Book to Screen – Mansfield Park (1999)

Recently, I read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. In my review, I mentioned the movie from 1999 that I’d seen and liked. But I haven’t seen it in quite a long time so I thought it was time for another viewing since the book was fresh in my mind. I got quite a surprise. There will be spoilers below for both book and movie.

The movie is very different from the book. Character personalities are changed. The plot is manipulated and changed somewhat and there’s even a brief sub plot injected for no other apparent reason than to make a politically correct comment that slavery is a Very Bad Thing. Unless I missed it, that’s not in the book at all and it felt very out of place here.

Fanny Price, our heroine, as written by Jane Austen, is meek, mild, proper, respectful, intelligent, shy and tends to blend in to the background, the objective observer. She has her own opinions but doesn’t usually express them. She loves Edmund Bertram from afar most of her life but never breathes a word about her feelings to him or anyone else. She doesn’t trust Henry Crawford and will never love him.

The movie starts with Fanny moving to Mansfield Park from her home in Portsmouth. You get a few brief scenes where you understand that she is the poor relative and will always be treated as such and there’s a scene where Edmund introduces himself to her. You kind of see that they become good friends in a brother/sister way but it’s not really emphasized and the next thing you know, the plot leaps to somewhere near the last third of the book. We’ve barely met the Crawford siblings and they’ve hardly made an impression on us and yet Fanny already has them pegged and figured out as not to be trusted.

When Henry Crawford decides he will woo Fanny, it’s nearly instant and after he asks her uncle for her hand, he accepts and she refuses, it all goes to hell. In the book, her relatives are far more gentle in their attempts at persuading her to accept Henry. In the movie, she is immediately banished back home where, after some time, Henry Crawford appears with sparkly fireworks and doves. Huh? Henry confronts her with his knowledge that she loves Edmund which she admits and is told Edmund is going to marry Mary, Henry’s sister. We really haven’t seen much of Edmund and Mary together to fully accept that he’s besotted with her and she’s undecided because he’s only a second son and is going to be a minister.There’s really not much build up to that on screen at all aside from a couple of speeches and no chemistry.

Henry nearly convinces her to accept his proposal, at least I think that was what her dream of doing exactly that was about, but the health crisis of her cousin Tom calls her back to the Park, which also didn’t happen in the book.  And also, never part of the book, Tom’s extended illness seems to be implied caused as a result of his reaction to seeing slavery at his father’s estate in Antigua. His father has a book with drawings of slaves and says his son is mad. I believe the implication is that his son saw the mistreatment of the slaves in Antigua, drew the pictures himself and what he saw is now haunting him. What? In the book Fanny remained in Portsmouth and was continually updated by letter as to Tom’s  recovery. She didn’t return until the scandal about Henry Crawford and her cousin Maria hit the fan.

Ah yes, the scandal. In the book this was totally off “screen” as it were. Fanny receives news that her newly married cousin Maria has run off with Henry Crawford after Fanny firmly rejects his proposal yet again and Edmund arrives to take her back to Mansfield Park.  In the movie, Fanny walks in on Henry and Maria in bed after she has returned to Mansfield and while Tom is still ill. I can understand why they’d change this for the movie since it would have more impact for a viewing audience but by this time as you’re watching the film, having read the book, you’ll just be shaking your head.

Then there’s Fanny herself. Her personality is very different. She’s bright and cheerful, ready, willing and able to stand up for herself if need be. She’s also a budding writer, having loved to write her stories since she was a child. This is encouraged as she gets older, by Edmund, and at the end, a possible publisher is found for her. Not even close to the Fanny of the page.

The bare bones of the story is the same and there are the same characters but they really aren’t developed well. The story, such as it is, resembles that of the book, or a small part of it. So much of the detail has been left out. Most of the characters have a tenuous relationship to the personalities that Jane wrote for them. I do get that you need to see a lot of the action that, in the book, was only conveyed by letter or conversation. A movie would be very boring otherwise. I know that a lot of detail has to be left out of a book because there’s only a limited length for a film. I tried to think of how the movie might be viewed for someone that has never read the book, and I think that was me when I first saw it. I’m pretty sure now that was one of the books I hadn’t read.

