Three Favorite Jane Austen Screen Adaptations

July 18, 2017, marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, my favorite (deceased) author.

JASNA Truth Universally Acknowledged Book Always Better

To honor her work, we rewatched all of the screen adaptations that we could easily get our hands on.

Jane Austen Rewatch Owned Adaptations

Here, in short, are three of my absolute favorites. (For links to the complete reviews, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.)

Sense and Sensibility (anonymously published in 1811) is by far my favorite Austen novel, and my favorite adaptation is the Andrew Davies miniseries (directed by John Alexander; 2008). It stars Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne. Both were new to me, but I was familiar with the significant male actors: Dan Stevens (Mr. Edward Ferrars) is in the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon) portrays the confused faux-Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor”, and Dominic Cooper (Mr. Willoughby) as young Howard Stark scratches science to see if it bleeds in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (and rules as King Llane Wrynn in the Warcraft movie).

It was a gutsy choice of Davies to begin the series with Willoughby’s explicit seduction of a 15-year-old girl, an event which happens very much off-screen in the novel and most adaptations, but becomes the crux of the plot.

The series does have some issues. For example, the Devonshire “cottage” that the financially strained Dashwood ladies had to accept was turned into a literal cottage instead of a good, solid house from the novel. The events are condensed, sure, but their pace doesn’t feel rushed like in the movie versions. Most of the writing, acting, propping, and costuming are solid to excellent.

Jane Austen Rewatch Three Favorites

Emma (1815) was the fourth and last of Austen’s works to be published during her lifetime, and the Emma miniseries from 2009 (adapted by Sandy Welch, directed by Jim O’Hanlon) outshines the other adaptations. (Unsuprisingly, the miniseries format serves Austen’s nuance much better than the movie length.)

The version has several strengths, starting with excellent casting. Romola Garai stars as Emma Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller (who has more recently – and deservedly – starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary) as Mr. Knightley. Miller’s is by far the most enjoyable Mr. Knightley performance I’ve seen. Mr. Knightley is often played as rather curt and strict, which I find not just offputting but a mistake.

All major characters are introduced at the beginning of episode 1, which helps people new to Austen. Moreover, this version does the epilogue clearly and succinctly, without massive infodumping. In addition, I immensely enjoy the music, the set dressing, costuming and propping, and other visuals. It’s a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable Emma. In fact, if the same team were to make other Austen adaptations, I’d go to great lenghts to see them.

Finally, Persuasion is a novel of pressures, choices, and second chances, posthumously published in 1817. The 1995 movie version of Persuasion is excellent. The screenplay is by Nick Dear, and Roger Mitchell directed Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth. I really like Root’s understated and considerate version of Anne; Hinds works well enough even if a few scenes tend towards hammy.

Although the picture quality is grainy, the soundtrack is nice and there are subtitles (not a given on older DVDs). The props, locations, and costuming are also great. This is my favorite version so far—in an ideal world, of course, we would be due another adaptation.

For links to the complete mini-reviews of these and all of the other adaptations, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.

Images: Book is always better screencap from JASNA website. Both DVD images by Eppu Jensen.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

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Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

We’ve now rewatched and rated season 3 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and it is over too soon! Season 3 is several episodes shorter than the first two seasons (on 8 episodes, compared with 13). The quality of the episodes also suffers a little in the third season, but it was still a delight to watch.

  1. “Death Defying Feats” – 6
  2. “Murder and the Maiden” – 7.5
  3. “Murder and Mozzarella” – 7
  4. “Blood and Money” – 7
  5. “Death and Hysteria” – 7
  6. “Death at the Grand” – 4
  7. “Game, Set, and Murder” – 6
  8. “Death Do Us Part” – 6

The average for this season is 6.3, a bit of a step down from the previous season’s 7.1, but still perfectly respectable. Most of the season’s episodes are at least average and there’s a good bunch of 7s.

Our diminished enjoyment of this season can be largely put down to one cause: Phryne’s father, who pops up in several episodes and dominates the season’s low point, “Death at the Grand,” which we rated only a 4. He is a selfish, irresponsible man who aggravates Phryne and us. Fiction, of course, is not real life; sometimes terrible people make for great characters, but this is not one of them. All Phryne’s father does for us is to put a damper on the wit, sparkle, and verve that we love this series for.

