“JACK REACHER” (2012) Review

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“JACK REACHER” (2012) Review

British author Lee Childs (aka Jim Grant) wrote a series of novels featuring a former U.S. Army Military police officer turned drifter, who is occassionally hired to investigate difficult cases. One of those turned out to be the 2005 novel, “One Shot”, which was recently adapted as a motion picture that stars Tom Cruise. 

When writer/director Christopher McQuarrie decided to adapt “One Shot” as a movie, one of the first things he did was change the story’s title and location. The story became “JACK REACHER” and the setting was changed from a small Indiana city to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Like the novel, “JACK REACHER” began with the death of five random people by a sniper firing from a parking garage. Police detective Emerson finds evidence pointing a a former Army sharpshooter named James Barr, who was immediately arrested. Instead of confessing to the crime, Barr asked the police and District Attorney Alex Rodin to get drifter and former Army police Jack Reacher to help him. Reacher finally contacted Barr’s attorney, Rodin’s daughter, Helen Rodin. Reacher believed that Barr was guilty, because the latter had originally went on a killing spree during his last tour in Iraq, but got off on a technicality due to his victims being guilty of the gang rape of several Iraqi women. But Reacher’s investigation of the crime scene, along with an encounter with local thugs hired to scare him off, made him realized that Barr had been framed and that the killing spree was merely a cover up for a specific victim.

In the end, “JACK REACHER” proved to be a first-rate action thriller that I enjoyed very much. I would never consider the movie to be one of the best starring Tom Cruise. The basic narrative for “JACK REACHER” did not strike me as particularly original. I have come across similar action or mystery tales in which a series of killings hid one particular murder. But I must admit this particular story presented it in a particularly original way – especially with such a non-conformist like Reacher serving as investigator. There were other aspects of the movie that impressed me. One, I found the opening sequence featuring the sniper’s killing of the five people not only gruesome, but also nail biting. The tension in this particular sequence seemed ten-fold, when it looked as if one of the sniper’s victims might end up being a young child. Once Reacher realized that either Detective Emerson or District Attorney Rodin may be working for the man behind the shootings, the reek of law enforcement reeked throughout the film’s second half, increasing the movie’s tension ten fold. The movie also benefited from a first-rate, three-way car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh; with the police chasing Reacher for the murder of a young woman, and Reacher chasing two of the bad guys. The chase sequence also emphasized Caleb Deschanel’s colorful photography of Pittsburgh, a city that has struck me as quite charming during the past two decades.

There were a few aspects of “JACK REACHER” that troubled me. I wish that McQuarrie’s script had allowed Cruise’s Jack Reacher and Rosamund Pike’s Helen Rodin to consummate the sexual tension between them . . . at least once. I did not require the movie to end with them as a newly established couple. But I figured that one night between the sheets would not have hurt. Honestly! I found myself inwardly screaming “Get a room!” every time it looked as if they were about to lock lips. But the bigger problem for me turned out to be the main villain – a former Soviet prisoner-turned-Russian mobster known as the Zec. Do not get me wrong. I believe that director-actor Werner Herzog gave an exceptionally chilly performance as the mobster. But . . . I could not help but wonder if author Lee Childs and later, MacQuarrie tried too hard to portray him as some kind of cold monster, willing to do anything to survive . . . even chew off his fingers while in prison, in order to prevent himself from succumbing to gangrene. The Zec even forces one minion to either chew off a finger or face death for the latter’s mishandling of Reacher. I would have been impressed if it were not for the fact that the willingness to do anything to survive . . . or self-preservation is something of which just about every human being is capable. It is simply human nature. And in the end, I was not that impressed by the Zec. Also, I could have sworn that the Zec and his men were carrying out a contract on behalf of someone else. I certainly got that impression in his first scene, which I eventually found rather misleading.

However, I was impressed by the film’s cast. I have already commented on Werner Herzog’s portrayal of the mobster called the Zec. Australian actor Jai Courtney gave an equally chilling performance as Charlie, the Zec’s main henchman and the shooter who kill those five people, in cold blood, in the opening scene. Robert Duvall made an entertaining addition to the cast as a former USMC veteran, who operated a gun shop frequented by the main suspect and the real killer. The year 2012 seemed to be the one for British actor David Oyelowo. He started out the year in “RED TAILS”(okay, not much of a start), but he finished out the year with an appearance in “LINCOLN” and a major role in this film. And I was very impressed by his portrayal of Detective Emerson. One, Oyelowo seemed to have a pretty good grasp of an American accent. And two, I found his portrayal of the police detective to be deliciously complex and murky. I could also say the same for Richard Jenkins, who gave a slightly twisted and sardonic portrayal as District Attorney Rodin. It seemed a pity that his appearances in the film seemed slightly limited.

