Costume Drama

Once I smartened up and changed my Netflix plan from streaming to DVD, I finally got to watch a couple of movies I’ve had my eye on for awhile: Love and Friendship, and A Quit Passion.

love and friendship

Love and Friendship is based on early, little-known novella of Jane Austen’s, called Lady Susan. The story’s namesake is not the typical Austen heroine we’ve come to know and love–in other words, she’s not a young, unmarried woman looking for love with a suitably rich husband, a delightful, spirited woman who nonetheless conforms to her society’s norms and conventions.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is not that woman. She’s a still-attractive older widow who schemes relentlessly to score a rich husband, for herself and also for her 17-year old daughter, Federica. She doesn’t care a fig about love, at least not when it comes to husbands. Husbands are a means to an end: financial security. She does, however, carry on an adulterous affair with the married Lord Manwing.

Unlike Lizzie, Emma, Catherine, and the Dashwood sisters, Lady Susan is not likable. Her outward charm masks a cunning ruthlessness that one nonetheless has no choice but to admire. Why? Because, despite being a woman in a staunchly patriarchal society, like any true Austen heroine she gets what she wants–not by some fairy-tale luck (having the good fortune to fall in love with and to secure a conveniently rich man). She knows intimately well the system she’s working within, and pulls all of the strings to her advantage. In the end, she scores a rich husband, who is stupid enough to believe the baby she carries is his own; her daughter fits the more typical Austen heroine in that she falls in love with a suitably rich man and blissfully marries him, but she is not the star of the show.

That Austen wrote such a scandalous main character–and have it all end well for her–is just another reason I find Jane Austen endlessly fascinating. She was a proto-feminist that knew Lady Susan could never be published in her time. It only took 200 years for this character to see the light of day, and though we may cringe at her methods, we must concede her brilliance and determination. Lady Susan forged a life on her own terms in a world that afforded her very little choice.

quiet passion 2

A Quiet Passion is a biopic of Emily Dickinson that I’ve been very eager to see. Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City fame) plays the enigmatic Dickinson, and she does so brilliantly here. Nixon recites her poems in a voice-over throughout the scenes of the film, and one gets a sense of Dickinson’s brilliance, her sensitivity, her spiritual struggle, her fierce intelligence.

She was extremely close to her family (her parents, brother Austin and sister Vinnie), and was content to live with them forever. She feared being parted from friends and family, either through death or marriage. She quite probably fell in love with both men and women–including a married pastor–but her loves were always fervently spiritual and intellectual in nature, and never consummated physically.

Inevitably, her parents died. Her good friend, the outspoken Vryling Buffam, married (and therefore relented to convention) and was no longer hers. Her married brother Austin commenced an affair with a married woman, and his infidelity enraged her.

“Why does life have to be so ugly?” she beseeches her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) at one point.

Near the end of her life she became embittered, and her fear of loss and death caused her to withdraw from life and society, never leaving her home, or even her room, for that matter. She pushed people away with cutting words. She continued to write, however, always struggling with the state of her soul, with the question of whether God existed, what awaited us after death. She was a brilliant, complicated woman who suffered and died from Bright’s disease at the age of 55.

I enjoyed the film, but had a problem with much of the dialogue. I expect witty banter from intelligent people, but these people talked in a way that raised it to ridiculous heights. Did people really converse in this manner? Their conversations didn’t feel at all natural; rather, they seemed artificially constructed, as if they were reading from well-thought out orations or speeches. It wasn’t believable, and actually got a little annoying. The only time it felt real was when characters lost their tempers and screamed at each other (in a very articulate manner, of course). Finally, real human beings!

Have you seen these movies? What did you think? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

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