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Posts Tagged ‘women’s film’


Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) and Henry Tilney (J.J. Feilds) entering the realm of the ancient Abbey, crossing the bridge (2007 Granada/WBGH Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: 4 Thursdays midday, 11:50-1:15 pm online,
F405Z: The Heroine’s Journey
Office located at 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course:

We will explore the archetypal heroine’s journey across genres and centuries in the western Eurocentric tradition, from classical times to our 21st century female detectives. Our foundational books will be Maria Tatar’s The Heroine with 1001 Faces (written as a counterpart to Joseph Campbell’s famous and influential The Hero with a Thousand Faces), and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey. Our four books will be Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Tales; Elena Ferrante’s Lost Daughter; and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. We will discuss what are journeys, the central experiences, typical plot-designs, characterizations, and events of the lives of our heroines of classical myth, fairy & folk tales (and connected to this historical romance and time-traveling tales), realistic fiction, and the gothic (and connected to this mystery/thrillers, detective stories). There are two recommended films as part of our terrain to be discussed: Outlander, S1E1 (Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp transported), and Prime Suspect S1E1 (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison). I will supply some poetry (Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, Marge Piercy), two scripts (for the serial episode of Outlander and the 2022 film adaptation of The Lost Daughter by Maggie Gyllenhaal), and one parodic modern short story (“Rape Fantasies” by Atwood), all as attachments.


Leda (Olivia Colman) stopping off to look at the sea sometime during her journey there and back (Lost Daughter, 2021)

Required Books (these are the editions I will be using but the class members may choose any edition they want):

Margaret Atwood. The Penelopiad. NY: Grove Press (originally O. W. Toad), 2005, ISBN 978-1-84195-798-2
Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales. NY: Harper and Row, 1981. ISBN 0-06-090836X (reprinted with new codes many times)
Elena Ferrante. The Lost Daughter, trans. Ann Goldstein. NY: Europa, 2008.
Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey, ed. Susan Fraiman. NY: Norton Critical Edition, 2004. ISBN 978-0-393-097850-6. Another excellent (good introduction, good materials at the back of the book) modern edition is the Longman Cultural text, ed. Marilyn Gaull. NY: Longman (Pearson Educational), 2005. ISBN 0-321-20208-2

Strongly suggested films:

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1, called “Sassenach” Written Roger Moore, directed John Dahl. Featuring: Caitronia Balfe, Sam Heughan, and Tobias Menzies. Available on Netflix (and Starz), also as a DVD. I can supply a script for this one.
Prime Suspect, Season 1, Episode 1, called “Price to Pay 1 & 2.” Written Lynda La Plante, Directed Christoper Menaul. Featuring Helen Mirren, John Benfield, Tom Bell. Available on BritBox, YouTube and also as a DVD


Kauffmann, Angelica: Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses (18th century fine painting)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion

Jan 26th: Introduction, Atwood’s Penelopiad, with a few of her Circe poems, and Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Big O” (from The World’s Wife)

Feb 2nd: From Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales read “The Bloody Chamber” (Bluebeard), “The Courtship of Mr Lyon,” (Beauty and the Beast)”Puss-in-Boots,” “The Lady of the House of Love” (Sleeping Beauty plus), “The Company of Wolves” (Little Red Riding Hood). Please have seen Outlander S1, E1. Another movie you could see is the 1984 Company of Wolves, an extravagant fantasy bringing together a number of Carter’s fairy tales and fables; she is one of the scriptwriters. It’s available on Amazon Prime.

Feb 9th: Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, with Marge Piercy’s “Morning Athletes” If you are interested, see the film adaptation, The Lost Daughter, scripted & directed Maggie Gryllenhaal; while much is changed, it is absorbing and explains the book (Netflix film, also available as a DVD to buy); it features Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, and Jack Farthing (as Leda’s husband). I can supply a script for this one too.

Feb 16th: Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with discussion that links the gothic to modern mystery-thriller and detective stories. I will send by attachment Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies” (a very short story). Please have seen Prime Suspect S1, E1-2. If you are interested, see the film adaptation, Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies, directed by Jon Jones; while much is changed, this one is also absorbing and adds to the book (available as a YouTube and DVD); it features beyond the two principals, Carey Mulligan, Liam Cunningham (General Tilney) and Sylvestre Le Touzel (Mrs Allen)


First still of Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, late arrival at crime scene, driving herself (Prime Suspect, aired 6 & 9 April 1991, “Price to Pay”)

Select bibliography (beyond Tatar’s Heroine with a Thousand Faces):

Beard, Mary. Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations. Liveright, 2013. Early refreshingly jargon-free feminist readings of documents left to us.
Bojar, Karen. In Search of Elena Ferrante: The Novels and the Question of Authorship. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.
Carter, Angela. Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings [non-fiction, essays, sketches, journalism], ed Jenny Uglow, introd. Joan Smith. NY: Penguin, 1998
Cavender, Gray and Nancy C. Jurik, Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. Urbana: Univ of Illinois Press, 2012.
Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 2004.
Frankel, Valier Estelle. 3 books: Symbolism & Sources of Outlander: Adoring Outlander: On Fandom, Genre, and Female Audience; Outlander’s Sassenachs: Gender, Race, Orientation, and the Other in the TV series. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015-17
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. 1983; rep, rev Harvard UP, 1993.
Gordon, Edmund. The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus, 2016.
Klein, Kathleen Gregory. The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre. 2nd Edition. Chicago: Univ of Illinois, 1995.
Moody, Ellen, “People that marry can never part: A Reading of Northanger Abbey, Persuasions Online, 3:1 (Winter 2010): https://jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol31no1/moody.html ; The Gothic Northanger: A Psyche Paradigm, Paper delivered at a EC/ASECS conference, November 8, 2008 online: http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/gothicna.html ; The Three Northanger Films [includes Ruby in Paradise], Jane Austen’s World (Vic Sandborn, April 6, 2008: online: https://janeaustensworld.com/2008/04/06/the-three-northanger-abbey-films/
Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.
Southam, B.C., ed. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion: A Casebook. London: Routledge, 1968.
Sullivan, Rosemary. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood, Starting Out. Canada: Harper Flamingo, 1998.
Tomalin, Clair. Jane Austen: A Life. NY: Vintage, 1997.
Williams, Anne. The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago: Univ Chicago P, 1995.


Claire (Caitronia Balfe) among the stones, just arrived in 1743 (Outlander S1, E1, 2015)

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Elizabeth of York (nee Woodville), married Henry VII), also a poet (1466-1503)

The 2 blogs together also tell the story of how 1) I had failed in my first attempt at an RSA, of an abortive 2nd attempt, that I would not go when Jim wanted to go to Florence this way in 2002 or so; and how I regret I said no. And now 2) on this 4th attempt how I was finally able to participate, experienced joy, and have new books to read with innovative outlooks, and new perspectives to write more papers on Anne Finch’s poetry out of…

Friends and readers,

Nearly three weeks ago now I wrote a first report of two on some panels I listened to in the recent virtual RSA conference. I summarized and discussed papers from two panels: Women Leaders and Their Political Behavior, Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voice. I ended on the lyrical poetry of Anne Finch which had been made more understandable and interesting placing it in Renaissance women’s traditions. Keeping my theme of women’s lives and fashions, women’s writing, and looks, this evening I’ll cover Virgins, Vixens, and Victims: Sexuality and the Public Image of the Tudor Queens; Women’s Fashions, looks, and lives; Dance, Gender and Sexuality. Women on the Early Modern Stage; Women involved with Politics and Literature, and end on Creative Approaches to (telling the) Lives of Early Modern Women.

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Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game (left to right, Lucia, Europa, Minerva Anguissola, 1555)

On Friday, between 10:30 and 12:00 I attended the session called Women’s Fashions, Looks and Lives. The moderator was Annett Richter, a musicologist and art historian. Cristina Vallaro, who teaches at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, whose areas are Englsh literature, early modern history, Elizabeth I’s poetry (which she appears to have translated into Italian). Her paper summarized the typical moral and religious tracts of the era which inveighed against vanity, and immoral excess, and produced rhetoric on behalf of the sumptuary laws. Homilies against over-fabulous dress for aristocratic women; only inner beauty matters &c. The serious or real point of some of this was to enable the upper class to emerge as a distinct group from everyone else. There were punishments on the books but these were never followed. There were no means to enforce these social codes. Jenny Jihyn Jeong, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed how the Virgin Mary has been represented, and her talk turned out to be an examination of how whiteness was seen as central to ideal beauty in many parts of Europe. The Virgin Mark was also imagined as having pink cheeks; reading more widely and carefully you find that a “wheatish” color begins to be attributed to Mary in the 8th and 9th centuries; she is said to have golden eyes, blonde hair and be of “medium height.” The humoral theory influenced these descriptions, and patriarchal myths of how a male comes to be born as opposed to a female. When we look at mythology, at paintings that are famous (e.g., Botticelli’s La Primavera) we find the same physical characteristics.

What was interesting was the talk we had afterwards. I said struck me is how little we learn about women’s dress in any of these sermons. What they actually wore, their feelings, what they looked like hardly is written down. The women in attendance agreed and we had quite a session about actual 16th century clothing, cosmetics (some of these were poisonous). There appears to have been a back-and-forth use of costumes found in theaters and in courts: the actresses and aristocratic women borrowed one another’s things. We also talked of the Italian women painters of this era and what their self-portraits show (see above, Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game). The problem is how do you recover the real past from such a silence; even when women write, they are so careful to be guarded, and they hardly write anything at all which could hurt them. What is the middle height? Was thinness an ideal or a look of fecundity? The women don’t think to describe themselves, or how they got their clothes in ways that enable us to reach them — partly there is little opportunity to write letters secure your letter will reach its destination. One good book to turn to on clothing in the era is by Peter Stallybrass and Rosalind Jones, Renaissance Clothes and the Materials of Memory.

