Saturday, January 9, 2010

Today, I am going to see "The Young Victoria."

I haven't really pimped the movie on the blog, because I know some of you aren't into the whole "costume drama" genre, and, after the "Bright Star" effusions earlier this Awards Season, I figured I'd spare you.

Because "The Young Victoria" won't be as "good" as "Bright Star."  Sure, Emily Blunt will get a nomination (she already has a Golden Globe nod), but the movie won't be as "artistic" and "powerful."  It will be lots of talking, pretty dresses, and (love of all my loves) England.  Thus, you can only imagine how I am wetting myself as we speak.

So, in celebration of all things "Masterpiece Theater,"  I am hereby devoting this entry to being a "Period Piece Retrospective."  I will briefly categorize what I feel are the recent (last 25 years) seminal costume dramas and give you my take.  But more importantly, I want your analysis and opinions.   Why do we need a new version of Pride and Prejudice every 3 years?  And, stranger still, why do we eagerly watch and devour every single one? Is it simple escapism? Or something else?

Let's begin, shall we?

"Pride and Prejudice"

It's a monster.  People who like this movie do not just like it. They fucking love it. It is THE movie.  Colin Firth is THE Mr. Darcy.  Jennifer Ehle is THE Elizabeth Bennett.  (Never mind the fact that Jennifer is NOT British at all and was, in fact, born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and that her accent in the movie is totally affected. And that she's waaaaay to pretty to be Lizzie.  And is waaayyy to old to play a 19 year old.  And is waaaay to stern in her portrayal. No no no no no, we won't hear a word against her.)

Don't get me wrong, I love this movie. Hell, I Fucking love it.  But, I really really long for the day when we can tear down the veil that separates this Holy of Holies from other adaptations and talk about it critically (and yes, that includes dissecting Colin Firth too).


This is the one that put Princess Cate on the map.  As it should. This movie is ridiculous.  And she is ridiculous in it.  I can't vouch for historical authenticity, blah blah blah, but I can attest that she was regal and the film is beautiful.  My mother drug me to see this with her in the theater when I was way too young to see it, and I left loving it anyway.  And it gets better on repeat viewings.  If you have never, you must. And if it's been a while, it's time.

"Gosford Park"

It's an intellectual's Agatha Christie.  Directed by Robert Altman and starring.....well, everyone.  I mean, everyone is in this film.  But Kelley MacDonald, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Helen Mirren are the stand outs.  I love this movie.  But, I'll be honest. It's hard.  Especially if you are a new or only moderate Anglophile.  See, the movie rests on British ideologies of class, wealth, genealogy, morality, and the ever fluid relationship between "the upstairs and the downstairs."  If you don't already have a sense of what that's all about, the movie can feel a bit disjointed. This is because Altman leaves a lot "unexplained" and just relies on teeny, tiny visual clues and implications.  Like, at the face twitch level.  

But, it still contains one of the best sublimely subtle snarky moments in modern cinema.  If you've seen it, you'll know.  "Difficult color, green."  Perfect.

"William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet"

Yes, it's a costume drama.  Do not fight me on this; I will cut you. Yes, yes it's technically "modern" and thus not a strict "period piece," but it has and will continue to change the landscape of all costume dramas to come.  Don't believe me?  Just look at "Marie Antoinette."  As much as I love her, Sofia Coppola owes a lot to Baz Lurhman.  Visually, he busted the conventions of period pieces wide open and breathed fresh life into a genre that is somehow constantly fighting against being marginalized. Not to mention what he did for Shakespeare.  (Trust me on this: Bill was smiling in his grave. He would have loved it.)

"Sense and Sensibility"

I know you thought I forgot.  It's "the other one."  "Not as good as P&P, but still really good.  Oh Emma Thompson, worship worship worship."  And rightly so. To this day, she is still the only woman to win and Oscar for acting AND screenwriting.

But Alice and I were talking about this the other day. S&S is a really fucking depressing book.  Bleak.  And while Emma gets it right (I mean, absolutely right) for the first 2 and a half hours, she whitewashes it at the end.  Weak.

For your consideration: These are the other "big" period dramas that are a little more debatable.

"Shakespeare in Love"
For me this has always been meh. I give it a thumbs down.

"Pride and Prejudice" (The Keira Knightly version)

No one but me like this version.  I like it, you all hate it.  We can fight about it.

"Emma" (The Gwyneth Paltrow one)
I used to like this. When I liked Gwyneth.

"Jane Eyre"

Now, having (finally) read the book, I need to go back and re-watch.

"Marie Antoinette"

As aforementioned, it's so so pretty. Slow, but pretty.  Like a really long, serene music video.

Mel before he was crazy. And, still...not a fan.




  1. I LOVE the Keira version. I watch it Sunday night before I take each section of the CPA exam on Monday.

    Jane Eyre is one of my fave books but I've never seen the movie. ("Rebecca" is a good movie AND book though.)

    Romeo + Juliet couldn't be beat. Soundtrack included. I always wanted to be the Claire Danes version of an Angel on halloween. ha haha

  2. Yes! I'm so glad you like the Keira version as well. But, i have to warn you...get ready to defend yourself. Because Austen-ites HATE it. Passionately.

    And I agree about Rebecca. But I desperately want them to do a big budget re-make/up-date. What do you think about Daniel Craig (aka. the new James Bond) playing Max DeWinter? I think he could be perfect. Sexy but kinda mean and threatening. And then just crumbles at the end.
    Please, please someone make that happen.

  3. I was SO upset when I heard there was to be another P&P adaptation WITHOUT Colin Firth. Of course, my prejudices (tee-hee) were quickly squashed when I watched the Keira version and fell in love with Matthew Macfayden and Darcy all wrapped in one. Everything about this adaptation...the costuming, the locations, etc...were far more realistic. Jane is conventionally prettier than Lizzy in the newer version, as she should be, and Lizzy wears the same ugly brown dress a lot. Her house is uncomforbably close to the farm while Darcy's manor is as grand as it should be. I could gush for quite a while on this movie.

    Still haven't seen Gosford Park; absolutely love Baz Luhrmann's Romeo+Juliet.

    What about Kenneth Brannagh's "Hamlet?" I actually dislike the Mel version, especially after seeing this one. Then again, I'm a sucker for beauty and detail.

  4. Oh yeah, the Brannagh one's great! I was just trying to think about "the most up-to date one's," but you're may be the most recent one (besides the Ethan Hawk one which we can all just forget. Blech.)

    As for Gosford Park, put it in a friend's Net Flix, or make it a Blockbuster night. You will not regret it!