It occurred to me that I have not seen Rosamund Pike in a major film production in quite a while. I do recall that she had appeared as Sam Worthington’s leading lady in “WRATH OF THE TITANS”. But I would rather forget about that particular film. Thankfully, she was much more memorable as Helen Rodin, the feisty defense attorney who hired Reacher. She possessed a solid American accent and more importantly, I enjoyed the way Pike infused both professionalism and emotion into her character. And her screen chemistry with Tom Cruise reeked with sexuality. Although I would not consider “JACK REACHER” to be among Cruise’s top films, I must admit that I think his role as the eccentric former Army investigator might prove to be one of his better roles. I really enjoyed Cruise’s performance as Reacher. Not only did he maintain the character’s eccentricity, but he also projected a subtle weariness that made me understand the character’s disappointment with society at large. He also infused a good deal of subtle humor that struck me as both entertaining and off-kilter. But more importantly, Cruise did a great job in projecting the character’s unstoppable force, without having to be the same height (6’5″) as the literary Reacher.

Like I said, I would not view “JACK REACHER” as one of the most memorable action movies I have ever seen. But I certainly would not regard it as mediocre. It possessed a solid story, written and directed by Christopher MacQuarrie. The movie also benefited from first-rate performances by a cast led by Tom Cruise in the title character.

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New Ranking of JAMES BOND Movies

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With the recent release of the new James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, I have made a new ranking of all the Bond films produced and released by EON Productions (do not expect to find 1967’s “CASINO ROYALE” or 1983’s “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” on this list) from favorite to least favorite:

 

NEW RANKING OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

1-On Her Majesty Secret Service

1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – The only film to feature Australian George Lazenby, this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel has James Bond’s search for master criminal Ernst Stravos Blofeld affecting his private life. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie also stars Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

2-Casino Royale

2. “Casino Royale” (2006) – Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1953 novel about Bond’s efforts to beat a banker for a terrorist organization at a poker tournament, in order to force the latter to provide information about the organization. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.

3-The Living Daylights

3. “The Living Daylights” (1987) – Timothy Dalton made his debut as Bond in this partial adaptation of Fleming’s 1966 short story in which Bond’s efforts to stop a Soviet sniper from killing a defector leads to a revelation of a conspiracy between the defector and an American arms dealer. Directed by John Glen, the movie co-stars Maryam D’Abo, Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe.

4-For Your Eyes Only

4. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) – Based on two Fleming short stories from 1960, the movie has Bond searching for a missing missile command system, while becoming tangled in a web of deception spun by rival Greek businessmen and dealing with a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Co-starring Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover and Topol; the movie marked the directing debut of John Glen.

5-From Russia With Love

5. “From Russia With Love” (1963) – Terence Young directed this adaptation of Fleming’s 1957 novel about Bond’s efforts to acquire the Soviet’s Lektor machine, unaware that he is being set up by SPECTRE. The movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, along with Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw and Pedro Armendáriz.

6-Octopussy

6. Octopussy” (1983) – A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncover an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used by a Soviet general and an Afghan prince to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces in West Germany. Directed by John Glen, the movie stars Roger Moore as Bond, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Steven Berkoff and Robert Brown in his debut as “M”.

7-Thunderball

7. “Thunderball” (1965) – Adapted from Fleming’s 1961 novel, this movie has Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter attempting to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE for an extortion scheme. Directed by Terence Young, the movie stars Sean Connery as Bond, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi.

8-Goldeneye

8. “Goldeneye” (1995) – Pierce Brosnan made his debut as Bond in this tale about the agent’s efforts to prevent an arms syndicate from using Russia’s GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in order to cause a global financial meltdown. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen and Judi Dench in her debut as “M”.

9-The Spy Who Loved Me

9. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) – Taking its title from Fleming’s 1962 novel, this movie has Bond and Soviet agent Anya Amasova investigate the disappearances of British and Soviet submarines carrying nuclear warheads. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Barbara Bach, Kurt Jurgens and Richard Kiel.

