While I’m still on the subject of all these classics--and before moving along to my newest passion (woo-hoo!)-- this seems like the perfect opportunity to make a few video recommendations, eh? (Seriously, who isn’t always on the lookout for another great flick to pull out on a rainy day?) So, without further ado... (drumroll, please)...
1). Persuasion- The 2000 film starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is, as far as I'm concerned, the absolute BEST version that has ever been (or will ever be, for that matter) made of this beautiful story. Root brings a quiet and touching dignity to her role as the long-suffering Anne Elliot, and it’s truly rewarding to see her bloom once joy has, after a protracted absence, returned to her life. Likewise, the craggy Hinds is simply sublime as Captain Wentworth; he is by turns stern, standoffish, yearning, and finally, indescribably happy when he knows for certain that his beloved Anne will not be changing her mind, this time. Sticking closely to the story (not mucking about with the order of things or with the all-important speeches, as other versions have unwisely opted to do), this one is utter perfection.
I should mention that the settings are marvelous, as well. Whether visiting at her elder sister’s crowded cottage, spending time in the comfortable Musgrove home, or staying at the rented lodgings in Bath, the interiors of all the residences contribute to both a feel for the physical location (time and place) and for the station of the people residing within. Exterior scenes--such as tromping about the pastoral countryside, dealing with the hustle and bustle (of the ton, don'tcha know) in Bath, or strolling along the rugged coast--lend further depth and sense of place.
2). Pride and Prejudice- The fabulously-famous 1995 BBC production is, hands down, still the best version of P&P out there. Jennifer Ehle is a radiant and effervescent Elizabeth Bennet, and both her ready wit and more serious, contemplative side are perfectly portrayed. She simply IS Lizzy. And, even though this sounds appallingly fangirly, I’ve gotta say that Colin Firth genuinely deserves every one of the accolades which have been heaped upon his handsome head these many years for his characterization of Mr. Darcy; he is suitably stiff and cold at first, but soon mellows and warms into quite a worthy and admirable catch for the divine Miss Bennet.
Aside from the (in)famous shirtless-dip-in-the-pond scene on the grounds of Pemberley (which probably had Jane doing backflips in her grave, poor dear!), this version also follows the original story pretty accurately... which anyone who really loves these books will appreciate. Once again, this is just a perfect movie.
3). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- I’ve actually only seen one version of this story--a BBC adaptation from 1997--but I like it very much. Tara Fitzgerald makes for an excellent Helen Graham, dour and serious when she takes up residence in the old house on the moors, which contrasts sharply with earlier scenes of her as a happy young bride... who gradually becomes the sad, scared, and downtrodden wife of a dissolute rake. Rupert Graves does a spot-on job (in what must surely be a rather unenviable role) as the thoroughly reprehensible Arthur Huntingdon --the husband overly-fond of drink, gambling, and other women-- whose early charm all too soon turns to something quite repulsive and vile. And finally, Toby Stephens is extraordinarily appealing as farmer Gilbert Markham, who is immediately fascinated by his secretive new neighbor, Helen.
Also worth mentioning, once again, is the look of the film, which does an excellent job of setting mood and tone. Huntingdon’s manor home is a vast--if somewhat empty--bit of showiness and modernity, a virtual prison which sits on manicured lawns; meanwhile, Helen’s new home is dark, dank, and dirty, and sort of hunkers down in the midst of the moors, a safe if visually unappealing reprieve.
4). Wuthering Heights- There are a LOT of versions of this story, and this is actually the only one on my list which I haven't watched any version of in a LONG time... so I can’t in honesty or fairness make a pick at the moment.
5). Jane Eyre- Another story with multiple productions, but I do have a definite preference. My favorite is easily the 2006 Masterpiece Theater adaptation; just as I said in reference to my picks for Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice (above), this one is as close to perfection as can be.
Ruth Wilson is everything I could possibly hope for as Jane; she has a meekness and timidity about her, just barely masking the spirited side she has tried so hard (and for so long) to keep hidden. Not truly “plain” at all, she nonetheless manages to look reasonably unprepossessing, in a wholesome, fresh-scrubbed way. Her facial expressions are particularly effective; with nothing more than the tiniest upturn of her mouth or a sudden look of hurt in her eyes, we know exactly what she’s thinking and feeling. In similar fashion, Toby Stephens (several years after his turn in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, above, you’ll notice) is a far (here... let me emphasize that a bit more--FAR) cry from the “ugly” or “unattractive” man that Edward Rochester is depicted as in Charlotte’s story. Nonetheless, he manages to be the epitome of all that is Rochester; he is harsh and mercurial sometimes, while at other times kind and clearly interested in every little thing about Jane. He is even capable of levity and outright gregariousness (as can be seen when he has the house party in residence at Thornfield). Interestingly, his figure is more like that of Charlotte’s hero, too (compared to some of the other actors who’ve portrayed Rochester), broad-shouldered and strong but not greatly taller than Jane.
This is yet another case in which the settings and the whole look of the production fall perfectly in line with the story as originally written. Whether it’s the charity school Jane attends, the Thornfield manor house and surrounding land, the parsonage where Jane bides some time, or the desolate moors she wanders, all of the locations seem exactly as they should... and make the experience of watching this fabulous production that much richer.
So, now that I’ve waxed--erm,
Which movie are you gonna watch first? :)