To balance that, the high point of the season is “Murder and the Maiden,” an interesting and complicated mystery surrounding the death of a pilot who turns out to have been leading a double life.

And now we have a Miss Fisher movie to look forward to! This is a series that definitely deserves a good send-off, so we can’t wait.

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

A Miss Fisher Movie on Kickstarter

Every Cloud Productions has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears onto the big screen worldwide.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Pledge Now

The project overview states:

“Every Cloud Productions is proposing to produce a feature film building on the successful Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, and is undertaking this Kickstarter campaign to raise a portion of the production budget for the film.

“Set in the late 1920’s, Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears honors the heightened exoticisms of the murder mystery genre as the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, lady detective, escapes the small screen and takes off on a global adventure – via romantic wayside stops in the Far East, glamorous sojourns in the mansions of London, and a battle to survive the rolling sands of the Arabian Desert long enough to find the missing treasure, solve numerous murders and break all aviation records as she wings her way home again!”

The stand-alone script is currently being finalized, with the same team who created the series set to work on the film. Production is preliminarily planned to start in mid-2018. The feature would be set for release in Australia in mid-2019, with other countries to follow as soon as possible.

And the campaign is going splendidly! Fans were so eager to see Phryne and Jack in the theaters that it reached its first goal in one day.

Kickstarter Miss Fisher Crypt of Tears Day 1

At this writing, two three stretch goals and more rewards have been added. It looks like the project will reach the latest stretch goal within days, too.

The tv series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based on the novels of Australian author Kerry Greenwood. The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves crimes with assistance from Detective Inspector Jack Robinson of Melbourne police. Every Cloud Productions is an independent, Australian production company producing distinctive, high-quality television drama for domestic and international markets.

The project will be running on Kickstarter until Saturday, October 14, 2017 (8:39 p.m. EST).

Images via Miss Fisher the Movie Kickstarter campaign

Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Season 2

We’ve rewatched and rated season 2 of the Australian 1920s detective series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The first season gave us lots of great episodes. Here’s how season 2 measured up:

  1. “Murder Most Scandalous” – 5.5
  2. “Death Comes Knocking” – 6
  3. “Dead Man’s Chest” – 7.5
  4. “Deadweight” – 6
  5. “Murder a la Mode” – 7
  6. “Marked for Murder” – 6
  7. “Blood at the Wheel” – 6.5
  8. “The Blood of Juana the Mad” – 5.5
  9. “Framed for Murder” – 10
  10. “Death on the Vine” – 7
  11. “Dead Air” – 7.5
  12. “Unnatural Habits” – 8
  13. “Murder under the Mistletoe” – 9.5

The average for this season is 7.1, which is pretty good and not too far off from season 1’s average of 7.4. There are some lackluster episodes balanced by a number of gems.

The lowest-rated episode is a tie between “Murder Most Scandalous,” in which our hero Phryne Fisher goes undercover at a gentlemen’s club, and “The Blood of Juana the Mad,” about the murder of a university professor which involves a secret hidden in a sixteenth-century manuscript. Both episodes have their good points, but they don’t hold together very well.

At the top of the chart this season we have “Framed for Murder,” a spirited romp surrounding a murder on a movie set which lovingly recreates both the glamour and the spit-and-bailing-wire spirit of early movie-making. When the movie’s director is killed, Phryne gets to step in and take over the job, complete with jodhpurs.

Any Miss Fisher fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Octavia Butler to Be Adapted for TV

I missed this when it was first announced, but here it is nevertheless: Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn is to be adapted for tv!

Dawn (originally published in 1987) opens the Xenogenesis trilogy (also known as Lilith’s Brood), where the Earth is mostly uninhabitable and humanity almost extinct until the alien Oankali intervene. Writer / producer / director Ava DuVernay and Charles D. King (Macro Ventures) are slated for executive producer posts, and writer / director Victoria Mahoney for the adaptation itself.

I first read the trilogy in the early 1990s in Finnish translation. The books have stayed with me, although over the years it became clear I’d forgotten quite a bit. Some 20 years later, I got my own omnibus in English to (re)read, and the trilogy was just as excellent as I remembered.

Looking forward to seeing what the team makes of Dawn! (Also, note to self: read more Butler!)