10-Quantum of Solace

10. “Quantum of Solace” (2008) – Taking its title from a Fleming short story, this movie is a follow up to “CASINO ROYALE”, continuing Bond’s investigation into the terrorist organization Quantum, while dealing with the emotional effects of a tragic death. Directed by Marc Foster, the movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric.

11-License to Kill

11. “License to Kill” (1989) – Directed by John Glen, this movie has Bond resigning from MI-6 in order to seek revenge against the Latin American drug lord that maimed his best friend, Felix Leiter. The movie starred Timothy Dalton as Bond, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto and Don Stroud.

12-The World Is Not Enough

12. “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) – Directed by Michael Apted, the movie has Bond uncovering a nuclear plot, when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who cannot feel pain. The movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle and Denise Richards.

13-A View to a Kill

13. “A View to a Kill” (1985) – Taking its title from one of Fleming’s 1960 short stories, this film has Bond investigating an East-German born industrialist with possible ties to the KGB. Directed by John Glen, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Tanya Roberts, Christopher Walken and Grace Jones.

14-You Only Live Twice

14. “You Only Live Twice” (1967) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1964 novel, the movie has Bond and Japan’s Secret Service investigating the disappearance of American and Soviet manned spacecrafts in orbit, due to the actions of SPECTRE. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsurō Tamba and Donald Pleasence.

15-Die Another Day

15. “Die Another Day” (2002) – A failed mission in North Korea leads to Bond’s capture, fourteen months in captivity, a desire to find the MI-6 mole responsible and a British billionaire with ties to a North Korean agent. Directed by Lee Tamahori, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike and Will Yun Lee.

16-Live and Let Die

16. “Live and Let Die” (1973) – Roger Moore made his debut as Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1954 novel about MI-6’s investigation into the deaths of three fellow agents who had been investigating the Prime Minister of San Monique.

17-Moonraker

17. “Moonraker” (1979) – Based on Fleming’s 1955 novel, this movie features Bond’s investigation into the disappearance of a space shuttle on loan to the British government by a millionaire with catastrophic plans of his own. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Lois Chiles, Michel Lonsdale and Richard Kiel.

18-Tomorrow Never Dies

18. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Bond and a Chinese agent form an alliance to prevent a media mogul from creating a war between Britain and China in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

19-The Man With the Golden Gun

19. “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1965 novel, this movie has Bond sent after the Solex Agitator, a device that can harness the power of the sun, while facing the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the “Man with the Golden Gun”. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee and Maud Adams.

20-Dr. No

20. “Dr. No” (1962) – Based upon Fleming’s 1958 novel, this movie kicked off the Bond movie franchise and featured Sean Connery’s debut as the British agent, whose investigation into the death of a fellow agent leads him to a Eurasian agent for SPECTRE and their plans to disrupt the U.S. space program. Directed by Terence Young, the movie co-starred Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman.

21-Skyfall

21. “Skyfall” – Directed by Sam Mendes, this film has Bond’s loyalty to “M” tested, when her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a former agent, who initiates a series of attacks upon MI-6. The movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris.

22-Diamonds Are Forever

22. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Based on Fleming’s 1956 novel, this movie has Bond’s investigations into a diamond smuggling ring lead to another conflict with SPECTRE and Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

23-Goldfinger

23. “Goldfinger” – Based on Fleming’s 1959 novel, this movie has Bond investigating a German-born gold magnate, who harbors plans to destroy the U.S. gold supply at Fort Knox. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Honor Blackman and Gert Frobe.

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (2005) Review

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“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (2005) Review

To my knowledge, there have been at least ten screen (film and/or television) adaptations of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”. I believe it has been adapted more times than her other five novels. This is not surprising. It is probably the most beloved of her six novels. I have seen four of those adaptations, myself. And one of them is director-writer Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaptation.

