiana Brown, she came to read it again and came to think Brown was writing for herself: the book was about an anarchic change from an ugly to a beautiful nanny. She phoned Lindsay Duncan (who had suggested S&S to her). Thompson thought it’d be so much easier: 9 years later she had a script which took 7 years in development. When you come to make it into a film, you realize there’s no story. You also you can’t have 32 children. It was hell to adapt.

They had thought it would be this lovely simple story – “we’re going to be so happy” … instead it was “I can’t go on … “ Thompson says “You want to make something good and precious and good for an important audience — children — and find there is no story in them, no structure.” It was while she was staying in the Hotel Avalon – “Hitler’s favorite hotel by the way” she says, she began to see that it was a western about a kind of war. Nanny McPhee is about subversion. In the conversation she keeps bringing up Clint Eastwood who seems to me irrelevant; but she does have the archetypal pattern of the western right: the hero comes into a situation where order has broken down; he restores order and has to leave as he is the outsider. She made Mcphee into this cowboy-like character; she subverted a children’s film genre to allow Nanny McPhee to say what it is and then leave. So she was repeating her father’s ploy: again her father wrote for people not for special breed of human beings. You don’t want children to drown themselves or open a vein but you want to show them some truths.

Thompson as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr Banks: she wrote stories for children which had some truths


Asked what is the relationship between screenwriting and acting, she answers “There is no science,” and quoted choreographer Agnes de Mille, “Living is a form of not being sure not knowing what next or how. The artist never entirely knows; we guess we may be wrong but we take leap after leap in the dark. Good,huh?”

Exurberantly drunk one year at the Golden Globes

The audience applauded and then they took questions.

A woman identified herself as a playwright, and explained she was trying to get her screenplay realized. How do you approach production companies? (Can she invite you to her new play? — this was ignored.) Thompson: “There’s no science. You have to be in the context – and then resilient, persistent and solipsistic. You have to send it to people and turn up. You also need to be sure it’s good.” Thompson said “I have had scripts rejected – and later seen the underlying material she wrote up made with another script.”

A woman said, “when you want a strong female character, at some poin tyou have to make it a male; where do you stop to keep the character a female?” Thompson denied her central assumptions: first of all, great dialogue won’t necessarily tell you if speaker is a man or woman. Thompson said there is not this hard and fast difference at all; our brains not sufficiently different; then education and nurture starts to twist and beat us out of our shapes. We are gendered through culture and culture changes.

A woman asked, “How do you know when your re-write is finished, “It” — all done. Thompson: “It changes with each project. You can have a situation and a director drops out and hey suddenly say this actor or that needs to be a man – there’s that. “You get your studio notes – good and bad, irritating; you must buckle down and suck it up and make compromises I think. That’s as far as I can get it for now … leave it to cook and go back to it a month later …” Thompson said “I edit, I am a fierce editor; I like getting rid of things. You can only know up to to a point and then you have to leave it.” She has to earn a living between drafts and she can as an actress (and celebrity – she did not mention that.) She doesn’t write a screenplay for 7 years and do nothing else, she can’t afford to do that.”

No good questions from audience so Brock said “Tone, pace, touch and feel; you to apply all of that, and it is an educated process; you learn while doing. Advice is “don’t panic. Let it be.”

“Who’s her role model?” Says Thompson, “You must be honest in these things. My role model is my mother (Phyllida Law), a great writer, my first editor. I did my first stand up for her in Croyden (age 25, 60 quid). “I would do pieces for my mum in the kitchen and she edit them.” Long after her father died. Both parents could and can write.

How do you find balance of what to keep in and out. She says you can’t know. She told of a recent film about a miscarriage of justice. A father wrongly imprisoned and has died – many scenes cut; only when editing was it seen the cutting of playlets would only make the script better.

Brock made an effort to find a male questioner and found one. I don’t remember if he or the next questioner asked, “Do you go in knowing how story will end … or is it during flow that you get the ending? Thompson said most adaptations end with the ending of the book (it’s remembered by audiences). You have to have this writer’s stuff to work with, do the knitting, spin the wool, if you have nothing to work on, just write. Just sit and write – this is the only advice that works for her. (I can’t do that, I must make each section as good as I can before going on to the next, even when I have break throughs and suddenly write and write.)

Someone asked, “How often do you write a character with an actor in mind,”and “how does that work? Thompson replied that she “never gets the actors she wants.” She pulled back from that joke to saye sometimes she does – she sometimes does write with a specific actor in mind. “It’s very helpful; ” in the case of Hugh Grant, she knew he would be able to do Edward, so 90% of work of directing was achieved; directing is also done in casting. But then “Not always she does not always have people in mind.”

I omitted from my transcription how Thompson came back several times to say her mother was her best reader and inspiration. How she read her early writing to her mother, how her mother accompanied her sometimes early in her career, how her mother is still there for her and her sister, Sophie Thompson. Phyllida Law never remarried.

Emma’s sister, Sophie Thompson, also a superb actress, with their mother

Thompson’s close: William Wyler said “your screen play needs to be all good scenes, no bad scenes and one great scene.”

I hope readers find this as instructive as I have.

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The fake come-on (Jane Seymour) with which the film opens

The innocent heroine (Keri Russell) taken in — note the trope of the heroine as narrator and writer of diaries (something seen thoughout the Austen film canon)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to write about this film for some time; I saw it a couple of months ago now when I was watching several new Austen movies since I had had to put down my book project down two summers ago now. I try to keep an open mind on the Austen film canon, and find that most of the time either Austen is kept to sufficiently or the intermediary book or script is sufficiently intelligent and kept to so there is much worth while in the movie — as long as to some extent they keep crucial aspects of the original book. This is true of the 2013 Scents and Sensibility. They keep a lot of the original story and character oppositions and themes. Another type builds on the original story while keeping it in mind Clueless, the Bridget Jones movies, the Jane Austen Book Club and Death comes to Pemberley. These have an intermediary book (even Clueless).   Lost in Austen lacks the intermediary connection, and while apparently departing from the P&P radically, when watched with attention Lost in Austen is clearly a critique of some of Austen’s attitudes in Pride and Prejudice as well as showing up gaps or difficulties in the book itself. I suggest Austenland meant to do the same and is a daring kind of venture.

