Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 24 2020 01:00PM

Twenty-five years ago today, the BBC’s beloved adaptation of Pride and Prejudice began airing on UK TV. By the time the show made its way to American airwaves a few months later, it was already a phenomenon.


And now it’s dessert.


Earlier this month, the British TV channel Drama launched its latest “Jane Austen Season” – i.e., three Sunday-night screenings of popular Austen adaptations -- by commissioning a six-foot-high sponge-cake likeness of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy and parking it on the lawn at Lyme Park, the stately home that played Pemberley in the adaptation.


Created by cake designer Michelle Wibowo, the confection exhibits remarkable attention to detail (those sideburns! That draped linen!), even if it portrays its Darcy/Firth in a fully dressed state, rather than the more famous damp and disheveled.


The Drama channel seems to make a habit of hosting these Jane Austen seasons and planning elaborate publicity stunts to launch them: The 2017 version was an expert historical reconstruction of What Mr. Darcy Would Really Have Looked Like (spoiler: not as hunky as Colin Firth).


Yes, it’s all a bit silly. But it’s also an amazing testimony to the pop-culture staying-power of this particular mini-series. Most TV, even the expensive, beautifully costumed, high-production-values kind, is forgotten long before we get around to vacuuming the stray popcorn kernels out of the couch cushions. But not this one. Twenty-five years later, we’re still ready to dig in. Pass me a fork.



By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 27 2020 01:00PM

By now, we would all be happy to consign 2020 to the trash bin of history. Let’s reboot! Remake! Recycle and replace!


Alas, another four months must pass before we can turn in this awful year for an upgrade. But the same spirit of renovation is afoot in Greater Austenland, as we await several Austen-themed projects that represent not so much a break with Janeite history as a refurbishment thereof:


* Has your DVD of the iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, wet shirt – become a tad battered after decades of (over) use? Then you’re in luck: The BritBox streaming service is marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the beloved BBC adaptation by offering a remastered edition of the series “in stunning 4K,” the ultra-high-definition TV standard.


Imagine: an even crisper version of Colin Firth’s . . . eyes! The remastered P&P will begin streaming on September 25.


* Last year, rumor had it that we might get a new TV show based on Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s immortal 1995 movie, which updated Emma to high school in Beverly Hills. And now it seems the project is moving along: The showbiz bible Variety reports that NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service has signed on to carry the as-yet-untitled series.


Luckily for those of us who consider Clueless a perfect creation that should be messed with around the time hell needs a Zamboni, this new version is projected as a significant departure: Instead of focusing on Cher, the well-meaning but officious Emma Woodhouse avatar, it will center on Dionne, Cher’s wisecracking, fashion-forward best friend. I’m still skeptical, but hey: at this point, anything new, or even new-ish, sounds good to me.


* The best-Mr.-Darcy debates typically boil down to Colin Firth (1995) v. Matthew Macfadyen (2005), with small but enthusiastic voting blocs supporting dark-horse candidates like Laurence Olivier (1940), David Rintoul (1980), or Elliot Cowan (2008).


And then there’s Soccer the Dog.


Soccer, a Jack Russell Terrier, is better known as Wishbone, the Walter Mitty-ish protagonist of a much-loved 1995-97 PBS children’s series. In each of the show’s fifty half-hour episodes, Wishbone imagines himself as the hero of a classic work of literature whose themes resonate with the travails of his teenaged owner.


The show dramatized works by dozens of famous writers, from Homer to H.G. Wells; Austen was represented twice, with Wishbone playing Mr. Darcy in the 1995 episode “Furst Impressions” (start watching here) and Henry Tilney in the 1997 episode “Pup Fiction” (start watching here).


So Janeites were among the fans who celebrated the news earlier this summer that a Wishbone feature film is in the works, spearheaded by Peter Farrelly, the writer/director who won Oscars in 2018 for Green Book. (Alas, the new movie won’t star Soccer, who moved on to the big kennel in the sky back in 2001.) No word yet on whether the script is likely to riff on another Austen novel, but – surely they wouldn’t disappoint us?


Just to make sure, let’s help them out with some brainstorming. “Mansfield Bark,” anyone? Wishbone, playing the role of Henry Crawford, woos Fanny and ruins Maria. But in the end, his own heart is won when he meets Pug, Lady Bertram’s gender-fluid pet, and, in a risqué departure for a kids’ show, fathers a litter of puppies. As Wishbone leaves his true love behind in the literary past and heads wistfully back to his own time—shades of Outlander here--Fanny Price is seen cuddling the runt, her wedding present from her indolent aunt.


Yes, I think it has potential. Let’s take a meeting in 2021.


