“Pride & Prejudice” (2005)

Running Time: 127 minutes

Starring: Keira Knightley, Matther Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Jena  Malone, Simon Woods, Tom Hollander, Rupert Friend,  and Judy Dench

We all know that the camera loves Keira Knightley, just like Michelle Pfeiffer.  But Keira’s not just a pretty face.  “She worked like a dog,” then first-time director, Joe Wright, says on the fun/informative commentary track of the DVD.  Wright’s version of the P&P story (that many know and love) is a must-see!  (When I saw it in the theater, I wasn’t very impressed.  I think it takes a second look to appreciate all that’s going on under the surface.)

The Bennet parents are humanized by Blethyn and Sutherland.  Pike is the perfect Jane.  Malone (who’s American like Sutherland) does a terrific British accent and plays the flighty Lydia w/ gusto.  The adorable Carey Mulligan makes her film debut as Kitty.

I think looking at it now, Darcy would seem much more snobbish in our understanding of the word than he would then. To somebody like Darcy, it would have been a big deal for him to get over this difference in their status, and to be able to say to Lizzie that he loved her.  –Matthew Macfadyen

Macfadyen (a theatrically-trained actor) is a terrific Mr. Darcy- tall, slim, subtle, and not too much of a pretty boy.  He looks posh and elegant in all the costumes, but never overly imposing.  Darcy’s feelings are reigned in tightly, but his eyes are expressive.  And don’t forget that voice– one of the most gorgeous in all of show business!

 

“They just fancy each other,” Wright comments, noting the deep physical attraction between Lizzie and Darcy.  When she follows Jane to Netherfield Hall on foot, Lizzie’s hair gets mussed and her hem gets muddy.  Darcy is shocked, like best pal Bingley and his sis Caroline, but also intrigued.  He has never met a woman like her before!

When Jane gets over her bad cold, and she and Lizzie have to leave, Darcy helps Lizzie onto the carriage.  This is the first time they touch, and he’s very affected by it.

For the Netherfield ball, Lizzie makes a special effort to look cute, hoping to meet the dashing Wickham.  To her surprise, Darcy asks her to dance!  This dance sequence is one of the best moments of the film.  (Dances were very important in Austen’s time; it was one of the few times young, single people could meet, chat, and hold hands.)

This film was almost entirely shot on location- in Derbyshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, etc.  Pemberly in this version is actually the house of the Duchess of Devonshire.  (Interestingly, Keira played the role of Georgiana in The Duchess in 2008.)

We can’t overlook the rainy scene!  Toward the end, Darcy leans in close and almost kisses Lizzie.  Wow…

Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R-Zg5es7mg

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“The Mill on the Floss” (1997)

Running Time: 90 minutes 

Starring: Emily Watson, James Frain, Bernard Hill, and Ifan Meredith

Marian Evans (pen name: George Eliot) grew up in the country, then went to the city to further her career.  The focus of her writing was often on small town outsiders, such as herself.   In her early 30s, Eliot began a long-term relationship w/ an older married man, George Henry Lewes.  He was a noted philosopher/critic who had an open marriage.  Eliot’s decision to defy the conventions of Victorian England created a bitter rift between her and her older brother, Isaac,  for most of their lives.  This conflict is at the core of her most personal novel, The Mill on the Floss, published in 1860.

The Tulliver family, headed by the strong-willed Edward (Bernard Hill) has owned/managed their mill along the River Floss for generations.   Mrs. Tulliver comes from a wealthier background, so her sisters look down on her marriage to Edward.  The family has two kids, very close in age, though different in temperment.

Eliot’s father, like Mr. Tulliver, was a businessman who had married a woman from a higher social class. His wife’s sisters were rich, ultra-respectable, and self-satisfied. These maternal aunts provided the character models for the aunts in the novel.

Mr. Tulliver decides that Tom, as the only son, should have a better future than he did.  He’s sent off to study with a local parson as an adolescent, much to the dismay of sister Maggie.  As one reader of the novel commented: “her fierce intelligence and strong streak of independence bring her into constant conflict with her family.”  Maggie seeks the love and approval of Tom, even when he treats her harshly.

At the parsonage, Tom studies alongside Phillip Wakem, the only son of the cold-hearted lawyer who’s trying to take over the land/water around the Tulliver mill.  Phillip, who is hunchbacked, is a kind boy who draws, sings, and plays the violin.  When Maggie visits, she and Phillip become fast friends.  Though their fathers despise each other, Maggie tells to Tom that “bad men can have good sons.”

Seven years later, the young adult Tom (Ifan Meredith) leaves school and gets a job at a successful trading business in the village, Guest & Co.  He sets his mind to saving all he can in order to help the family mill, which is more in danger than ever.  Edward’s health is very poor; Mrs. Tulliver has borrowed all she can from her relations.

