Thursday, 5 March 2009

On three of the BBC’s costume dramas and their genre: Jane Eyre 2006, Tess of the d’Urbervilles 2008 and Pride and Prejudice 1995

A new entry… This time considering the new costume drama coming on BBC in the Autumn of this year: Emma.

Apparently the same writer who wrote the screen plays for Brontë’s Jane Eyre would be in charge of Emma’s script. Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles the last Autumn rama BBC one broadcast. I had a long discussion about the first and wrote a long letter to the BBC about the last (but received no reply yet). It seems to me that even the writer of Jane Eyre in 2006 mistook Rochester’s character. Beside that, in the beginning he was more rude than abrupt. In costume dramas it is important to be aware of the fact that there is a balance between being abrupt and plain rude! Rochester is direct and commandeering, but not rude. A (Victorian) gentleman would have known how to behave and would never have been so direct as Stephens played him in Jane and Rochester’s first scene. Ciaran Hinds in his Rochester made that distinction very well, better than Stephens. He was able to be abrupt without being rude. Like Elizabeth Bennet tells Mr Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice when they talk about the past: ‘… my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not.’ Elizabeth’s behaviour towards Darcy in the beginning might indeed be called rather abrupt and not really positive, indeed intended to vex a little, but it is not rude. When the writer of Jane and Rochester’s second conversation in 2006 which starts with Rochester coming into the library and saying: ‘Come here,’ makes Rochester command Jane ‘sit’, and Pilot sits, it can be called funny, but it is not at all authentic! In Brontë’s original it even says in the beginning: ‘Let Miss Eyre be seated.’ A far cry from ‘sit’… Rochester, at that moment, is supposed to be alone, desolate, closed to any positive feeling (symbolised in his black horse Mesrour and the riding cloak). In that, he continues ‘as a statue would’ and does not take much notice of Jane, Mrs Fairfax or Adèle and in that is vexing to Jane as she is summoned but is not seemingly required somehow. Yet, he keeps up the form of a gentleman and softens every time. Ciaran Hinds managed that very well, and credit should be awarded to the writer for the dialogues, but the writer in 2006 made Rochester an arrogant rude man, not a somewhat unpleasant person like Jane calls him in 1997. Rochester should be charming, yet somewhat unpleasant. That is what he is and that is his charm: the duality between the arrogance and command and civility, particular to the Byronic hero
What really irritated me in the 2006 adaptation was the bed scene after the cancelled wedding. We discussed it on the forum and it was concluded that it was probably a mix of imagination on Jane’s part and what really happened, however after watching it again I cannot say that that is definitely the case as a memory triggered by the dragon fly is accurate. Jane would have imagined what happened on the bed, but Rochester would really have asked to go to France with him. That may be, and it is possible that that was intended, but it begs the question why the writer absolutely wanted to add that scene. Was it to please the public or was it to add another dimension to the story? For me it does not give an extra point of view. It does not reveal anything new that could not be revealed in another way. It only elaborated on the theme of Jane still being in love with Rochester. Of course, we need to note that the writer decided to end each episode with a cliff-hanger. So episode three ends with the wedding being cancelled and episode four, instead of opening with Rochester’s monologue or something in that sense, opens with Jane on the moors. Everything concerning what happened after the wedding is done in flashback, which could be right, but of course limits the view of the public as to what happened. I can’t consider this as a good decision on the writer’s part because it takes out a vital part of the book! Other than for example flashbacks about Lowood, Gateshead or even Morton, I don’t find a flashback of what happened after the cancelled wedding a good decision. A flashback on Lowood or Gateshead would be appropriate for me because those phases of Jane’s life belong to the ‘real past’, by which I mean: they either take place in the far past of Jane’s childhood or they belong to the phase before Rochester, which makes Jane an adult to some extent and changes her perception. In Morton, Jane still grows, but only in knowing what she wants and doing it, not in anything particular like knowledge, body or passion. She only needs to bring the three together. As most of Lowood and Gateshead are in the distant past of Jane’s childhood, and childhood memories are always coloured because our perception is not as a child what it is as an adult, it would be clear to viewers that the memories that haunt Jane about Lowood and Gateshead are coloured and important to her to some extent, but less important than what is shown in real time in the adaptation. A flashback is useful for additional information as it is short and adds something to the character itself in terms of perception (how the character thinks and what determines his/her actions), but as it is considered as thought of that particular character it does not serve as additional information about the character that the flashback features, only what that character is in the thoughts of another. Rochester’s monologue in Brontë’s original has not got the function of enlightening the reader about the situation or about Jane’s thinking, but has a crucial function in the reader’s perception of Rochester’s mindset and the opinion about him afterwards. If one