If you've been reading this blog, you will know that on Janeites and Austen-l the question was asked, what (if any) influence do any or all of the Austen films have on our reading of Austen's books. I think they do influence the people who read the books too, and they give license to all sorts of popular readings today which are not in the books. Some of these readings are fascinating and brings out elements in Austen only adumbrated. A film which enrichens, explains and interprets an Austen novel brilliantly and is an effective movie in its own right is Nick Dear's 1995 Persuasion, directed by Roger Michell
Here is a touching still from the 1995 Persuasion:
We see Amanda Root as Anne Elliot gently kiss Sophie Thompson as Mary, see Mary brighten up and begin to behave better and Anne herself get more cheerful as she is needed, respected to some extent and is cheering her sister.
For the opening scenes of this movie until this scene Amanda Root as Anne Elliot is desperate and miserable amid her Elliot family in the great house. She stumbles, sits to the back, becomes near going into an open fit of crying when her father talks disdainfully of the curate Wentworth, looks terrible.
She tries to reach Susan Fleetwood as Lady Russell in separate scene, but we see that although Lady Russell loves Anne and means well, she is somewhat dense (like Austens' character). She is is oblivious to Anne's present misery and state; and when asked by Anne to discuss what happened 8 years ago, she refuses to go into it and will only say it was not prudent to marry this man and not address the state of Anne today. Her idea is Anne should go to Bath and that will help. We are led to think how inadequate this is to this depressed woman's state, and from the previous scene realize she may be among the same people who are largely responsible for her present dejection and wretched state.
A still which shows Susan Fleetwood as Lady Bertram does not want to look at what she's wrought (Anne's solitary life), nor can she.
Anne then goes by a miserable cart to Uppercross -- as Elizabeth tells her no one will want you at Bath. No one will pay for a carriage for her.
Anne in her animal cart -- there is so much to carry you see.
Let me suggest this is the first anti-heritage film. Wright was not the first to present the poor conditions of most people including lower gentry in the UK when they came into contact with the lower orders (which Austen did) at this time. Indeed you may find it in Poldark; but there it is limited to the abysmally poor. Dear and Michell were the first to break this habit of presenting these earlier people as spic-and-span clean, their hair ludicrously perfect, their clothes as if they had emerged from a supercleaners, their houses those of people having 70,000 pounds (Chatsworth income) a year rather than 900.
Anne finds Mary is wretched too, partly because she is selfish, petty, narrow, stupid, nonetheless we are to feel for her as neglected by her husband (because she is) and needing Anne. We see Mary's malice is most of the time (not all -- and we see when she hurts Anne hard) harmless. Anne begins to feel somewhat better. She is needed, useful. She picks up toys, she helps her sister begin to get out of bed, and her sister makes one of her stupid remarks which are harmless and Anne laughs. Anne kisses Mary and for a moment Mary is softened and grateful. This is the first uncertain step (and Anna sometimes is again hit hard and falls back) towards health and then an experience of fulfillment.
My discovery is this movie is about a depressed heroine who gradually gets better over the course of the 2 hours. This is the real trajectory or story of this film, and it's very well done. This is what we see. You have to be subtle and watch slowly for nuances yourself to get all this. If you do though it could influence your reading of Persuasion, deepen it.
Equally we watch an analogous process experienced by Captain Wentworth (Ciarhan Hinds). He is (as it were) stranded among people who are not as perceptive and sensitive as he (thus his speech about Benwick in the novel is about himself). He is lonely and seeking a true congenial partner. (The 2008 Persuasion by Shergold, Burke, and Snodin understanding this took it further and made Wentworth depressed too, anxious; not here, here the norm of filmic projected manliness still holds sway; Hinds was chosen precisely because he is so sturdy, large, proud looking.) What happens if you watch slowly is that from the first moment Wentworth sees Anne, he is watching her, he is as nervous as she and trying to reach her, staring at her directly at moments:
He needed to get away inthe year 06
but she seem incapable of making intelligible eye-contact or acknowledging she understands:
She just looks gravely and enigmatically at him.
The first new obstacle beween them is Mary's having come home from a shooting Anne did not go to (staying home with Mary's child). There (in the film) he said she was so changed. (In the movie this is in the house). It's said maliciously by Mary in the book too. At the dinner in the film that night we can see that he didn't mean it to hurt. He moves off the piano because he cannot bear to take a place she wants; she is mortified by the attention. When you watch the movie still-by-still, rather like when one close reads a poem, you see that he was intensely in love with Anne still, but had long denied this to help me cope. If you do, you see that Wentworth tries to catch and watched Anne's eye from the moment he enters the cottage, and then goes on to the dinner, as that's the high time of this group.
A real problem in this movie is nowhere is it made explicit or even clear that Wentworth and Anne had an affair 8 years ago; it's not until well in Lyme we realize it. I know this from having gone with someone who had not read it. (The 2008 Persuasion rectifies this.) Then the film-makers are afraid of their audience: they want to mend again a problem in Austen with her characterization of Wentworth. It's not as bad as in the P&P case; Wentworth is not arrogant and cold and his character not out of kilter with what we see all along, but we are not given enough to be sure of what his attitude was -- he does say in the final chapter he now realizes he loved her all along and that he never meant to lead Louisa along; that's why he fled when she fell and became prostrate. It gave him his opportunity.
I feel this movie is trying to enact this hard thing:at the long dinner sequence Wentworth is looking for her approval, wanting her, watching her unconsciously and hurting her too without realizing it. I'm now studying the film to watch this process.
It's accompanied by a brilliant use of water imagery and music intended to make us feel we are watching a subjective experience -- in this film it's Anne's we are in, and Wentworth we watch from the outside. In the 2007 Persuasion we have two subjectivities intertwined.