When Phillip (James Frain) returns from Europe, it gives Maggie (Emily Watson) a reason to smile.   They resume their friendship, meeting in secret to discuss books and ideas.   Like Maggie, Eliot was extremely intelligent, energetic, imaginative and unconventional.  In the book, Maggie is described as a “strikingly attractive young woman, tall with full lips, and a crown of jet black hair.”  We can see that Phillip is deeply in love w/ her.  Tom eventually forces Maggie to choose between the family and Phillip.

Then Maggie meets Stephen Guest, the handsome/easygoing fiance of her cousin, Lucy Deane.  Maggie’s lack of social pretension makes her very charming to Stephen, and he declares his love.   Maggie admits that she loves him, too. Can she fulfill herself while still being morally responsible?

Three Must-See Classics

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

I saw this (lesser-known) film classic on Hulu a few days ago.  It’s a very smart, mature, and full-bodied movie (w/ many important themes).  Unlike some old B&W films, this one will definitely engage modern-day viewers (such as fans of Mad Men). 

 

Daisy Kenyon (Joan Crawford) is a strong,  independent-minded commercial artist living in NYC.  She has been involved for a few years w/ lawyer Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews), who lives on Park Ave. w/ his wife and two daughters.  He’s often in the papers and travels to DC regularly to consult w/ politicians.  Dan is used to getting his own way, though he works in his father-in-law’s firm. 

Daisy and Dan have broken up in the past, but they love each other.   But  Daisy refuses to live in the fancy apt. Dan has picked out for her; she wants to preserve her independence. 

One night, Daisy decides to go out on a date w/ a single soldier, Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda).  He’s wondering if he should continue w/ the army or go back to designing ships.  We get the sense that Peter needs someone.  When he declares his love for Daisy, she is surprised yet intrigued. 

In the meantime, Dan is off in California working on a pro-bono case. His client is a Japanese-American former GI whose farm was stolen from him while he was serving in Europe.  Daisy is very proud that Dan’s working on this case, though his father-in-law doesn’t see any merit in it.                       

 

Dan is very worried about his girls- aged 11 and 13.  His wife and his younger daughter have a very combative relationship.  Dan is appalled when he learns that his wife has hit the girl (as is Daisy). 

Daisy, Dan, and Peter handle their love triangle in a very mature fashion.  There are no fistfights here!  Even after Daisy marries Peter and Dan gets a divorce, their story is not smoothed out.       

 

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I saw this film after several years and thought it had some very fine scenes ans clever/funny dialogue.  Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a Hollywood screenwriter who’s desperate for work and behind on rent.  Running from the law, he drives into the garage of a crumbling mansion owned by silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). 

She’s quite a character (somewhat reminiscent of Miss Favesham in Dickens’ Great Expectations),  and wants Joe to help her w/ her own screenplay.  But that’s not all she wants!  Soon, Norma is picking out new clothes for Joe, moving his meager belongings into a huge bedroom adjacent to hers, and introducing him to her old pals. 

Though Norma is consumed w/ dreams of making a comeback, she’s also a very lonely woman.  Joe feels no attraction for her, but likes the cushy life she can provide. 

In the meantime, Joe meets  22 y.o.  script reader- Betty (Nancy Olsen), who’s the girlfriend of an assistant director.  She’s  a pretty, smart, and optimistic woman.  Betty loved Joe’s short stories from years back and wants to adapt one into a screenplay.  She asks for Joe’s help, so he starts sneaking out of the mansion at night to write.         

 

Marty (1955)

This is a true gem of a film that viewers will be thinking/talking about for days after they see it!  Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a stocky, unassuming, 34 y.o. Bronx butcher who’s contantly being asked (by customers and extended Italian family) why he’s not yet married.  His brothers and sisters have all married and left the family home, now shared by him and his mother.    

When his mother presses him to go out on a Saturday night, Marty exclaims that he’s tired of trying to find a girl.  “Whatever girls are looking for, I don’t got it!” he concludes in frustration.  But he still goes out (to the Starlight Ballroom).     

At the ballroom, a 29 y.o. teacher from Westchester named Clara (Betsy Blair, wife of Fred Astaire) is on a date w/ a guy who’s clearly not interested.  In the course of the evening, Marty and Clara dance and chat.  Marty, who’s used “to other people telling me their problems” can’t stop talking (probably b/c he feels comfortable w/ Clara).  She keeps smiling and admits she’s having a good time, too.  

Marty and Clara, though from different backgrounds, are both kind, good-hearted people.  In one particularly great scene, Marty talks about his father, who “was an ugly guy, but a great father.”  He comments that there has to be more than good looks for two people to have a long, happy marriage.  (My mom says this too!)                               

“Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006)

Running Time:  84 minutes 

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Victoria Hamilton, and Nina Sosnaya

In this prequel to Jane Eyre (based on the novel by Jean Rhys), youthful Englishman and second son, Edward Rochester (Rafe Spall), travels to the West Indies (Jamaica to be precise) for a possible arranged marriage with Creole plantation owner, Antoinette Cosway (Rebecca Hall), the step-niece of his friend Richard Mason.  (You may recall that in Bronte’s tale, she is called Bertha Mason.)  Society will deem it a good match- he has the good English family name and she has the land/cash. 

Edward feels a strong attraction to Antoinette, but is anxious about being tied to a woman he knows very little about.  He’s also uncomfortable in the heat and culture of Jamaica.  But Antoinette makes friends with Edward, not totally against the match.  She is an orphan who feels a deep connection to her homeland, while England “seems like a dream.”  Edward thinks that’s ridiculous- England is the real world for him

Antoinette’s attitude makes her Aunt Cora (Victoria Hamilton) nervous; she comments that a girl w/ her qualities doesn’t have to settle for the first man she meets.  Antoinette (a very intriguing character) has a mix of innocence and openness about her.  Though she looks delicate, she’s not afraid to express herself, unlike the repressed Edward.  Perhaps he is a little bit afraid of her?  Also, there are rumors about her “mad mother.”   

There are many layers to this story, but at the heart of the matter are two people who fail to understand each other.  The man seeks to control the woman, who has a heritage and identity of her own- not to mention feelings.  He is afraid of the power she holds over him w/ her beauty, sensuality, and mysterious past.   

In one crucial scene, Edward even insists that his new bride change her name, as “it doesn’t sound English.”  She’s shocked by his words.  “My name is Antoinette!” she cries out.  (Sorry ladies, this is not the Rochester you loved in Jane Eyre.)

“Wives and Daughters” (BBC – 1999)

No character is one-dimensional in this miniseries (adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel) except the elegant and self-absorbed Mrs. Kirkpatrick (Francesca Annis).  A respectable and hard-working Scotsman, Dr. Gibson (Bill Paterson), marries the social-climbing former governess after living many years as a widower.  This surprises his devoted 17 y.o. daughter, Molly (Justine Waddell), and his friends/neighbors in their small southern English town.  Hyacinth Kirkpatrick has a daughter a bit older than Molly- Cynthia (Keeley Hawes). 

Though close in age, girl-next-door Molly is a total contrast to vivacious Cynthia.  When Cynthia arrives, “it’s as if Marilyn Monroe is has come to town,” comments Hawes on the special features of the DVD set.  Despite their obvious differences, the teen girls become good friends.  Cynthia and her mother don’t see eye-to-eye.   The new Mrs. Gibson doesn’ t want the girls to be “out” in society w/ those who are “course” to her eyes.       

Molly is upset by her step-mother’s snobbish behavior.  She’s very close to the Hamleys, an unpretentious/good-hearted family in the neighborhood.  Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon) doesn’t have posh manners; he’s a country farmer who speaks with a broad local accent.  His well-born wife, Mrs. Hamley (Penelope Wilton), is very kind to Molly.  Both ladies are avid readers.

The Hamleys have two sons in their 20s, poetry-writing Osborne (Tom Hollander) and scientific Roger (Anthony Howell).  Molly thinks Osborne sounds very interesting at first, but becomes good friends with Roger.  She even becomes interested in his research.  But when Roger spies Cynthia, his passionate side comes out!   

At the center of the story is the wonderful father-daughter relationship between the warm-hearted, yet protective, Dr. Gibson and Molly.  “I think she [Gaskell] got that right- the Scotsman,” comments Paterson (who is Scottish).  They have been on their own for so long, you can feel for Molly when a new woman enters the scene!  But the main reason Dr. Gibson remarried was to give Molly a mother.

Molly, like her father, is very concerned for her neighbors and speaks her mind.  Dr. Gibson rides off to see his patients at all hours; Molly checks in on the Hamleys when they’re having troubles. 

Though this is a Victorian story, there are dark undercurrents present.  The seemingly carefree Cynthia shares a secret with a handsome/mysterious land manager, Mr. Preston (Iain Glen).  Molly is puzzled by Cynthia’s strange reaction when he makes a social call at their house.  Her stepmother shares a past with Mr. Preston, some of the local gossips remark. 

Gaskell recognized that men and women (even in a quite conservative/corset-bound society) could become friends and share common interests.  Molly and Roger are both caring, observant, and intellectually curious individuals.  Out of such a friendship, a romance may develop.  These days, don’t many people hope to marry their best friend?