Here Keri is meant to evoke Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz — before she leaves Kansas

The problem with Austenland (I decided tentatively) is it’s at that stage of production you sometimes hear about in franker features. In discussing how it took 6 (!) years to produce From Prada to Nada, the directors and screenplay writers said at one point they had a completed movie but knew it was very weak; their fundamental idea had not worked in the way they thought it could dramatically. They felt they had to reconceive the work, this time with far more emphasis on the Hispanic background of the appropriation. Funding was needed and to get all the actors back together again, but they managed it.

This is a movie released at a stage when it is a draft. Until the romantic abject coda ending which made nonsense of all that had gone, it seems to me that Jerusha Hess and Shannon Hale (director and screenplay writers) had a movie like Lost in Austen in mind. All the decor in the movie identified as “Austen” like was absurd, rather like some Hallmark card at Christmas time by someone who knows little of Christmas objects (what they are for). The idea sarcastic: the ignorance of the vast fan base about the 18th century and Austen too is the point. The problem here was to come out clearly on this you have to insult the audience. The second important inference is that if you went to a theme park and had any brains you would soon see you are being fleeced and all around you actors who despise you and are using you. That’s what happens when our heroine Jane Hanes (Keri Russell, a popular “good girl” ingenue) shows up. Again if the audience truly takes this in, you are insulting them.

Jane’s incorrectly dressed: her poke bonnet belongs to an American cowboy movie

The problem here is these ideas are tough (tougher than critiquing an 18th century novel and romance as is done in Lost in Austen) and the film-makers also wanted to do light and screwball comedy.

Georgia King as pouting Lady Amelia Heartright (her heart’s in the right place) flooring Darcy as she tries to pretend she’s got a cell phone

A further complication is what movie-makers think is comic in our anti-feminist pop culture so one of the two actresses, Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Elizabeth Charming, who takes this tour is dressed like some version of Dolly Parton and enacts the stupidity of Judy Holiday’s characters: to soften this she is made good-natured if occasionally sullen since she realizes she is not enjoying herself.

Her clothes way too tight

Pretending “perfect unconcern” like Austen’s Lydia

The result is imbecility. The movie is racialist too because Ricky Whittle as Captain East was done up as a very sexy African-American or African-English man hired to be a Willoughby or sexy-male taking advantage of the secondary comic kittenish heroine, Lady Amelia

She’s not altogether against being beat up

Behind this was the myth that black men are sexier.

A few good actors were wasted. JJFeild who can speak older English and can do romance was Mr Henry Nobley a cross between a feeble version of Mr Knightley (as he has nothing to do) and a withdrawn Darcy figure (Feild was Henry Tilney in an excellent Northanger Abbey, scripted by Andrew Davies):


James Callis who can be very funny (in the Bridget Jones movies he is the male friend) was thrown away as an effete gay (homosexual) man, again pandering to stereotypes — the weak sidekick to Darcy.


Jane Seymour who has impressed me as having brains but never seems to hold out for sharp roles she might enact was the crook-woman, an utter snob, running the establishment, and there were whiffs of a Lady Catherine de Bourgh imitation but it never quite came off since she was not a character who super-respected herself.

Martin (Wickham character) and Jane (Elizabeth-Jane Austen?) kiss and tumble about in the grass (Keri Russell and Brett Mackenzie)

The wet-shirt scene is Martin or Wickham’s — de rigueur

The secondary romance of Martin as a stable groom, with Jane (a la Elizabeth Bennet fooled by Wickham in P&P) gradually emerges. Martin is a sort of romantic refuge from say the really tough or gritty depiction of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the gamekeeper on the estate – he turns out to be an actor and is exposed as far more phony than Mr Henry Nobley.  Mr Nobley does not try to hide that he is a hired actor while Martin does. Martin is the closest the movie got to Wickham. Last seen he is promiscuously chatting up someone in an obligatory end-of-movie festival scene — not explained what this was all about, it seemed suddenly a circus had come to the vacation estate from a nearby English town. Here like Lost in Austen, it lost the courage of a conviction Wickham is bad news for women: like several of the recent Austen films, it was openly sympathetic to Wickham.


Alas as I said, the faux festival scene was not the end of the movie. It might have had some bite if at least it had left Jane to go home utterly disillusioned, knowing that what she had dreamed of was nonsense, based on no knowledge, fake through and through ideas about men and sexual romance. But no suddenly there is Mr Nobley dressed in ordinary 21st century dress and we have a reprise of abject romance reminding me of the tacked-on nature of the ending of Joe Wright’s 2005 P&P. And we have to have poetic justice so the actor playing Wickham is exposed at the airport (waiting for his plane):


Certain details in the film suggest a draft stage — unfinished. For example, Jane’s friend, Molly (?Ayda Field) at home in the US who tells Jane she is a fool.  Molly hopes the big sum and time Jane has thrown away upon this “vacation” will be well spent if Jane comes home and throws all the cutesy little girl junk out of her room. Meanwhile Molly has gotten pregnant. This is slowly revealed in the opening segment and the travel agency.


But we never see her again, her pregnancy is never explained, or what she is doing living with Jane. She is the equivalent of the vestigial Margaret in Austen’s own S&S, only that there is nothing brought into the film worthwhile to justify keeping her.

One telling detail — common among the earlier and still most of the Austen film canon — marking it as a Jane Austen film is no woman loses her virginity during the film.  There is no overt sexual act at all. Rare films to break this taboo include Maggie Wadey’s 1986 Northanger Abbey; Victor Nunez’s 1993 Ruby in Paradise (Ruby fights off an attempted rape by the John Thorpe character) and Angel Garcia’s 2011 From Prada to Nada (Mary’s Willoughbhy immediately betrays her by deserting and then shows her he was married, a double twist since she was wanting to marry him partly for his money).