Star Trek: Discovery Poster & Trailers

A whole slew of tidbits and sneak peeks for the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery were unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con, including this GORGEOUS poster:

Tor com SDCC star-trek-discovery-poster

The official trailer was also released at the con:

Star Trek: Discovery – Official Trailer by Star Trek

It adds nicely to the first teaser trailer:

Star Trek: Discovery – First Look Trailer by Star Trek

I am getting chills every time I see either—definitely looking forward to Discovery! Who knows, it may even replace Deep Space Nine as my favorite Star Trek franchise.

Image: CBS via Tor.com

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Season 1

Our rewatching-and-rating project has moved on to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a delightful Australian series about a flamboyant flapper detective from the roaring 1920s, based on the novels by Kerry Greenwood. We don’t get a lot of Australian tv on this side of the world, but Miss Fisher is a treat from beginning to end. The first season is the best-rating season of anything we’ve watched so far. (For an explanation of our rating system, see here.)

Here’s our ratings for the first season’s episodes:

  1. “Cocaine Blues” – 9
  2. “Murder on the Ballarat Train” – 8
  3. “The Green Mill Murder” – 8
  4. “Death at Victoria Dock” – 8
  5. “Raisins and Almonds” – 8.5
  6. “Ruddy Gor” – 7.5
  7. “Murder in Montparnasse” – 6
  8. “Away with the Fairies” – 7.5
  9. “Queen of the Flowers” – 7
  10. “Death by Miss Adventure” – 9
  11. “Blood and Circuses” – 5.5
  12. “Murder in the Dark” – 7
  13. “King Memses’ Curse” – 5

There are so many things to love about this series, from the wonderful characters to complicated mysteries. It explores both the Jazz-Age high life of the post-WWI bright young things and the workaday world of early-twentieth-century Melbournites. The main character, sparklingly played by Essie Davis, is always entertaining and she’s surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.

The average rating for this season is 7.4, which is a fantastic way to start. Most of this season’s episodes are good to excellent, with only a couple that come in a little underwhelming. The lowest of the season is the final episode, “King Memses’ Curse,” which is just a rather uninspired serial killer story. The entertainment industry loves its serial killers—especially, like this one, those that have an irrational obsession with the hero—but we’re just tired of the trope.

Fortunately, we have a couple of 9s tied for best episode to balance out the lackluster ones. The first episode, “Cocaine Blues,” starts things off with a bang, sending Miss Fisher into a murder investigation that leads to cocaine smuggling and a back-alley abortionist. Many of our favorite characters get introduced here: Miss Fisher’s timid but trusty companion Dot, the acerbic Doctor Mac, the sweet-natured Constable Collins, and Inspector Jack Robinson, who, though often aggravated by Miss Fisher’s insistence on thrusting herself into his investigations, also learns to value her input. The other 9 is “Death by Miss Adventure,” about a mysterious death in a factory which reveals many layers of intrigue and skullduggery. This episode gives Dot a chance to go undercover and also delves in Doctor Mac’s life in more detail.

You could hardly ask for a better first season!

Any Miss Fisher fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Leverage, Season 5

We’ve been rewatching and rating Leverage and we’ve gotten up through season 4. (For more on how our rating system works, see here, which also covers season 1 of Leverage.) Here’s what we thought.

  1. “The (Very) Big Bird Job” – 6
  2. “The Blue Line Job” – 4
  3. “The First Contact Job” – 10
  4. “The French Connection Job” – 8
  5. “The Gimme a K Street Job” – 4
  6. “The D. B. Cooper Job” – 1.5
  7. “The Real Fake Job” – 6
  8. “The Broken Wing Job” – 10
  9. “The Rundown Job” – 10
  10. “The Frame-Up Job” – 9
  11. “The Low Low Price Job” – 8
  12. “The White Rabbit Job” – 3
  13. “The Corkscrew Job” – 6
  14. “The Toy Job” – 5
  15. “The Long Good-bye Job” – 9

Leverage goes out on a high note with an average rating of 6.6 for its final season, a small step up from 6.4 for season 4 and the best of any season. There are a mix of better and worse episodes this season, including a couple of real duds, but there’s a slew of 9s and 10s that just sparkle. This season has a mix of traditional con procedurals and more ambitious episodes that break out of the formula. The best episodes include both perfectly executed traditional grift stories and some of the more unusual attempts. The effort to do something different doesn’t always pay off, though, and this season’s failures are some of the episodes that stray farthest from the formula.

