Deborah Yaffe

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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 of 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.


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 6 2020 01:00PM

I was not enthusiastic about Sanditon, the ITV/PBS series based on the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death.


Although the show, which aired in Britain last year and in the US this winter, was created by Andrew Davies, the legendary screenwriter who brought us the iconic Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice, I found the storytelling slack, the characters generally unconvincing, and the dialogue devoid of humor and wit.


And I wasn’t alone: the series got decidedly mixed reviews from critics, drew underwhelming audience numbers, and has officially been canceled after a single season, despite a cliffhanger not-happily-ever-after ending that was clearly intended to set up a sequel.


The one thing Sanditon has going for it, it seems, is a passionate fan base -- maybe not a big one, but an organized and committed one.


On Twitter, they congregate under the hashtags #SanditonSisterhood (yes, we’re talking mostly female fans here), #SaveSanditon, and #SanditonSeason2. They coordinate their tweeting schedules and themes, via the SanditonSisterhood account (977 followers). They have a private Facebook group with nearly nine thousand members and a pineapple as its symbol, in reference to a spiny fruit that played an important role in a (wholly implausible, but never mind) scene in Episode 2. They have promoted a Change.org petition calling for a second season (“The finale of Sanditon. . . was unfair, unjust, and unsatisfying”) that has been signed by almost 50,000 people.


These women are serious. And if they’re anything like the rest of us, they have a lot more tweeting time on their hands these days.


Still, I fear the odds are low that the Sanditon Sisterhood will achieve its objective. Period drama is expensive, and ITV is a commercial network: It needs to offer advertisers juicy viewer numbers before it can afford all those Regency ballgowns and updos. PBS, though nominally non-profit, has its own advertisers-in-all-but-name to keep afloat – and one of them is a cruise line. Need I say more?


But I wish the Sisterhood well, even though I could live happily without another eight episodes of Sanditon. Far be it from a Janeite to criticize minority tastes.


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 26 2020 01:00PM

For Austen fans everywhere, it’s a burning question: WWJD (What Would Jane Do) in the time of coronavirus quarantine?


Luckily, we now have our answer, reported via Twitter just yesterday: “Over breakfast, Jane announced she'll be finishing Sanditon in order to give that Andrew Davies more to work with. ‘Poor man’s been playing without a net.’ ”


This welcome insight into Austen’s productive response to global pandemic comes to us via Pride & Plague, a delightful new Twitter account that purports to chronicle how Our Jane and her pal William Shakespeare are holding up amid social isolation.


Apparently, the two great writers – or at least their action-figure avatars – have remained friends ever since jointly starring in “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” the wonderful exhibition mounted at Washington D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library in 2016.


Equipped with tiny surgical masks bearing a marked resemblance to repurposed Band-Aids, Jane and Will have spent the past five days much like the rest of us: shopping for emergency groceries, perfecting their handwashing technique, and bingeing on TV – the newly-available-for-streaming 2020 adaptation of Emma, natch.


The Pride & Plague account is unsigned, but judging from the identity of its Facebook publicist, it seems to be the brainchild of Austen scholar Janine Barchas, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who was co-curator of the Folger exhibit.


Luckily, Barchas appears to have grasped an important truth about our current woeful reality. Toilet paper, canned goods, and Tylenol may be the staple necessities of the quarantined, but another item will surely prove equally important in getting us through all this: a sense of humor.


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