My wife and I watch a lot of movies.
We’re fans of romantic comedy and we love the old ones – those starring Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy, Cary Grant, William Powell, Clark Gable. Some of the new ones, too – Sabrina, with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond is a favorite of mine; she loves “The Holiday” with Jude Law and Carmen Diaz. But in just these last few evenings, we’ve taken out the DVDs of the Jane Austen stories one more time.
We have just about every adaptation of every one of her novels that is available, but the ones we watched this week were adaptations of Sense and Sensibility. (Yes, we are that big of Austen geeks – we watched two different versions of the same story, right in a row.)
It was interesting to compare the two versions. They are both fairly new – the feature-length movie with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet was released in 1996 and the TV mini-series with Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan in 2008 – and both extremely well done. The casts in both are letter perfect and no expense was spared in the filming of either – all of it on site and in the beautiful English countryside, in and around those magnificent, great houses of Austen’s time. Both versions have their virtues. The movie’s Oscar-winning script is funny and poignant and the mini-series, with more than double the time to work with, gives the viewer more detail and a truer telling of the entire story.
Yes, it is interesting to compare the two versions, but what is more interesting – or more telling, perhaps – is to compare Austen’s works with the normal, romantic comedy fare that we are used to in modern America. And that is because there really is no comparison. Austen is a genius, a master, and her works tower not only over today’s popular movies, but outshine almost all other romances from any author in any time.
Austen could develop character. Her stories give us men and women that we recognize and understand. And her stories are totally engrossing. How she shifts the plot; how the story-lines come together; how the outcomes are dependent on character; and how perfectly happy her happy endings.
Austen’s stories are moral. They not only entertain; they teach and nourish and satisfy.