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” starred Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The story focuses on Elizabeth’s dealings with marriage, manners and other issues in the landed gentry society of late Georgian England. Elizabeth and her four sisters are encouraged by their mother to find a suitable husband before their father’s estate is inherited by a distant male cousin. The Bennet family is heartened by the blossoming romance between Elizabeth’s older sister Jane and a wealthy bachelor named Charles Bingley, who has rented a neighboring estate. But the family are unaware that Mr. Bingley’s even wealthier friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, has grown attracted to the extroverted Elizabeth. However, obstacles block the path of true love. Mr. Darcy and Bingley’s snobbish sister Caroline disapprove of his romance with Jane, due to the poor behavior of Mrs. Bennet and her three youngest daughters. And Elizabeth has developed a deep dislike of Mr. Darcy, due to his own distant and haughty behavior. Through a series of setbacks and misunderstandings, true love finally flourishes in the end.

Wright’s adaptation of Austen’s novel was a box office hit and earned numerous award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for star Keira Knightley. But like the 1940 adaptation with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, this 2005 film has attracted a great deal of criticism from Austen fans for its failure to be closely faithful to the novel. Many have complained how Wright changed the dynamics within the Bennet family. Others have complained by the less than sterile appearance of the Bennet estate and the movie’s late 18th century. As far as many readers were concerned, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” should have been set between 1811 and 1820 – Britain’s Regency era, since the novel was published in 1813. So, how did I feel about Wright’s take on Austen’s novel?

I might as well be frank. I did have problems with “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. I could have understood Wright’s decision to portray the Bennet household with a less than pristine appearance. The Bennet manor was not the first to be portray in this style. The Western home in 1963’s “TOM JONES” looked a lot messier. But Squire Western lived on the estate by himself, until the arrival of his daughter Sophie and his sister Aunt Western. Mrs. Bennet managed the family estate in Wright’s movie. One would think she and the house servants would be able to keep a cleaner home. And I was not that impressed by most of the costumes worn by the Bennets. I found them rather plain and worn for an upper class family from the landed gentry. Mind you, they did not have the same amount of money as Mr. Darcy or the Bingleys. Except for the Netherfield ball sequence, their costumes seemed to hint that they barely possessed enough money to scratch out a living. Yet, at the same time, they had both house and field servants?

I was not impressed by the change of dynamics between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. They seemed a bit too affectionate in comparison to their portrayals in other movies. Wright’s decision to make this change seemed to defeat the purpose of Austen’s narrative. He forgot that the incompatible marriage between the well-born, yet caustic Mr. Bennet and the middle-class and boorish Mrs. Bennet was one of the major reasons that led youngest daughter Lydia to leave Brighton with the roguish George Wickham. Mrs. Bennet’s shrill manners and obsession with matrimony for her daughters, and Mr. Bennet’s cynical disregard for his wife and society led to their failure to discipline their youngest daughters – Lydia and Kitty. But we never see this in Wright’s film. He had every right to justify Mrs. Bennet’s search for future sons-in-law. But the affection between her and Mr. Bennet makes it difficult to explain their failure to discipline Lydia and Kitty.

I also had a problem with George Wickham. I felt sorry for Rupert Friend. He is a very good actor who was handed over a role that turned out to be a ghost of its former self by Wright. Friend is also a very handsome actor. But he was really not given the opportunity to display Wickham’s charm and talent for emotional manipulation. Worse, the Elizabeth/Wickham scenes failed to convey any real friendship between the two, before Elizabeth’s discovery of his true nature. They were simply not on screen together long enough to justify Elizabeth’s outrage over Mr. Darcy’s alleged treatment of Wickham. Wright’s treatment of the Charles Bingley character was also a problem for me. I am aware that Mr. Bingley has always sought his friend Mr. Darcy’s approval, regarding the other man as his social superior. But Mr. Bingley has also struck me as a more social and extroverted man. Wright made sure that his Mr. Bingley, portrayed by Simon Woods, was socially active. But he also transformed Bingley into a shy and reticent man. And the idea of a quiet Mr. Darcy and a shy Mr. Bingley as close friends does not quite seem right to me.

However, there is no such thing as a perfect film – at least not in my experience. Yes, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” is a flawed movie. But it is not the disaster that some Austen fans would have many to believe. Despite some changes in the characterization and the 129 minutes running time, Austen’s tale remained intact under Wright’s direction and Deborah Moggach’s pen. And a few of the changes made by Wright and Moggach did not bother me one bit. In fact, I found them rather interesting. One change in the movie involved the Elizabeth Bennet character. This “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” delved more into the impact of the Bennet family’s shenanigans upon her psyche with scenes that featured Elizabeth’s brief flight from the crowds of the Netherfield ball, her penchant of keeping personal secrets from her closest sister Jane, and occasional bursts of temper. Many also complained about the film’s late 18th century setting, claiming that Austen’s novel was a Regency tale. I said this in my review of the 1940 adaptation and I will state it again. There was no law that “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” had to be set in the 1810s because of its final publishing date. Austen’s tale is not a historical drama, merely a comedy of manners and a romantic tale. Besides, her novel was originally completed some time in the late 1790s – the same time frame as this movie.

