The ABC has finally decided to get around to showing the second-newest* round of Jane Austen on the telly nonsenses sometime this year, according to the relevant bit from this press release about 2008's forthcoming programmes (quoted in full below). The season showing on our screens will consist of adaptations of Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey. Naturally, most everyone who really cares has already seen the latter three (thanks to the respective magics of bittorrent, and of mates in the UK with dvd recorders) and the two-part version of Emma they're throwing in was actually made in 1996 and over the past ten years it has been seen by vast numbers of Australians who really aren't that interested in Jane Austen at all (ie, students.) Despite having a script by Andrew "I specialise in writing adaptations that add in the bits the novelist was too lame to put in herself" Davies, the Emma is actually not too horrible, at least not compared to the three new ones, which were conceived and produced by ITV in 2007 to go together as a single season package, and are all shockingly, bafflingly bad. You'll laugh and then you'll cry at the utter badness, in fact, in between bouts of being confused about what's happening because the plots are so telescoped and hacked about. Persuasion (pictured above) is undoubtedly the worst. Let's just say that if you think Anne Elliot should have pursued the returned Capt. Wentworth a bit more energetically, the climactic 'jogging' scene ought to meet with your approval.
The most recent study of literary adaptation I've read argues that Austen movies and shows have lately been coalescing into a distinct and recognisable contemporary 'Tradition of Quality.' This would have been accurate when the author was writing, but since then the trend in these high profile literary adaptations has instead gone towards a style that signals 'entertainingness' - grittily, grungily 'realistic' sets and costumes, strenuous scores, moody lighting, flashy camera work and editing - if you saw any of the BBC's recent Bleak House (also written by le Davies, he doesn't like to share) you will know the style I mean. It presents itself as aiming to be accessible and popular. (It seems to me that just holding the camera still to show a good actor doing a slap-up job of acting can also have amazingly entertaining results, but that's just my personal opinion.) Anyway, that's what the in thing is for literary adaptations since about 2004, and the three new ITV Austen shows conform to the trend. But the twelve-year-old one, the Emma with Kate Beckinsale in it, doesn't - it was done in a much lighter and prettier mode. The four adaptations really don't go together at all. Considering also that the main justification for re-adapting the same classic novels so frequently is that doing so underlines the different facets each new generation finds attractive, there's no sensible reason for adding Emma.
There is, however, a compellingly unsensible reason for including a fourth adaptation and the press release divulges it:
JANE AUSTEN FOURPLAY
It’s a bodice-ripping frenzy of costume drama delight, as four of Jane Austen’s great works come to the screen. Love, misfortune, comedy and costumes combine to create four great dramas in which the path to true love never runs smooth.
Austen Fourplay. Austen Fourplay. Austen FOURPLAY. AUSTEN FOURPLAY?!! Fuuuuuugggh. Spew. God, I can hardly even type it out. Why's there never a really vicious Dalek on hand, all hepped up to exterminate something, when you badly, badly need one? Who was it, do you think, that thought up 'Austen Fourplay'? Would it have been some drunken committee at the ABC or did this wen, this bleeding wart of a single-entendre, originate further back with the ITV sales department?
If they actually write or say 'Austen Fourplay' on the telly, I will write to fecking BackChat in the purest rage.
I don't give a damn fart if it isn't on anymore.
Next to 'Austen Fourplay' other possible catchphrases that would normally be totally unacceptable suddenly look like the sparklingest repartee. Ie: 'You'll Love Jane Austen' (from the agency that brought us the deathless 'You'll Love Coles'); 'Where the bloody hell are ya, and Jane Austen'; 'Good on ya mum, Jane Austen's the one, good onya mum!'; 'Jane Austen's War on Everything'; 'Jane Austen Fat Pizza'; 'Jane Austen Tip open 9.30 - 5 Weekdays'; 'Show us your tits' etc.
Anyway you can read the press release descriptions of the four adaptations and maybe suggest a better slogan. No frigging puns though, OK!
The Emmy-Award winning Emma features Kate Beckinsale (The Aviator, Pearl Harbour) as the beautiful, rich, clever and infuriating heroine who likes nothing better than arranging the love lives of other people, with comic and disastrous results.
Billie Piper (Doctor Who) stars as Fanny Price in a lavish adaptation of Mansfield Park. Taken from her life of poverty to the sumptuous home of her aunt and uncle, Fanny is brought up alongside her four cousins. As she struggles to adapt to her new lifestyle, she attracts the attention of a number of suitors.
In Northanger Abbey, young, naïve Catherine, (Felicity Jones - The Worst Witch) has received a much desired invitation to stay at Northanger Abbey. But as her overzealous imagination and passion for gothic romance sets to work, Catherine’s behaviour begins to jeopardise her already fragile social position.
Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins - Vera Drake), forced to call off her engagement to the poor but ambitious naval officer Wentworth, (Rupert Penny Jones - Spooks, Casanova) due to her family’s disapproval. Eight years later, the now wealthy Wentworth returns from sea, and she can only watch as every eligible young lady falls at his feet. Has he forgotten the girl he left behind?
* second-newest, because we can also look forward in the near future to 'The Jane Austen Book Club', screening here in cinemas this month, then a made-for-tv biopic called 'Miss Austen Regrets', a BBC produced 'Sense and Sensibility', and something with strong awfulness potential called 'Jane Austen Handheld'
(cross-posted to Sarsaparilla)