Monday, March 31, 2008

Becoming Jane

Chick-flick alert!!!

Yes, this is a true movie for girls. It has a dashing man, a believable (flawed) leading lady, some heaving-breast moments and a bittersweet ending. Of course we could wish for a happy ending as Jane Austen bestowed on her characters, but in this case we can't fight history.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I know there was a bit of an outcry at an American playing an Englishwoman, but Anne Hathaway carries it off very well and if you didn't know it, you wouldn't guess she wasn't English. The very magnetic James McAvoy plays Jane's love interest, Tom Lefroy. Although I had heard rave reviews about James McAvoy this is the first film I have seen with him and it is more than enough to make me want to see more. James is Scottish by the way, with a pretty heavy accent when 'himself', but as Tom LeFroy you wouldn't know he was anything other than English either.

The very talented Julie Walters (of Billy Elliott fame) plays Mrs Austen and James Cromwell (the Babe movies) plays Mr. Austen. The wonderful Dame Maggie Smith plays Lady Gresham and Lawrence Fox plays her nephew, Mr. Wisley.

The story begins with a Jane in her early 20s - talented and accomplished but knowing little of the ways of the wider world, including matters of the heart, which she expressly wishes to write about. Mr Lefroy is a student of the law, totally dependant on his wealthy and harsh uncle, a High Court judge. Tom lives in London where, as a sophisticate, he indulges in boxing, drinking and women. His uncle decides to teach him a lesson and sends him to his other uncle who lives in the Hampshire countryside. His first meeting with Jane is when she is performing a reading of one of her more juvenille works - dedicated to her newly engaged sister. Tom is mortified by the entertainment and he just knows this 'country' life is going to be dreadful. Jane is equally mortified at Tom's poor judgement of her work.

Shortly thereafter they meet in the forest where all angst is veiled in politeness and then at a dance when Jane begins to be interested, purely because she perceives Tom to be rude, arrogant and self-absorbed. Tom introduces her to the book "Tom Jones" - not recommended reading for young ladies - and they actually begin to enjoy each other's company as verbal sparring partners and slowly feelings of a romantic nature begin.

In the meantime, Jane is made an offer of marriage by the rather boring Mr. Wisley and at a dance is called for an interview by his Aunt, where Jane is strongly compelled to accept Mr Wisley's offer. Disappointed at this thought, Jane escapes outside where she is followed by a concerned Tom. Jane and Tom finally admit their feelings much to each other's delight, but overshadowed by needing the approval Tom's benefactor.

Tom manages to bring Jane to his uncle's attention with the presence of Jane's brother and a cousin - a beautiful, wealthy and widowed Comtesse. A letter, author unknown, arrives however and the uncle dashes the hope of approval. Tom and Jane part, believing they can never be together.

Shortly after Jane hears that Tom is engaged and she is sadly disappointed, so finally accepts Mr Wisley's offer. Tom is visiting his Hampshire uncle and he and Jane meet by chance in the woods. Tom realises he can't live a lie and offers Jane an elopement. She agrees and they escape shortly after. On their journey their coach gets stuck in the mud and while Jane is holding Tom's coat a letter falls out. Being a typical woman, she reads it and finds out that Tom is supporting his family back in Ireland. The knowledge that their marriage will cause his Uncle's allowance to cease which would badly affect his family, leads Jane to rejecting Tom's offer and returning home alone. She doesn't marry Mr. Wisley either but hopes to rely on her pen for her income.

The whole experience was a huge learning experience for Jane and her writing benefits greatly. After this you see her embark fully on the story of Pride & Prejudice.

Skip 20 odd years and a middle aged Jane is listening to a singer and sees Tom in the distance. They meet again, Tom accompanied by his young daughter, named Jane.

Throughout the film you see little bits of many of Jane's future characters which is tantalising and enjoyable. There is sufficient sexual tension between Jane and Tom to make it believable too. All in all a film to enjoy once (or more)!

Note: The film encouraged me to do a little research on Jane Austen's life and there was indeed a Tom Lefroy in her life although the extent of their relationship is unknown. Jane never married although she did reject one offer. She died in her early 40s. Tom became Chief Justice of Ireland and lived to 90 years of age.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sense & Sensibility

Almost vintage these days (especially knowing that the BBC recently released their 'new' version!) but this film featuring the stellar cast of Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman, in my humble opinion, will be difficult to beat!