tells that in a flashback prone to fantasy, it destroys the whole set-up of Brontë. In a sense the monologue can be seen as a monologue in Shakespeare, the last lament of someone who is already condemned or dying. After that the curtain comes down, and so does it on the scene of Rochester: he will be left by Jane. Telling that in a flashback is seriously reducing the dramatic effect of it. More appropriate might have been a flashback in Rochester’s mind about it, not in Jane’s mind. By putting it in Jane’s mind, the writer made the impression that Jane is still thinking about Rochester passionately while in the original Jane did not even allow herself to say she loved him. That feeling was featured in 1997, not in 2006. Admittedly one cannot control dreams, but this was a daydream. It can be ordered not to take place. Jane did think about Rochester still, even in the original, but with different feelings as proper sexual passion not allowed.
Putting the daydream in a bedroom context, even if that were down to imagination on Jane’s part which is not at all clear, confuses in my opinion the viewer and does not add. Of course it does comply with the modern viewer's desire for passion on the screen, but it is inappropriate if the times it plays in, the story and the function of that monologue are considered. The monologue was put into the BBC-version of ’83 with Timothy Dalton. Although it is extremely long and more appropriate for reading than for film or stage, it can be shortened, like in the version of A&E of 1997. Admittedly Rochester turns out quite violent there and says things that are not in the book and he takes Jane to the same tree where he proposed and asks her to say she doesn’t love him (classic!), but it highlights Rochester’s conviction of his own (bad) ways in a short space of time without explicit words. Jane tries to reason with him in the book, but doesn’t seem to get through. In 1997 Jane does not reason, but Rochester’s conduct speaks for itself and it must be clear to all viewers that no reasoning will ever get through at that moment. Jane does not reason in 2006, she voluntarily surrenders herself to his kisses. Jane also feels fear in 1997, like the viewers, at his violence. In the original, Jane does not feel fear for him because he is violent (or at least not that bad), but feels more fear for his dark side (and seducing powers that she refers to as standing between her and the sun as an eclipse). The 1997-version makes a very odd balance between Rochester’s lament, his vulnerability, force and dominance. The viewer who feels that he is a filthy liar sees him desperately trying to convince Jane to stay. How? By chucking her luggage over the balustrade and by stating that he wanted to go to prison for her (congratulations man, what a sacrifice). It is his total humiliation in a way. In the original the humiliation is not present so strongly, but when the curtain comes down, the reader feels a very odd pity and ‘serves you right’ sensation (a little the same as Jane who is torn between his need for help and her need for morality), which is also present in 1997, but not at all in 2006. In 1997 Jane tells him that she leaves for what they have, to keep that pure, and indeed that is what that feeling after the closing of the curtain is about: Rochester is no good, yet is pitiable, but pitiable like King Lear who brought his situation onto himself and cannot possibly be rewarded for his false views, not like Jane herself who is the real victim in the whole situation. In 1983 that feeling was certainly present, but there the monologue was put in in its entirety and turned out quite long. So shortening and enforcing is quite appropriate to awaken the same feelings. Reducing it to a bed-scene I find not only cheap, but also disregarding what that speech means to Rochester’s character. By making Jane lie on a bed with him and kiss him (which Jane did not allow herself in the original), the writer rather raised questions for modern viewers as to why Jane left him if she is then lying on her bed, alone, crying at her thoughts. Essentially it is clear to Jane what she has to do once she learns Rochester has a wife: leave him. There is no other way, because she will not be strong enough to stay there with him around. By making her cry on that bed in 2006, they made Jane a modern woman with modern morals who regrets leaving him. The original Jane would not have allowed herself to do so because it would have been improper to love a man who was married… This was discussed, again, in 1997 and the importance of marriage for her was emphasised when she says: ‘How can I lie with you if I know I am not your wife?’ Rochester answers that they can say she is just that abroad and who will know? Jane exclaims: ‘Me!’ and then goes on stating that that would eat away at her conscience until she would be no more than his mistress who he would resent being with. That is indeed what it is about: no marriage, no relationship. Although Jane finds it hard to leave she does so consequently. In 1997 the writer even made her reproach Rochester that he thought it was easy for her (necessarily Rochester implied that she was only out to get her hands on his money, which is truly low of him). The reproach of Jane is not in the original of course, but it expresses a feeling that the reader has when he reads Rochester’s speech: ‘why do you think you are the great victim in this? What about her? She thought she was going to marry today and just found out that was not the case and you dare to make yourself the victim?’ Making Jane cry on a bed does make a point as far as her sorrow is concerned, but it does not at all make Rochester what he should be. Much more to the point is 1997 Jane who stays stoic through the whole thing and has taken her decision, whatever he might say…