I did like it when I saw it but it’s been quite a number of years since I have seen it, likely rented on DVD at the time. Fans of Jane Austen’s books will not like this filmed version very much. I would be curious to find other versions to compare but I’d not be optimistic that I’d actually think any of them are a worth adaptation.

To use a phrase from the end of the movie, it could have been different. But it wasn’t.

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Review: Mansfield Park – Jane Austen

2017:81
4 of 5 stars
Published in 1814

The next in my effort to read all of Jane Austen is Mansfield Park. This is the story of Fanny Price, one of the many children of a younger of three sisters, the one that married for love and now struggles to feed the children and pay the bills. Because she married against her family’s better judgment, she has had no contact with her sisters for many years but reaches out to ask for help in desperation. The other two sisters decide they should take on one of the older children, a daughter, and so they do. This is Fanny, of course, who is moved away from her home and beloved brother William to Mansfield Park where her aunt and uncle, the Baronet and Lady Bertram reside.

Fanny is homesick and miserable but makes friends with the younger of the two sons, Edmund, who treats her affectionately and looks out for her, at least some of the time. The two Bertram sisters more or less leave her to her own devices most of the time. Fanny is generally treated all right but is never allowed to forget she’s not their equal, a poor relation dependent on them, and is kept in the background, running errands and keeping her aunt company for her keep but Fanny is a quiet girl and seems happy enough. Things change when she’s about 17 and new neighbours, the Crawfords, Mary and her brother Henry, move to the area.

Talk about setting the cat among the pigeons! There are romantic entanglements, jealousy, scandal, and flirtatious games being played. Through it all, Fanny watches with an objective eye, the Crawfords are “society” and are shallow and insincere, they corrupt those around them but only Fanny seems to see it. She stays true to herself even when she is rejected and banished as ungrateful but never fear, Fanny gets her happy ending.

I like Mansfield Park a lot. Most of the characters are great fun, in that they’re not all upstanding, honest and stout hearted. Many are by and large devious, haughty, shallow, naive, self absorbed, shrewd and snobby. They aren’t horrible to Fanny mostly but they never let her forget that she should be grateful for the advantages they have provided for her and very surprised when she is shown to have integrity and a mind of her own, as most of Jane Austen’s heroines have, even if some of them are easily swayed from the straight and narrow path on occasion.

As with most of Austen’s books, it has been filmed. My favourite is the movie released in 1999 starring Frances O’Connor as Fanny and Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund.

Official trailer here.

Movie review: IT (and other Stephen King meanderings)

It might seem odd to post a movie review to a Reading themed blog but it’s a movie that was made from a book. “IT” is a 1986 novel by the horror writer Stephen King. It’s a big, chunky book that has two parts, one taking place in 1958 with a group of early-teens fighting an entity called Pennywise and then the second part some 25+ years later in the early 80s with the same group as adults returning to their home town of Derry to confront Pennywise again. Pennywise appears as a clown at first, to lure in children then it changes to represent the innermost fear on which it feeds. It may maim or kill and is terrifying. It lurks in the sewers, or in dark corners of old, abandoned houses, never out in the open sunlight. The kids are friends but are often bullied by the stronger and more popular children. They find strength in their bond as the Losers’ Club and that’s what gets them through this nightmare, both as children and as adults.

The book was made into a tv mini-series in the 80s starring British actor Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown and he was excellent, though for me, the best part of it. It was good, better because he was in it, but not great, as I recall.

The new remake of IT was quite good. I haven’t read the book since the 80s so I couldn’t say whether it followed it well or not but it only focussed on the part to do with the kids, not the adults years later like the original mini series did. It was set in 1988-89 which would bring the adult part forward to present day if there is a sequel planned, and it seems like there might be.

All of the child actors they cast were very good, which is unusual really (in my opinion). For me, there is always at least one or more that irritates me. Not all of the kids themselves are likeable but then that’s not down to the actors, just the character and I would think the actor must be doing a good job if he’s making the character annoying! The one playing the girl in the group was especially good. She’s Sophia Lillis and she’s got talent. She’s also really pretty now at the age of about 15. She’s going to be a stunner in 5 or 10 years. She kind of reminds me of Deborah Messing from Will and Grace. Talent and looks will take her far in Hollywood. Watch that space.

