The venerable PBS Sunday night miniseries Masterpiece Theater is mounting a Jane Austen retrospective, airing new and old versions of made-for-TV movies of all of her novels. It’s a big deal for Austen’s legion of fans, but let’s hope the first production isn’t representative of things to come. The version of Persuasion that aired on Sunday wasn’t very persuasive. In fact, it was bad. At 90 minutes, it felt rushed, even though big chunks of plot and subplot were missing. Some of the acting was over the top. And that ending! Heroine Anne Elliott running through the streets of Bath to meet Capt. Wentworth and kissing in public! On the lips! Austen would blush. I’m not alone in my opinion: Austen blogs like this one and PBS’ own Remotely Connected blog are filled with comments from viewers who hated it. On the other hand, I still remember the thrill I got watching the 1995 Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds version when they finally hooked up (so to speak).
Adapting books to the big – or little – screen is tricky. You have to pare the story down to a workable length without sacrificing too much of the plot, yet leave in enough of the original so people who loved the book want to see the on-air version. Sometimes adaptations are better than the book – The Devil Wears Prada is a notable example. But sometimes they fail miserably. Who remembers Hotel New Hampshire. Yuck.
Here are some adaptations I love, hate and couldn’t bear to bring myself to watch because I loved the book too much to take the chance. I’d love to hear what your favorite or least favorites have been. Write me!
Loved: The English Patient, The Devil Wears Prada, The Great Gatsby
Hated: Cold Mountain, Hotel New Hampshire