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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Davies’

Arthur Parker (Turlough Convery) and Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) — a convincingly warmly congenial couple: they act out of kindness to one another, actually talk to one another, support one another — I am sure I am not alone in wishing this Parker brother’s implicit homosexuality had not gotten in the way

The three friends: Alison Parker (Rosie Graham), Charlotte’s younger romantic sister; Charlotte (Rose Williams), once again our grave heroine; and Georgiana, wary, distrustful, somewhat alienated

Dear friends and readers,

Two and one-half years of pandemic later, Andrew Davies’s creation of an experimental Sanditon (alas he wrote the last episode only) returned. It resembles the first (see Episodes 1-4: by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea; and 5-8: zigzagging into a conclusion in which nothing is concluded) by its use of a too many stories at once, one of which is over-the-top melodrama: centered again in Edward Denham (Jack Fox), Clara Brereton (Lily Sacofsky) as his now discarded pregnant mistress, and Esther (Charlotte Spencer) become Lady Babbington desperate for a child.


An aggressive Esther & vulnerable Clara as enemies at the harsh-mouthed tactless Lady Denham’s (Anne Reid) table

Life is again a matter of pleasures in which all the characters participate: this time it’s a fair or summer festival complete with a contemporary balloon ride dared by Charlotte and the Wickham character of the piece, Colonel Lennox (Tom Weston-Jones), rescued by Arthur (this character is the quiet true hero of this season); another ball, afternoon garden party, complete with archery (in lieu of cricket),


The male rivals: Colborne in front, Lennox to the back

with a sequence of magical dancing between Charlotte caught up, entranced and entrancing, her seemingly Rochester-like employer, Alexander Colborne:

Tom Parker (Kris Marshall) is still irresponsible, getting into debt, now at a loss without Sidney; Mary (Kate Ashfield), his long-suffering prosaic wife turned mother-figure by his side. There is whimsy; many individuals walk or ride along the seashore; too many shirtless men.


Tom Parker confronting Captain Lennox over debt — interestingly, this is a motif from Austen’s draft as continued by Anna Lefroy

But it differs too, most obviously in that several of the central actors & actresses had long since signed other contracts when it seemed there would be no second season. Thus this season the first episode is taken up with grieving for the suddenly dead (in Antigua) Sidney (Theo James), and in the last he (together with Arthur) improbably saves all by proxy when his box arrives, with money (he was always good for that in the previous season) and letters exposing villains: Charles Lockhart [Alexander Vlahos] turns out to be no innocent painter seeking Georgiana’s hand, but the nephew of her white planter-father seeking to replace her as heir. Esther has to appear sans mari (Mark Stanley), so we have to endure a silly gaslight story where Edward steals Babbington’s letters, as he tries to poison Esther so his baby son by Clara can be Lady Denham’s only heir. Diana (Alexandra Roach siphoned off to another series) was no longer catering to and making a hypochondriac out of Arthur, much to the improvement of Arthur.

New men were supplied: a lying soldier, William Carter (Maxim Ays) who Willoughby-like pretends to the poetry-loving Alison he loves and writes poetry when it’s the physically brave and truthful Captain Fraser (Frank Blake) who’s the poet and love-letter writer. Alison is, however, an innocuous boringly innocent Marianne with no serious story about sexual awakening (as has Austen’s heroine).


On the beach during one of the many festive occasions, time out to look at one’s cell phone

I did miss Mr Stringer (Leo Suter) — we hear he is doing well as an architect in London. A mildly comic vicar-type, Rev Hankins (Kevin Elder) and his well-meaning sister-chaperon for Georgiana, Miss Beatrice Hankins, spinster (Sandy McDade) thicken the scenes’ comedy nicely (as in a recipe).

The addition with a sense of weight and original presence is Alexander Colborne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) — his romance with Charlotte had some convincing darker emotions: years before his wife, Lucy, had left him for London, not liking his tendency to a withdrawn awkward state, and been seduced by the Wickham-Lennox who provides obstacles to Charlotte and Colborne’s relationship in the form of lies (he accused Colborne of what he had done). Guilt and anger and depression keeps him isolating himself from Lucy’s daughter by Lennox (Flora Mitchell as Leonora who dresses up as a boy – some hints at a trans person there), and a resentful niece, Augusta Markam (Eloise Webb).