The man that played Pennywise the clown in this version is Bill Skarsgård from the Swedish family of actors. You’ve seen his father Stellan in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and his brother, Alexander, was in True Blood. We’ve only just seen Bill lately in a creepy series called Hemlock Grove. Excellent stuff with vampires, a werewolf and lots of other creatures. Tim Curry played the original Pennywise but Bill did just as good a job, I think.

Since this movie was all about the kids and their experience, it went into more detail about the lives of most of them and about their fears which is what the entity feeds on. Their parents are not major characters and only appear if it contributes to either the child’s state of mind or to their personal fears. If they do make a second movie about the adults, it should be interesting.

IT is on my list to re-read. Perhaps it would be a good October/Halloween book! I read a lot of Stephen King’s books back in the 80s with a few more in the past 10 years. I haven’t read the Dark Tower series so won’t be going to see the new movie out that’s based on them. Quite often, movies and mini-series based on King’s books have fallen flat which is a shame. Few seem to be able to really grasp the spirit of the book. Even The Shining with Jack Nicholson seemed to miss the mark a bit for em. Nicholson is great but his personality is so huge that it kind of takes over a bit. The Shining was one of the movies that was better received than most, however.

I wonder if part of the problem is that the King novels are usually so thick with lots of detail and that’s hard to translate into a film. By losing so much detail, you lose a lot of the plot and it doesn’t hang together as well. The movies then rely on effects and scare tactics rather than leading you into the situations more slowly where the creepy and scary bits then have more of an impact. At least, for me. In fact, it’s a general opinion that the best adaptations of King’s work have come from his short stories (Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption) with a few exceptions (Misery and the original version of Carrie were excellent adaptations from novels. You might think mini series would be better, giving more time to expand on the detail and the original IT wasn’t too bad at all but The Stand, one of my favourite books, really dragged. I loved the more recent novel 11/22/63 but I didn’t enjoy the series made from it, either. In my opinion, James Franco did not suit the lead part and they changed too much of it.

The new IT has managed to get past the details problem, probably by splitting the book into two movies, I guess. At the end, there’s a screen with “Chapter One” displayed, indicating there could be a second chapter. Hollywood loves sequels so it’s likely. If they do as good a job as they did with this one, it should be worth seeing and I would definitely recommend the movie we saw last night!

Another work in the making is a new limited 10 episode series that Hulu is producing called Castle Rock. King fans know Castle Rock is one of the towns that appear in a number of his books along with Derry, both towns in the easternmost U.S. state of Maine. Wikipedia describes the series as “The series is set to explore the themes and worlds uniting King’s entire canon, while brushing up against some of his most iconic and beloved stories. ” So far, Sissy Spacek and Bill Skarsgård are among two actors already cast, both of them being actors that have played in Steven King movies (Sissy was Carrie). It might be interesting, this “mash up” as it were.

Stephen King’s wife Tabitha is also a writer and I’ve read two of her books which were not horror based. His son Owen is now writing and collaborating with his father.

I do remember liking IT as a novel. My other favourite King books include 11/22/63, Christine, The Stand, The Shining, and The Dead Zone and Mr. Mercedes. Are you a fan? Which of King’s books or adaptations are your favourites?

Book to Screen – The Snowman

Jo Nesbo is the Norwegian author of a series of crime novels about detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh). Harry is a deeply flawed man, an alcoholic and a brilliant detective, especially when it comes to catching serial killers. In an interview that you can find on his website, Nesbo describes Harry as “an innocent with problems, becoming more and more like the criminals he hunts, gone to a darker , he’s on his way to hell”

The interview was recorded about the time The Snowman (#7) was released, which was 4 novels ago and at that point, Nesbo says there will not be a film made but it seems that over the past few years, he’s changed his mind or he’s finished with Harry novels. That was his other point, no movie until he’s done with Harry.