When watching Tess of the d’Urbervilles I decided to read along. Before they broadcasted the adaptation they made a documentary about Hardy’s work. It was a good documentary as far as the influence of Hardy’s life on his work was featured. Yet, Tess of the d’Urbervilles stands in the tradition of Naturalism: a peculiar genre that grew out of the Realism of Balzac and Dickens (to a certain extent), and which mainly focuses on the lives of normal people trying to struggle against their own nature. A nature that shapes society (exploitation), shapes religion (the church), laws and morals; all of which results in the worst endings: degradation, suicide, murder and death. None of this was mentioned and astonishingly enough, or not so, Tess was largely reduced to the tragic tale of a girl who was raped (however that is not explicitly stated by Hardy, although it can be argued). The nature-images were beautiful, that needs to be said, but sadly the way in which the machinery and the surroundings in the section after the leaving of Angel were portrayed, was not at all faithful to the original. It should be a phase of desolation, loneliness and desperation, where life is regulated by the pace of machinery/human nature. Like Milton’s hell (which Alec alludes to literally!). It is a desolate and cold situation similar in feeling as the fist meeting of Rochester and Jane in the cold in Jane Eyre. To make the mistake totally complete the writer decided to put Alec on a white horse! Admittedly it worked very well in the greyish décor and set, different than the section on the dairy farm (with sunny green hills and blue skies with white cows and colourful attire), but even then it is totally inappropriate to put Alec on a white horse as he is not the ‘lord and saviour’ on the white steed! He is the very person in the first place who is ultimately responsible for the failed marriage (although the mother also has a great role in the initial situation because she did not tell Tess about the possible dangers a gentleman could pose, of course out of a naïve wish/certainty to have her daughter marry Alec). By making Alec of a dark complexion, Hardy even made a statement, already before he made Alec do something bad. Dark characters were considered as bad and mysterious, they could better be avoided: Rochester (Jane Eyre), Alec (Tess of the d’Urbervilles), Brian de Bois-Guilbert (Ivanhoe). In a certain sense they were antitheses for the Dark Lady, already a stock character In Shakespeare where Lady MacBeth and Cleopatra will lead both their men to their downfall. Byron carried that theme further with his heroes and Brontë made her Byronic hero repent. Hardy made Alec do what he was meant to do in the Victorian mind: lead Tess to her downfall, and himself as well. Get Tess so far that she murders him and is hanged for it. Not that Hardy agrees with the law, but the end is naturalistically inevitable. Putting Alec on a white horse was totally out of context, both in a literary critical sense and a conventional sense. Even more ridiculous was the mistake of putting in a hymn that was only translated to English in 1953. The text of it worked very well indeed, but anachronism does not have a place in the costume drama genre.

The BBC realised that in 1995 when they filmed their famous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The lake scene which a TV critic on ITV recently said about: ‘Man steps out of lake and TV is never the same again,’ was actually planned to be a nude-scene, but Firth had a problem with it (according to the director). So someone suggested to have him wear shorts of some kind, but this was rejected on the mere ground that shorts were anachronistic because men did not wear underwear in the times of Austen (also not, by the way, in the times Jane Eyre plays). So instead they made Darcy dive into the water fully clothed which branded the man and its actor for ever as a sex-symbol (an image that still haunts Firth today). Nonetheless it highlights the concern in 1995 for absolute accuracy, which was not at all present in Jane Eyre 2006, where Rochester sleeps in breeches and an open shirt (a type of shirt that did not exist) and did not cover himself up when Jane was with him. The concern for accuracy in 1995, even in a literary critical context, was also seen in the very consequent portrayal of Darcy and Bingley. Because there was no real adequate description of either they had to make their own Bingley and Darcy and made them, as Austen intended, two opposites: one fair/light brown and one dark. Bingley on a white horse and Darcy on a black one. Although in the beginning of the original it is mentioned that Bingley rides over to Longbourn on a black horse it can be seen as a hint that he has some fault, which does not show in his person. Indeed, the man has one fault, worse for himself than his friends, but which will also affect Jane: he is too dependent on others’ judgment. In that, he is not an intentional ‘homme fatale’ or does not plot to bring Jane down, but will have the same effect, until Darcy confesses. In 1995 they made Darcy dark by analogy, I believe, to the works of the time like Ivanhoe which features the bad guy Brian de Bois-Guilbert as dark and Cedric the Saxon, the good guy, as fair like Ivanhoe himself. Furthermore, 1995’s Darcy through his pride brings Lydia into trouble, which he recognises himself. Elizabeth is portrayed maybe as a ‘femme fatale’ to a certain extent. She indeed brings Darcy to his downfall, but a downfall that is favourable and not fatal. In a sense ‘homme fatale’ and ‘femme fatale’ duel for supremacy over each other (and maybe themselves), a ‘duel’ that is also featured in the original of Austen: both need to acknowledge their own fault and need to consider the effect of their conduct on others by considering the other's behaviour; both need to be humbled by the other to be able to come together. So to a certain extent they each bring about the other’s downfall, though not in a negative way.