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From 12:30 to 2 pm, a panel organized by Emily Winerock who is part of a Shakespeare and Dance Project. The moderator was Meira Goldberg, from the Fashion Institute of Technology, CUNY. Lyndsay McCullough of the Royal Shakespeare Company described the natures of the dances, the patterns, how these were seen and understood. She suggested we (contemporaries, 20th to 21st century) see dance as movement, expressive rhythmic movements, which include skipping, turning, stepping; the early modern view was to look at dance in stillness, to judge it in terms of self-control and discipline of the body. Lessons were valued as giving women and men poise that signified class and status. People wanted to show how good was their coordination, balance. People saw the dances as showing your good memory (from learning the patterns) and showing you civility and ethics. The people participating saw themselves as statuary; they wore headdresses to increase their height, corsets to narrow their figures. The richer the group the more exaggerated their uses of gold, silver, with attempts at imitating or giving an illusion of nudity. Again static imagery was what they had to look at. No videos. In the English masques we find iconography which links royal people to classical precedents, imperialistic and heroic imagery was preferred for men. For women the steps she could take were severely limited: no soaring allowed.


Strange Footing: Poetic Form and Dance in Late Middle Ages by Seeta Chaganti was described and recommended as a central place to begin a study of dance in this era

By contrast, Melinda Gough, a profession of English Cultural Studies at McMaster University (Ontario), emphasized the kinetic nature of these dances. She spoke of a carnival atmosphere. She talked of ballets where allegory could project domestic sexuality, or voice ugly military-based threats (they will kill all slaves if they don’t get their way on this or that). She found national imageries and archetypes jostling with one another; a strong eroticism, a cross-casting. We can see in one that Louis XIII was angered at his wife’s miscarriage; that the queen in turn offered up abject sexuality to him; honeyed flattery knows no limits. Another specifically pushed Henrietta Maria forward to Charles I’s attention. People have suggested some of these ballets question absolute monarchy; the masque upholds everyone’s dignity.

Emily Winerock discussed a specific playwright, Richard Broome, and his plays; one she detailed seems to have been called The Court Beggar and the late Lancashire Witches. She discussed how a specific character is shown as marginalized; this play assumes the female characters’ guilt. The witches (seen as projecting strangeness) are accused of wanting to destroy a well ordered community; the music had an upbeat tempo, dances were merry. Brome’s plays include satires on the court where dance is seen as a form of madness. The hero notices he is dancing all alone and all hitherto around him have “vanished.” He comments: “Never was I in such a wilderness.” The text is meant as jokery but also as a grave performance.


From the earlier part of the 18th century: Elizabeth Pope Young (1735-9 – 1797), Countess Hortensia in Jephson’s Countess of Narbonne

I very briefly attended the last 20 minutes of Women on the Early Modern Stage (on at the same time as the above). I had missed the papers and was hearing general talk. From my own studies on actresses (see a review I wrote of an important book by Felicity Nussbaum; see my blogs on individuals and the topic in general) was not at all surprised to be told that in the early modern period there were attempts made to control an actress’s movements; the furniture they could use was strictly controlled; they were labelled whores while given the parts of queens, duchess and noble women to play. The attempts made to raise their status, physical attacks made on wife-and-husband pairs; a woman who played Medea was mentioned and how she was regarded. Susannah Xaver talked of murderous women characters on the stage and how they were presented with sexual slurs so as to prejudice the audience against them (even if presented somewhat sympathetically)

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The Politics and Literature in England Panel at 2:30-:400 pm was moderated by Melissa Caldwell from Eastern Illinois University. Nikolina Hatton, of Ludwig-Macmillans University in Munich, discussed the fate of two women writers and their books: Hester Polter whose wrote poetry on the side of the Stuarts; she called Hester “a frantic loyalist; and writes violent poetry; Hutchinson (as is well known, and I’ve discussed in this blog) was on the side of Parliament and wrote a life of her husband, and much poetry. Old Testament typology is found in both women’s work. Hester made use of Biblical queens (Esther); Haman is a kind of Oliver Cromwell. Hutchinson takes philosophical themes from classical learning. But she takes no satisfaction for even the the time the Protectorate lasted; she and her husband saw this regime as tyrannical too. They disliked primogeniture; saw the world as unknowable, and face defeat: they cannot see how a true victory (of their values) could come about. The task is to remain faithful despite what you see about you.

Lanier Walker of the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill gave a paper where she subtly brought out how documentary history may be ferreted out of Marlowe’s Edward II, and how history is understood in the play. It’s expressive of reality as well as literally what happened. She showed a complicated relationship between what happened and what is recorded and who has what power. Patrick Durrell of the University of Lausanne discussed Elyot’s The Governor as a humanist document using the figures of Damion and Pythias to teach boys about noble characters inside relationships. Last, Valentina Seria of the University of Pisa discussed Giordano Bruno in a paper called “A Path to Knowledge,” about how among his heterodox ideas was a concern over censorship and defense of freedom of speech. As we know, the Catholic Inquisition imprisoned, tortured and killed him.

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The last panel I can report on occurred on Saturday between 10:30 and 12:00; I could not attend and instead watched it last night between 11:30 pm and 1 am in the morning. James B. Fitzmaurice was the moderator of “Creative Approaches to the Lives of Early Modern Women.” It was moving and uplifting. Prof Fitzmaurice is Emeritus from N. Arizona University but has been living in Sheffield, England, for the last 16 years. He writes screenplays based on the lives of early modern woman. He talked about an Anne Boleyn serial on Netflix, saying they made an outrageous use of modern slang language. I found the same to be true of Starz’s The Serpent Queen about Catherine de Medici.

Naomi Miller, at Smith College, whose books and essays I’ve read so often and have been of immense help to me talked about how she turned to writing novels, fictionalized biography in order to present Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and her niece Mary, Lady Wroth with depth and truth. She has a novel out out about Herbert (Imperfect Alchemist) and will have one soon about Wroth (Stage Labyrinth). She talked of Emilia Lanier, a poet and supposed to be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady and the fierce later 17th century Anne Clifford. With Sara Jayne Steen (who was there) she has produced Authorizing Early Modern Women – through auto-fiction as well as other non-conventional ways. Erika Gaffrey, of Amsterdam University Press, talked of her blogging! Cordelia Beattie, from the University of Edinburgh, talked of her work on Alice Thornton, the early autobiographer. Emma Whipday of Newcastle University is at work on a play about a real servant, Cicely Lee, who was found pregnant and executed. She was accused of adultery with her master. Hers appears to have been a richly documented life. Alexandra G Bennett, of Northern Illinois University, is at work on a book on Catherine of Aragon, Emma Bergman, on the poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. She is trying to address the woman’s religious feelings and her repression in ways that allow her poetry to open up more meaning about herself.


Norma West as Elizabeth of York meeting Henry VII (James Maxwell, Shadow of the Tower) — my creative approach to Renaissance women’s lives & art has always included historical romance and serial historically-based films and dramas

People who were not speakers and whose names I could not catch but who spoke of their work included Emily Whinroth, a dance historian, wanting to take (if I am not mistaken) Elizabeth of York (poet, wife of Henry VII Tudor) seriously. She was played by Norma West on a wonderful older serial on Henry VII, The Shadow of the Tower (aired on PBS in 1971) which I watched with fascination. A woman whose first name is Georgiana and whom I recognized from the Folger Shakespeare library talked about the Jane Anger by Talene Monahan about to be put before the public by the DC local Shakespeare Theater. Anger was a real woman who wrote an angry pamphlet.

The last paper I heard was one that had been presented on Thursday, on a panel on Women, Labor, and Plague, 12:30-2:00. Kathleen Miller of Queens University, Belfast, talked of how repressive constructions of reality and norms prevented printing presses from producing true statistics and stories about women’s behavior and actions and words during a time of plague.

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And so the RSA ended for me last night, alas I thought appropriately. Though the faces and tones of the women speaking today were often hopeful, and certainly many are learned and appear to be getting good jobs where they can do useful teaching and writing, such was not the typical case in the early modern period, and today in the world there are many groups of people prepared by violence and whatever else it takes to drive all or the majority of women back to imprisonment, early death, imposed wretched failed existences once again.


Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville (an earlier Elizabeth who got entangled in this brutal ruthless Plantagenet family, presented as captivating Edward IV — this is another image that suggests the way I idealize early modern women (from the BBC series, The Hollow Crown, 2012)

When I went into the next room from this where I have my computer and got into bed to go to sleep with my two cats settling down around me I thought of all the years I spent in the Library of Congress and Folger reading and studying and gathering documents to do much more further work at home on women writers from Vittoria Colonna to Margaret Oliphant I felt I had seen some of my younger sisters who share my commitment today. I fell asleep feeling so glad that I had finally gotten to see, to listen to, and to talk with them.

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This is the second of two blog reports. the first I wrote from a personal perspective telling how difficult I had found it to go to this scholar’s conference when I was a young graduate student and then (much harder yet) to return to go to a second when I had become an independent scholar, and thus did not know anyone. And how I refused to go to a third which took place in Florence about 10 years after that. I omitted in the description of the work and achievements I had had my translation of the sonnets of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, a short Life of Gambara (Under the sign of Dido, a Widow), and reviews of writings on and by early modern Italian women because I finished these and put them here on the Net shortly after that third abortive attempt. Not to omit work on the political and personal life of Anne Murray, Lady Halkett, a spy and rescuer.