Charlotte has declared now that Sidney is dead, she has thought the better of marriage and will instead support herself and is hired by Colborne by the end of the first episode to care for and teach his daughters. She brings the whole family out of their obsessive cycles of reproach, self-inflicted frustration and loneliness — by her patience, compassion, inventiveness. This is the over-arching story and along with Arthur and Georgiana’s relationship, it’s the most alive and interesting matter in the season. Here is this pair learning about one another at a picnic:


Charlotte and her employer, Alexander Colbourne reach some understanding

What one can say on behalf of this very commercialized semi-Austen product in itself? First the dialogue and language in general is a cross-between 18th century styled sentences and modern demotic talk and is often witty: e.g, “how we are a stranger to our own affections” says Charlotte. Lady Denham’s way of commenting that no one chooses to be a spinster remains in our minds. The actors had to have worked hard to say lines like this in the natural quick way they do. There is a good deal of successful archness and even irony now and again. Andrew Davies’s concluding episode is the most natural seeming at this.

I very much enjoyed the imitations of story motifs and patterns in Austen’s novels: beyond those already mentioned, Rose Williams has managed to recapture the feel of the heritage Austen heroines: self-sacrifice, earnestness, perceptive behavior combines with a strong sense of selfhood. She is a kind of Elinor Dashwood blended with Elizabeth Bennet; Colborne is a Darcy figure as much as Rochester — at first Charlotte believes Lennox’s lies. Mr Lockhart’s painting Miss Lambe echoes the picture-making in Emma. The picnic again put me in mind of Emma. When Fraser gives Alison a wrapped book as a present and tells her how he values her friendship is a repeat of Edward’s gift of wrapped book to Elinor in Davies’s 2009 Sense and Sensibility so disappointing Elinor with a similar avowal and retreat.


On the other side of the wall, the other characters are listening, hoping for the proposal that finally comes

The worst: the experience is jerky, not smooth, the dialogues at time absurdly short, and as I felt with the previous season (more than 2 years ago), scenes seem not rehearsed or edited enough. I also concede that much that goes on would have horrified Austen as romance material; nevertheless, Clara’s baby out of wedlock can be found central to an off-stage and on-stage stories (e.g., Charlotte Smith’s) in the era; Charlotte Spencer shows her real talent for acting when she is transformed into a such a sweetly gratified mother upon adopting Clara’s baby. Turlough Convery, Rose Williams, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Charlotte Spencer all provide credible varied depths of feeling to their scenes.

I noticed the film-makers used the same music as in the first season – very cheerful and sprightly and the continuity as well as the well-drawn paratext animation (cut-outs in the old Monty Python style) brings back memories lingering from the previous season.


Much good feeling

It was filmed in the same or similar places (Wales, Dyrham Park)

Again the series ended with a cliff-hanger. At the last moment when Charlotte is expecting Colborne to propose at long last, he demurs. We are left to surmise he is afraid he will disappoint her as he did his wife (Lennox needles him as also at fault in the failure of his marriage) but Charlotte is now tired of being batted about (so to speak). She took a lot of punishment from Sidney and now she is being twisted and turned off by Colborne.  The sequence goes this way:  his older daughter, Augusta, scolds him for not opening up to Miss Heywood and demands Colborne thank Charlotte deeply for all she’s done:


A family once again (and it does not matter that they are not biological father and daughters)

Colborne is to ask Charlotte to stay by marrying her.  But when he goes off to propose, Charlotte rejects him.  The series overdid this turn and undermined it thematically by having her two months later announce that she is at long last engaged to Ralph Starling (who we heard about as a long-standing suitor back at Willenden).

The sudden new information (from Sidney’s box) that Georgiana’s mother is alive after all and her determination, now that she has been taken in by the Parker family, to find her mother was another obvious bridge: there is an unaccounted for black woman who works for Colborne; she does not behave like an enslaved person. Two people I know said they expect her to turn out to be (what a coincidence! like a fairytale Shakespeare ending) Georgiana’s mother.


Flo Wilson plays the role of Mrs Wheatley (I could not find any stills of her in costume): her last name alludes to the black American 18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley

I will watch Season 3; I even look forward to it. The film-makers are trying to make a sort of Austen sequel-film, a somewhat heritage type criss-crossed by modern behavior and ideas and appropriations. We must forgive them when they pander too obviously now and again: Alison as the princess bride does not do too much harm. It is a series with its heart and mind in the right moral place: any series that can make Turlough Convery, a heavy-set non-macho male who is a superb actor (I’ve seen him as a scary thug, and in Les Miserables he was the most moving of the revolutionaries) the male we most like, admire, and know we can depend on, is worth supporting.