In the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice the writer also added scenes, but they were important and added to the story. They did not destroy anything Austen put in the original, nor did they raise any questions. The lake-scene seems to be part of a larger wash/baptism-motif the writer put in the adaptation (a theme that is also not alien to other works as Jane Eyre). The lake scene is not a mere excuse for sexual tension and does not stand alone. When Jane is ill at Netherfield and Darcy is slowly falling in love with Elizabeth, the latter’s mother comes to visit her daughter and gives a few vexing remarks about Darcy and his opinion on country people and life, but more importantly on gentlemanly behaviour and generosity. The scene after, we see Lizzy walk through the garden, see a Great Dane and play with it. At the same moment Darcy sits in his bath and his servant walks in with a jug of water to pour over him. At the moment Darcy steps out of his bath he walks to the window and watches Elizabeth playing with the dog. It is as if, just after the nasty remarks of Elizabeth’s mother, he wants to ‘wash off’ all the ‘sins’ so to say and has an urge to be more like the dog Elizabeth is playing with (a motif that also occurs in Jane Eyre with Pilot and which was largely known to a Victorian reading public by way of paintings of prince Albert and Victoria, the latter of whom was portrayed as his favourite dog Eos). The washing/baptism-motif reoccurs when Elizabeth has refused Darcy’s first proposal and he writes the letter. There again he looks outside the window and later washes himself. When Elizabeth is in Derbyshire and will visit Pemberley, we see Darcy fencing and then saying ‘I will conquer this.’ While Lizzy is being made aware by the housekeeper of his real character, and not the façade he puts up, partly probably because he is as shy as his sister (which is a good quality for a woman but not for a man, as portrayed in Bingley who is much more agreeable because of his lively manners), Darcy is returning home and approaching Pemberley and the lake, like Elizabeth at that same moment is in the process of approaching the real Fitzwilliam Darcy . At the same moment, the same second, that Elizabeth is admiring his portrait in the gallery with a more open mind to the man himself, Darcy is stripping off and swims in the lake. And when they finally meet each other on the lawn, totally unexpected, there is not only surprise, but also awkwardness, rebirth, and a totally different man as the music indicates when Lizzy looks at the painting. The same as in the original, yet even with a deeper meaning for Darcy himself. The revelation the reader gets in the original, both of Lizzy’s mistake and Darcy’s real character, is present for the viewer in that whole set-up. When we meet the sister Georgiana afterwards, it is suddenly clear what Darcy’s character is like for real, not what his façade is/was, Austen’s original alike.

The scene after features Darcy staring in the camera (to Elizabeth, who is playing). The song she sings is even appropriate as it is Voi Che Sapete from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (‘You who know’ from The Marriage of Figaro).

The text:

Voi che sapete che cosa è amor
donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cor
Quello ch'io provo, vi ridiró
E per me nuovo, capir not so
Sento un affetto pien di desir,
ch'ora è diletto, ch'ora è martir!
Gelo, e poi sento l'alma avvampar
e in un momento torno a gelar;
ricerco un bene fuori di me,
non so ch'il tiene, non so cos'è.
Sospiro e gemo senza voler,
palpito e tremo senza saper.
Non trovo pace notte ne di,
ma pur mi piace languir così.

The translation:

You who know what love is,
Ladies, look if I have it in my heart.
What I feel, I will repeat to you
And (as it is) new to me, I cannot understand.
I feel an affection full of desire,
That now is a delight, that now is martyrdom!
I freeze and then I feel my soul burn
And in a moment I freeze again;
I seek a good outside of me,
I don’t know what it contains and I don’t know what it is.
I sigh and groan without wanting to,
I throb and tremble without knowing it.
I cannot find peace night or day
But it is even pleasure to me to languish like this.