I really enjoy the Harry Hole novels and I’m excited to see that there will be a movie made from one of them, The Snowman. They’ve picked Michael Fassbender to play Harry. Not a bad choice, he’s fairly tall at least and Harry, in the books, is about 6’4″. Fassbender doesn’t have a face like 40 miles of rough road like Harry does, though, which is from all that booze, cigs and stress but I’m sure they can manage to make him look rumpled and worn around the edges. The trailer (see below) seems to show him looking fairly rough but he’s still a handsome man, Michael Fassbender and I always picture Harry as a man that might have been good looking in his youth but whose years swimming in the bottle and tangling with serial killers all show on his face.

So. The Snowman. I’ll copy my review here:

This is the third Jo Nesbo book i’ve read and I’ve read them all out of order. This one falls in between the other two I read and even though the killer from this book is revealed in the first one I read, The Leopard, I couldn’t remember exactly who it was at first. Even when I did, and was looking for clues, the story was so well crafted that I second guessed myself once. Inspector Harry Hole is on the trail of a serial killer who ends up being called The Snowman. He kills women who have children mostly. The women go missing and most of them were never found both in the past and in the present until the Snowman leaves a head of one woman atop a snowman in the forest.

Harry’s ex-girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg are still weaving in and out of his world. He manages to stay off the booze most of the time and goes off on his own to investigate things which frustrates his superiors to no end. His new partner, Katrine Bratt is sharp and may have an agenda of her own. The climax would be a visual thriller if they filmed it. I like the Harry Hole books and I like the way Nesbo constructs his stories.

As I wrote above, I read Harry #8, The Leopard, before The Snowman but with enough distance between them that I didn’t remember who the killer was. It’s been enough time again, five years, that I can’t think who it is off the top of my head now, either! I do think I’ll try to reread this before seeing the movie though I’m actually reading the latest Harry Hole book, The Thirst, now. I would recommend reading his books in order because on occasion, he’ll mention something in a subsequent book that might spoil one of the previous books if you haven’t read it yet.

The movie, which is released in October, was filmed in Oslo and Norway and the trailer looks fierce:

All About Austen

This year marks the 200th anniversary since writer Jane Austen died. Miss Austen was 41 and had never married. Jane Austen wrote 7 books, 3 of which were published after she died, which have become hugely popular classics. They are “Pride and Prejudice”, “Northanger Abbey”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Emma”, “Persuasion”, “Susan” and “Mansfield Park”. She also published three collections of “Juvenilia”, odds and ends written when she was younger including poems, satirical pieces, essays etc.

Royal Circus

Bath – The “Royal Circus”. Houses by architect John Wood, the Elder (and the Younger who finished the work his father began)

Jane Austen has become hugely popular, as I’ve said, to the point where there are university courses on her life and works and there are Austen scholars that spend their careers researching this woman. There isn’t a lot of detail known about her. She was a private person and there were not many women writers back then. Because she never married, she lived with family, stayed with friends when she could. She’s associated with the city of Bath which also features in several of her books. There is a Jane Austen museum/resource centre in the historic city and Bath attracts a lot of her fans. The Georgian streets haven’t changed a lot in 200 years aside from the shops sporting more electric signs and the hordes of tourists. The architecture is elegant and graceful and the streets wide enough for two carriages to pass by. You can still imagine what it was like in the days when Bath was *the* place to be seen by society.

Austen heroes

Everyone has their favourite of her novels, with most people pointing to Pride and Prejudice. I think that has to do, in part, with the British series starring Colin Firth as Darcy. Many a heart beat a little faster watching him dive into that pond and emerge soaking wet with his white shirt nearly transparent and clinging to his broad chest.

Excuse me. I’ll just go sit by the air conditioner for a minute.

Actually, my favourite Austen book is Persuasion and, I confess, that’s also influenced by a filmed version that the BBC did staring Amanda Root as Anne Elliott and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth. Oh yes. A very close runner up was the movie Sense and Sensibility starring Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. Rickman’s Colonel Brandon will also set pulses racing! I also confess that I hadn’t read any Jane Austen until I had seen my first filmed version, P&P and then Persuasion, both of which persuaded (ahem) me to pick up the books. There have been a few filmed versions of these novels that I’ve enjoyed and a great number of movies and tv series that have been made from them. It says something about the perpetual popularity of Austen’s works that they continue to be made.