So now I’ve finally gone to Renaissance Society AGM even if “just” digitally, and want to add that I was personally so moved by the content of the papers I heard last time about women’s poetry, the representations of this poetry and their bodies, and last, ditto on their political behavior. This second set will be much shorter accounts of panels and papers where the explicit content of the research is not what gladdened me in this lonely “holiday” season so. It was the at times joyous attitude of mind of the speakers towards their work and one another; the prevailing attitude was one of relief, aspiration and inspiration. In the last session on Saturday particularly I was told about writing and projects that basically have little change of getting conventionally published but the people working on them derived such satisfaction from their work and had begun to write in other genres (screenplays, bio-fiction) and were reaching other people who care about this area of research and the women we find living like many of us under constraints in this previous Eurocentric world.


Lindsay Duncan as the aging Duchess of York realizing her beloved son is at risk of execution (also The Hollow Crown)

Ellen

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Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said (directed Maria Schrader, script Rebecca Lenkiewicz), telling of what happened 20+ years later


Young Zelda Perkins (Molly Windsor) and young Rowena Chiu (Ashley Chiu) in She Said (immediately afterwards)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m writing this in a spirit of mild indignation. It’s not that no reviews have acknowledged the excellence and power of She Said: Ryan Painter in a Salt Lake City news report not too long after beginning gets round to the power and importance of this film (and accompanies the review with stills that demonstrate what is meant by “stride”), Alexis Soliski of the New York Times gives strong praise (albeit warning the reader that the film is “discreet” and “stealthy” — nothing to trigger you here, potential viewer is part of the idea), but often they are curiously truncated (Ebert’s column). Nothing like damning something with faint praise, e.g, Molly Fischer of The New Yorker. I fail to see why it is a limitation of this film that our two intrepid reporters talk with compassion and understanding neither Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) found necessary when dealing with Deep Throat. We are made to fear for them as Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor receive death threats on the phone, are followed ominously by cars, find themselves confronted by an aggressively hostile husband who finds his honor about to be besmirched.

And then there is the vehemently insulting, to me a review all the more appalling because the New Statesman is a left-of-center publication, and the review by a woman, Ann Manov who labeled it “myopic, timid and trivial”. I almost didn’t go; I felt so angry at the review when I came home I almost cancelled my subscription

Like many perhaps most women I have a #MeToo story too. In my case it’s one I’ve yet to be able to put into coherent words. The experiences occurred over a period of time, between the ages of 13 and 15 when through hysteria and retreat I managed to put a stop to it. I know this time connects it o a suicide attempt I made at age 15, years of anorexia (ages 16 to 21), and my attempt to shape my existence into a safe retreat. I tried once on my original political Sylvia I blog.  But I can no longer reach it by googling for it as I wrote it so long ago. I am cheered to see the outstanding performances of Samantha Morton (whom I have so long admired and now finally subscribed to Starz just to see her in The Serpent Queen — alas she is the only element in the serial worth watching) and Jennifer Ehle (as Laura Madden) singled out. I cannot find a still online (available to public of her telling of her experience) only this one of her as first seen with her children living in a small village in Cornwall.

Ashley Judd plays herself. We hear Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice on the phone. Patricia Clarkson is the female supervisor, with Andre Braugher as the tough male “the buck stops here” impressive deep voice on the phone and presence in group discussions

Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Here is Angela Yeoh (as Rowena Chiu) many years later: it is this woman’s husband who stands as a threatening wall between her and Jodi Kantor

It’s not discreet — I agree we don’t have the scene where Harvey Weinstein actually bullied Laura Madden into agreeing to squalid sordid sexual activity with him, but as in Greek tragedy, a brilliant messenger conjures up the scene for us. I’d like to see the film again because I found myself remembering and reliving fragments of what happened to me so not taking everything in — as in most recent films, this one moves very quickly, with epitomizing dialogues (the lawyers for Weinstein, two of them importantly ex-lawyers, played by Zach Grenier and Peter Friedman) for many of the scenes. Not all. Not the descriptions of what these women endured. It was for me at times painful, especially when Ehle as Laura Madden confessed she had allowed Weinstein to rape her — she did not say no exactly; the anguish ever after was that she felt she had consented. She blamed herself. Much is brought forward to show why women are unwilling to go on record and what is won at the end is this team of women, and these stories eventually brought in over 80 women. There is now a law before Congress which would make illegal some of these silencing contracts employees sign before they are allowed on jobs.

As The New Yorker and New York Times reviewers state early on, the model for this film is All the King’s Men: with Twohey (who has a baby during the early phase) and Kantor (who has a family of children she must care for) we are seeking verifiable documents, women willing to be named on the record, with the difference that this time many of them have signed “settlement” agreements whereby they agreed never to tell anything and hand over all evidence upon being given a huge sum of money (the amount also kept secret). Deep Throat never was paid off, never was silenced by a court decision. There is also a bestselling book by Kantor and Towhey (She Said, available in several ways).


Megan Twohey


Jodi Kantor

So the emphasis is on the chase, and the turns are those of “thriller-mystery” formula: as in spy fiction, this kind of subgenre has come to be used for socially conscious TV serials (Sherwood) and films (Suffragette). Andrew Marr has talked in one show about how the spy thriller is a key political text for our time. The worst that can be said of it is what can be said of too many American-produced films: it’s suffused by a sentimentality at moments (particularly family scenes for our two heroines), is at moments unsubtle (again the family scenes seemingly exonerating our heroines from militant feminism), broad, with an insistence on upbeat feeling at the end.


Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison and Jonny Lee Miller as Anthony Field (“Keeper of Souls” — a sardonically ironic title)

One might compare the ending of many of the 1990s Prime Suspect episodes (Helen Mirren achieved broader fame here); I thought of episode 3 about a pedophile ring as I watched Samantha Morton and remembered a young Jonny Lee Miller in an unforgettable 10 minutes electrifying that season with his rendition of a young man remembering his years of being raped in prisons and “centers for boys”: at its end we are still not sure the key figure (played by Ciarhan Hinds) will actually be nailed down by evidence and sent to jail; all we know of the publication is that it will bring the horrible stories to the public eyes, and that is how She Said ends.

In Prime Suspect because another lower-level murderer-bully is also going to be put away for many years, we feel at least this ring of cruel ruthless males is going to be destroyed; granted Harvey Weinstein did get a sentence of 23 years. But there is nothing truly feel good about the ending, only relief that the intensely dangerous work done may be rewarded by justice (as people are exposed) and our heroine (Jane Tennison) getting promoted.

An interesting aspect about the art and plot-design of this movie is this movement back and forth between the time an assault/rape occurred and the time this investigation is taking place. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen no less than 4 serials where the film moves from past time at least 20 years ago to near now: Sherwood, Karen Pirie, Magpie Murders, and now She Said. In all of these two sets of actors do the roles, in some cases more successfully because the actors playing the younger parts really look like the older actors (the first film I saw of this type was Last Orders, with J. J. Feilds playing the Michael Caine role and Kelly Reilly the Helen Mirren role). Magpie Murders, as befits am Anthony Horowitz product adds a level of complexity and dwells also on using the same actors as characters in a novel occurring 40 years ago and characters in present time (but only some of them so our credulity is not asked too much of).

Unfortunately, in this movie some of the actors playing the younger selves do not look enough like the older actors but I can quite see that Jennifer Ehle does look much older and am glad no computer tricks were played upon her present face. And sometimes the younger actress, Lola Petticrew, is so immediately vivid in her terror, shock, and shame:


Lola Petticrew as Young Laura Madden in She Said

What more can I say? read the book, see the movie. I will be identified as an over-the-top feminist if I say I think some of these lukewarm and uncomfortable reviews derive from the reality that the patriarchy is still firmly in place (capitalism reinforced by male hegemony and male-derived values), that a female aesthetic such as is found in this thriller (the stories are cyclical with the woman repeating roles as mothers and wives they anticipated as girlfriends), with female imagery and females playing subordinate roles when it comes to some final decision as to what to print does not yield visceral consent from male critics and women primed to want male structures. Helen Mirren managed to become a central dominant presence in her series because the series had 5 years plus a 2 year reprise (1991-96, 2003, 2006) for us to see her rise to become boss, and she did play the role as (apart from her private life where we see her cry, have an abortion [very daring], lose partners stoically) as hard, unemotional, and as one of the “guys” who uses alliances with women (prostitutes to reporters) rather than becoming one of them which Mulligan and Kazan do.

But in this film our heroines are not aging mature women (like Patricia Clarkson is — about whose private life we know nothing) but presented as young women reporters themselves with a career to make — and courageously chancing it and their private lives. It is telling that this film’s norms are such that we believe they have good lives because they have supportive husbands.


Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in She Said — chasing down people as far away as Cornwall


Carey Mulligan — filmed in Bryant Park, her career is studded (as gems) with important feminist films

Ellen

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The journey from Norland to Barton Cottage, found in all S&S films, both heritage and appropriations (this from Davies’s 2009 JA’s S&S)

Gentle readers,

As an appendix to my review of Persuasion 2022, plus 4, I’m answering a query I got in three places: what are my choices for Austen films very much worth the watching. I came up with 3 sets for heritage films, and a small group of appropriations. I don’t say others do not have good qualities and interest, but these to me are outstanding.

