Like all new British period dramas, there’s a lot riding on the inaugural episode of ITV’s Victoria. There’s nothing us Brits like more than cosying up on a Sunday night, sitting comfortably in a designated chair, shushing family members to a once-in-a-blue-moon silence, and allowing the drama to take over, transporting us to a bygone era.
Once again, I’m back comparing two classics. Who doesn’t love Jane Austen? Well, maybe some biker on a Harley, wearing lots of leather and a skull helmet. Nevertheless, for the ladies of the world who revere her timeless stories, this is one of my favorites.
Like many other Austen tales, there are multiple versions of this first published work of Jane’s in 1811. There was a 1971 TV serial, 1981 TV serial, 1995 film and the most recent 2008 mini-series. Do I have a favorite? The 2008 version is the one that floats my remote, but the 1995 movie version is close behind.
The 1995 version had been my favorite, of course, until the 2008 mini-series came along, consisting of three episodes and 174 minutes. Sense & Sensibility is one of my best-loved Austen tales. The 1995 version is the star-studded, well-known cast of Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Greg Wise (married to Emma Thompson in real life, by the way), Hugh Grant, and the infamous Alan Rickman. Each of these talented actors make up cast who tells this fascinating tale of the Dashwood sisters.
The 2008 TV mini-series is much longer, of course, with a casting of new faces, at least for me, in most of the characters. I had never seen Hattie Morahan (Elinor) or Charity Wakefield (Marianne) before this series aired. Frankly, I loved them and found them both endearing in this version. Kate Winslet, although, probably outshines as Marianne between the two. She is such a spirited actress. “Can he love her? Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise.”
Then we have the men who love these woman. Hugh Grant and a young Greg Wise in the movie version make good choices. In the 2008 version, we have blue-eyed Dan Stevens (the Downton Abbey heart throb) as Edward Farrars. A more sleazy Willoughby, in my opinion, was the 2008 Dominic Cooper, who drew from a me a little more empathy in spite of being a rogue. There is quite a bit of sexuality played in the 2008 version with the seduction scene at the beginning. The interaction between Willoughby and Marianne is more tender and seductive as well. However, I’ve read that was a pain point with some critics (read here). Austen and raunchy don’t mix. But in all honesty, there isn’t anything raunchy about the BBC version whatsoever.
Then we have Colonel Brandon, played by the late Alan Rickman in 1995, who did everything well on screen. It’s sad that he has left us and his fans have been robbed of great performances that were yet to come. Nevertheless, we are left with memories of older ones, even in this version of Sense & Sensibility.
In the 2008 version, we have David Morrissey, a handsome Brandon, who I thought more attractive but a bit too stiff in his role. Alan had a little more heart in his performance than David did. Morrissey is no longer wearing cravats and period clothing but has been on Zombie and sci-fi related shows in the past few years. Apparently, he’s working on another long-long-ago period drama set in 45 AD, Britannia. Maybe he’s taking up a toga instead.
Another thing that I like about the longer series version is that it’s not so rushed. You also get to enjoy beautiful coastal scenery of Hartland, Devon, with quite a few shots of rolling waves crashing against the rocks. It brings back to me the quiet life of those time periods, when long walks, picnics, playing the piano forte, and finding husbands were the order of the day.
Both versions are available to rent and stream on Amazon. However, the 2008 version is on Hulu, if you have a subscription there.
Should there be a law against remaking classic movies? Perhaps they should be left untouched, like master paintings done by great artists. After all, filmmaking is a form of art. It’s not like anyone is taking a paint brush to one of Picasso’s or Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces and updating it for today’s audiences. So why do that with other art forms such as film? I’m struggling for an answer.
I get it that the younger generation thinks those movies from the 1940’s, 1950’s, and even 1960’s are hokey, out-of-date, and lacking cool CGI make-believe worlds plus 3D thrills. Is that why we remake classics – to make them relevant to the younger generations so they finally sit down and watch these tales that they would otherwise ignore? Well, here is my advice Hollywood. Put your paintbrushes away and grab a clean and empty canvas and make new original masterpieces. Stop messing with perfection especially with the most Oscar-awarded movie of all time.
