Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 11 2016 04:37PM

You remember 1995, right? The beginning of that halcyon eighteen-month stretch during which six Jane Austen film adaptations, ranging in quality from pretty good to totally classic, were released on big and small screens? Happy days.


Well, it’s beginning to look like happy days might be here again. As I reported previously, already this year we’ve seen the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Lady Susan; the Hallmark Channel screening of Unleashing Mr. Darcy, based on a fan fiction update of Pride and Prejudice; and, just last weekend, the release of the movie version of the best-selling 2009 mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


And now comes word that a UK production company is getting ready to shoot a film based on Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death. Charlotte Rampling, currently up for a Best Actress Oscar, will star as Lady Denham. This is great news: except for the extremely uneven web adaptation Welcome to Sanditon, the sophomore-slump effort of the folks who brought us the fabulous Lizzie Bennet Diaries, no one has ever tried to film Sanditon, whose seventy-five-ish pages tantalize with the promise of another great novel.


So far, it must be said, this current film boomlet hasn’t lived up to the high standard set by its1995-97 predecessor, which included the immortal Clueless, the iconic Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice, and the sublime Emma Thompson/Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility. While Love and Friendship has earned excellent reviews, P&P&Z got a decidedly mixed reception and looks to be a financial failure. I haven’t seen either of those yet, but I can attest that Unleashing Mr. Darcy was execrable.


Still: Sanditon! Can’t wait. And as long as we’re mining lesser-known Jane Austen, do I have any takers for The Watsons? This seems like the time to do it.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 18 2016 02:00PM

We Janeites fondly remember the years 1995-1997, when no fewer than six Austen adaptations hit the big screen in the US. The next few weeks won’t deliver quite such a bumper crop, but with three new Austenesque films on their way, perhaps we can call it a boomlet.


First up is Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, an adaptation of Lady Susan, which will premiere on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival. As far as I know, Lady Susan has never before been adapted for the screen, and this deliciously cynical novella about misbehavior among the landed classes has the makings of a great movie. Fingers crossed! No national release date yet, but I’ll be first in line for tickets when it comes to my town.


And then of course there’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which opens on February 5. As blog readers know, I’m skeptical about this one, but I’m an Austen film completist, so no matter how bad the reviews, I’ll be seeing it and adding the DVD to my collection.


You will recall that I mentioned three Austenesque movies. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but on Saturday night, when luckier souls will be settling in for the Sundance premiere of Love and Friendship, I will probably be curling up with Unleashing Mr. Darcy, a TV version of a truly mediocre Pride and Prejudice update set in the dog-show world.


It’s on the Hallmark channel. I don’t usually watch the Hallmark channel. But like I said – Austen completist.


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 12 2015 01:00PM

The good people who, despite all my entreaties to the Gods of Cinema, are bringing us the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies have now graced us with the first trailer. Two people in my family have watched it.


Review #1: “Hmm. No sign here that it’s going to be anything but a two-hour-long version of the same joke, over and over again. No trace of witty dialogue, clever plotting or psychologically astute character development. No trace of Jane Austen, in other words. Just another cynical attempt to exploit her popularity without truly understanding what makes her great.”


Review #2: “It’s good-looking chicks in Regency dresses kicking ass. What’s not to like?”


One of these reviews is by the mature, sophisticated author of a book on Jane Austen fandom. The other is by a person who, roughly thirty-five years ago, was a twelve-year-old boy. I leave it to you to match review and reviewer.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 6 2015 01:00PM

For months, the best news I could imagine hearing about the filmed adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling 2009 mash-up, would have been word of its demise: as blog readers will recall, I wasn’t crazy about the book and groaned at the idea of a movie.


Unaccountably, the project went ahead despite my opposition, and now, with seven months until the February 5 release, I find myself heartened to read this article, despite the rather anachronistic frilly underwear on prominent display in the accompanying photos. I’m now cautiously optimistic that the movie, which sets Austen's story in an English countryside plagued by a zombie scourge, won’t be quite as terrible as I’d anticipated. (High hopes indeed!)


If director Burr Steers and his leading lady, Lily James, are to be believed, we may be spared the excruciating tastelessness of our last big-screen Austenesque outing, 2013’s appalling “Austenland.”


‘“ ‘The idea was that it was Pride and Prejudice set in this alternate world and then for everyone to play it straight,’ Steers explains. “The movie’s big wink is that there is no big wink.” . . . So brace yourselves, James says. ‘It’s definitely not camp.’ ”


If anything could make this story work, playing it straight seems like the most promising approach – though I still have my doubts. Without extra campiness, you’ll be staking everything on the inherent drollery of the contrast between the tea-and-crumpets stereotype of Austen’s world and the blood-and-mayhem archetypes of zombie movies – an inherent drollery essentially captured, in its entirety, by the project’s title.


Will that, plus frilly underwear, be enough to keep us going for ninety-plus minutes? Stay tuned. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 2 2015 01:00PM

The movie of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has a release date! And it is. . . (drum roll, please). . . February 19, 2016!


So stop me if I’m wrong, but aren’t midwinter release dates – post-Christmas quality-film pileup, post-Oscar marketing blitz, pre-summer popcorn-movie viewing – notoriously reserved for stinkers the studio expects will bomb?


Historically, this seems to be the case – at least, Wikipedia says so, and thus it must be true – but it’s worth noting that P&P&Z is getting an environs-of-Valentine’s-Day slot similar to the one that proved so lucrative this year for that other well-known literary adapation, Fifty Shades of Grey.


Perhaps someone out in Hollywood hopes a Jane Austen-themed movie, even one with as weak an Austen tie-in as this one, will prove the perfect just-after-Valentine’s-Day date, drawing the same heavily female audience that turned Fifty Shades into a phenomenon.


As blog readers know, I don't have high hopes for P&P&Z. But Fifty Shades proved there’s no contradiction between midwinter stinker and female-driven success.


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