Arthur — the question is, did he really say it was that he was so attracted to Lockhart that he advised Georgiana not to dump him …

Ellen

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Charlotte (Rose Williams) as she comes out into the sunshine and her first full look at


the sea …. followed by


downright frolicking ….

You and I, you and I, oh how happy we’ll be
When we go a-rolling in
We will duck and swim ….
Over and over, and under again
Pa is rich, Ma is rich, oh I do love to be beside the sea
I love to be beside your side, by the sea,
by the beautiful sea …

Friends and readers,

This experimental or innovative Jane Austen is not an appropriation: this is heritage all right. All the people in costume. If you attend carefully to the twelve chapter untitled fragment, the last piece of writing Austen got down (1817), known in her family as Sanditon, and then equally carefully into the continuation added by her niece Anna Austen Lefroy (probably after 1830), you will find that a remarkable number of the details and slightest hints have been transferred and elaborated from both texts (plus possibly a third, Marie Dobbs’s continuation) into this eight part series. Davies and his team (there are several writers, and several directors, though Davies is credited throughout as the creator, and has written a good deal of what we hear), the team have also availed themselves of Davies’ previous film adaptations from Austen: so the angry hardly-contained violence of Mark Strong’s Mr Knightley (1996 BBC Emma) has become the angry hard-contained violence of Theo James’s Sidney Parker:


This strident Sidney is one on whom apologies have no effect: he returns sarcasm and rejection: “I have no interest in your approval or disapproval”

The rude intrusive domineering insults of all Lady Catherine de Boughs and Davies’s Mrs Ferrars have become part of Anne Reid’s Lady Denham; the clown buffoonery of minor-major characters in Davies 2009 Sense and Sensibility just poured into Turlough Covery’s Arthur Parker &c.

And they have scoured all Austen’s texts (letters too) for precedents: female friendships and frenemys everywhere, game-playing (including cricket), piano playing where fit in, wild and heavy beat dancing, balls, show-off luncheons, water therapy — though they have nonetheless switched from the single feminocentric perspective of Charlotte of Austen’s present Sanditon (all is seen through her eyes, with the emphasis throughout on the women) to a double story where Sidney and Tom’s (Kris Marshall) two stories run in tandem with, and shape, Charlotte’s


Here Sidney and Tom are standing over Charlotte coming out from underneath the desk, discussing what they are to do next, the men call the shots, stride by seemingly purposefully — though except for Stringer they seem to have nothing much to do …

Charlotte’s story in this movie itself is continually interwoven with, shot through by, the on-going separate highly transgressive sexualized stories of 1) the incestuous Edward and Esther Denham (Jack Fox and Charlotte Spencer), 2) sexual abuse from childhood by men and now Edward and social abuse from her aunt seen literally in Clara Brereton’s (Lily Saroksky) doings (which seem from afar to include forced fellatio or jerking Edward off), and 3) young Stringer (Leo Sluter)’s aspirations in conflict with his loyalty to his entrenched-in-the-past father.


Charlotte glimpsing, shocked, Clara and Edward (in the book she sees them from afar compromised on a bench), a few minutes later the upset Clara is given no pity by her aunt

If you add in Charlotte’s pro-activity on behalf of getting Miss Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke as “half-mulatto” — Austen’s phrase) out of trouble, out of her room, and unexpectedly into flirting with an appropriate African-born suitor, now freed and working for the abolition of slavery (Jyuddah Jaymes as Otis Molyneux), you have a helluva lot of lot going on.

This is the busiest and most the most frolick-filled Austen adaptation I’ve seen (perhaps with the exception of the violent-action-packed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) with an upbeat lyrical music that turns into a sharp beat rhythm now and again. Episode 1 after frolicking on the beach and in the water (twice) ends in a long gay dance-sequence. Episode 2 after more bathing (Charlotte rising from the sea), a super-luxurious dressed-up luncheon, with some excoriating wit and a rotten pineapple (talked about as an erotic object, seemingly phallic), and attempts to flee to London inside a mocking crowd, ends in several walks into the cliffs, with a apparently near suicide by Miss Lambe (rescued, just, by Charlotte), and a sexualized water clash (Sidney has tried to escape by diving in, only to discover in front of him as he emerges naked, Charlotte). Episode 3, a wild water therapy machine sequence by the latest of mountebanks or doctor-quacks, Dr Fuchs (Adrian Scarborough), followed by a serious accident inflicted on Stringer’s father, mostly the fault of Tom Parker for not paying them enough so they can have more workmen, but one which brings together Sidney and Charlotte for their first understanding (like other recent film heroines she is a born nurse) and walk on the wet beach.