The dinner at which Anne and Wentworth first meet for a lengthy time in the same room is in the 2007 Persuasion film too, only it falls away, vanishes and we are left with the two's inner life staring at one another in front of us. Whether this is quite what Austen intended we cannot say for the novel is unfinished. It does make sense of the novel.
The core idea of the free adaptation Lake House, that the two people are creating a world of meeting that never happened, nor could, its utter subjectivity and wish fulfilment would then be a further development of the 1995 insight by Dear. I love the one of the two on benches trying to reach one another, but that's obvious (and we find them sitting side-by-side several times); what I noticed recently was a break in realism where we suddenly have a vision of ice-skate dancers; I've learned this realm of sport-art is one where what's on offer continually between pairs is dreams of love and the insertion of these shots si a kind of pointer to that and Austen's book:
Kate (our Anne character) is played by Sandra Bullock and Alex Wyler Keenu Reeves, and now I realize they were first together in Speed and feel there's an intertexuality here, and it's reinforced (if not deliberately) by the re-making of Speed in the free adaptation of S&S, I Have Found It, by Manohar (the Edward character).
Of course the movies can also lead those who read the books to misread them -- transpositions, commentaries and analogies all do this. However, misreadings are defended all the time nowadays. I'll write about this in another blog soon.
July 19, 2010: more thoughts on quoted poetry in movie
When we reach Lyme in an emphatic scene between Benwick and Anne on the Cobb there are two sets of lines of poetry quoted in the film. Neither is quoted in Persuasion: Austen's Persuasion alludes to several poems, including one of Charlotte Smith's sonnets about no spring (or renewal) coming again to people, Byron (several, including possibly the Corsair and through that Dante), Scott, but all that is cited are Marmion and the Giaour.
Dear has Benwick and Anne spontaneously bring out together some lines from Scott's Lady of the Lake (Canto 2, Stanza 22)
Like the dew on the mountain,
Like the foam on the river,
Like the bubble on the fountain,
Thou art gone, and forever!
This can be taken in numerous ways, but it is about death, and how death is not being there, vanishing. The book is about lost youth (even if compensated for by its ending), aging characters, and literal death (Lady Elliot) as well as the possibility any time the Captain could be lost at sea. He almost was he says. We have the crippled ailig Harville, the dead Phoebe (shepherdess name). Benwick is citing is presumably to express his grief over the death of Phoebe Harville and also that he did not marry her in time.
The other is more curious and interesting to me. I suggest by quoting a stanza from Byron's Fare thee well, Dear is suggesting that his reading of the novel and what we are seeing in this film is from the get-go of Wentworth's arrival, Wentworth is still longing for Anne and Anne for him. This differs from Austen's book for in Austen's book Wentworth says he didn't realize it. As played by Hinds and directed by Michell, Wentworth is trying to reach Anne from the time of the dinner party, intensely watching her during that walk (why he sees how weary and even distraught she is), but she cannot respond or does not until several days at Lyme pass. Coleridge's epigraph (printed with the poem by Byron) are particularly appropriate too: "to be wroth with one we love/Doth work like madness in the brain" -- I suggest Nick Dear sees Wentworth's incensed response at Anne's obedience to Lady Russell coming out of half-crazed anger, why else not try to reach her in 8 years? The second stanza (standing "aloof, the scars remaining/the hollow heart from paining ...") are about them both.
The poem itself is (I think) autobiographical on Byron's part, about leaving his half-sister Augusta.
Byron's Fare Thee Well
"Alas! they had been friends in youth:
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain;
But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining -
They stood aloof, the scars remaining.
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been."
Fare thee well! and if for ever,
Still for ever, fare thee well:
Even though unforgiving, never
'Gainst thee shall my heart rebel.
Would that breast were bared before thee
Where thy head so oft hath lain,
While that placid sleep came o'er thee
Which thou ne'er canst know again:
Would that breast, by thee glanced over,
Every inmost thought could show!
Then thou wouldst at last discover
'Twas not well to spurn it so.
Though the world for this commend thee -
Though it smile upon the blow,
Even its praise must offend thee,
Founded on another's woe:
Though my many faults defaced me,
Could no other arm be found,
Than the one which once embraced me,
To inflict a cureless wound?
Yet, oh yet, thyself deceive not;
Love may sink by slow decay,
But by sudden wrench, believe not
Hearts can thus be torn away:
Still thine own its life retaineth,
Still must mine, though bleeding, beat;
And the undying thought which paineth
Is - that we no more may meet.
These are words of deeper sorrow
Than the wail above the dead;
Both shall live, but every morrow
Wake us from a widowed bed.
And when thou wouldst solace gather,
When our child's first accents flow,
Wilt thou teach her to say "Father!"
Though his care she must forego?
When her little hands shall press thee,
When her lip to thine is pressed,
Think of him whose prayer shall bless thee,
Think of him thy love had blessed!
Should her lineaments resemble
Those thou never more may'st see,
Then thy heart will softly tremble
With a pulse yet true to me.
All my faults perchance thou knowest,
All my madness none can know;
All my hopes, where'er thou goest,
Wither, yet with thee they go.
Every feeling hath been shaken;
Pride, which not a world could bow,
Bows to thee - by thee forsaken,
Even my soul forsakes me now:
But 'tis done - all words are idle -
Words from me are vainer still;
But the thoughts we cannot bridle
Force their way without the will.
Fare thee well! thus disunited,
Torn from every nearer tie.
Seared in heart, and lone, and blighted,
More than this I scarce can die.
Why Anne's mood changes in the movie I don't know as yet: perhaps it's being freed from the awful family long enough, having Mary at a distance, and finding herself in congenial company for the first time in a long time. (She cares not how poor the Harvilles are.