My criteria: I think a film should convey the book in spirit: the following films are very well done throughout, add to and enrich our understanding of the books, and are works of art in their own right fully achieved

1st set:

1995 Persuasion, BBC, Michell and Dear (Amanda Root & Ciarhan Hinds)
1996 Sense and Sensibility, Miramax, Thompson & Ang (Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet)
1995 Pride and Prejudice, BBC A&E, Andrew Davies & Langton (Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle)
1983 Mansfield Park, BBC, Giles and Taylor (Sylvestre Le Tousel & Nicholas Farrell)
2007 Northanger Abbey, ITV, Andrew Davies & Jones (Felicity Jones & JJFeilds)
1972 Emma, BBC, John Glenister & Constanduros (Doran Goodwin & John Carson)


Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price writing from her nest of comforts to her brother William (note his drawing of his ship), one of my favorite chapters in the book (1983 MP)

2nd set

1979 Pride and Prejudice, BBC, Fay Weldon (Elizabeth Garvie & David Rintoul)
2008 ITV (BBC and Warner, among others) Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Andrew Davies & John Alexander (Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield)
2009-10 BBC Emma, Jim O’Hanlon, & Sandy Welch (Romola Garai & Johnny Lee Miller)
1999 Miramax Mansfield Park (MP and Juvenilia and JA’s letters), Patricia Rozema (Francis O’Connor & Johnny Lee Miller)


Doran Goodwin as Emma deliberately breaking her shoestring so as to maneuver Harriet and Mr Elton to be alone (1972 Emma)

3rd set
1996 BBC Emma, Davies and Lawrence (Kate Beckinsale & Samantha Morton)
2007 ITV (Clerkenwell in association with WBGH) Persuasion, Snodin & Shergold (Sally Hawkins, Rupert Penry-Jones)


Aubrey Rouget (Carolyne Farina), the Fanny Price character at St Patrick’s Cathedral with her mother, Christmas Eve (Metropolitan is also a Christmas in NYC movie)

Appropriations

2000 Sri Surya Kandukondain Kandukondain or I have found it (S&S), Menon (Tabu, Aishwarya Rai)
1990 Indie Metropolitan (mostly MP, w/Emma), Whit Stillman (Christopher Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, and Carolyn Farina, Allison Rutledge-Parisi, Isabel Gilles)
1993 Republic Ruby in Paradise (NA), Victor Nunez (Ashley Judd, Todd Field)
2008 Granada/ITV/Mammoth/ScreenYorkshire Lost In Austen (P&P), Andrews and Zeff (Jemima Rooper & Elliot Cowan)
2013 BBC Death Comes to Pemberley (P&P), Daniel Percival & Juliette Towhidi (Anna Maxwell Martin, Mathew Rhys)
2007 Mockingbird/John Calley The Jane Austen Book Club (all 6), Robin Swicord (Mario Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt)
2006 Warner Bros. Lake House (Persuasion), Agresti & Auburn (Sandra Bullock, Keenu Reeves, Christopher Plummer)


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in reverie, during a walk, facing the river (Miss Austen Regrets)

Biopic

008 BBC/WBGH Miss Austen Regrets (from David Nokes’ biography & JA’s letters) Lovering & Hughes (Olivia Willias, Greta Scacchi, Hugh Bonneville)

See my Austen Filmography for particulars

My Austen Miscellany contains links to many of the blog-reviews I’ve written.


Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood wandering: as Elinor is my favorite of all the heroines, so Hattie Morahan is nowadays my favorite embodiment (Davies’s S&S, Part 3)

Ellen

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Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell, a companion-mentor as Mrs Weston to Emma rather than the more severe mother-substitute of the book (Persuasion 2022) —  I like her hats & clothing


Sandra Bullock as Dr Kate Foster, the Anne Elliot character, explains the meaning of her favorite novel, Persuasion, to Alex Wyler (Wentworth, now an architect) as she understands it (Lake House, 2007)

Friends and readers,

Many people may not know there have been six Persuasion film adaptations: I’ve never seen the 1960 British serial (it is probably wiped out), but this past week under the influence of, or having an impulse after seeing the latest American commercial Netflix product, I watched the extant other four (the 1971 BBC Persuasion; the 1995 BBC Persuasion; 2007 indie with Warner Bros Lake House; and the 2007 ITV & WBGH Persuasion) and then re-watched the latest, while taking down the screenplay as best I could (remember my stenography). I’ve read the book countless times; it was once my favorite novel by Austen. And written countless postings in many places and given papers on the book in conferences too.

The burden of my song here will be that this new adaptation resembles the older ones in numerous ways; there is nothing startlingly different. So I oppose most of the negative reviews (here’s an intelligent one from the New Yorker: A Not Very Persuasive Persuasion; and here are two likening it to a British TV serial, Fleabag; “it feels like the death of something”) and an unusual very positive one from Vogue (appropriately they find it ever so stylish). What the new Persuasion does do is alter the character of the heroine; and that’s where I think the deep offence comes. The central core of an Austen book is its heroine (or paired heroines); she or they are the genius loci of each book. Now Patrice Rozema altered the character of Fanny Price for her 1999 Mansfield Park and the audience was delighted; but this is a special case where many readers of Austen don’t like the book because they don’t like the heroine, and Rosema’s sarky character is drawn from the Austen’s letters and the narrator of the Juvenilia. In the case of Persuasion, most readers love Anne Elliot, and to remove her and her depths of emotion is to remove the central appeal and themes of the book.

So, first to make my case by a brief survey of the four

To me it’s no coincidence that the film I consider the outstanding best of all the Austen films made to date, is a Persuasion one from the stellar years for Austen films, the 1990s: the 1995 one directed by Roger Michell, screenplay Nick Dear: Two lonely, nay stranded people trying to reach one another; Poetry, Music and Place. There are so many persuasive gloriously humanly felt scenes, and wonderfully effective talk and movement and colors, I can’t begin to suggest the quality of this film so content myself with one still of Fiona Shaw speaking from the heart about how she was only lonely when she did not accompany the admiral aboard ship, which was every time after the first

This film and the 2007 one are deeply evocative of the heroine’s inner nature and they stand in contrast to the new film; this is like the new film for bringing us intense dialogue interaction, eye interaction between hero and heroine.


One of many, Ciarhan Hinds as Wentworth ends sharing the center with Amanda Root as Anne

The ITV 2007 resembles or anticipates the new (2022) one in that the film is ostensibly of the faithful heritage type, but departs in a number of ways from the original story line, including a change in the character of the central heroine. I don’t care for the truncated ending, especially the last scene where Anne blindfolded, let’s Wentworth guide her where he will (he improbably has purchased Kellynch for her, and it looks way too big for them). But the truly brilliant actress, Sally Hawkins as Anne conveys a level of distraught emotional pain (a barely submerged romantic hysteria that is felt in other of Austen’s books too now and again) that is almost alarming. But this is not replacing or changing the character, it is deepening the psychology to its logical conclusion. Hawkins carries the film, central to it, speaking to silently through her eyes, going over her precious relics (his letters, the small gifts that she keeps in a cherished box). I wrote a blog for this too: Anne grieving:

Shergold and Michell equally brings out the book’s subtexts for Mr Elliot (in Tobias Menzies’ subtle performance an insinuating desire), and a memorably disabled empathetic Harville (Joseph Mawle, also seen strikingly in two Foyle episodes as a wounded soldier returned)

Arguably, Lakehouse avoided high irritation because it was not marketed as an Austen adaptation — nowadays slender hooks are enough to label something “Austen adaptation” (though I’m told Fire Island is really a very free adaptation of Pride and Prejudice — “you have to see it to feel this” is what is said). Agresti made a brilliant meditation on the question of whether love may be retrieved years later, on the probable intervention of death (aging is an important theme in Austen’s book). Here is my full explanation of this fascinating contemporary take


The magical dwelling made of glass (on stilts over the lake) with the mailbox seen in front through which across time our hero and heroine reach one another until time and death cut them off

It is rarely recognized because the storyline is different; the Persuasion origin is shown through the four times the book, a Norton edition, is part of the story. The first time Kate left it by mistake on a bench in railway station, and Alex Wyler, the architect hero picks it up for her. Kate says it is about how a couple came near to falling in love and didn’t and years later met again and fell in love but didn’t manage to pull it off and stay together. That time could not be retrieved. But we know that Wentworth and Anne loved; they were parted by others, and when they met again, and loved again they retrieved time and stayed together. The second time she just has it to hand and seems to read from it an axiom: the lovers must get together, “how can two hearts so open, tastes so similar, feelings so in unison” remain apart; the last time the now battered copy pulled out from under the floor causes her to cry.

If my reader/watcher has the patience to enter into the older dramaturgy, there is much to be said for the long lingering 1971 BBC film. Bryan Marshall was a wonderfully complex Wentworth; the fine actor had intelligent dialogue to speak, and the adaptation kept close to the book, showing the hero only slowly recognizing his love, and the renewed threat to it.


Wentworth returned from sea, a worn man, seeing Anne again for the first time It is the closest of all five (and probably the sixth) to the book, but it is innovative.

The innovation in 1971 was the use of landscape, filming at length in the countryside (each of the walks), and close to a rough seashore in Lyme.


Three separate highly varied sequences of landscape represented by just one


The stone portico leads into wild waters (the 2007 film was filmed just here, the same angle)

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Dakota Johnson as our new Anne (this is not the only time she makes a fool of herself — she once spills the wine she is supposed to be endlessly drinking all over her head)

As I suggested it’s the new Anne who won’t do. There is no need for me to repeat the many descriptions of this new Anne — she is all over the Net just now. I do have some qualifications about the aesthetics of the presentation. The idea that Dakota Johnson talking to us comes from Fleabag is nonsense — it is not uncommon for Austen heroines in Austen films to speak to us, because it is not uncommon for women’s films to do this. Second, those who say this show they watch only popular films made with a male audience in mind and there both voice-over and talking at the audience are taboo.

