Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 19 2020 01:00PM

The past eighteen months have brought us a couple of made-for-the-small-screen Jane Austen spinoffs: the Lifetime movie Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta in June 2019 and the ITV/PBS series Sanditon, which began airing in the United States in January 2020, after premiering a few months earlier in Britain.


Notably, both shows aimed to expand Jane Austen’s mostly all-white world to include important characters of color (or, in the case of P&P: Atlanta, a virtually all-Black cast).


And now comes word of another project that updates Austen’s story to a far more diverse world: a planned HBO adaptation of Ibi Zoboi’s 2018 young-adult novel Pride, which sets P&P in gentrifying, multiracial contemporary Brooklyn. The project seems to be at an early stage, with a writer and producer on board but no word on casting.


Pride, which I thoroughly enjoyed, is by a Haitian-American writer who lives in Brooklyn, just like the novel’s seventeen-year-old protagonist, Zuri Benitez. Zuri is an aspiring writer who hopes to attend her dream college, Howard University, but plans to return to the noisy, close-knit neighborhood where her working-class Dominican-Haitian-American family lives.


When the affluent African-American Darcy family moves into the refurbished home across the street, Janae, the oldest of the five teenage Benitez sister, immediately falls for Ainsley, the oldest Darcy son. But Zuri takes a dislike to Ainsley’s younger brother, Darius, whom she pegs as a stuck-up and inauthentic bougie.


You pretty much know how it goes from here, although – as so often happens in Austen fanfic produced by genuinely accomplished writers – the most interesting bits of the story are those that abandon Austen’s template in favor of something more individual. In the case of Pride, that’s Zoboi’s evocation of the sights, sounds, and social codes of Zuri’s Bushwick, and her depiction of Zuri’s heartbreak over the unstoppable changes overtaking her beloved neighborhood, as gentrifiers like the Darcy family move in and rising real estate prices displace longtime residents.


Not exactly Austenian, but hey -- great fodder for a film. I’m on board!


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 12 2020 01:00PM

Sanditon, the much-hyped TV adaptation of the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death, is probably not getting a second season, but the enthusiasm of its uber-fans, the #SanditonSisterhood, is the gift that keeps on giving.


Last month, as you’ll recall, the Sidney-and-Charlotte brigade commissioned a sand artist to create a huge mural of Sanditon’s young lovers on the beach near Bristol, where the currently canceled show was filmed. The fans hoped to bring IRL attention to their online campaign, which aims at persuading a broadcaster to finance more episodes. (More than 72,000 people have signed a Change.org petition deploring the series’ unhappy, cliffhanger ending.)


But here’s the thing about sand art: Much like the affections of TV audiences, it does not long endure. And before artist Simon Beck could finish his work, the tide rolled in and swept it all away – bonneted Charlotte, top-hat-wearing Sidney, and “Who Will #SaveSanditon?” caption.


Beck, however, is a man of his word, and so days later he returned to the beach to finish filling in the outlines of his abortive Sidney Parker. Admittedly, the figure bears only a slight resemblance to the dishy Theo James, who played Sidney in the series, but sand may not lend itself to photorealism.


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 21 2020 01:00PM

We Janeites love our Jane Austen movies. Can’t get enough of ‘em! Want more! And more! Or so you’d conclude from recent news:


* Plans for a big-screen Persuasion, word of which first surfaced last month, seem to be proceeding nicely: The Australian actress Sarah Snook, recently nominated for an Emmy for the HBO business dramedy Succession, has reportedly been cast as Anne Elliot. There’s plenty of time for the project to fall apart – remember that big-screen Sanditon, starring Charlotte Rampling? – but in the meantime, we can entertain ourselves by casting our fantasy Wentworths.


* This year’s Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, was canceled because. . . well, you know. But a local production company with the delightful name of Bonnetland hopes to interest a broadcaster in a six-part mini-series set during the festival. Early next month, the team will film a ten-minute pilot in Bath, and they’re looking for Janeites with their own Regency costumes to feature as extras.


The storyline is vague – “two characters on their humorous journey throughout the day" – but the extras seem likely to have a good time even if the series isn’t picked up. Says a spokeswoman, "This is a great opportunity to be involved in a lighthearted and fun project for all those missing out on the festival this year." Which is all of us.


* The irrepressible #SanditonSisterhood are not giving up on their quest for a second season of the much-hyped-but-not-successful-enough TV series based on the novel Austen left unfinished at her death. A year after ITV launched the show by commissioning a giant billboard mural in the seaside town of Bournemouth, fans who have spent months protesting the broadcaster’s decision to leave Sanditon’s star-crossed lovers dangling for all eternity arranged a public art project of their own.


Last week, on the sands near Bristol, where the show was filmed, artist Simon Beck created a giant portrait of protagonists Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker, captioned “Who will #SaveSanditon?” Alas for the fans, who crowdfunded Beck’s fee, the answer so far seems to be “no one”: a feeler earlier this summer from Amazon Prime Video’s UK branch has so far come to nothing. But that’s not likely to deter a band of intrepid, and adaptation-hungry, Janeites.


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 3 2020 09:00AM

The proliferation of face masks in every conceivable style, color, fabric, and design is either an encouraging sign of inexhaustible human creativity and entrepreneurship, or a really depressing indicator of how long the coronavirus is likely to be with us.


By now, it’s possible to buy luxury face masks in pastel-colored silk, or Disney Princess-themed face masks for small children, or slightly creepy face masks featuring your favorite breed of dog. So it should come as no surprise that if you’re looking for a Jane Austen-themed face mask, your choices are practically infinite.


A small sampling:


* Jane Austen quotes: The first line of Pride and Prejudice, the first line of Wentworth’s letter, the best line from Love and Freindship . . . But how will anyone read all this from six feet away?


Or perhaps you would prefer a quote that’s been ripped out of context? Step right up!


Or a misattributed movie quote? Yes, indeed! And again!


* Book cover: The famous 1894 peacock edition of Pride and Prejudice? Right here, on your face, in purple. Or in blue!


* Images of Austen: No, of course it probably doesn’t look like her, but whatever!


* Sanditon fan? They’ve got you covered. Plus a backup.


* Janeite pride: “Jane Austen Rocks”? Well, duh!


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 29 2020 01:00PM

The past six months have been no walk on the beach for passionate fans of the TV adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death.


As you’ll recall, the eight-part ITV-PBS series debuted in the UK last year amid much hype, but by the time it arrived on American screens in January, its death warrant had already been signed: The critical reception was lukewarm, the audiences were small, and a projected second season had been iced, even though the first season ended on an unresolved, discordant note that dismayed many viewers.


But earlier this month, a glimmer of light shown through the darkness for the intrepid band of fans known as #SanditonSisterhood, who have spent months calling on PBS, ITV, and just about anyone else with a production budget to finance that second season.


“#SaveSanditon Squad, we hear you and we’re doing what we can,” the UK branch of Amazon Prime Video tweeted on June 17. “Please could you retweet this to let us know how many of you there are so we can make a case for a new season?” For good measure, the tweet included a GIF of Sanditon’s hero Sidney Parker, played by the dishy Theo James.


Not surprisingly, Amazon’s tweet made the day, if not the entire coronavirus-blighted spring, for Sanditon’s obsessed fandom. “Honestly, so many of us have been down in the dumps for a long time, lack of sanditon renewal, lockdown etc.,” one person tweeted in reply. “this has given us hope!!! thank you!”


Amazon's tweet has drawn twelve and a half thousand retweets. Is that enough for case-making? We'll have to wait and see. It’s a cliffhanger worthy of . . . well, Season 1 of Sanditon.


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