Again amid the first love romance, Otis jumps off the boat to show his despair and they frolick over the splashing

And Episode 4, back again to scenes on the beach with varying couples (e.g., the genuinely amusing pair of Diana [Alexandra Roach] and Arthur, this time on donkeys), an escape to a woodland and canoeing up river (Charlotte with the uncontrollable Georgiana and compliant Otis), ending in a return to ferocious quarreling between Sidney and Charlotte after he witnesses Rose Williams’s funny parody of his own (Theo James’s) physical quirks in performance.


Rose Williams has caught the way he holds his elegant cigarette holder, his voce tones and the emphatic aristocratic (?) rocking of his body

The series does what it sets out to do: provide the pleasures of the place. The beach, the sea, the sands, the waters and landscape form another character, an alive setting. The series is fun to watch — from the bathing to (for next blog) the cricket playing. But is this series any good? you’ll ask. Yes, I think it is. Charlotte does not own the story, it’s not so centrally hers (as it feels in the book), no, but Davies has created through her a character who is a cross between the joy of life and longing for experience we see in his and Austen’s Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones), with the keen intelligence and wit of Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) and querying of Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) combined. Charlotte is (to me) so appealing, given wonderful perception lines and before our eyes is growing up. I feel I have a new heroine out of Austen.


And our heroine has a new friend, Georgiana, whose mother was enslaved: they go for walks together

The series also weaves the centrality of money in our lives: to be used as part of our obligations to others, our responsibilities and how they tie us to one another. While the overt sexuality will leap at most viewers, including a sadomasochistic courting of Esther by the gallant Babbington (Mark Stanley is as effective as Charlotte Spencer — she is remarkable throughout), the drum-beat theme is money, finance, as it is in Austen’s Sanditon — and also the other film adaptation to come from Austen’s book with Lefroy’s as part of the frame (Chris Brindle’s).

Tom Parker is attempting to make a fortune by developing a property he owns, but has no capital for and he is doing it off money originally earned by Sidney (it seems, ominously, in Antigua, when he may have known Miss Lambe’s late father who would be the person who left her under Sidney’s guardianship) and now secured by loans. He has built a second house, he hires men he doesn’t pay, takes advantage of securing on credit tools and materials he has not bought; at the same time he goes out and buys an expensive necklace for his wife, the “gentle, amiable” (as in Austen’s book), Mrs Mary Parker (Kate Ashfield), who complacently accepts his lies. Critics and scholars have suggested the background for this is Henry Austen’s bankruptcy and what Austen saw of finances through that (see EJClery, the Banker’s Sister).

At the close of Brindle’s play, Sidney comes forward to maneuver humane deals out of the corrupt practices of Mr Tracy (a character found in Lefroy) with Miss Lambe’s money; in contrast, at the close of Davies’s eighth episode, we see Sidney agree to marry a very wealthy woman whom he dislikes very much but has a hold on him from his past (unexplained). Lady Denham is the boss of this place because she has a fortune; her nephew and niece are at her beck and call because they hope for an inheritance. Clara is similarly subjected to her; the hatred of Esther for Clara and Clara’s fear and detestation of Esther comes from money fears. Mr Stringer dies of his accident: exhausted, he sets the room on fire when his son has gone out for some minimal enjoyment. Not land, not rank, not estates but fluid money.

What Davies shows us is Tom continually pressuring Sidney to borrow more, Sidney resisting, then giving in and coming back with money, and then Tom wanting more. As the first season ends, Sidney has had to say to Tom the banks will give him no more and he does not think he can borrow more and ever get out of the hole they are in.