I haven't read the novel for years so won't comment on the film's adherance, but it is a very enjoyable movie, in a quiet, gentle way. Wonderful humour, amplified by the comic talents of both Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant, had me smiling in appreciation more than once. Interesting dialogue that was easy to understand. The odd character that makes you cringe (well, there always has to be a couple!). A character with a mean streak (of course) and a mother that likes to remember what she wishes to remember and of course lavish grand houses and picturesque scenery. It all adds up to a great recipe for a good story.

The film starts with the death of Mr Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), telling his son John (James Fleet)- from his first marriage - that according to the law, he must inherit his estate and requesting he look after his step-mother Mrs Dashwood(Gemma Jones) and his half sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. Not counting on his greedy wife, Fanny (Harriet Walter), however, the father's ghost must be disappointed to see that John withdraws his promised support. The grieving women of the late Mr Dashwood must find an alternate home that they can afford for their 500pound stipend a year and intend to leave their old home to John and Fanny, as soon as they can. Fanny has a visit from her brother Edward (Hugh Grant), who unlike is sister, is kind, gentle and unassuming. He finds immediate contentment in the presence of Elinor (Emma Thompson) but never quite gets around to proposing before Elinor and her sisters and mother move to their new cottage, provided by a cousin of their mother's, Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy), on his estate. Thus Elinor is left hopeful, but in limbo, until a visiting young lady, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs) professes to being secretly engaged to Edward.

Marianne (Kate Winslet) is vibrant and full of emotion - for her love is worth professing to the world, is heady and consuming. She finds favour in her new home with a local gentleman, Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman), but as he is quiet rather than overtly handsome and retiring rather than rash and bold, she pays him little attention. Going for a reckless walk on the hills, she falls and sprains her ankle and is rescued by a very dashing Mr Willoughby (Greg Wise). He courts Marianne and seems on the verge of proposing but he ends up making a hasty exit with no hope of return.

Invited to London by Sir John's mother in law, Mrs Jennings (Elizabeth Sprigs), Elinor, Marianne and the visiting Lucy Steele, start to experience London life. Marianne repeatedly attempts to contact Willoughby without success. Eventually they see each other at a ball where Willoughby is with his fiancee, a young woman of great wealth. Marianne, her romantic hopes dashed, falls into a state of despair and Elinor arranges for them to return home as soon as they are able, with the help of Col. Brandon.

In the meantime Edward finally visits ... to be confronted by Elinor AND Lucy! Austen being Austen, nothing is actually said about the confusion and what everyone is thinking but the actors easily translate the stress of the situation! Lucy has made aquaintance with both Edward's sister Fanny, and his younger brother Robert, and is in fact staying with Fanny, so Edward escorts her home. Standing by his vow of marrying her against all opposition, Edward declares his intention and is immediately disinherited.

Elinor and Marianne leave London in the care of Mrs Jenning's daughter Charlotte (Imelda Staunton) and her long-suffering husband (Hugh Laurie). Their estate, unfortunately, is adjacent to Willoughby's estate and Marianne predictably heads in that direction before she can be stopped. Caught in the weather, she is rescued by Col. Brandon and falls seriously ill. She eventually recovers and they all return home where Marianne continues her recuperation and in her new, quietened state, values the attentions of Col. Brandon.

Edward finally visits and clears up the mistaken thought that Lucy did indeed marry him, as she really married his brother Robert. Upon hearing he is single and thus available, poor Elinor finally breaks down and their feelings for each other are made clear, much to the delight of her family.

The film ends, at the wedding of Col. Brandon to Marianne and Edward to Elinor. A fitting end for a lovely story.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Pursuit of Happyness

This is a inspiring movie that gives you hope that no matter what the barriers, you can succeed if you choose to succeed.

The true story of Chris Gardner, who came from a small town, did some time in the Navy and as a hopeful husband and provider for his family became a salesman of mobile bone density machines which were incredibly hard to sell. The mid 1980s and the Rubik's Cube craze find him with a young son, a wife who appears constantly disappointed, the apartment drastically behind in rent, parking tickets galore and his car impounded.

A happy chap by nature, when walking past a large office block Chris sees a man park a flashy sports car and hop out to feed the meter. When he asks him what he does for a living, the man says he is a stock broker. Chris goes onto suggest you need a college degree for that, the man informs him, no, just a good head for numbers. Chris decides to see if he can get a job to become a stock broker too, but is very disappointed in his application for an internship that leaves his 'further education' as rather empty. He then manages to meet the head of recruiting for the internship repeatedly, finally making an impression on him by completing the supposedly unsolvable Rubik's Cube during a joint taxi ride across San Francisco.