It’s also absurd to say adddressing an audience and over-voice are undramatic. The character establishes a relationship with the viewer: examples, 1999 Rozema MP (who is really sarky and gets jokes out while this dialogue for Dakota is simply dull), 1993 Ruby in Paradise (an appropriation of Northanger Abbey), the 2007 MP Fanny Price, Bridget Jones, one of the Emma movies (Gweneth Paltrow writing in a diary to us). Voice over is everywhere in Outlander but notably only in one episode does the hero do it — and very effective it is. It’s considered intellectual or beneath a male dignity most of the time.

I can see Rothman’s point that maybe this ever-so-cool semi-sarky posturing is a veneer over anguish; she certainly sees the flaws in her family (as did Ann Firbank in the long ago 1971 film — very candidly and angrily). Anne is given many witty lines as is the obnoxious not just jealous but domineering Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce). If the Vogue article is right, and this is a modern sensibility, then nasty cracks are in (both Musgrove girls get in some), and sensitivity out, unless it’s well-hidden or morphs into self-deprecation. The new Anne recalls the 1940s housewife popular book, The Egg and I.


Cosmo Jarvis as Wentworth

What most interested me in the film was the changes in Wentworth. At first he participates in the film’s (to me distressing) philistine insults of Anne’s grief: she is accused of being sullen because she sits outside the family circle; it’s a way it seems of making herself stand out. How dare she? (These film-makers believe a mass audience demands social conformity.) But within a brief time, he changes presumably by being around her (during the now familiar walk) and is not only her barrier against the children and helper into a carriage, but openly loving. Viewers have ignored the de-masculinization of Wentworth; there is no hint of toxic or guarded masculinity. He does not dress up, but very much down. Look at his wrinkled and ill-fitting clothes. He needs a wash. He’s like a male out of a Hardy novel. One problem here was Jarvis was perhaps uncomfortable in the role; as an actor, he reminds me of Aiden Turner, too stiff.

As I suggested above, the changes in Lady Russell to make her a companion is what is seen in Austen’s own Emma — and I did love their scenes picnicking (over macaroons), and walking and talking; this Lady Russell is no enemy to Wentworth because she is no snob (I wonder if her blackness was part of a sense of egalitarianism). Mr Elliot (Henry Golding) is altered too – to be a smooth (to me slim-y) hypocrite. On the other hand, the development of Louisa (Nia Towle) as genuinely attracted to Wentworth (not just a child worshipping the glamorous man who she intuits needs prompting to pay attention to her) is appealing. A sense of friendship between Anne and Louisa thickens the movie’s feel. But as with the 2007 Persuasion, some of the characters were either not differentiated sufficiently, not felt as presences (the Crofts, the older Musgroves, Mrs Clay, Henrietta). Charles was simply good-natured and well-meaning (not truly annoyed by Mary), but I admit I found Ben Bailey the handsomest or most physically appealing male in the cast.


Charles with Mary in church (the plot-point that he loved Anne before marrying Mary is kept)

Or they were caricatures (Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Mrs Clay). Of course both films were too short (2007 was also 90 minutes).

I found it interesting to trace the screenplay but this also brought out how little of Austen’s language survives. The deepest appeal of the 1995, 2007 and 1971 movies is how much of Austen’s language they keep and how meaningful they make it.

It is the most integrated costume drama I’ve seen, and not seemingly blindly so, for people’s appearance is kept in mind: Charles and Mary’s children look like what their union would produce

But I cannot really praise this film — it ends like the 2007 with Anne in the arms of Wentworth. One can say of Sally Hawkins she was active on behalf of her family; worked for them, and visited Mrs Smith (I missed Mrs Smith in this film), showed some individual character. This Anne begins in Wentworth’s arm and ends there — like a child with its mother. How is a film a contemporary one which gives the woman watching it this kind of central figure?

My reader may remember I intensely disliked parts of the recent Emma, for (among other things) losing the whole meaning of the second half of the book (the Jane Fairfax story), erasing any feminism or relationship between Harriet and Emma that could be vicarious sex or lesbian, and the sexing up of Mr Knightley to the point his pants were so tight one could see the outline of his penis. I have a much more mixed reaction here, and say merely that the “new” Persuasion shares much with the other Persuasion films, but is probably the poorest thus far because the film-makers did not sympathize with the inner life of the book.

I close on two reviews which appeared in the Washington Post: Sonia Rao said Dakota Johnson is being misused again! Johnson’s career includes the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey. Now I didn’t know that. She then also brings the baggage of soft-core porn. Martine Powers wrote the movie made her remember how much loss and grief she had experienced during the pandemic — partly because Anne was so alone. She opens the review by talking of the book and perhaps she poured into this movie memories of the book. Powers said it speaks to caregivers! This is such a misread I’m startled. Anne is never alone; she is never trusted to do anything in this film — except stay with the useless complaining Mary. If this is what is to be done nowadays in a heritage type film marketed as an Austen product (to make money), or how they are used, understood, then stick to appropriations, modern dress. Better yet, write an original story instead.

Ellen

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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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Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) Ethiopian girl living in Beirut (Capernaum)


Madeline (Martine Chevalier) and Anne, her daughter (Lea Ducker) — (Deux of Two of US is not just about the love of two aging lesbians, but the daughter of one of them)


Heloise (Adèle Haenel), Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (it’s a three-way relationship at its height: wealthy young girl to be sold to a husband, painter, and pregnant maid)

Animals welcome
People tolerated …

Friends and readers,

I’ve just spent four weeks teaching a course where we read two marvelous books by women, Iris Origo’s War in the Val D’Orcia, an Italian war diary, 1943-44, and Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays, and want to observe, commemorate, act out Wolf’s argument (proved) in her book that there is a real body of literature by women, separate from men, superior, filled with alternative values, following different genre paradigms, only permitted to thrive in Europe and her cultures since the 18th century and that in marginalized ways, but there and wonderful — deeply anti-war, anti-violence, filled with values of women, a caring, cooperative, preserving, loving ethic. What better day than V- or Valentine’s, better yet against Violence Day, especially when aimed at women. A day yesterday when much of the US in the evening sat down to watched a violent-intense game, interrupted by celebrity posturing, false pretenses at humane attitudes, and glittery commercials (the Superbowl).

Last night I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire (which I’ve written about already here), and the 6th episode (Home Truths) of the second season of All Creatures Great and Small (ditto), and the fifth episode of the fourth season (Savages) of Outlander, Her-stories (adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn)


Anne Madeley as Mrs Hall (housekeeper, and vet)


Helen (Rachel Shelton) and James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph)


Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Adawehi

I delighted in my evening:

Home truths: shamelessly sentimental and ratcheting up lots of angst, yet nothing but good happens. Why? I’ve decided it’s a show with women in charge — for real. Mrs Herriot gives up James to Helen, Mrs Hall and the woman with the perpetually nearly mortal cows. Mrs Pumphrey is the local central goddess, and Tricky woo, her animal. A new woman came in, an aging gypsy who lives with stray dogs. Parallel to Mrs Pumphrey. I love it.

The men are the Savages: the crazed German settler who thinks the Native Americans are stealing “his water” so when his daughter-in-law and grandchild die of measles, he murders the beautiful healer of the tribe — they retaliate by murdering him and his wife and burning down his house. Claire had been there to help bring the baby into the world. The coming problem that most counts is measles. Jamie and Ian discover they can’t get settlers while the Governor and his tax collectors are taking all the profits from settlers and using it to live in luxury, and Murtagh is re-discovered. Very moving reunion with Jamie and Claire — keeping the estates, feeding animals. She functions as Mrs Hall.

The three women eat, walk, sleep, talk together; the two upper class ones go with their maid to help her abort an unwanted pregnancy among a group of local women meeting regularly to dance, talk, be together where they sit around a fire — here they are preparing food, drink, sewing ….

A brief preface or prologue to two fine women’s films: Capernaum and Two of Us, with some mention of Salaam Bombay and Caramel, ending on Isabelle Huppert as interviewer and Elif Batuman as essayist on women’s film art:

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Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) and Rahil’s baby, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole)

One of the courses I’m taking this winter at the same OLLI at Mason where I teach is one recent fine movies, and the first we saw Capernaum directed by Nadine Labarki. She has another remarkably memorable film I saw years ago, Caramel, the stories of five women whose lives intersect in a beauty parlor). She and two other women wrote the screenplay. It’s an indie, in Arabic, set in the slums of Beirut: the title refers to a place on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee and forms part of the Jesus Christ stories. The word also means chaos. It makes Mira Nair’s Saleem Bombay looks into the semi-lark it is: both center on a boy living on the streets of desperately poor area who is cut off from any kind of help from parents. Nair’s film ends in stasis: with the boy on the streets still, having stabbed to death a cruel pimp who preyed on a prostitute who is one of the boy’s friends, and took her small daughter from her.

People write of Capernaum as heart-breaking but most of their comments center on the boy (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian). It’s done through flashbacks. The gimmick complained about is the boy is suing his parents for bringing him into the world. Basically the boy, Zain, exposes the cruel treatment his parents have meted out to him — real emotional, social and physical abuse too. In fact, Hilary Clinton proposed many protections for children, a couple of which aroused the ire of conservatives because she proposed to give children rights which in effect included complaining about parental abuse. I remember how she was attacked fiercely for her proposals on behalf of children. As eventually passed it was about adoption procedures and administration, whether she succeeded in making the child’s welfare count for real I don’t know

What is seriously relevant is the continual filming of dire poverty and the imprisoning of helpless (stateless) immigrants, refugees with no papers and how the need for papers is used by criminals and some lower base businessman to punish and demand huge sums from these people willing to buy forged documents. Astro, the film’s villain, is trying to take Rahil’s baby from her so he can sell the baby, and we discover at the film’s end he had no good parents and home for the baby, only a transitory prison. Labarki takes the viewer through the jails such people end up in and the conditions there — although this is Beirut, you could easily transfer this to the borders of the US. I find the supposed secondary character, a young single mother end up separated from her child as important as the boy, Zain — the fantasy of the movie is this boy takes real responsibility for the child. We also see how Zain’s sister, Sarah was sold to a man when she was 11 and dies of a pregnancy, how his mother is endlessly pregnant with no way to make any money to feed her family or send anyone to school. We se how desperate circumstances have led the boys’ parents to behave brutally to him and to one another, to in effect sell Zain’s sister, their daughter, Sarah, age 11, who dies in childbirth (too young for pregnancy).