Mary asking Tom if Sidney has given him hope (and money to come)


and Tom lies, handing her a necklace he has just bought which he cannot begin to afford …

I am not sure that Austen’s fragment meant to center on the power of banks. Her book’s central theme is or seems to be illness, and this is either marginalized, or erased in the film, at most (in the assertion of feebleness in Arthur and Diana) immeasurably lightened: Austen wrote the fragment while dying and probably in great pain, and she is, as she does throughout her life, exorcizing her demons through self-mockery by inventing characters with imaginary illnesses. She certain does in the fragment write about breezes, and light, and sun and the sea with longing, but it’s not the longing of joyful youth, but the ache of the older woman remembering what she has been told about the sea and air as

healing, softening, relaxing — fortifying, bracing, — seemingly just as was wanted — sometimes one, sometimes the other, If he sea breeze failed , the sea bath was certainly the corrective; — and where bathing disagreed, the sea breeze alone was evidently designed by nature for the cure (Ch 2. p 163)

Austen’s fragment also gets caught up with literary satire as she characterizes Edward as a weak-minded reader of erotic romantic poetry and novels.  Perhaps as with the long travelogue-like passage of Anne Elliot staring out into the hills in Persuasion, Austen intended to cut some of this kind of detail. But with Lefroy’s continuation and (I suggest) Brindle’s extrapolations (see Mary Gaither Marshall’s paper summarized), we can see that Davies is moving towards the same resolution. Austen’s fragment is waiting for Sidney to come to Sanditon to fix things — each reference to him while suggesting his cleverness, irony, sense of humor (and of the ridiculous too) also presents him as intensely friendly, caring for his family, responsible, and as yet in good economic shape (see Drabble’s Penguin edition of Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon, pp Ch 5, pp 171, 174, 176; Ch 9, p 197; Ch 12, p 210)


Young Mr Stringer and Charlotte confiding in one another

The series suggests that outside this world of genteel people is another very hard one. The various people that Diana Parker and Tom want Mrs Mary Parker to apply to Lady Denham to relieve are made real in Austen’s Sanditon; in the workmen we see, the people on the streets doing tasks, our characters on the edge of homelessness we feel the world outside — as we rarely do in most of these costume dramas. Chris Brindle’s play makes much of the specifics of these vulnerable victims of finance and industrial and agricultural capitalism in the dialogue of the second half of his play — how when banks go under everyone can go under and the banker (Mr Tracy) hope to walk away much much richer.

So the latest Jane Austen adaptation is a mix of strong adherence to Austen and radical contemporary deviation and development.

Not that there are not flaws. Sidney is made too angry; it’s one thing to clash, misunderstand, and slowly grow to appreciate, but as played by Theo James he has so much to come down from, it’s not quite believable that our bright and self-confident Charlotte still wants him. He is an unlikeable hot-tempered bully. The only explanation for her attraction to him is he is the hero and Stringer not a high enough rank, for the scenes between Stringer and Charlotte in Stringer’s house, & walking on the beach together, on the working site, are much more congenial, compatible. The writers have made too melodramatic Esther and Edward Denham’s and Clara’s story too.

On the transgressive sex (a linked issue):  I see nothing gained by having Theo James expose himself to Charlotte, except that the audience is shocked. This is worse than superfluous to their relationship; it is using the penis as a fetish. The incest motif functions to blacken Edward much in a modern way similar for the 18th century reader to his admiration for the cold mean pernicious rapist Lovelace (in the book he wants to emulate the villain of Clarissa). I grant Charlotte Spencer’s lingering glances of anguish and alienation, puzzled hurt, at what she is being driven to do (accept Babbington) are memorable.

In general, the series moves into too much caricature, exaggeration – the burlesque scene of the shower is possible not probable,  as when it includes Clara in her bitter distress reaching for a mode of self-harm — burning her arm against the red-hot pipes bringing in the lovely warm shower water. But it feels jagged. Too much is piled in in too short a time. Space we have, but there needed to be more money spent on continuity and development of dialogues within scenes, in both the briefer plots and the central moments between Sidney and Charlotte. I felt the quiet friendship seen between Mary Parker and Charlotte, and again Stringer and Charlotte on the beach (at the close of Episode 4) in companionable silence were some of the best moments of the series — as well as the wonderful dancing.

We are half-way through the PBS airing. I look forward to the second half. I have seen this ending and do know how it ends, and to anticipate a bit, I do like the non-ending ending. When we get there ….


An unconventional hero and heroine would have an unconventional ending … walking quietly by the sea

Ellen

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