Jerusha and Hale needed to put the film in the can, wait a couple of years, hire everyone back, re-write, re-think and try again. The premise is not bad — women are allowing themselves to be fleeced by the Austen establishment (hotels, convention sites, amusement parks, movie-makers, sequel writers). I note the screenplay writer, director and three producers were all women. (I later discovered that Shannon Hale had written Austenland as a book too. But the film is worked out wholly inadequately or with shallow commercial pandering where thought and effort were needed.)

And then I watched it a third time — this time much earlier in the day and going slow capturing stills and taking down dialogue – -and I discover it’s much better than I thought. I still think it needed much work, still conclude it has weaknesses, but taken as a kind of mad absurdity, especially a play within the play, it’s witty and clever

Nobley dressing for play within play


The extravagance of the costumes and their parody of romance types was intriguing; I wish the film-makers had worked harder on this — revised and revised the way Austen herself might have done. It wasn’t daring enough to stay with its burlesque. The witty dialogues were not brought out sharply enough.

Count the anachronisms


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Death Comes to Pemberley: the coloration of the film

Dear friends and readers,

My proposal has been accepted:

The Eighteenth Century on Film: A proposal for the coming ASECS in March 2015: “What work does a screenplay or shooting script perform?

The argument of my paper will be that using the screenplay or shooting script to close read a film yields far more accurate and instructive information and insight about the film than comparing it directly (as is often done) to its eponymous novel. I will have three examples where the sources (beyond other films and other intertextual references) and types of films are usefully different.

Humming (1)

Humming (2)
Death comes to Pemberley: one of the many scenes in the wood near Pemberley; a group scene (script calls for lines interacting over scenes juxtaposed)

First I’ll present my findings from an analysis of the final shooting script by Juliette Towhidi for P.D. James’s Death comes to Pemberley against the 2013 romantic mystery thriller mini-series. In this first case we have an intermediary novel, P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, and, as it is close sequel, a specific originating Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice) with its underlying material literally important to the film but strongly changed first by P.D. James and then by Towhidi. We will be able to see three levels of transference: Death Comes to Pemberley, the film from its shooting script; then the shooting script’s transference from Death Comes to Pemberley, the novel, itself a close sequel to Pride and Prejudice in the way the characters are developed from the original novel.


Metropolitan: Individual and group debate over ideas central to this film

The second part of the paper will tell my findings from an analysis of the screenplay for Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. I choose this film because it’s a realistic novel of manners done within 2 hours and there is no intermediary novel. In this second case also the originating novel (Mansfield Park) however recognizable through analogy is far from the literal movie story line and characters and yet is there transformed. I hope to make visible the direct transference which still makes the novel newly available with the contemporary slant of an appropriation. I will bring up Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise briefly as it too has no intermediary novel and yet a recognizable Austen novel as its underlying material (Northanger Abbey). One sparrow does not a summer make so a few comments on this second poetic shooting script is there to make more convincing the perspective and argument I made about a film made directly from a script.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley walking away from Emma after a strong spat

Agasin from Emma (2009): after Box Hill, Romola Garai as Emma to Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse: to his query doubting the good time, she says she doesn’t think she’ll do it again soon, as “one can have too much of a good thing …”

If it’s just 15 minutes I keep to a brief coda bring the 2009 heritage mini-series adaptation of Emma by Sandy Welch. (I’ll omit Andrew Davies’s 1995 Emma film; after all it’s been analyzed elsewhere). What I was to show is the shooting script of a mini-series shows how the cyclical nature of such a film changes the novel fundamentally in the way we experience it even if impressionistically viewers and film critics alike talk as if we have a close “faithful” transference.

Ruby in Paradise: New Henry Tilner in Mike McClasin (the 2008 JJFeilds the same type out of Andrew Davies scripts) an environmentalist who has opted out for a time, playing his horn in the wood outside his cabin-house

2008 Northanger Abbey: JJ Fields as Tilney appealing to Catherine Morland his vulnerability

It is still common for film criticism to ignore or not use centrally the screenplay or shooting script for close readings of films. With the popularity of adaptations, increasingly film-makers use sequels of famous books as well as previous film versions as part of their terrain. So, the purpose of my paper is to show how much more effective a study of a film can be if we use the shooting script or screenplay whether there is an intermediary novel, no intermediary novel or just an originating novel. One reason for the use of the novel rather than the screenplay or shooting script is they are often not made available. For Austen films they are more often than many other classic books because she is such a cult figure and attracts respected film-makers. My hope is studies like mine will help lead to more publication of screenplays and shooting scripts which are valuable works of literature in their own right.


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Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth — a remembered dream image of her embarrassment overhearing conversation about her in a previous Lady Ball (Juliette Towhidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley, Episode 2)

To theeas

Romola Garai as Emma gets to come to the sea at last (Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma, Episode 4, last shot)

Dear friends and readers,

I sent off a proposal to deliver a paper for a panel on film in a coming conference, and thought I’d tell a little about it. What I proposed was to present findings from analyses of a group of films to show what one can learn about a film if you make its screenplay or near-final shooting script your guiding text.

Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan is also a Christmas movie (Carolyn Farina as Aubrey-Fanny Rouget with her mother)

I thought it would be instructive if I compared different relationships between screenplays and films and their underlying materials in novels or other sources.  There are numbers of appropriation films in the Austen canon where there is no novel, just a film and screenplay or shooting script. Two cases where the screenplay or shooting script has been made available, and the same person wrote the screenplay and directed the film attract me especially: Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (from Mansfield Park) and Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise (adapting Northanger Abbey). Nunez’s play is a poetic masterpiece, while Stillman’s is brilliant about the nature of integrity in Mansfield Park as this relates to viewers in the 1990s.