Other filmed versions I’ve enjoyed are Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow and also Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless was based on Emma and it was quite fun as well. Mansfield Park starring James Purefoy and Frances O’Connor. P&P probably has the most filmed versions including a 1938 movie and a 1952 television series, 6 episodes, starting Peter Cushing as Mr. Darcy! Fans of Cushing’s horror movies will find that an odd casting choice but of course he was an actor long before he became popular for the macabre. However, there’s also Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Cushing would have fit right in there! It’s a bizarre mash up of P&P and the current zombie fad where the five Bennet sisters are badass zombie fighters.

There’s a really good podcast by the British newspaper, The Guardian, here which includes an interview with historian Lucy Worsley . The podcast talks more about the woman, Jane Austen, who she was and why she’s popular. Lucy Worsley has a  new book about Jane, “Jane Austen at Home” which  covers her home life via the various homes where she lived and how that was so important to her books’ characters. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you will enjoy this new book.

 

Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley’s pretty awesome, by the way. She’s the curator of the Royal Palaces in London and she writes books about various historical topics and they’re very approachable. She’s also filmed companion television series to go along with many of the books and they’re really good, too. She’s very charming and quirky and cheeky and very likeable. She makes history very interesting, bringing out it’s human side rather than just parading dusty dates and relics. On the Austen topic, there is also an article written by Lucy for the Guardian on Jane Austen and an interview with History Extra as well.

Various other writers have also submitted their opinions on which is their favourite Austen Novel, published in the Guardian here.

I haven’t read all of Austen’s books and I think probably I should. I’ve never been a FANatic fan but I *have* enjoyed the ones I’ve read and it’s likely time for a reread. The ebooks are free to download because they’re outside the copyright limits. Project Gutenberg (a great site to get free ebook versions of classic novels) will have them but you should also be able to get them via Amazon Kindle or other ebook retailers though some of them will still try to charge you for some electronic versions so be persistent. I may even lend an ear to an audiobook version via the library.

Are you a fan of Jane Austen? If so, what is your favourite of the books (or movies)?

Lucy Worsley on Twitter
Jane Austen Centre in Bath

American Gods – Book to Television

Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday – American Gods

Starz, a pay-for cable station in the U.S., has been making some really good series over the past few years. They’ve spent a lot of money on them and it shows in the casting and production. Several have been based on popular books including:

Pillars of the Earth based on Ken Follett’s novel (World Without End was the sequel to Pillars but was not produced by Starz)
Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s series, heading into season 3 (I can’t wait! I must blog about this one, too!)
The White Princess – Phillippa Gregory
American Gods based on Neil Gaiman’s novel

American Gods has recently just finished it’s first season on Starz. I read the book several years ago and though I don’t remember a great deal of detail, I do remember that I liked it but it was also one of those books where you feel like it’s doing your head in, as well. It’s filled with a lot of characters and there’s a lot of references to gods and mythology. The series is very good though there are quite a few differences from the book. A lot of it is extra detail added and more focus put on some characters that were only minor ones in the book. The first season is going to cover about a third of the book and, from what I’ve read, the second season will take a lot of material from the Lakeside storyline in the book. There’s also a sequel, called the Anansi Boys and there may be plans to work that in. If so, it’s likely the series go run for a few years. Gaiman is also writing a sequel but that won’t be out for a few years yet.

American Gods cast

The casting is superb with Ian McShane as the central character Wednesday aka Odin and the (rather lovely) Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. The real standouts for me have been Emily Browning as the undead Laura Moon (and also as Essie McGowan) and Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeny, the leprechaun. The rest of the cast is excellent as well and there are some very well known names.