I was nine years old when Ben-Hur was released in 1959. I’ve probably watched it a hundred times, and also watched it on the big screen. Sometimes I wonder why Hollywood doesn’t re-master and re-release these masterpieces by improving sound and visual quality. They do it for Blu-Ray DVDs but not theater. After all, Charlton Heston was as buff as any other leading man on screen today.
Okay, so I filled a seat at Regal theater with the new recliners for $11.50 at 7 p.m. to see the new version of Ben-Hur. Of course, I had to sit through 10-12 coming attractions beforehand, all of which I’ve forgotten except for Dr. Strange. The lion roared at the MGM credits, and I settled in for two hours (rather than three in 1959). After the first fifteen minutes, I wanted to walk out. Really. Walk out.
I made myself stay put, agonizing over the beginning of the tale with new actors and a different beginning until they were all arrested and sentenced. The only time I perked up was when Judah was chained in the galley for a short-run of rowing. The iconic line of, “We keep you alive to serve this ship,” was never spoken. (Actually, I was thinking you keep me alive suffering to see this movie so I can write a review.) There is no friendship formed between Judah and Quintus Arrius. The ship sinks and Judah is washed up on a beach, saved by the Sheik with the dreadlocks (Morgan Freeman) with the four white horses, that all lead up to the chariot race. Missing is the humor of the Sheik and the relationship you enjoy between him and the horses.
Well, the chariot race was, as expected, the highlight of the movie, but afterward, it turned into syrupy hug feast far from the 1959 version. I won’t spoil it for you folks, only to say that the story takes a vastly different twist at the end, void of the heart-wrenching emotion of the original.
What really bugged me? Women in pants. Costumes that looked like modern hoodies on Judah Ben-Hur, and pearly white teeth flashing in every scene. A few times I thought that Messala and Judah were in a toothpaste commercial together. In this version, you see the face of Jesus and hear him talk. The ending is a weak and a sadly made replica of the crucifixion and the healing of Judah’s mother and sister. The dialogue in places is laughable. I’m sorry, but I did not like this movie except for the famous race.
As far as acting…
Jack Huston is a very different Judah Ben-Hur. As the critics have already cited, I agree that he is a weaker version of a character who should have been stronger. The man had big shoes to fill to match the Oscar-winning performance of Heston. Huston somehow failed to convey the hatred and revenge that led him to the races and the British accent didn’t help.
Toby Kebbell as Messala appeared to be a casting attempt to match the looks of Stephen Boyd. His character was a washed-down version of a would-be Roman soldier always trying to prove himself to Pilate. Boyd, on the other hand, had nothing to prove to anyone in character or as an actor. He was Messala – a man who drew emotion from the audience.
Naomi (mother) and Tirzah (sister) were entirely different, as well as Esther. Esther in this version marries Ben-Hur before the tragedies strike.
Morgan Freeman is a very different character than the cheerful and endearing Sheik who encourages Ben-Hur to give a big burp in the ’59 version. He’s dull. Sorry – dull.
To sum it up, the story is vastly different except for the core of the tale. I won’t go into any other specifics except to say don’t expect a remake of the 1959 version. Much of the “heart” is gone, even though they obviously tried to present a tale of forgiveness and love. For me, it just didn’t pull my chariot across the finish line.
Perhaps those young folks who have never cracked the DVD of the 1959 version will get a thrill from the CGI masterpiece. However, the CGI doesn’t do the justice that the original 10,000 extras of actual flesh and blood who stood around the Circus Maximus in Rome when it was filmed. Nor does it do justice to the 200 camels, 2,500 horses, the film score, or any other parts of the carefully crafted and well-acted original.
It’s time I get out my DVD version and relive the magic that brought me love, laughter, heartache, tears, and redemption. I don’t need a Hollywood Jesus to move me. Frankly, I prefer the reverence of the old days when they never showed his face or heard his voice.
Finally, Hollywood, get some new talent and start writing new tales! There must be other untold masterpieces waiting for the big screen. Stop tinkering with perfection. It only shows your shortcomings.
Watch this one!
Another adaptation coming January 2017 to PBS Masterpiece. It’s on this fall, however, in the U.K.
She is cemented in the national imagination as a stout older lady in mourning for her husband.