Ashley Judd as Ruby reading Northanger Abbey (after which she and Todd Field as Mike McCaslin discuss Austen’s novels values) (Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise) — for me a favorite still

There a number of films where you can tease out the shooting script (a near-final version before editing and cutting) with, on the one side, an intermediary novel and on the other a closely adapted Austen novel:  of all of these, the 2013 mini-series, Death Comes to Pemberley can be most instructively analyzed using Juliette Towhidi’s shooting script more than others because P. D. James’s novel is a genuine sequel to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so an analysis reveals illuminating levels of reference in these different underlying materials dramatized, visualized, and heard. I also am deeply engaged by the development of how aspects of Darcy’s character (his pride in ancestry especially) and Elizabeth’s sense of her lack (mortification) leads to disillusionment, estrangement for a time.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy testifying on behalf of Wickham (Death Comes to Pemberley)

Finally the traditional film adaptation, often said to be taken directly from the same Austen novel, so I thought of two heritage films out of Austen’s Emma: in the case of the 1996 Meridian/A&E Emma, scripted by Andrew Davies, a screenplay and scenario in the form of a companion book have been published, and some have persuasively argued a scenario is as crucial to a final film as the screenplay; the recent 2009 Emma, scripted by Sandy Welch, is a 4-part mini-series, and will reveal what happens to this tightly-knit Austen novel when it is turned into this kind of TV program. It’s also been unfairly neglected: its use of Knightley Jonny Lee Miller) as a central perceiver will make for a telling contrast too.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley plays a central inward role in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma (a new development in the heritage films)

In the history of film criticism, time and again film-makers and critics have asserted that the screenplay used in making a film is one of the central instruments for achieving high quality and commercial success. Some have argued that these plays are works of literature in their own right; others have proselytized (most notoriously Syd Field) for the idea that behind successful movies (no matter what particular surface structuring), lies a forward-thrusting three-act formula; others (Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush in their Alternative Scriptwriting) have produced nuanced accounts of the variety of structures found in different types of screenplays (e.g., the cyclical) from the standpoint of how much time the film can take (the multi-episode form), its genre and/or its author’s gender. Yet it is still common to find analyses of films which compare imagined transfers of specific materials from the underlying or eponymous novel with the finished film without attending to this central prescriptive intermediary. I suggest studying the screenplay will lead to less impressionist film criticism. More studies of shooting scripts and screenplays might encourage the publication of screenplays and shooting scripts, with appropriate apparatuses and annotation.

I’ve assigned and read paperback editions of this book with classes — alongside Austen’s novel

Why the Austen films? I love them. A number of the Jane Austen films’ screenplays and shooting scripts have been published and the underlying materials of all of these naturally form a coherent body of work. Those wanting to attract an audience have hired or been script-writers and directors whose work is studied in its own right. One can therefore obtain scripts, scenarios (companion or “Making of” books), and useful practical commentary for a number of these films. All this because Austen herself is such a cult figure with a world-wide following. Beyond this, the Austen films have similar structures and perspectives: they use female narrators, and attempt to see experience from a woman’s perspective. Yet they are (for the student of film) literally usefully varied films: they come in many different genres, e.g., from Christmas movies to gothics to screwball comedy & family romance.

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (one of two screwball romances made thus far, the previous the 1940 P&P)


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Steventon: an old print of a drawing of the rectory in which Austen grew up

Dear friends,

We move from Jane Austen’s defiant great-grandmother, a housekeeper in a great school, Elizabeth Weller Austen, and one of her sons, Henry’s very rich attorney-banker uncle (Chapter 1 of the Austen Papers), to the world of her parents in the years they were having their babies, Jane and her siblings, at Steventon (Chapter 2). Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh’s second chapter consists of 9 letters written between 1770 and 1775, from George and Cassandra Austen, to Susannah Weaver Walter, wife of William Hampton Walter, half-brother to George. The value of this blog is I link in the texts of these letters as uploaded to Ronald Dunning’s useful website. RAAL found these letters in a footnote to an article by Sidney Grier, in Temple Bar, entitled “A God-daughter of Warren Hastings.” In other words, they are saved as connected to Hastings’s probable biological daughter, Elizabeth Hancock de Feuillide Austen by George Austen’s sister, Philadelphia Austen Hancock. They were owned by Mr Guy Nicholson, a great-great-grandson of William Hampton Walter and were owned by RAAL in 1941. I offer what comments I can. To my mind Claire Tomalin in her biography and Claire Harman in her Jane’s Fame have offered the most perceptive readings of these letters.

The chapter introductions fascinating and tantalizing: Eliza Hancock is referred to as “Bessy:” was this a family nickname? She is just then living with her mother, Philadelphia, in a cottage with two servants, “perhaps coloured ones,” Peter and Clarinda. Given all the connections with India, by “perhaps colored” RAAL means possibly Indian–I would love to know more about why he thought that. How frequent it was for servants to be brought to England from India? Did Jane Austen know these servants as a child? It is not surprising that most of the letters were found in the hands of a descendent of Hastings, a remembered powerful man. Most of the letters are by Eliza and if you count in Henry’s both of them. Eliza was the child of Hastings. His family would want to get their hands on them and eliminate anything which gave this away. We should recall that the letters represent a version of what was left after censorship and destruction; they are a later equivalent of Lord Brabourne’s kind of work with a new attitude brought in: that what texts one has one should not combine with texts of other letters; that what one does publish, publish it straight.


A useful readable Austen family tree (click to enlarge)

1 & 2. Rev. George Austen to Mrs (Susanna Weaver) Walter, Steventon to Bolton Street, 2 May 1770 & 8 July 1770

Jane’s father invites his half-brother’s wife to come and stay with him and his wife at Steventon, and to bring her daughter. By 1770 he and Cassandra Leigh had been married 6 years and she had given birth three times. She is probably pregnant with Henry. (I am using Maggle Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family through Five Generations for family trees and dates of birth, order of children and so on.)

Mrs Austen has now gone to visit her half-sister-in-law in London. Claire Tomalin is insightful about the second letter. She discerns (rightly I now think) that George is anxious about his wife’s having gone off, leaving him with three babies. Tomalin guesses Mrs Austen was seeking some form of escape and rest and using the pregnancy of her step-sister-in-law as her socially acceptable excuse. Tomalin sees a determination in George to stop his wife from doing this again – next time he is going to come. Tomalin goes so far as to suggest the renewed incessant pregnancies were George’s way of making it impossible for Mrs Austen to up and go away. She cites letters by other relatives (among them Tysoe Hancock, Eliza’s legal father, whose letters form the center of Chapter 3) saying to George that he has little money for this size family and should at least slow down (use a separate bedroom for now). I find this psychologically persuasive. The modern over-emphasis on extended breast-feeding ends up nailing women down as the easiest if not most comfortable thing to do — not that Mrs Austen practiced that; she breast-fed minimally and then put each child into a near-by foster home. The second son, George, is already seen as a disabled child — he sees no improvement. We can compare Eliza years later insisting on seeing “improvement” in her little Hastings. She did not put him away; clearly very frail he would not have lived long had someone not determined truly to care for him taken over.