The basic premise is the Old Gods of mythology have lost their power as people forget them and turn to new ones (technology, media etc). The Old Gods have come to America with various groups of people who brought their beliefs with them and we see a lot of the stories of those Gods’ arrival. Wednesday has decided to bring all the old Gods together to start a war with the new Gods in order to defeat them and bring back the power of the Old Ones and he enlists the help of Shadow Moon, a recently released convict whose wife has just died. Shadow is mainly his bodyguard and goes through much of the first season confused about what’s going on around him and having some very bizarre visions and dreams as well. Then there’s his wife. She comes back to life thanks to a magic coin from a leprechaun. She’s a walking dead sort of gal, though, with flies buzzing around her and later, maggots as she slowly starts to rot. The makeup here is fantastic, as she gets paler and grayer looking, with eyes slowly clouding over and dark circles under her eyes.

Gillian Anderson as the New God, Media – American Gods

There is a lot of violence and there is sexuality. It’s a series for grown ups and it’s smart and edgy. You aren’t spoon fed or hand held in this one. You’ve got to pay attention. Everything means something even if it isn’t always obvious. The differences to the book seem to be more enhancements. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in the world since then. Obviously, the Gods of Technology and Media are going to be updated, for example.

There’s a very good interview with Neil Gaiman here. I like what he has to say about his original vision for his work vs how it ends up translated to screen. “You try to push it towards the thing that you have in your head, but you know that not only do you never get there, you also know that the joy and the magic comes from seeing what other people have in their heads.” He also says that while the casting for some characters is vastly different than how he wrote them, they are doing such a superb job that if he were to write a sequel, those characters would sound a lot more like the versions that the actors brought to life.

Cloris Leachman in American Gods

Books to screen can be a very precarious tightrope. I think that a series is the better way to do it rather than a 2 or 3 hour movie. You have so much more scope for keeping in a lot more detail and it lends itself to enhancement as well (as long as it keeps within the spirit of the book). There are some things that just don’t translate from page to screen but if they do it well, the choices that they make will work just as well. I think, after watching this series, I might have to reread it before the second season comes out next year. American Gods is proving to be very popular and well received and we certainly give it thumbs up from our house.

Laura Moon and Mad Sweeny the leprechaun – American Gods

Review: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

2017: 52
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 1997

This is the second book I’ve read by one of Canada’s esteemed authors. Richler has been publishing successful novels since the late 1950s. I previously read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and enjoyed it and I chose Barney’s Version for my second Richler. The story is about the life of Barney Panofsky as told by his good self, a man in his late 60s whose health and memory are both precarious and whose freedom is in some doubt. He may or may not have murdered his old friend, Boogie, 30 years ago and though he was deemed innocent by a jury of his peers, the scandal and doubt hangs over him like an Atlantic fog. The body was never found, m’lud, so there was no murder is Barney’s defence. We do find out what happened at the end of the book.

Anyway, he’s writing his autobiography that centers around each of his three wives, one of whom doesn’t even get named. The book is sectioned off by each wife but don’t think that means the story is told in any sort of alignment. It’s all over the place, with anecdotes and his personal history told as it occurs to him in random order as one thing reminds him of the next and you’re not even sure he’s remembering incidents correctly. He also revisits some of the incidents as need be. His life is filled with crises and scrapes, and he’s not portrayed as all that sympathetic a character nor is he portrayed as a scallywag that the reader treats indulgently. He makes bad judgments and choices, he drinks, he curses, he’s obnoxious,  he has more failures than triumphs, and you wonder how his children and friends can stand him at all though most of them do seem to keep him at arms’ length.

I guess I can’t relate to Barney that well but it doesn’t take away from Richler’s talent at bringing the characters off the page. His humour is dark and cutting, his observations on life’s aspects are as jaded as the characters but spot on.  I have to say I found it a bit more difficult to like at first but it soon hit its stride and carried me along for the ride.

There has been a movie made of this starring Paul Giamatti, released in 2010 and it’s quite a good film, particularly because it puts the events of the novel in their proper order! Duddy Kravitz gets name checked and makes a few brief appearances, now a grownup and it appears he’s as successful as he always planned. The Gursky name also gets a mention which probably relates to Richler’s book, Solomon Gursky Was Here.  I think I will come back to Mordecai Richler again.

Not one of my #20BooksOfSummerChallenge because I started it about a month ago but I am going to use this for my Cross Canada Challenge for Quebec.