Then the first verses are repeated. Bearing in mind that Elizabeth is now ending the song, and it is translated in English, we can suppose that the writer put it in knowing what it said! If we see the staring of Darcy in that context, it is very very appropriate what Lizzy is singing there and we can also totally comprehend what Darcy is thinking, and has felt for the last months! Indeed, the poor man froze and then had his soul burn, sighed and shook at the sight of her and then he walks around half-naked (to the standards then) in his grounds and meets the woman of his life, thus almost literally revealing himself to her (as in the aria); as in the aria, he wishes Lizzy and the viewer to judge by his behaviour and the description of his feelings whether he loves. It is as if the writer of the adaptation even took the verses ‘Ricerco un bene fuori di me, non so ch’il tiene, non so cos’è’ literally for Darcy as he literally looks outside the window for solace.

The writer took the notion that the banks of the stream at Pemberley were ‘neither formal nor falsely adorned’ and the allegorical aspect of that passage in the original (as to Darcy’s real person), to the extreme, associating Darcy through the whole adaptation with water and embedding him in nature. The free, vast and healing nature of the pre-Victorian era and Enlightenment was taken as a theme of redemption that Darcy must address for himself until he can unite with his Elizabeth who loves nature and who does not conceal herself behind a good/bad façade (unlike Bingley’s sisters). Darcy in the original was not really deeply touched upon until the end and they needed to change that because otherwise the adaptation would have ended up with a long tale about what happened before which is not good for an interesting film. Like the monologue of Rochester that passage of Pride and Prejudice is also more suited for reading than stage/film. Yet, this writer, in opposition to the writers of Tess and Jane Eyre got through to Darcy and managed to write his words, and his part bringing pride, conceit, concern for society rules, civility, rebellion and shyness together in a curious combination that is only revealed after but is present from the start in both the original and the adaptation. The writer did not make Darcy rude for the viewer, but made him shy. Something that can be mistaken for pride by some, who will obviously have to change their opinion along with Lizzy in the end. What is certainly to be noted, is that in the whole adaptation, even after the proposal, there is no kissing, touching hands, whatever. Only in the very last minute does the adaptation end with a very very very prudish kiss. This totally according to the times of Austen. In Austen there is no place for fleshly passion, so it should not be in the adaptation. The same goes for most Victorian work. And so in making an adaptation one should be careful with that kind of thing. The beauty of Austen lies not in passion of any kind, it lies in its wording and its quietly moving along of life with a revelation of truth in the end. The beauty of Jane Eyre lies in its deepness and allusion, also not in its fleshy passion of which there is very little, though some. Passion has its place in Jane Eyre, but it is not exaggerated. Jane does not even want to kiss Rochester after the cancelled wedding. Why did the writer of the adaptation in 2006 disregard this? In 1997, Rochester tries to kiss Jane and tries to make her consent to be his mistress by emphasising their union, but Jane refuses. Yet in 2006 the writer put them on a bed. It could be down to fantasy on Jane’s part, but even then it is raising confusion in the minds of viewers, because it is not totally clear why then she walked away… In costume drama and adapting books to stage or film it is of great importance that the writer adheres to the original and does not put words or thoughts in the character that are not their own. In 2006, the writer of Jane’s thoughts put certain fantasies in her head (if those flashbacks were imagination) or made Rochester this tender and soft man (which would even be a greater mistake). There is a total absence of pity, vulnerability, anger, desperation and guilt in the impression he gives to the viewer. Even if it was down to the fantasy of Jane, the writer was wrong in wanting to put those thoughts in Jane’s head, because they give a totally different view on Rochester than the reader gets when he reads the original. Furthermore it is totally wrong, from a literary critical point of view, to speculate on the thoughts of characters certainly if that affects the general impression of that particular character. In the case of Darcy’s transformation and the water-motif connected with Voi che sapete it is not speculating on Darcy’s thoughts, but it is rather elaborating on the theme of his transformation, which only becomes clear in the end of the original, but which they chose to run through the whole adaptation, probably because a ranting about what happened ‘while this and while that’ would have taken up the whole of episode 6 without actual interesting or funny bit. Viewers would have flicked away. The writer, in running the transformation of Darcy from the beginning, did not change the original character Mr Darcy, nor the impression he gives to the reader/viewer, but rather made him a full character from the start: unlike in the original, Darcy is not reduced to one-liners and a very brief description. Naturally not, when someone is around he necessarily gives an impression (which people can mistake and which is obviously the case) and a character on film has to be assigned something to do that is in accordance with its personality whereas in a book, it can be mentioned what it does or not when it is around. In the original Darcy is not mentioned sometimes, but he grows more affectionate towards Lizzy, however he stays his quiet self. It is possible in a book to leave a character for what it is and