3. Mrs George Austen (Cassandra) to Mrs Walter, Steventon to a Parsonage near Tunbridge, Kent, August 26, 1770

Now Cassandra’s voice. She is writing to a woman she is close friends with, Susanna Weaver Walter, who has just given birth: she voices pious dislike of London; the sister she speaks of is Philadelphia Austen Hanock and her child Eliza or Bessy (or Betsy). She still has George with her and has been attempting to teach James to write. On Clarinda and Peter, Clarinda is still mentioned when Eliza writes when she is much older to Susannah’s daughter, her cousin, Philadelphia Walker (later Mrs Whitaker). We hear of Philadelphia Austen Hancock’s misadventure — coaches were dangerous and we have here an understandable loss of poise. She has been through a lot this woman, determined not to return to India with Hancock, basically left on her own by Hastings (it’s clear from other letters he never led her to expect otherwise but she might have hoped, her daughter and later son-in-law kept hoping for personal contact). She almost loses her Indian letters the way Jane Austen almost lost her precious (to us too) manuscripts. (Imagine carrying your life’s work about with you

A family tree for Philadelphia Austen Hancock and Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen (omitting Warren Hastings)

4. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna) Walter, Steventon, Dec 9, 1770 

Four months later Mrs Austen hCassandra is sorry Susanna lives so far off ;she wishes Susanna were removed from the parsonage but as to herself, she will not be bothered by the neighbors. (Were they vulgar?) Bill is Mrs Walters’s baby. She has also been to visit her own sister Jane Cooper but did not take Edward. Too young? Then they are off to the Leigh-Perrots. She is not keen to stay at Steventon, Alderney cow or no. Then she’ll take Neddy (Edward, the third son) and Jemmy (James). An in-the-midst of life letter. Little Neddy (Edward) was well enough that she could get away, to Southcote to her sister, Jane Cooper and her little boy. She had not seen them since last July. She now hopes to visit her brother, James Leigh-Perrot and his wife in Bath for Christmas, taking two of her boys. She wishes Susanna were closer so she could come too. She wishes Susanna were not stuck in the parsonage with unfortunate neighbors but assures Susanna when she visits she cares nothing for them. She is glad another child is well (Bill). Two neighbors fighting over a house — Harwood is talked about in Jane’s letters later on. 

She has already handed George over to a caretaker – he is brought to see her. She does feel bad about it but does not register she is depriving him of a life. The association of sickness makes her remember Philadelphia Austen Hancock – she does not care for the damp of her winter house; Mrs Austen says it’s a bad place. Philadelphia would eventually take herself and daughter to France.

The letter ends on a note which suggests a companionable friendships between the two families.

5. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna) Walter, Steventon, Nov 8, 1772

Cassandra can now travel nowhere — Henry is born and come from nurse. A stout little fellow. In the previous letter we heard how the Coopers were settled in Bath, no going there (where the Leigh-Perrots are) are or Kent. In this letter all Jane Austen’s main fictional places are mapped. Susannah has relatives trying to make it in Jamaica (off slavery let’s remember) and Mrs Austen glad to hear all well. Her sister-in-law Philadelphia will come this time to help her through the coming birth (it will be Cassandra).

6. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna Walter), Steventon, June 6, 1773

This letter seems to have been written as an apology for Mr Austen’s having gone somewhere on business near to the Walters’ home and yet not visited them. An account of all Mrs Austen’s children in good health, now Cassy is weaned from Mrs Austen and put out to nurse. One wonders the origin of this practice was to teach boys especially to endure less love. Mr Austen has started his boy’s school as Lord Lymington is there. People are visiting her: Jane Cooper, husband and children’ she has two, and maybe she will have no more. And Mr and Mrs L-P come tomorrow. Mrs Austen can show off her dairy, all her riches.

The lack of any notes is a hindrance; LeFaye did provide something.

7. Mrs Cassandra Austen (called Cassy I see)to Susanna Walter, Steventon, Dec 12, 1773:

Cassandra now has 4 young children at home to care for: James and Edward somewhat older and toddler Henry and baby Cassandra. The Sr George Hampson who has hurt his hand is probably 6th Baronet who would be the son of the eldest line of Hampsons (found in LeFaye’s Family Record, p 298) who died in the following year. The nephew George who will accompany him could be one of Susannah’s sons (though they seem too young as yet) or his nephew (the 7th baronet). Mrs Austen says it is “high time” for the young man to have employment (we would say get a job, train for a job) but do not get how he is the other man’s brother. I find a real feeling of regret, of sympathy for Susanna that’s why I surmise some close relationship. We can at least feel that if Mrs Austen utterly acquiesced in sending Francis and Charles away at age 12, she did feel the dangers, the risks, the loss of the boy. Another boy has joined the school and Lord Lymington had begun to stammer so he is being taken to London. This shows that in this era parents worried about this kind of manifestation of nervousness. The boy was perhaps removed too young from his parents.

George Morland (1763-1804), a much idealized depiction of children playing blind man’s bluff (1787-88)

8. Mrs George (Cassandra) Austen to Mrs (Susanna) Walter, Steventon, 20 August 1775.

We break in upon this family when Francis, Jane’s directly older brother, the fifth son, was born well over a year ago, and Mrs Austen is pregnant with Jane. She’s glad to hear George (see above) arrived safely in Jamaica — for many weeks she had wanted to hear of this. If it’s the same George as above, it took time before George was actually sent. They thought about it. Weaver is Susanna’s second child, first son,and as such he is sent to Cambridge. Meanwhile Francis is 16 months and runs about — very active. Henry no longer in skirts (breeches), and we see vies with his older brothers, makes much of his height. He was tall and Edward not. There were tall and short Austens in this nuclear family. Henry would learn he could not overcome that 3 years. One of the little boys she mentioned last time was ill, went home and back and now gone again for summer holidays. Hay matters, it’s money.