It’s an important movie for our time — Biden is continuing many of Trump’s heartless and cruel policies at the borders — not the separation of families. There is no excuse for this. This movie does have a sudden upbeat happy ending (sort of). See it.

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Then very much a Valentine’s Day film: Two of us, also on this film course’s list.


Nina (Barbara Sukowa) — much in love with Madeline, she has no family around her


Isabelle Huppert more recently (see her in the interviews just below)

Very touching. It’s about two lesbians who have grown old and one is nervous (Madeline), frightened of her two grown children (Anne and Frederick), never ever admitted how she loathed her bullying husband (who made a lot of money if her apartment is any measure). Nina lives across the hall and yes people outside them think they are just friends. But they are deep lovers and as the movie opens, Nina is pressuring Madeline to sell her apartment so they can move to Rome permanently, Rome where they have been so happy.

What happens: Mado has a stroke, and is parallel to a movie so long ago, The Single Man, for which Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar where two homosexual men have deep true life and one dies (Matthew Goode) and the other (Firth) is closed out by the family. Goode leaves everything to Firth, an English teacher. Goode’s family know about the gay life style and enjoy spitefully excluding Firth and beating back the will. Firth comes near suicide, pulls back, just in time.

Here the women hid, and Nina has to break through a caregiver who loathes her as competition. There is much inexplicable imagery. As the film opens, Nina has a dream of herself as a child saving Madeline as a child. Black birds or crows come and go. Nina becomes violent and axes the daughter’s care to get the caregiver in trouble and fired. Gradually the daughter realizes there is something special here. When she first sees a photo of the two women together in Rome, she is revulsed, and puts her mother in a home where the mother is drugged into compliance. The caregiver and her son come and threaten Nina, and when she is out, destroy her things in her apartment insofar as they can and steal what money she has. My mother had a caregiver just like this desperate hard angry woman. Anne witnesses her mother try to come out of her stasis to reach Nina, and Nina try to run away with her. Anne thinks again, and chases her mother and her mother’s lover back to her mother’s apartment, where they are quietly dancing together. The movie ends with Anne banging frantically on the door, saying she didn’t understand.

There is hope. Anne has brought a kitten for her mother while the mother was with the caregiver. We see it in the hall and may hope Madeline’s money will be enough and they will be left alone again. Such movies do show up the ratcheted up cheer of All Creatures and Small – how much truer to life this. Real anxiety Real trouble. It’s about aging and loneliness. There are as fine reviews of this as The Lost Daughter.

And two thoughtful interviews conducted by Isabelle Huppert (a fine French actress. One with the director, this his first film. The other between Huppert and Sukowa: listen to two actresses talk shop It’s very unusual to talk candidly about the problem of enacting, emulating having sex in front of a camera.

Don’t throw your evening out to become an object sold by one company to another to sell awful products at enormous prices.

I conclude with an excellent essay-review by Elif Batuman of the film-oeuvre of Celine Sciamma. Batuman shows how Sciamma is seeking out and inventing a new grammar of cinema to express a feminist and feminine quest for an authentic existence as a woman experiencing a full life: Now You See Me. I quote from it on The Portrait of a Lady on Fire:

The “female gaze,” a term often invoked by and about Sciamma, is an analogue of the “male gaze,” popularized in the nineteen-seventies to describe the implied perspective of Hollywood movies—the way they encouraged a viewer to see women as desirable objects, often fragmented into legs, bosoms, and other nonautonomous morsels. For Sciamma, the female gaze operates on a cinematographic level, for example in the central sex scene in “Portrait.” Héloïse and Marianne are both in the frame, they seem unconcerned by their own nudity, the camera is stationary—not roving around their bodies—and there isn’t any editing. The goal is to share their intimacy—not to lurk around ogling it, or to collect varied perspectives on it.

Mira Nair (filming A Suitable Boy) and Celinne Sciamma

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Ellen

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IAlice (Keeley Hawes) and her daughter, Charlotte (Isabella Pappas) (Finding Alice, Episode 1).



1940a photograph of Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps; the basis of the film, Come See the Paradise

“Something had been done in the way of raising money by selling the property of convicted secessionists; and while I was there eight men were condemned to be shot for destroying railway bridges. ‘But will they be shot?” I asked of one of the officers. ‘Oh, yes. It will be done quietly and no one will know anything about it. We shall get used to that kind of thing presently’… It is surprising how quickly a people can reconcile themselves to altered circumstances, when the change comes upon them without the necessity of an expressed opinion of their own. Personal freedom has been considered as necessary to the American of the States as the air he breathes.” — Trollope on the civil War in North America


Portrait shot of one of several variants 1949-1957 TV versions of I Remember Mama


Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) looking up at Marianne and hearing her extravaganzas with patience (2009 BBC S&S, Andrew Davies)

Dear friends,

Tonight, I thought I’d bring together three movies which center on women or can be related to women and seem to me good and significant movies to watch relevant to us today. As an experiment, for fun, I’ve been watching the Austen movies (a subgenre, some 37 at this point) and end on a pattern others may not have noticed. As I’ve been doing, the blog will not be overlong.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been watching a 6 part ITV (British) serial story, Finding Alice. I was drawn to it because its central role, Alice, a woman at least in her later 30s, whose husband dies suddenly from a fall over a steep staircase, which he deliberately built without a bannister is played by Keeley Hawes, one of my favorite actresses. She used to garner central roles in costume dramas based on masterpiece books (Cynthia in Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, as scripted by Andrew Davies); or moving series on remarkable books (Louisa Durrell in The Durrells). Now she is more often found in mystery thrillers which are just that little bit better (more intelligent) than the usual. So this series sounded like a return back to her more thoughtful rich programs. Perhaps the problem with the series is it is too rich, takes too much on, and does not resolve enough of what is presented. This Guardian review by Lucy Mangan is unfair (and shows itself to be a little stupid) by singling out Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley as superior actors to all the others (I wondered if that had anything to do with their race and age); they are no better or worse at acting their roles, their roles no less or more jarring or uneven than the other characters: but she does outline the story, and I can vouch for many shining moments beyond the ones Mangan allows for.

The film plays variations on how difficult it is to accept the death of a beloved person; it projects different modes of grieving and bereavement. Rashan Stone as the man who is in charge of a hospital morgue and runs bereavement groups is superb in his role; he comforts Alice as well as himself exemplifying how someone else can deal with devastation (his daughter killed herself) and a wife whom he does not get along with (one of the variations on a daughter not able to adjust to a mother who is hostile to her). The hardest hit is Charlotte, Harry and Alice’s teenage daughter, upon whom much of Alice’s earliest antics fall — she insists on burying Harry in their garden turns out not to be such a bad idea after all. But she also wants to impregnate herself with the sperm Harry froze so that she could have another child by him — since she was (rightly) refusing at the time.


Alice in Episode 6, learning to stand alone

After the 6th episode was over and nothing much had been resolved, of several emerging conflicts, except importantly Alice had taken responsibility for all those things her partner Harry had supposedly been doing just fine, only he wasn’t. The story is the sudden death by falling down a steep staircase of the heroine’s partner. We learn pretty quickly both Alice & Harry have taken no thought for the possibility he might die — he has (it emerges by the last episode where we hear him speak his last words) regarded and treated her as a child. Been false in the way he appeared to love her. His bank account does not have her name on it, she has almost nothing in hers; he left this house he and she were supposed to be so proud to live in to his parents. His business dealings he does with women, one of whom turns out to be a semi-mistress — who may have bought (?) his sperm to impregnate her female partner with. The business is near bankruptcy. An illegitimate son appears who thinks he will inherit — but that is not accurate. If she never married Harry and so can’t automatically inherit whatever is left, how does an unrecognized bastard son inherit anything? Harry’s parents are hostile to her, want to sell the house out from under her to pay their inheritance taxes; her parents (Havers & Lumley) consist of a mean-mouthed bullying mother and a weak father who finally seems to leave his wife who openly cuckolds him in the last episode). Many episodes contain such a multitude of complex emotions one cannot begin to cover the ground so richly sown.

This review by Reece Goodall falls into the very trap I suggest the movie wants to preclude: the idea that people don’t let go a lot when they grieve; that they know to be tactful and to live in and within themselves. Anything else is not adult. Sure, in public, but not in private which is where these scenes delve. I grant at the third episode I began to feel this was an attempt to present ever-so-modern patterns of living and taste in a voyeuristically morbid vein, but then in the fourth an upswing begins where we see the point is to show us Alice slowly discovering she is an individual, what kind of person she is, what are her real tastes. I don’t think the only way you can assert your independence is to give other people who are trying to cheat you a hard time, but it is one of those things a woman living alone will have to deal with alone.

At its end you get a message telling you where you can contact counselors to help you through bereavement — quite seriously — the creators just did not know how to cope with what they are presenting to a wider popular audience so they become “constructive.” I see another season is planned (or was). I hope it comes back and becomes less unsteady, giving more time to each set of characters and incidents.