then take it out of oblivion and make it say something puzzling, or assigning to it a look or a smile that speaks a great deal or even mention casually that ‘a few minutes before’ this or that happened. On film, it is a little harder: as the character is around, it needs to have a personality and needs to act: look, drink tea, smile, talk, read, etc. That all according to its particular personality. Darcy is enigmatic as he is a very quiet man, probably (extremely) shy and intelligent. He does not like to blow his top, resents conversation for conversation’s sake and clearly wants substance rather than beauty in a woman (naturally as he could not possibly have an intelligent conversation with an ‘accomplished lady’ as Caroline and would probably not last an hour with her alone in a room… And after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Such is implied at least when Darcy first finds Lizzy only tolerable, and then considers her, unlike the Bingleys, one of the handsomest women of his acqainance). When Darcy is there he needs to do something, yet not be too sociable, but grow visibly more affectionate towards Lizzy in a way that is clear to viewers, but not to her. On the other hand his first proposal should still be a big surprise and Darcy mustn’t overdo it on the screen; he needs to puzzle the viewer sufficiently, yet not leave any doubt on his growing affection. The adaptation of 1995 did that very well in taking shots of Darcy staring at Lizzy through the crowds. The writer also made him more human from the start by making him walk to the window at crucial moments (when the mother is visiting and at the end when he visits Longbourn with Bingley), linking it somehow with emotional turmoil as time goes on; addressing the healing power of nature as it were, common to the Enlightenment. But not only that: at the first assembly, just after Bingley urged Darcy to dance and Darcy made the remark that Elizabeth is only tolerable in her looks, where the book then stops, the camera continues filming Darcy, seeing Lizzy pass him and go to Charlotte. He looks at them and sees them laugh. This still happens a few times, and it raises the impression that he is concerned with what people think of him. Indeed, a transformation starts with doubt… At the second assembly, Darcy’s look is followed, and where does the camera stop? At Lizzy who is talking with Forster and then the camera moves back to Darcy’s eye. When later Sir William introduces Darcy to Lizzy and she walks away after refusing Darcy’s offer of dancing (which is a little different than in the original and is to be considered rather as an insult, it addresses the point that Lizzy wants to throw Darcy’s insult at her beauty back to him), Darcy has already the peculiar smile on his face (he also has when at Pemberley during Voi Che Sapete, and numerous occasions before that) where a second before he was still all sternness. When Lizzy walks down to Netherfield to attend to Jane and surprises Darcy on the lawn, the same smile is there again. Obviously Lizzy does not observe it, but the viewer is certainly convinced. It proves a definite intention in the writer of the adaptation to have Darcy express himself not with words, because the man is shy, but with facial expressions that are mistaken by Lizzy in the original. When Bingley’s sisters are gossiping about her petticoat and the mud on it at the table, Darcy looks out of the window. There already he is addressing nature for help. After his remark about her fine eyes and his smile, he turns back to the window and leaves the rest to gossip. When they go on about the inferiority of the Bennets’ connections, and Bingley challenges that, Darcy turns back in anger and leaves the window saying that his sisters have a material point in that the size of the Bennet sisters’ (non-existent) fortunes lowers their chances to a good marriage, thus turning away from his own nature which loves Lizzy already, angry at the restraint of society which turns man away from his deeper human nature. After that Elizabeth walks in and there is the smile again. Looking at nature Darcy tries to take all society’s rules away, but cannot succeed and cannot conquer himself, in a way. That the writer decided to take a shot of Darcy when Lizzy walks in is vital for Darcy’s character portrayal. For the washing scenes and heaing power of nature (the bath, the face washing after the letter, the lake, but also his ride in Rosings Park) the adaptation even had its own music, as for his pride/restraint by society’s rules (the theme of Lady Catherine de Bourgh) which regularly features during the reading of his letter after his first proposal. The adaptation added scenes for him alone like the bath, which make him a full character rather than the one Austen wrote into her original (a natural consequence of free indirect speech). When Darcy returns from the lake, his white horse, and not his black one (!), walks beside him and we see him walk amidst nature, stripped down to a bare minimum of clothes towards the same outside of Pemberley (or is it the society in which he lives?), but a new man. Indeed, he addresses Elizabeth in much the same way: inquires after the health of her parents, the health of her sisters (twice) and then excuses himself awkwardly. The musical theme of washing continues however, but now in a more romantic manner and the same theme returns when he proposes for a second time. When he then returns afterwards with Bingley to Longbourn, he still sits on his dark horse, and returns to his quiet self, but now of course his inside is different. Mrs Bennet still does not see that (like Lizzy in the beginning), but like in the original Elizabeth is now convinced of another cause of his quietness, as are the viewers and readers at that moment. That adaptation fully understood its characters and the writer took great care in portraying them, even in the musical background and the casting they were extremely consequent.