She would have liked to see her friend-as-sister, but must not think of it. When Tomalin suggested Mr Austen began again to impregnant Mrs Austen continually, it was after that 2 year and 1/2 break when she began to travel to London and visit her sister in Bath. He won if you think this winning as he must support all these children. Hancock did not think it winning, but then in the countryside and with not too much ambition Mr Austen could have seen this differently.

I don’t know who the orphans were but someone in Mrs Walter’s vicinity died and some group of children cut off. The Freemans were cousins on the Hampton side of the Walters and might be called upon to take orphans in.

9. Rev George Austen to Mrs (Susanna Walter), Steventon, 17 December 1775

I take this letter to be the equivalent of a phone call. Announcement of new baby and 3 business items. The more general interest of this often-quoted letter is it shows the inter-workings of the patronage system from which lower people were shut out. The immediate interest is the birth of Jane Austen on a cold snowy day in late December. Mr Austens says how he and Cassy in their old age have mistimed this one, and how Jenny will make a nice “plaything” for her sister Cassy.” The new baby is a doll for the little girl. Looking at this from a later perspective, that phrase can be taken to have some ominous resonance: when Cassandra turned herself into a non-widow widow, and then Jane didn’t want the marriage offers that came her way, Cassandra maintained her status as older sister, an authority of figure of sorts, and made herself essential to Jane in many ways. Jane was “the younger sister” (as perhaps the first title of The Watsons points to) and in this era this kind of status mattered. The Austens at any rate put the girls together as a pair, and one sees this kind of treatment of women sisters in novels.

Mr Freeman who was to adopt those orphants might be “Cope” — he is in a poor way. Susannah has been inquiring whether George can do anything for her son for a fellowship perhaps, but he has not been able to find anything out. This is the reality of networking and patronage systems; endless secrets. A plowing match — so physical amusement out of farming life noted.

Mr Austen does not want to deal with a Mr Collis unless he comes with some reference. Steedman says in this world these character references were ways of controlling lower class people’s behavior.

I conclude with two poems by Mrs Austen, one written a few, and the other 20 years later as they give a sense of the tone and circumstances of the world Jane Austen grew up in. In the first Mrs Austen parodies her husband’s pupils, not altogether kindly; she is teaching them to accept their uncomfortable bedroom. In the other she enjoys an assembly at the Town Hall in Basingstoke, the kind of dancing affair Jane Austen would have gone to regularly


Thomas Gainsborough: a depiction of his two daughter chasing butterflies

The humble petition of R4 Buller &
W. Goodenough

A somewhat unusual complaint from two of the rectory pupils is
turned by Mrs Austen into a petition on their behalf to her husband.

Dear Sir, We beseech & intreat & request
You’d remove a sad nuisance that breaks our night’s rest
That creaking old weathercock over our heads
Will scarcely permit us to sleep in our beds.
It whines & it groans & makes such a noise 
That it greatly disturbs two unfortunate boys
Who hope you will not be displeased when they say
If they don’t sleep by night they can’t study by day.
But if you will kindly grant this their petition
And they sleep all night long without intermission 
They promise to study hard every day
And moreover as bounden in duty will pray etc., etc


An Assembly Dance by Wm Hogarth

I send you here

Assemblies were held in the Town Hall at Basingstoke; the Austens
and their friends were regular attenders.
Steventon 17~

I send you here a list of all
The company who graced the Ball
Last Thursday night at Basingstoke;
There were but six & thirty folk,
Although the evening was so fine;
First then, the couple from the Vine, –
Next Squire Hicks, & his fair spouse;
They came from Mr Bramston’s house,
With Madam, & her maiden Sister;
(Had she been absent who’d have missed her?)
And fair Miss Woodward, that sweet singer,
For Mrs Bramston liked to bring her.
With Alethea too, & Harriet;
They came in Mrs Hicks’s chariot;
Perhaps they did, I am not certain.
Then there were 4 good folk from Worting:
For with the Clerks there came two more;
Some friends of their’s, their name was Hoare.
With Mr Mrs, Miss Lefroy
Came Henry Rice, that pleasant Boy.
And least a title they should want,
There came Sir Colebrook, & Sir Grant
Miss Eyre of Sherfield, & her Mother;
One Miss from Dummer, & her Brother.
Her Mother too, as Chaperon.
Mr & Mrs Williamson.
Charles Powlett, & his Pupils twain:
Small Parson Hasker, great Squire Lane.
And Bentworth’s Rector, with his hat,
Unwillingly he parts from that.

Two Misses Davies; with two friends;

And thus my information ends

P.S. It would have been a better dance
But for the following circumstance;
The Dorchesters, so high in station,
Dined out that day, by invitation,
At Heckfield Heath, with Squire Le Fevre;
Methinks it was not quite so clever
For one Subscriber to invite
Another, on the assembly night;
But ’twas to meet a General Donne
His Lordship’s old companion;
And as the General would not stay
They could not fix another day –


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Dear friends and readers,

What differentiates Robin Swicord’s Jane Austen Book Club screenplay and resulting movie from the other sequels and appropriation texts to Jane Austen’s novels that I’ve read, is the content-rich nature, intelligence and coherent working out of ideas in the film’s conversations about the books, of which there are many. In this blog I cite the conversations by Swicord and compare them briefly and generally to those in Fowler’s novel.


Wendy Wax’s While We Were Watching Downton Abbey where characters similarly get together to discuss this mini-series may stand as more typical: a great fuss is made about what the characters are feeling and thinking about the fictional characters, but when it comes to telling, the author via her characters says out hardly anything at all, or utters the kind of statement where specific content or comments on any themes or characters is avoided (like some plague, it’s a conscious avoidance). Such books make me wonder what kinds of conversations book clubs have: I’ve seen on-line communities where real analysis of the book hardly happens hardly at all, and the one book club talk I attended, after the briefest introduction of a few issues the book brought up (already outlined as what would be discussed), commonplace notions were said generally, a quiz was worked out, and then it was time for food.