He returns home late and finds his wife has left with their son and in the midst of this catastrophe gets a call from the head of recruitment to call a certain number to make an appointment for an interview. Unable to find a pen, he repeats the very lengthy number until he goes down the street and can write it down. He manages to retrieve his son, but is evicted due to non payment of his rent and gets a week's extension on the proviso that he paints the apartment. Mid-wall, covered in paint and wearing a pair of trousers, singlet and old jacket, he is visited by the police and taken to the station to pay his fines and is required to stay in overnight, only being let out half an hour prior to his interview. He runs all the way to the interview, begrimed and paint splattered and STILL manages to get one of the 20 internships available.

Disappointed to find that the internships require 6 months of work, without salary, after which only 1 will be selected and the skills are non- transferable to another company, no money in the bank, about to be evicted and with his son to raise, his resolve wavers. However he steels himself, does his sums to work out how they can live for the next six months and takes the job.

Then begins six months of turmoil and hard work. Dropping his son off to day care early, working at the brokerage firm without breaks, without drinking (so no toilet stops) to maximise his shorter working day, since he needs to leave early to collect his son. The weekends are consumed with trying to sell the remaining bone density scanners to doctors and the odd small highlight of entertainment or playing with his son. The bad luck doesn't cease with a tax bill wiping out his savings again, and being evicted again for getting behind in their rent, they are reduced to sleeping it rough and staying at a mission home until Chris can fix and sell the final scanner.

Luckily it ends well in success and happiness and leaves you full of admiration for the true grit the real Chris had in achieving his goals.

Brilliant acting by Will Smith as Chris, Jaden Smith (Will's son) plays the son Christopher, which must have added a realistic quality. Thandie Newton plays the dissatisfied wife, Linda. Brian Howe plays Jay Twistle, the head of recruitment and veteran actor James Karen plays the head of the interview panel (and previous internee) Martin Frohm.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mr Darcy’s Diary

I was interested to read this – women are always interested to hear what men REALLY thought, and I believe I had a desire to believe that men feel with the same depth of passion, to the detriment of everything else, when they fall in love. The author, Maya Slater (a woman), obviously wanted the same thing and she served this up in a nicely bound little package!

So, perhaps reality has to take a few leaps…. but it was nice to think that it could be so, that Mr Darcy did indeed feel the torment of unrequited love (at least for a little while). There is a little explanation at the end of the book that the diary was found in a little bureau that was being auctioned and it was found to bear a striking similarity to the story described in Pride and Prejudice. A nice touch.

This is pure fan-fic, a spin off from an established novel that meets the needs of the fans in wanting to know more – what happened before, after or behind the scenes. As such it does a credible job, but would have been better to have been written by a man. My husband immediately said when he saw me reading it, “well Mr Darcy wouldn’t have called it a diary… he would have called it a journal”. Hmmmm, it was an unsettling thought, but a realistic one. So as this thought sat and grew, I became a little more skeptical of Mr Dacry’s purported side of things as I read.

However, all said and done, it was a pleasant, easy read, that lovers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will no doubt enjoy!

Friday, March 7, 2008

101 favourite books - Australia

The Australia bookseller Dymocks recently released results of a survey of more than 15,000 members of their booklovers program. It is an eclectic mix – classic literature, comtemporary novels, fantasy epics and children’s favourites. Here are the 101 favourite books voted on:

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings Series - J.R.R. Tolkien
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
5. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
6. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
8. The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
9. Magician - Raymond E. Feist
10. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
11. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
12. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
13. Cross Stitch - Diana Gabaldon
14. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
15. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
16. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
17. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
18. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
19. Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
20. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
21. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
22. The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons
23. The Bible
24. Eragon - Christopher Paolini
25. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
26. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series - Douglas Adams
27. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
28. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden
29. Ice Station - Matthew Reilly
30. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
31. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
32. The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
33. Perfume - Patrick Suskind
34. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
35. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
36. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
37. Twilight - Stephanie Meyer
38. Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
39. The Pact - Jodi Picoult
40. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
41. Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
42. April Fools Day - Bryce Courtenay
43. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Dernieres
44. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
45. Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
46. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
47. Tully - Paullina Simons
48. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
49. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
50. A Fortunate Life - A. B. Facey
51. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
52. River God - Wilbur Smith
53. Wild Swans - Jung Chang
54. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
55. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
56. The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
57. Persuasion - Jane Austen
58. The Shipping News - Annie Proulx
59. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
60. Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
61. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
62. Possession - A.S. Byatt
63. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
64. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
65. My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
66. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
67. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
68. Dune - Frank Herbert
69. Emma - Jane Austen
70. Marley and Me - John Grogan
71. Middlemarch - George Eliot
72. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
73. The Count of Monte Christo - Alexandre Dumas
74. The Secret history - Donna Tartt
75. Chocolat - Joanne Harris
76. Dirt Music - Tim Winton
77. Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta
78. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin
79. The Ancient Future - Traci Harding
80. Belgariad Series - David Eddings
81. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
82. The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
83. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
84. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
85. The Stand - Stephen King
86. It - Stephen King
87. Northern Lights - Nora Roberts
88. The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
89. The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
90. The Outsider - Albert Camus
91. The Riders - Tim Winton
92. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
93. Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn
94. Atonement - Ian McEwan
95. Circle of Friends - Maeve Binchy
96. Seven Ancient Wonders - Matthew Reilly
97. Tess of the D'Ubervilles - Thomas Hardy
98. The Godfather - Mario Puzo
99. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
100. The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
101. The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Miss Marple : At Bertram’s Hotel (2007)