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Movie poster

Coherent and beautiful is the indie, Come See the Paradise, written and directed by Alan Parker. It opens with a mother in her early 30s walking with a young adolescent girl child. They are traveling by train to re-meet the father and husband whom they have not seen for years. The mother tells the girl the history she does not understand for her father was take away when she was around 4. This flashback movie then tells from the point of view of the Japanese woman who is attached equally to her family and American husband and is herself self-sufficient, upright.

Hers is the story of them as a young couple, American young man who was involved as a non-professional (non-degreed) lawyer in a union in the 1930s who falls in love with Japanese girl whose parents are about to marry her off to a much older man. In 1942, over 100,000 Americans were interned in prison camps in the USA. Well this extraordinary complete violation of human rights (it was against the law in many states for a white American to marry a Japanese person and they were not permitted to become citizens unless they were born here) hits hard on these lives that are slowly presented. We see the young couple try to persuade her parents; they cannot so they elope. Several years go by and Jack (Dennis Quaid) has involved himself again in striking; Lily (Tamlyn Naomi Tomita) disapproves, is frightened, and when he is taken away to be arrested, flees home to her family (whom she was very attached to). When he finally gets out of jail, he comes to find her and is slowly accepted into the family by all but the father. Then the war breaks out, the internment begins. Everything is very harsh; they have to give up all their property and live in a camp in crowded impoverished conditions. Eventually the young men are coerced into fighting for the USA or accept being sent back to Japan. Jack finds he cannot stay with them and spends most of the war as a soldier. He is finally recognized as a labor agitator and re-sent to jail. So the film is pro labor too — like his Japanese brother-in-law, Jack has a no-choice: go to jail or endure military service. The two stories intertwine and reinforce one another. There is a fine use of music; some of the scenes are very moving; the use of colors is careful and effective. I do not think think it at all exaggerated or exploitative or smug or over-angry. The Karamura family slowly changes; they learn to appreciate Jack; they hang together and they also make individual choices that bring out their characters and need for usefulness, joy, respect.


One of several parting scenes

Recently there has been an increase in violence towards Asian people. Incited by the truly evil man, Trump, to blame Asian people for the coronavirus, older atavistic prejudices have come forward.  This time it was a massacre of eight people, six Asian women, in Georgia by a young white very sullen-looking man. In his recent speech before this incident Biden mentioned the way Asian-Americans have been treated since the pandemic started and said this has got to STOP! Tonight he and the Congress are working on helping Asian-Americans and doing what they can to discourage this virulent racism. So this film’s story is not at all obsolete. There is a sneer (!) in wikipedia: the movie is called “oscar bait” and I dare say it won no prizes because of its strong Asian theme. It is a bit long because it wants to get us to the qualified happy ending — retreat for this intermarried family.

Here is Ebert’s excellent review (1991): how easily it seems our assumed liberties can be taken from us; Caryn James of the New York Times: when our people were victimized right here; Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat of Spirituality.


Mr Karamura accepting Jack who tells him that this family is his family, he loves them and they love him ….

I don’t know how or why Roosevelt could have allowed this — it is a blotch on his record, very bad. I know how he (in effect) threw Black people under the bus (what an inadequate metaphor) to keep the southern democrats with him. Also how social security did not include cleaning women and other lower end self-employed people — often Black people.

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The political story of I remember Mama is told here It immediately belongs to the history of suppression of any socialistic feelings which came to a head in the early 1950s with the McCarthy hearings of the HUAC; long range it belongs to women’s studies: Gertrude Berg invented, wrote, starred in this development from an earlier genteel white stage play and made a resounding hit of it — despite studio feeling that Americans don’t want Jewish stories either. Berg had a very hard time getting the shows any sponsorship originally.

Then after the success, the show was forced off the air — in effect. The executives cared more about stamping out socialism than monetary success when it came to a Jewish ethnic show. I love Lucy wasn’t touched because it was seen as all-American (but for the unfortunate Cuban husband). The man playing the father, Philip Loeb, a professional stage actor was active in the labor movement; that was enough to get him was black-listed; the show never recovered from his departure and other changes insisted upon. It’s all lies that Americans would not tolerate a divorced person, a Jew or a person from NY on their TV shows. This shows how the channels and big media colluded absolutely with the wave and institution across the US in the fifties of anti-social democratic movements everywhere in every way. They wanted it to be that US people not tolerate Jewish people. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong does tell us that in life Gertrude Berg did not wear housedresses, but swathed herself in silk, furs and jewels.

I did not know this story. I do remember some of the earliest sit-coms, replaying on morning TV — there was one about a daughter and father with a matinee idol as the father (My Little Margie?); another about a secretary (Suzy?); of course I Love Lucy. A Jim Bakkus. Amos ‘n Andy was still playing at night in 1955/56 when we got our TV.

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Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth (1979 BBC P&P, Fay Weldon)

So to conclude, once again watching all the Austen movies (I’ve watched more than these, see my blog with more recent Austen movies, viz., P&P and Zombies, Whit Stillman’s Love and Freindship, Sanditon, &c I own or can rent: in general, just about all Austen movies made for paying cinema are versions of Screwball comedies or high erotic romance, from the 1940s P&P, to McGrath’s 1996 candied Emma, Wright’s 2005 Lawrentian P&P, to Bride and Prejudice and the recent travesty 2019 Emma, not to omit the 1995 Clueless and P&P and Zombies. Just about all the serial TV Austen movies are centrally melodramatic, presenting Austen’s material as familial drama exceptions are the occasional gothic (Maggie Wadey’s 1987 NA) and but once only a genuine ironic but gentle satire, the 1972 Constanduros Emma (it falls down today on the visuals, the way the characters are dressed just won’t do). This is true of the three short 2007 films (MP, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey; Wadey, with a spectacular performance by Sally Hawkins, and Andrew Davies) and the 2009 Emma (Sandy Welch) and Sense and Sensibility (again Davies) Many have been made by women, and even in the cinema versions, one finds that women’s aesthetics predominate: the use of letters, a voice-over female narrator, a pretend diary. The Jane Austen Book Club belongs here.


Romola Garai as Emma practicing after the assembly (2009 BBC Emma, Sandy Welch)

For my part in general I vastly prefer the TV choice of genre, though neither captures Austen’s inimitable mix. Perhaps the closest that ever came to her were a few in the “golden years” of the pre-Thatcher BBC — the 1971 Sense and Sensibility (again Constanduros), the 1979 Pride and Prejudice (Fay Weldon) with its emphatic bringing out of Elizabeth’s inner sensibility and quiet wit and also the 1995 A&E Pride & Prejudice (Andrew Davies) taken as a whole. I am a real fan of Andrew Davies (there are a large number of blogs dedicated to films by him, and one of my published papers is on his two films from Trollope (HKHWR and TWWLN)


Wonderful passing time moment: Jane (Susannah Harker) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) walking and talking

That’s all from me around the ides of March.

Ellen

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The three covers before the TV series began

I woke to the patter of rain on canvas, with the feel of my first husband’s kiss on my lips. I blinked, disoriented, and by reflex put my fingers to my mouth. To keep the feeling, or to hide it? I wondered, even as I did so.
Jamie stirred and murmured in his sleep next to me, his movement rousing a fresh wave of scent from the cedar branches under our bottom quilt. Perhaps the ghost’s passing had disturbed him …

Dear Friends and readers,

As I’ve done before, although I’ve been blogging on the fifth Outlander book, The Fiery Cross, and the fifth TV series season, on my Ellen and Jim have a blog, two site because the series is just as much, perhaps more a creation of male film-makers (by which I mean everyone involved) as female, I want also to link in my review-essays here — the historical fictions are all of them very much women’s historical-romance fiction, and many of the directors, writers, producers are women, to say nothing of the brilliant actresses. It’s  also set in 18th century North Carolina.

I wrote four. One comparing the book and film season against one another and then in the context of the previous 4 books and seasons:


Ulysses’ story is much changed in the series; that’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded Jamie is bringing Ulysses to read (Ep 11)

Season 5: The Fiery Cross transposed and transformed

Then a second on Episodes 1-5 and a third on Episodes 6-11:


Claire’s over-voice narration binds together the 5th episode which moves back and forth from the 18th century to the 20th (Ep 5)

Outlander, Season 5: Episodes 1-15, Her Stories


Brianna and Claire walking by the ocean (Ep 10)

Outlander, Season 5: Episodes 6-11, Women’s Realm (birthing, birth control, breast-feeding &c); again anti-war, father-son-friendship Bonding

A fifth and last on the astonishingly good last (12).

Outlander, Season 5: Episode 12: The Rape of Claire


Claire’s dream: her beloved 18th century family & friends transposed to the apparent safety of the 20th century (Ep 12)

As I like to provide more than the links when I do these handy lists (I’ve done this kind of cross-blogging for Poldark, Wolf Hall, and a few other film series, let me add that beyond Gabaldon’s two Outlandish Companions (books 1-4, then 5-8), and the two books of The Making of Outlander type (Seasons 11 2; the Seasons 3-4), I’ve used for all my blogs since the first season began and I started to write about the books; wonderfully interesting and well written books of essays and encyclopedia like articles edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel: Adoring Outlander: fandom, genre, the female audience (just the first book, also called Cross-Stitch and first season); Outlander’s Sassenachs: gender, race, orientation and the other in novels 1-5 & TV, seasons 1-5) and written by her alone: The Symbolism and Sources: Scottish Fairies, Folklore, Ballads, Magic and Meaning, not to omit why the titles, covers &, up to book 5)


This covers the titles and covers of the books too

Ellen

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Mr Elton about to reveal Emma’s masterpiece of a drawing of Harriet overwhelmed by its frame (Emma 2020)


Our three heroines, Marianne, Heloise, Sophie making supper, tasting the wine, sewing garments (Portrait of a Lady On Fire, 2019)

What is curious about Wilde’s hollowing out of Austen’s Emma to surface scenes until near the end is that the language the actors/actresses speak is strikingly a good deal of the time taken directly from the book. I have not seen this kind of thing since the 1970s and 80s in the BBC series of Austen’s film and Andrew Davies’s 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. I found real pleasure in hearing Austen’s own lines, which gave the film what gravitas, intelligence and inner grace it had; otherwise it was a perverse travesty reversing the values that Austen’s Emma inhabits.

