Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
Readers: now that the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film is effectively dead—insert the walking-dead joke of your choice here—surely serious discussions are at hand. Since, as we all know, there’s a universal minimum for period pieces in the works at any given time (no fewer than three; more if you can find a swanky-looking estate in the rentals section of Craigslist), retribution must be made! Who will buy all those empire-waist dresses and period boots, if not us? Who will fuel the muttonchops craze, if we will not fuel the muttonchops craze? Who will keep an eye on the happy endings, if we don’t keep the genteel romance mill churning?
Considering this sudden omission, and realizing the significance of Austen adaptations to the cosmic equilibrium, we ask you: What Austen or Austen-related film would you see made instead? Who would you cast, and why? And, most importantly, would you include the monsters?
Let’s hear it, readers.
With all due respect: Yes, it is. If it’s a faithful adaptation of Emma, it’s primarily from the female perspective. It’s about a woman who mostly sticks her nose into other women’s lives. Those women respond, or don’t. Women! Women everywhere! Definitely lady-centric.
Listen. I get it. I know that men don’t generally go to “women’s” movies, though nobody seems to mind taking my lady-dollars when I go see Vin Diesel do his thing. I know that, from a marketing perspective, you and your studio might prefer to step away from the looming Chick Flick label—after all, it’s not like “chicks” have any money, or like to spend time at the theater, or eat concessions, or bring their friends (who, remember, also have no money) along.
But denying the prevalence of women in your film isn’t helping. It’s one thing to emphasize the ways in which Aisha, or Emma, might appeal universally—to say that women aren’t the only ones who find themselves wrong, and that women aren’t the only ones who fall in love, and that the experiences of a fictional woman might still be of interest to those who aren’t women, just as the experiences of a fictional men can certainly be of interest to those who aren’t men. But to say “this movie isn’t about women, so you should come and see it” plays into the exact logical loophole you’re trying to avoid. I think what you want to say is, “This movie is about a woman, and it has characters and a plot, just like man movies!” Or, “This movie is about a woman, but you don’t have to show your Girl Card at the door!” Or maybe just, “This movie is about a woman. Come on in.”
I know I’m no fun, but I think we’ve established that Jane Austen prequels, sequels, mash-ups, and other literary Photoshoppings make my heart sink and my blood pressure rise. It’s not that I don’t appreciate fandom (heaven knows I appreciate fandom), or that I don’t have a sense of humor about Jane—I do, and anything else would miss the point. This isn’t even a Jane Austen Hates You post; it’s just that, well, I don’t want the Darcys’ sex life play-by-play, and I don’t want to see the Bennet sisters fight monsters (sea, nocturnal blood-sucking, or otherwise), and I don’t want to hear about Jane coping as a swingin’ modern-day vampire looking for love in the big city.
To which I say, who doesn’t love a good bhangra number?
For me, it’s all a question of basic (if implied) intent. Austen sequels, mash-ups, and the like so often come across as attempts either to paint Jane in a hipper, funnier light—as if she needs the help—or to add to the canon she left behind. The implication is that Jane’s work has no place in contemporary culture if we don’t see it through the familiar lenses of bodice-rippers/Sex and the City/debilitating irony; even straight-up sequels set in Austen’s universe, which are clearly labors of love on the parts of the authors, tend to imply that Jane’s work deserves some kind of follow-up (and, with a brand of guts that I personally could never muster, that they are the one to provide it!). On the other hand, Bollywood Jane is—so far—a work of pure appreciation. In Bride and Prejudice, nobody ever implies that Austen needs changing or supplementing, or that the Indian audience wouldn’t relate to a straight re-telling. There’s no sense that the original novel would be better with a modern-day Indian setting; if anything, it’s the other way around. In fact, the change of scenery and style occurs almost separately from the story, and function as a tribute to the universality of Austen’s themes—as the setting changes, the narrative and key themes remain surprisingly the same.
Besides, Bollywood Jane gives a whole new meaning to the term “choreographed group dance.” I love a ball, indeed:
If Aisha can offer the same thoughtful, affectionate take on Emma, well, bring on the dhol.