In 2006, Jane Eyre was interpreted, but not in a way that offered answers to questions, like the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice offered answers to Darcy from in the beginning. The adaptation of Jane Eyre totally mistook and ignored Rochester’s darkness and desolateness and instead made him a pitiable man in slightly feminist way. As illustrated in my blog on the treatment of Bertha, he should not be pitied. Not at least for his lying, but rather for his situation; for the handling of it he should rather be blamed. As in 1997, Jane has to leave, leaving him in anguish but also angry. Samantha Morton as Jane even reproached him that he thought it was easy for her… And indeed, that is what a reader thinks if he is not carried away by preconceptions about the good treatment of his wife. But that is of course something deeply rooted into the modern mind. The more modern versions do not hesitate to make the confinement of Bertha softer than it originally was. The 1983 version makes it pretty grim, but the 1944 version with Orson Welles makes it grim indeed, however after that Rochester returns somehow to the pitiable. What should rather happen is that the bad impression Rochester took when Bertha was revealed, sticks and does not affect his lament whatsoever because Jane’s and the reader’s decision is already taken. Only Zefirelli decided to make a more poetic version of Jane Eyre, but was saddled with a rather passionless Rochester which is a total shame because in itself the screen play was very poetic and proved to have great possibilities.

After having made a poetic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, an attempt that made its impression on scholars, readers and filmmakers alike, it is puzzling why possibly the BBC would prefer to go back to shoddy interpretations that are too modern in language, do not take on board any of the original’s allusions and above all even feature mistakes against genre, characterisation and historic accuracy. Pride and Prejudice's original was of course low on allusions, and in that it was easy. However, the writer did acknowledge the one allegory that was present in the river at Pemberley and took it to the full. In 1995 they managed to put down such an effort of accuracy and poetry that no-one can do better. Now the BBC have gone down to the level of interpretations that do not make sense and are far from poetic. Sometimes even reducing all of the work of the writer (who does make an effort in putting it in context, whether unconsciously or consciously) to nothing. A work of a writer, in adapting it, should not be made better as such, but only made clear to viewers, depending on how the viewer should see the story. In that the writer in 1995 exaggerated the comedy of Mrs Bennet’s conduct and added scenes for Darcy, but it does not take anything away from the original work of Austen, only attempts to help the viewer appreciate it better than they did the other versions (which were a lot by then!). The writer of Tess (2008) did not really know what the allusions to nature and hell in Hardy’s work were about and made a few crucial changes that he/she would not have made, had he/she known what Naturalism is. She made the father ill from the beginning and then made him die. In the original the mother was ill but the father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Of course the effect is the same (in both cases the father ends up dead), but the naturalistic effect of total surprise and fate that strikes at a very bad moment indeed, is not present. If the writer had known what Naturalism is, he/she would have realised the importance of the illness of the mother and the unexpected death of the father; he/she would have realised that the reader's feelings are more affected when the father dies unexpectedly than when he doesn't. In Naturalism the bad expected, but the worse happens. The writer ignored it and so destroyed Hardy’s set-up. The drama not only had anachronistic features in it (the hymn of 1953, only about 60 years after Tess was published!), but it also made great mistakes in putting Alec on a white horse and in making Angel break into the mansion at the end. The writer clearly did not realise what Hardy did when he left the windows of the mansion open when he wrote the original! That is namely a reason for Angel not breaking in and so for Angel not being liable for incarceration and adhering to his fair complexion which is a sign of honesty and openness in 19th century literature. The open windows are essentially the reason why the police does not arrest Angel. As they were left open, Angel just entered, did not steel or break anything and therefore there was no break-in. Admittedly this is not the case anymore now, but in the days Hardy wrote Tess this was the law: a break-in only took place if there was a forceful entry (breaking of a window, forcing of a lock, the opening of an unlocked door was not considered trespassing astonishingly enough) and if an act of felony was committed (vandalism, steeling, or any such thing). By making Angel break a window in the adaptation, the writer made him liable and punishable for burglary and thus raised questions (again) in the viewer's mind. The most important thing is that the writer in having Tess say ‘I am already in hell,’ alludes to something that happened earlier but clearly did not see the great significance of… Just before the father dies Tess works on the field, in the cold, alone and in the dark with burning heaps of weeds around. As if this does not call up the image of hell in each of us. Indeed, a little later Alec disguises himself (as Satan in Paradise Lost), sneaks up on her, and makes Tess another offer to become his mistress. She sends him away but will be forced to consent when the father passes away. Hardy even puts verses of Paradise Lost in that passage! Yet the writer of the adaptation did not address this and just made a burning heap in the foreground of the picture and then later alluded to it seemingly without knowing why… It is indeed peculiar that Tess comes in front of the camera like a spirit from the afterlife: in a long black dress and pale as a ghost… The readers of the original do know what is happening (or should be expected to be aware of it), but I cannot possibly see that viewers at all got what was going on. As was the problem with the fairy nature of Jane in Jane Eyre. The whole of the moon-motif, the fairy-motif that was connected with that, all the allusions to Shakespeare, Paradise Lost (an image of hell which Rochester’s white and red rococo boudoir should address, but which image was reduced to gothic and dark in the adaptation), The Pilgrim’s Progress, the religious motif on the whole and above all fire and water that come together were totally absent or alluded to but not carried by any symbolic images. The only thing that was addressed in Jane Eyre in 2006 was the gothic theme of Bluebeard (although the closet with the 'dead' wives was not at all grim enough) and The Beauty and the Beast. It was carried on until the end, but put Ferndean rather in the context of the enchanted castle at the start of The Beauty and the Beast, rather than making it the approaching of the prince. The wood around Ferndean can rather be considered as the wood around the castle of Sleeping Beauty or the transformation of the Beast into prince. Thus it should not be gloomy and scary, but it should call up the idea of quietness, seclusion with a positive edge. Jane then as the prince who approaches his true love and who is let through the brier in the Grimms' version... Instead the gothic theme Bertha was too much emphasised by the red scarf flying from the widow continually and thus destroyed the exploding surprise of married Rochester in the end.