Swicord’s characters not only offer specific comments on specific content, they come up with unusual perceptive ideas (such as maybe Charlotte Lucas is a closet lesbian) and they make what is happening in the Austen novels relevant to their lives in the book and by extension our contemporary lives reading them.

I wondered if there was a general stance in the novel across these discussions, anything linking them together thematically which related to the novel or a way of reading Austen’s novels so gathered together the conversations I took down in the process of taking down the screenplay.

Online2 (2)

Online2 (1)

Standing on line waiting to see Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park

I really like Edmund in this movie. Have you seen it?
We see an upset Trudie on line. Man and woman to her right.
Woman taking something out of her bag I love this movie.
Bernadette: Oh, I like it, but it’s not Mansfield Park. It’s more of an interpretation. We see Bernadette with her knitting and glasses on line
We see Prudie look so looming somehow in front ….
Bernadette: – Do you know the book?
Woman: – Yes. And I happen to teach film.
Bernadette – Oh … (speaking out to space in general: – Do you like this movie? –
Prudie turns round with crying lament voice: No. Do you know it mixes up Fanny Price with the author of the book? (her arms crossed) Makes Sir Bertram some kind of slave owner.
Woman looks irritated, pulling on bag
Bernie: Well, it means well. And a little Jane Austen’s better than none at all.
Prudie: No. No. No. That is how I talk myself into everything. I’m married to a man who would cancel our trip to Paris for a basketball game, which is making me a fraud in front of my students. A French teacher who’s never been to France?
Husband of couple getting impatient, goes to get tickets, women begins to feel for Prudie as she listen to above, so makes an effort …
Woman online: The screenplay is outstanding (The thrust of this dialogue and some of it literally comes from opening phase of Fowler’s characters discussion of Mansfield Park in March, pp. 82-83.).

Bernadette (2)

Bernadette (1)

At coffee meeting place, deciding on how to read all six Austen books, the order especially

Six novels, six people. We’ll each be responsible for one book. Bernie walks away reveling in her scarf: All Jane Austen, all the time! It’s the perfect antidote.
Prudie: – To what?
Bernie: – To life. … (comes back and whispers conspiratorially) I get Pride and Prejudice.
Bernie: So Prudie (she’s sitting to the side in a comfortable chair, knitting), you haven’t said which book you wanna be responsible for.
Prudie: Maybe Persuasion. ‘Cause I’m increasingly drawn to its elegiac tone. (there is a posturing here)
Allegra (feels and sees this and slams down coffee cup) – Don’t think I’m doing the book club.
Jocleyn (picks up hers): – You’re doing it. You lead one discussion. Pick a book.
Allegra: Well, I just saw Sense and Sensibility, and I think, since I’m back living with my mom, I really get that whole two-women, tight-relationship, living-together- but-really-opposites thing. POV Jocelyn eating donut
Jocelyn: Is it weird living back at home again?
Prudie (interrupting teacher-like): I think what Austen is actually writing about is two sisters, moving separately toward what they each believe to be a perfect love.
Allegra: Okay, but the point is Marianne and Elinor’s relationship…
Prudie: Maybe if you’d read the book instead of watching the movie…
Allegra: No, don’t make her do Northanger. I mean, first you’re going off to all these dances, and then suddenly it’s sort of like Nightmare on Northanger Abbey Street. Prudie making faces
Prudie: I’m afraid this isn’t the book club that I had in mind. (Clash of tone of mind) I mean, I find when someone in the group feels superior to the author, it just… It sets the wrong tone.
Never read anything by Jane Austen before. (Dumps huge book on table)
Jocelyn looks, Allegra,
Bernie (horrified) What is it? (Prudie to the side)
Grigg: Well, I went to the bookstore to buy a copy of each one of the novels, and I saw this. And I thought, “Well, maybe they’re all sequels.” So, I figured it might be a good idea to keep them all together in one book, in case I needed to refer back. (holding book up to show binder and row of titles, points) Is this the order that we read them in?
Grigg: Great. All right. – Emma. Starting in the middle. (he is far more enthusiastic than they … ) (This scene in the Swicord’s script and movie is a sum up and transference of scattered explanatory passages throughout Fowler’s book.)




The group is on porch, discussing Emma, with Allegra having begun, talking from the swing seat:

Allegra: Where’s the heat between Emma and Mr. Knightley? There’s no animal passion.
Beautiful far shot of group around book on porch fall
Allegra: Look at Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax.
Back to close view of Allegra:You can tell they’re really in love because they behave so badly.
Sylvia uncorking bottle, looks dubious: And that’s good? (Jocelyn next to her)
Allegra shrugs slightly: Emma and Mr. Knightley, you just never feel the sex.
Camera on Grigg looking startled ….
Bernie first voice-over and then with knitting needles: Still, I think Mr. Knightley’s very yummy. Don’t you? He may be my favorite of all the Austen men.
Prudie next to Bernie: (italics for foreign language): Sans passion I’amour n’est rien.
Sylvia turns to smile at Jocelyn:
Camera back on Prudie: — That’s not Jane’s theme, is it?
Jocelyn in camera to Sylvia mouthing: – Jane?
Allegra: That’s cozy.
Bernie looks admonitory
Camera back to undercertain and then firmly squarish Prudie:
What … what we’re meant to see is not the lack of passion so much as the control of it, and the not giving in.
Camera on Bernie knitting at an angle: Apres moi, le deluge.
All giggle and camera on Sylvia and Jocelyn
Bernie leaning conciliatory: But Prudie’s right, it is in all the novels.
Camera on Grigg beginning to say something when Bernie interjects:
Bernie: Sense and Sensibility, obviously. (far shot with Pruide) Oh, and then there’s Maria’s infidelity in Mansfield Park.
Camera on Sylvia looking up:
Sylvia upset voice: I forgot there’s infidelity in Mansfield Park. (same wine glass from previous scene
Jocelyn (camera on her: Austen’s all about keeping it zipped.
Grigg at last has something to say: Yeah, but isn’t physical attraction one of the ungovernable forces? (quick shots of Bernie and Prudie from far; we see Jocelyn on other side of Grigg). You know, like gravity. That’s what we like about it. You know, downhill, release the brakes, loosen your grip, and… (whooofff …)
Partial shots of all of them there.
Allegra: Yeah. Love makes people crazy.
Sylvia (hesitating) camera on her – It does not excuse bad behavior.
Bernie nodding wisely (shot captures them all again) – I agree. And Mr. Knightley is violently in love. “Violently!” His word. And yet, he’s never anything but a gentleman.
Allegra: – Yeah, a gentleman who scolds people.
Grigg getting up and walking away: Well, not everyone. You know, just Emma, just the woman that he loves.
Prudie caught as monumental: C’est vrai. C’est typique.
By mistake as Grigg backs off we see him almost fall into Jocelyn’s lap and come off
Prudie: A man can do whatever he likes to the woman he loves.
Jocelyn close up (with glasses): I don’t think that’s what Austen’s saying.
Far shot showing them all with Sylvia doing something for Grigg
Jocelyn close up: Actually, Emma stops being crazy when she falls for Mr. Knightley. It’s the event of the book. Love is an act of sanity.
Bernie knitting away
Grigg begins as voice-over: One thing that I noticed about Emma is the sense of menace.
Camera then captures Sylvia sitting by Grigg’s side:
Grigg: The gypsies, Jane Fairfax’s boating accident, Mr. Woodhouse’s worries.
Prudie intervenes with condescension: Austen’s entire thesis is that none of these things are real, Grigg.
Photograph of Grigg and Sylvia listening
Prudie: I mean, Emma, she acts on the basis of her fantasies (her hand over her neck)
Allegra making fun: Yes, Grigg, I’m afraid you’ve just entirely missed the point.
Prudie looks a little disconcerted:
Jocelyn: You know, I’ve read that the Emma plot, the humbling of the pretty, know-it-all girl is the most popular plot of all time.
Allegra looks alert.
Bernie (wry and knitting): Yes, universally satisfying.
Allegra: Okay. Well, what bothered me was how Emma kept forcing her friend Harriet on Mr. Elton. And then she finds out who Harriet’s father is, and suddenly, “Ew!” She’s lucky to get the farmer. (back and forth for shots from far
Prudie (square one shot): I think Jane was being ironic there. I think some readers might miss that.
Allegra: – Emma’s a snob.
Jocelyn: – Please. (Now Grigg near Jocelyn who is higher up in frame) People are instinctively drawn to partners who are their near equal in looks. The pretty marry the pretty, the ugly the ugly. To the detriment of the breed, in my opinion.
Grigg laughing
Bernie looking up God, you’re such an Emma. Isn’t she? You’d love to pair up the whole world, from dogs to people.
Sylvia looking down. Put me together with Daniel
Sylvia: Austen has a way of making you forget that most marriages end in divorce.
Bernie: Well, she’s all about the weddings, Jane.
Jocelyn: Yeah, “Jane.” Did you catch that?
Sylvia: Oh, Prudie?
Jocelyn (mocking deep voice): “Jane and I, we know our themes.”
Allegra: And why did she have to speak in French?
Jocleyn: And if so, couldn’t she do it in France, where it’s less noticeable?
Bernie I feel for Prudie. She’s married to a complete Neanderthal. (In Fowler’s novel Emma is the first novel discussed, in March, and this dialogue is found across several conversation pieces, pp 14-15, 20-21, 28-29, 32-33, with some direct transferences and some differences in what is said & emphasized, very clear in the book how what is said comes of out a character too; all 3 interspersed with pasts of the characters and the present story lines, plus a feminist consciousness raising group where girls discussed experiences of rape.)

Continued in comments:

Mansfield Park: Sylvia passionately defends Fanny Price:


The play rehearsed in Prudie’s school is a mirror of Mansfield Park and Lovers Vows; and Prudie and Trey rehearse love scenes together; but Prudie going for Trey a twisted mirror of Persuasion (she’s looking for another mate, a false second chance). She almost goes to bed with Trey, so she stands in as modern instances of both Fanny Price and Maria Bertram. 

Northanger Abbey: Provoking anxiety disquiets Sylvia



Mysteries of Udolpho in effect defended

Pride and Prejudice: again Grigg and Sylvia


Sense and Sensibility, The whole group, intense subtext between Grigg and Jocelyn, as they argue over their relationship through the book:


Persuasion: on the beach, Grigg’s sister first thought his girlfriend, an analogy for Eleanor Tilney and reader of Jane Austen; Sylvia’s husband wants to return and talks with Bernadette



Most moving is the reconciliation of Dean and Prudie in bed — he simply reading the whole of the novel all night.

As movie moves to final gathering in elegant clothes at dinner, no surprise Patrick O’Brien novels will be coming next, all 20 of them.

I omit the characterization of the characters as comments on the books and themes as that is done in all the appropriations. The interwined general stance of the conversations in book and film seems to be how much in the books can be transferred to readers’ lives and how readers use them to think about their lives.

But the emphasis in the book is on the characters and their stories and the comments on Austen are more general, not tied to the stories in the way of the movie. Further in the book there is a considerable difference about what’s said about Mansfield Park; Fowler does not care for Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey and this is disguised in the film by having the conversations so rooted in the characters’ personalities or lives. She also has little overt discussion of P&P and Persuasion — they are paralleled by events. The script has far more direct commentary on Austen’s novels than Fowler’s novel, which is more indirect and you are allowed far more complicated story and switches back and forth in time. But both move back and forth: the script moves forward with occasional flashbacks to time that is not so long ago, but there is a constant intertwining of juxtapositions and montage — reminiscent of Howtidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley; the novel is an multi-level intertwining of different times and kinds of texts.

I found also that both the movie and book presented contemporary and insightful readings of Austen’s books indirectly. Some of these reveal how far we’ve come today from Austen’s point of view, and how much we can see in her books she does not appear to have been conscious of. Many of the readings and commentaries are far more satisfying than academic literary criticism because less disingenuous.


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