I enjoyed this rather energetic episode of the recent Miss Marple series. There was the usual assemblage of good British actors and a storyline that didn’t give it all away until the end (although suspicions ran high!)

In this episode Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan) spends a couple of days at the Bertram’s Hotel, which she recalls staying at as a child in the late 1890s. (I found the setting refreshing as at least there wasn’t just a few people in a lonely place getting popped off one by one!) She is there to meet an old friend Lady Selina Hazy (Francesca Annis) who is visiting for the reading of a will of her millionaire second cousin, who owned Bertram’s and has just been declared legally dead after being missing for seven years.

Also there for the reading are this relation’s daughter, Elvira Blake (Emily Beecham) with her good friend Bridget (Mary Nighy), and Elvira’s mother Bess Sedgewick (Polly Walker). Elvira and Bess are hardly on speaking terms and everyone seems to hate Bess. Other visitors at the hotel are twins Jack and Joel (Nicholas Burns), hat designer Mutti (Danny Webb), foreigner Malinowski (Ed Stoppard), Canon Pennyfather (Charles Kay), and jazz singer Amelia Walker (Mica Paris). Staff at the hotel include maids Tilly (Hannah Spearritt) and Jane (Martine McCutcheon), doorman Micky Gorman (Vincent Regan).

At the beginning all is hustle and bustle as guests arrive and an impromptu performance by jazz singer Amelia Walker along with a purported Louis Armstrong causes a small crowd to gather. Into this walks Bess Sedgewick at which everything stops for a moment before resuming. Guests are still arriving and to add to the chaos, the visiting hat designer Mutti, faints at something or someone he sees in the foyer of the hotel. The maid Tilly is sought out by her friend Jane, who notes a new bracelet that Tilly has bought for herself with money gained in some, not quite “straight” way. Bess gets a shock to see doorman Micky and it is obvious they have some connection. She also begins to get death-threat letters.

The next morning Tilly is found dead on the roof and Inspector Bird (Stephen Mangan) arrives on the scene to start investigations. During the day the will reading takes place in the office of a solicitor who seems to have close connections to the manager of Bertram’s, and Elvira notes a painting (Rembrandt copy) that is in the office is the same as one she saw in the foyer of the hotel. Bess believes there is something sly going on with the accounts of her ex-husband’s business interests and demands to see the books the following day.

That night there is a shooting aimed at Bess (or Elvira) and when doorman Micky goes to get her out of the firing line, he is killed by the sniper. The same night Lady Selina’s jewels are stolen from out of her safe.

More investigations by the now slightly bumbling Inspector who is starting to listen avidly to Miss Marple’s suggestions and the deductions made by the amateur sleuth, the maid Jane.

Of course there are plots, sub plots and everything else you want to throw at it. I have read that it wasn’t a sincere or even remotely faithful adaptation of the book, but not having read the book, I just enjoyed the show for what it appeared to be.

Geraldine McEwan took a bit of a back seat in this episode, although she still gives directions from her vantage point. Martine McCutcheon (the Prime Minister’s assistant and love interest from Love Actually) plays her part as the amateur sleuth nicely and I enjoyed watching her. Francesca Annis (I last saw her as Lady Ingram in BBC’s Jane Eyre 2006) could not be expected to play any part poorly and so I was far from disappointed at her inclusion. Stephen Mangan played the increasingly confused Inspector very believably (I think I like bumbling police!!)

A good one to watch if, like me, you have no expectations!