The absolute worst of the season—and in the running for worst of the entire series—is “The D. B. Cooper Job,” at 1.5, which, like season 4’s “The Van Gogh Job” is mostly about other characters played by the main cast, this time reinventing the story of skyjacker D. B. Cooper. While “The Van Gogh Job” had the advantage of a charming, if sad, love story, “The D. B. Cooper Job” is just a whole lotta brooding white guys being emotionally unavailable and stuff, which is pretty much the last thing we need more of on tv. Dishonorable mention also goes to “The White Rabbit Job,” at 3, which tries to do an Inception and seriously fails to pull it off.

Happily, we have three standouts tied for best of the season at a full 10 points. “The First Contact Job” is a kooky X-Files riff with a faked alien contact and tons of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi geek humor. “The Broken Wing Job” is a solo adventure for Parker (our favorite character!) which challenges her to figure out how to do the work of the whole team while recovering from a broken leg. Watching Beth Riesgraf play the whole range of Parker’s emotions from climbing-the-walls stir-crazy to oh-no-you-don’t-hurt-my-friend badass is a sheer delight. Finally, “The Rundown Job” trades in the series’ usual quirky humor for an action-packed bioterror thriller in Washington D. C. with just Parker, Hardison and Eliot (our three favorite characters!).

And that’s Leverage! A lot of good episodes and great characters. Well worth a rewatch!

Any Leverage fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Leverage, season 4

We’ve been rewatching and rating Leverage and we’ve gotten up through season 4. (For more on how our rating system works, see here, which also covers season 1 of Leverage.) Here’s what we thought.

Leverage, season 4

  1. “The Long Way Down Job” – 5
  2. “The 10 Li’l Grifters Job” – 3
  3. “The 15 Minutes Job” – 8
  4. “The Van Gogh Job” – 6
  5. “The Hot Potato Job” – 10
  6. “The Carnival Job” – 5.5
  7. “The Grave Danger Job” – 8
  8. “The Boiler Room Job” – 10
  9. “The Cross My Heart Job” – 8.5
  10. “The Queen’s Gambit Job” – 4
  11. “The Experimental Job” – 8
  12. “The Office Job” – 1.5
  13. “The Girls’ Night Out Job” – 8.5
  14. “The Boys’ Night Out Job” – 6
  15. “The Lonely Hearts Job” – 6.5
  16. “The Gold Job” – 7
  17. “The Radio Job” – 4
  18. “The Last Dam Job” – 6

Leverage makes a jump in this season from last season’s average of 5.6 to 6.4. Despite a few poorly-performing episodes dragging down the average, there are a lot of gems this season that show off the skill of the writing team and the versatility of the cast. This season’s episodes continue to experiment with the form, such as “The 10 Li’l Grifters Job,” a Christie-esque murder mystery, the parallel stories of “The Girls’ Night Out Job” and “The Boys’ Night Out Job,” and “The Office Job,” which is just The Office with our heroes blundering around in it. Some of these efforts pay off; others, not so much.

The worst episode of the season is “The Office Job” at just 1.5. Maybe if you’re a fan of The Office you’ll enjoy this, but we’re not, and it just doesn’t work as a Leverage episode. “The 10 Li’l Grifters Job,” “The Queen’s Gambit Job,” and “The Radio Job” don’t work very well as episodes, but they all have their moments. Like last season, season 4 also has another half-hearted attempt at an arc which really isn’t worth the trouble the writers went to in setting it up.

On the other hand, we get two brilliant 10s out of this season: “The Hot Potato Job,” in which the crew rescues a bio-engineered super potato from an evil agri-corp, and “The Boiler Room Job,” in which our heroes have to figure out how to scam a scammer who knows all the scams in the book. Both of these episodes pit the characters against formidably smart adversaries who keep them on their toes. Besides these two, there’s also a good selection of 8s and 8.5s

There’s also an oddity this season: “The Van Gogh Job,” which we rated a 6. The two of us usually give episodes pretty close to the same rating, so when an episode rates a 6, that usually means we both gave it a 3 on our scale of 1 to 5. For this episode, though, we were poles apart: one 5 (because it’s a powerful emotional story that lets the main cast show off their range by playing entirely new characters) and one 1 (because it’s just not a Leverage story and there’s no con to watch unfold).

Any Leverage fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Leverage cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.