Little Women (1994)

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Last Sunday, after a pretty stressful weekend of marking, and in preparation of an even more stressful week ahead of me, I curled up on my sofa with a cup of tea and found a little afternoon film treat; Little Women, the story of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy) growing up during the American Civil War. With their father away fighting the household and the ‘little women’ have to come to terms with the hardships of war, romance and growing up.

This adaptation of Little Women was filmed in 1994 and stars Susan Sarandon as ‘Marmee’, Winona Ryder as the fiercely independent Jo and Christian Bale as Laurie, the young man living with his Grandfather across the street, as well as a whole host of other well known names. This isn’t going to be a particularly long post, as my workload is still calling, but I wanted to share some of the things I love about this film.

Firstly, when I realised this film was on last weekend I was on the phone to my Aunty, well Mum’s Aunty, and we both mentioned that we would be watching Little Women that afternoon. I only share this because it was at my Aunty’s that I first saw this film many moons ago, when we still had VHS, so it conjures up memories of drinking endless cups of tea, chilling out in front of the fire and becoming engrossed in the beauty of the film. Despite the fact I probably didn’t understand some of what was going on context wise when I first watched it.

I really enjoy the relationship between the sisters, particularly that of Jo and Amy, which undergoes so many changes as both characters are independent and strong minded, Jo more so as Amy matures and seems to grow out of it with age. I can relate to the friction so well, having a sister myself who I frequently argued with when we were children, but it certainly gets better as we have both grown up.

The film clearly left such a strong impression on my mind as when I read the novel a few years later I was shocked to find that certain key events are not in the novel. Was I confused? Of course, I thought I had bought the wrong copy, or a shortened version. Of course I did a bit of research and discovered I needed the follow on novel Good Wives, so I rushed out and bought it and all became clear.

It really is an uplifting and heart warming film, and if you haven’t seen it before I certainly recommend it as the perfect chilled out Sunday film, in fact I could just curl up with tea and crumpets and watch it all over again this afternoon.

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Jane Eyre (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

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Now I freely admit that I am rubbish at watching films; I don’t have the attention span for them. I always feel the need to be doing something else at the same time, and as proof of this I am currently watching Jane Eyre and collecting my thought and feelings on it together at the same time. Arguably this could detract from the actual film but I need to be doing something as well.

Summary

Jane Eyre is a novel by Charlotte Bronte focusing on the life of Jane, from a young girl in her aunt’s house to a governess to a married woman. Jane, an orphan, endures a hard and loveless childhood, tortured by her older cousins and disregarded by her heartless aunt. Jane is then sent away to Lowood School, where conditions are appalling and many girls do not survive various outbreaks such as tuberculosis. Jane is lucky. She is a survivor. After years as a pupil and a teacher she becomes a governess to a young French ward at the imposing Thornfield Hall. It is here that she meets Mr. Rochester and embarks on a journey of self discovery where she is pushed to her limits upon discovering more about Rochester’s life and past.

Actors

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Jane Eyre is played by Mia Wasikowska. I quite liked Wasikowska’s portrayal of Jane; she made me want to read the novel again, and as I have already admitted I am not a huge Bronte fan, so I view this as quite an accomplishment. She was exactly what I expected from Jane, plain, humble and slightly self righteous, but I guess that is because we don’t have as strict a moral code in modern day society. I was moved when she told Rochester that she couldn’t stay after finding out about Bertha and this was my favourite scene from the film.

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Mr Rochester is played by Michael Fassbender and for me he stole the show. We all love a good romantic hero, possibly one of the main reasons so many of us return to the classics time and time again, but Rochester has never been top of my list. It’s amazing how much a film can alter your perception. I remember watching an older film version when I studied Jane Eyre for A Level and not being wholly convinced with the character portrayals, none of which were memorable. However, I sort of fell a little bit in love with Rochester in this version. He is quite ruggedly handsome and I like how he teases Jane. But perhaps the quality that made him most desirable was his smoking. Now I realise this is odd, and I am not a smoker myself, nor do I like being around smokers, but I do love watching people smoke, very strange I know. I have always associated smoking with evil characters (blame Disney) and I like how it highlights Rochester’s darker side.

Judi Dench is, as always, fantastic. She is just so amazing in everything I see her in that I cannot find fault. I wasn’t wholly convinced by the Rivers family, I don’t know they just seemed too young for me to fully believe in them. I mean they could be young in the novel for all I remember but still, they just seemed too young. (Maybe this is a sign I am getting old *sob*)

Settings

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As always with good periods dramas, it is the settings that I love the most. Thornfield Hall, the house of Mr Rochester, is essentially played (if I can call it that, but I guess the houses are still characters) by Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. It is beautiful, and so are the surrounding grounds. One of the things about the novel that has stuck in mind all these years has been the imposing nature of Thornfield and how this reflects the secrets it hides within its walls…attics! (oh Rochester just proposed) Films like this remind how much I love the British countryside and all the treasures it hides; I am looking forward to exploring more of them in the coming years.

Overall, I enjoyed this adaptation of Jane Eyre and would highly recommend it, even if, like me, you are not a huge Bronte fan. I felt the narrative was cleverly portrayed and I particularly liked the flashback element; unlike the novel the film starts with Jane’s escape from Thornfield and her childhood and time with Rochester is interspersed with her time with the Rivers family. I felt this was an effective way of engaging the audience, as someone who knows the novel well I loved this slightly different take on the narrative.

This was the second film I have watched for the Period Drama Challenge and if my film going habits are anything to go by I’ll post another one in 3 months!

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

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Sense and Sensibility is my favourite Jane Austen. It is the first Austen I read (and a re-read is long overdue) and that means it always has a special place in my heart, and despite reading Pride and Prejudice far more often, this is still my favourite. I love the relationship between Elinor and Marianne and how they come to depend on one another as they have to downgrade home and cope with the various trials and tribulations of love in an Austen novel.

It has been some time since I watched this 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. It stars many well known Brits, from Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet to Alan Rickman and Hugh Laurie, and I do love a good British film; maybe I’m being slightly bias as a Brit, but I love seeing the beautiful houses and stunning British countryside. For me the actors and their characters are fantastic and whilst watching I became totally immersed in the world of the Dashwoods, I wasn’t sat there questioning why X had been chosen for such a role. This adaptation captures enough of the novel and the magic without cutting too much and without feeling as though it drags on and on and on. I especially like this version because for several years I worked at one of the houses used in the film; the fantastic Montacute House in Somerset which is the home of Mr Palmer (Hugh Laurie).

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One of the best parts of the film for me is when Elinor (Emma Thompson) realises that her love interest is not married to someone else. I like this scene not only because of Elinor’s reaction, but because it plays a role in a great episode of The Vicar of Dibley when Dawn French’s character is proposed to. Throughout modern culture there are always so many links to Colin Firth as Mr Darcy (the Pride and Prejudice version, not Bridget Jones’ Diary), so it is great to see how other Austen adaptations are having an impact on society.

Somewhere I have the DVD copy, but just in case I have saved it to the digibox for the next time I need a good Austen fix.

The Vicar of Dibley Clip