If one wants to adapt a book for the screen or stage one has a responsibility, a heavy responsibility: to bring across the original idea of the writer to the viewer, who is not reading that book. The writer of an adaptation should not put wrong thoughts into the viewer’s mind. If he does that, the adaptation is not an adaptation but a creation of the writer based on that book like The Count of Monte Cristo of 2002. It is obvious that also playwrights put in allusions towards philosophy and other works (whether theatrical or not) and it is clear that good films do that as well. Yet it seems that the BBC has slid down to the cheap Hollywood format which adapts without thinking of or regard for neither genre, nor literary accuracy, nor historical accuracy. The role of the writer of the adaptation is not anymore one of responsibility, but has become one of creativity which is not appropriate as the creative process has already taken place when the original was written. The only thing that should happen is adapting that creative result of the original writer to another medium. That does not include far-reaching interpretation as such, but rather care, cautiousness and foremost a knowledge of the genre and themes at the times the work was published/plays. In 1995 the writer took on board, not the seeming restraint of Regency England, but the Enlightenment philosophy which went back to nature for solace. To add to that he took on board colours, music and common themes in literature (and later necessarily film): contrast between Darcy and Bingley (even carried on the sisters), white dresses for the Bennets to declare their innocence and rather dark clothing for Darcy but light for his sister, rich fabrics for the Bingleys and rather simpler ones for the Bennets, the music the characters played was appropriate and was played on a real pianoforte and not on a piano (which is a decided difference!). All that was lightly present in Austen but the writer in 1995 made it a theme and displayed great skill and knowledge. The BBC displayed equally great skill in the hiring of their experts and thus put Austen’s work in a contemporary context. Something I cannot see in their more recent adaptations…

I call upon the BBC to repeat their great skill and effort of 1995. Their adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was almost perfect and is considered to become ‘the definitive’ adaptation because no-one seems to be able to do better. Jane Austen was a woman of her time and so should her characters be viewed. By putting an adaptation in a wider contemporary philosophical, societal and historical context a far better and more consistent result is reached than when interpreted in a modern way and ‘updated’. I only hope sincerely that the BBC decided not to go along with modern feminist views of Austen which are totally out of place in my opinion. In the plot of Emma (and I haven’t read it yet, but only seen an adaptation of it dating from ’96 with Samantha Morton in the role of Harriet Smith, years ago, and read the summary on Wikipedia) there seem to be great possibilities for comedy, but also great poetic possibilities, like in Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s comedy is to a certain extent similar to Shakespeare’s comedy: it is not slapstick, it is humour with a serious edge… If the writer this time got the genre and its tradition, studied the work, its times and did his best, I am sure we will get quality. If on the other hand the writer was again sluggish, we will get mediocre TV-drama worth watching once. Let’s hope it is the first.

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