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 5 2019 01:00PM

It’s been a wet week for Janeites.


Last Monday, we were treated to the first trailer for Sanditon, the forthcoming ITV-PBS adaptation of the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. As Janeites know, Sanditon is set at an up-and-coming seaside resort, and so it’s no surprise that the trailer features plenty of sweeping shots of sandy strands, ocean vistas, and attractive actors disporting themselves on the beach.


By which I mean playing cricket! What were you thinking?


Well, OK: the eight-part miniseries is written by Andrew “Mr. Darcy in a Wet Shirt” Davies, who, at nearly eighty-three, seems to have lost none of his – um – lust for life, not to mention his talent for extracting free publicity from credulous media journalists. In the year since the Sanditon project was announced, Davies has entertained himself by throwing the press pool tidbits of chum, in the form of quotes about how energetically he’s “sexing up” this latest Austen project.


I’m willing to bet that the sex in Sanditon will fall well short of the Fifty Shades of Grey standard – we’re talking PBS here -- but either way, it’s pretty clear that the project won’t have much to do with Austen. She’d barely gotten started on Sanditon before illness forced her to stop work, and in his latest interview Davies says he used up all her material halfway through his first episode.


And speaking of Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt. . .


We Janeites had barely finished toweling off after our trip to Sanditon’s seaside before word arrived that, last Wednesday, flooding had devastated the gardens of Lyme Park, the Cheshire estate that played Pemberley in Davies’ iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.


It was the reflecting pool in Lyme’s now-inundated grounds that featured in the Davies P&P’s most famous scene, the one starring – oh, irresistible irony! – a soaking-wet Colin Firth in a clingy white shirt.


Although energetic sandbagging seems to have saved Lyme Park’s interior from damage, the flooding, which followed days of torrential rain, forced the evacuation of Wednesday’s visitors and will keep the site closed indefinitely.


Meanwhile, if you’re seeking a watery Janeite fix, you’ll just have to wait for the arrival of Sanditon, screening in the U.S. sometime next year. Or you could just watch P&P again.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 8 2019 01:00PM

The success of the screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels has been attributed to many factors: romantic plots, attractive stars, witty dialogue, stately mansions. And, of course, great-looking clothes.


No surprise, then, that Austen tourist venues frequently display costumes from the movies, even though, as modern reproductions worn by contemporary actors playing fictional characters, these outfits fall at least three degrees of separation short of historical reality.


Now Janeite costume fans can look forward to another opportunity to wallow in Regency fashion: The Exhibits Development Group, a Minnesota-based company that assembles traveling shows on art, science, history, and pop culture, has put together “Jane Austen: Fashion and Sensibility.” Thus far, no venues have been announced for the exhibition, although EDG’s projected schedule seems to imagine a tour of eighteen sites over six years, starting in the fall of 2020.


The show features forty-nine costumes from eight different filmed adaptations of four Austen novels, but the lion’s share of the items – thirty-five of the forty-nine – come from just two of those adaptations: the iconic 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, written by Andrew Davies and starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle; and the 1995 Ang Lee movie of Sense and Sensibility, written by Emma Thompson and starring Thompson and Kate Winslet.


While more than two-thirds of the featured costumes were worn by women – because let’s face it: who usually gets the more interesting clothes in these movies? – the exhibitors clearly have a savvy eye on their market: Among the smaller number of male garments on display will be the so fetchingly moistened white shirt that Firth wore in the BBC P&P, and the long gray coat and halfway-unbuttoned shirt in which a super-hot Matthew Macfadyen met Keira Knightley at the end of Joe Wright’s 2005 movie of P&P.


Cue swooning.


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 18 2019 01:00PM

Pity poor Colin Firth. His IMDB page lists more than seventy-five film and TV credits in a career stretching back thirty-five years, and yet we mostly remember only one of them.


And thus it was that last week, when the British actor and comedian Miranda Hart released the latest three-minute installment in a daily video series designed to raise money for charity, she had herself filmed sitting in front of a roaring fire, reading Pride and Prejudice aloud to . . . you know who.


Janeite fantasy though this scenario may be, the skit is on the lame side. (Though I did giggle at the moment when Hart, rebuffed after trying to steal a kiss from Firth, covers her embarrassment by turning to the camera and indignantly protesting, “Can people stop kissing Colin Firth? That’s really inappropriate!”)


Still, the whole thing proves that Firth can be a good sport about this Mr. Darcy thing, at least when it’s in the service of a good cause. “I've never resented it,” he told an interviewer in an intermittently resentful-sounding 2007 conversation. “If it wasn't for him, I might be languishing. I dare say it will be my saving grace when the only employment available to me is opening supermarkets dressed in breeches and a wig.”


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