By contrast, The Portrait of a lady on Fire is often a silent film, sparse dialogue, with meaning projected through sparse dialogue, with meaning projected through strong silent acting in emblematic scenes

Paradoxically, in this Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the relationships among three women are centrat while in Austen’s Emma (in the original book) the women’s relationships with one another are central. This new film parodies these, does not take them seriously or skips a lot of the development of them (is utterly indifferent to women’s relationships as silly) while using some of the original book’s language the way the 1970s and 80s Austen films did. So there is a real contrast between the films. Siamma’s movie traces the development of true relationships; in Austen’s Emma, the heroine does not see anyone truly but herself and in the book all her relationships except that with “Miss Taylor” that now doesn’t count: she drops Harriet, Jane must leave, she & Mrs Elton are sparring enemies. The women in this Portrait of a Lady forced by the world to play the roles imposed upon them and end sad and lonely. Only the artist has some fulfillment.

Friends and readers,

While these two prominent women-centered films made and written by women (Eleanor Catton, a Booker Prize winner wrote the screenplay for this Emma) would seem to have utterly disparate characteristic scenes, as seen in the above high caricature exaggeration of the scene from Austen’s book where Mr Elton displays Emma’s drawing of Harriet brought back from London, framed and the quiet group scene of three characters existing together cooperatively in a daily task, they are at core surprisingly alike. This has not been noticed because with the exception of Anibundel on Sanditon and Emma (whom I know, not from her review, but from personal knowledge, has read both books), every single review I’ve read shows not just no knowledge of the book, but seem to misremember details and distort the book’s overall feel. Mr Martin is not a widowed farmer, Austen’s book is not filled with frenzied activity (Sheila O’Malley); Austen’s book is not generally hilarious, Clueless not in mood at all like Austen’s book (Mark Kermode).

Kermode does begin with a passing comment, that Austen’s Emma is capable of “endlessly reinterpretable gender politics,” and it’s there that the two films criss-cross terrains. Quite the opposite to this new Emma‘s obsessive gaze at all its males’ breeches for signs of phallic strength, Emma is about women’s relationships with one another. The first third of the book has Emma (here Anya Taylor-Joy) obsessed with Harriet (Mia Goth), because she is bereft without Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) now removed down the street to the house and presumably arms of Mr Weston (Rupert Graves, sadly aged, into the harmless if ever so there male). It’s arguable the book is as lesbian as the screenplay and realization of Sciamma’s two heroines. Consider how in the book Emma has no desire to marry she says until near its end, and then it’s Mr Knightley’s companionship she would feel deprived of. But Miss Taylor is dismissed in the movie, and Emma and Harriet are treated as two women on the hunt for two males, Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) and Robert Martin (Conor Swindells); only at two moments of intense feeling (from the second half of the film) do we see Emma and Harriet dwelling on one another — when finally Emma understands Harriet is now enamoured of Mr Knightley and Harriet grasps this is not acceptable by the woman who deprived her of Mr Martin. The second traces a slow growth of real relationship:

Both movies and stories have one young woman drawing the other and a great fuss made about the painting, but Emma takes this seriously only at the close of the movie where suddenly Emma appears to value the drawing because it is by her and of Harriet, and thus a commemoration of their friendship.


This is of Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) from Andrew Davies’s 1996 Emma; but a real dwelling on this substory is found in all the heritage Emmas

By contrast, all the stills in Emma which capture two characters actually in a relationship with one another capture heterosexual passion, Emma with Mr Knightley or Frank Churchill:


Emma and Frank at Box Hill


Emma and Mr Knightley dancing

The reviews of both movies have been uniformly filled with praise, but when I looked at the Rotten Tomatoes comments and percentages, it seems to me those who went to see Emma were not as ecstatic over the costumes (in both films the characters are just beautifully dressed) as the reviewers, were vaguely disappointed at this Emma, and treated it as ho hum yet another Austen film come down the studio pipes (72% rated it favorably), while the audience who registered their views of Portrait were deeply satisfied, gratified, awakened to something new (92% loved it), unexpectedly, deeply pleasurable.

I suggest that the new Emma fails to capture the book repeatedly; in the first half to two-thirds of the film, everything is acted out through artificial gestures, symmetrical behavior, caricature, exaggerated quirky behavior designed to draw laughter. We are not allowed to take the characters at all seriously until the last third, when at the point of the appearance in the story of Mrs Elton (Tanya Reynolds as effective as caricature here as she was as real living woman in Outlander as Lady Isobel Dunsany — it’s curious how actors/actresses in seemingly minor roles in Outlander are being found in key roles in quality films) there is a turn into gushing romance, when (most unlike the book) Mr Knightley acts out a besotted male and Emma melts into throbbing passion.

A structural sign something is wrong is that Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) while introduced early on by her adoring aunt, Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), is not seen again until well past the mid-point of the film; most of the scenes in the book and previous films between Frank and Jane are cut; they are utterly forgotten its close. Emma’s rivalry with Jane comes out in the scene where Emma plays the piano in such a banal and awkward way, and Jane is the policed classical performer, but nowhere else. The actress’s power is glimpsed now and again but essentially thrown away:

However briefly (and this kind of clarity about him is sort of new) Frank Churchill is presented as a hard cad; but there is no time given for any camaraderie between Jane and Emma to be built as there is in most of the other Emma films.

Autumn de Wilde, fresh from her career as a fashion photographer, music video producer, and generally pop culture pleaser, just did not take Austen’s book seriously at any level, seems not to have thought about it and granted Austen only the desire to tell stories of conventional heterosexual people moving towards marriage. Thus the movie is amusing but ultimately a bore; she missed what was unusual and interesting and moving in the book. She perhaps overdevelops one of the most famous scenes in the book, but Emma insulting Miss Bates is not part of any insight into the vulnerability of all women. The scene between Mr Elton and Emma coming back from the Christmas party where Austen gives license for a #Metoo encounter (taken up by most of the movies) is here turned into a duel of who is the greater snob, Mr Elton when he sneers at Harriet (everyone has their level) or Emma when she puts on a condescending hauteur that prompts Mr Elton to become physically angry, bang hard on the carriage roof and jump out precipitiously. You’d think he was the person sexually assailed instead of vice versa.

What is curious about this hollowing out of Austen’s book to surface scenes until near the end is that the language the actors/actresses speak is strikingly a good deal of the time taken directly from the book. I have not seen this kind of thing since the 1970s and 80s in the BBC series of Austen’s film and Andrew Davies’s 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. This viewer found real pleasure in hearing Austen’s own lines, and that they were chosen regularly over any modernization gave the film what gravitas, intelligence and inner grace it had.

Turning to Portrait of a Lady On Fire, the incidents told include Heloise’s sister’s suicide rather than be forced to marry and at the film’s end Heloise seen crying silently across a theater by Marianne; Marianne and Heloise helping Sophie to find an abortionist, comparisons with Eurydice (who might have been glad to escape Orpheus as Carol Duffy’s poem, “The Big O,” suggests), discussions of allowing oneself to be painted as draining the life out of the subject. When left alone, the three women move into egalitarian patterns. A truly perceptive review of the film by Muriel Zagha (for Times Literary Supplement, March 6, 2020, p 25, behind a paywall) brings out its allusions to 18th century women artists, its use of female gazes, its cool egalitarian spectatorship.


Marianne listening to Sophie

Marianne and Heloise confiding


Gazing out to the sea together, wrapped up

One of the most remarkable sequences shows the all-female household going to the beach at night at mid-summer to find the beach filled with women dancing, drinking, eating together, exchanging gossip and folk remedies.

Both films rely heavily on a musical score – use explosions of music to convey complex or comical or emotional commentary on what we are seeing. Emma moves from recognizable operatic music, to Christian hymns, to modern rock, with a probably deliberately sought jarring effect; Portrait of a Lady on Fire jumped to the next century with recognizable symphonies, piano music, arresting chanting (the women on the beach) and modern electronic music.


Mr Knightley and Emma fiercely yet comically quarreling when Emma bullyingly persuades Harriet to refuse Mr Martin


The landscape is made up of 18th century material objects

My quarrel with Wilde’s Emma is not to dismiss its laughter, which we are in need of just now. I have compared the unexamined nature of the material in this woman’s movie (as all the Austen movies ultimately are, no matter how a particular director tries to wrestle into male action sequences) with Sciamma’s sincerely-done contemporary re-imagining of the past to point to Wilde’s dismissal of a sisterhood movie whose 18th century setting could have been used as a reinforcement of themes (from or in the book) embodying women seeking liberty.


Here Heloise as daughter cannot free herself of her mother’s (Valeria Golino) command she marry a man she has never met

I can’t help but remember how this year’s Sanditon attempted a resolutely contemporary re-imagining of Austen’s fragment and failed to carry it off fully. Perhaps what is needed is a new sweeping away of (recent) hagiographical Janeite readings of Austen — as was done by D. W Harding and Marvin Mudrick in the 1940s and 60s respectively.

Ellen

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