Despite my complaints about the plain wardrobe for the Bennet family, I must admit that I was impressed by most of Jacqueline Durran’s costumes – especially for the Netherfield Ball sequence. I felt that the most interesting costume was worn by Kelly Reilly (as Caroline Bingley in the aforementioned sequence:

netherfield-ball-miss-bingley-in-modern-dress

Some fans felt that Durran made a misfire in the creation of this particular costume, which they believed evoked the high-waisted fashions of the first two decades of the 19th century. They especially took umbrage at her gown’s lack of sleeves. What they failed to realize was that women’s fashion was in a stage of transition between the late 18th and early 19th century. Older women like Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh wore the older 18th century fashions, while younger females began wearing dresses and gown with a higher waistline. It made sense that Caroline Bingley, being familiar with the more sophisticated London society, would wear such a gown. There is a 1798-99 painting called “Madame Raymond de Verninac” in which the subject wore a similar looking gown:

1799-Verninac-David

Other technical aspects of the movie that proved to be a lot less controversial. Roman Osin’s photography proved to be one of the movie’s biggest assets. I found it lush, yet sharp and rich in color. And it certainly did justice to Sarah Greenwood’s production designs and Katie Spencer’s set decorations, which captured the look of Britain at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century beautifully. I especially enjoyed the photography featured in Elizabeth’s journey with her Gardiner relations to Derbyshire. Another segment that displayed Osin’s photography and Greenwood’s work beautifully was the Netherfield Ball. I especially enjoyed the tracking shot that touched upon the behaviors and emotional states of the major characters, before finally settling upon a secluded Elizabeth, heaving a sigh of relief.

Wright had the good luck to find himself with a first-rate cast for his movie. Jena Malone’s Lydia Bennet struck me as more of a show boater or poseur than any other interpretation of the role. Carey Mulligan gave ample support as her slightly older sister and emotional pet, Kitty. Talulah Riley did a very good job in capturing Mary Bennet’s self-righteous nature. Yet, at the same, she was surprisingly poignant – especially during the Netherfield ball sequence. Despite Moggach and Wright’s attempts to paint Mrs. Bennet’s determination to marry off her daughters in a more positive light, Brenda Blethyn still managed to capture the character’s gauche manners and silliness. And for that I am grateful to the actress. Donald Sutherland’s take on Mr. Bennet seemed less cynical than Austen’s take on the character. Thanks to Moggach’s script, Sutherland’s Mr. Bennet almost loses his bite. But not completely. Sutherland managed to retain some of the character’s sardonic humor. And I really enjoyed his performance in the scene that featured Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth’s discussion about her feelings for Mr. Darcy.

Despite my complaints about the characterizations of Charles Bingley and George Wickham, I cannot deny that both Simon Woods and Rupert Friend gave first-rate performances. However, I suspect that Woods was given more to work with, even if Moggach’s portrayal of his character struck a wrong note within me. There is an interesting post-script regarding Woods’ casting – he was Rosamund Pike’s (Jane Bennet) ex-boyfriend, when they filmed “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” together. The movie featured only one of Mr. Bingley’s sisters – namely the gold-digging Caroline Bingley. Kelly Reilly’s take on the role strongly reminds me of Frieda Inescort’s performance in the 1940 movie – cool and sarcastic. Reilly had some choice lines, my favorite being her comment about her brother’s guests at the Netherfield Ball:

“I can’t help thinking that at some point someone is going to produce a piglet and we’ll all have to chase it.”

Yes, I realize that Jane Austen did not write it. But who cares? It is such a droll line, even if it was spoken by the unspeakable Caroline. I read somewhere that Joe Wright had convinced Judi Dench to portray Lady Catherine de Bourgh, claiming that he loved it when she “played a bitch”. And yes . . . Dench’s Lady Catherine was deliciously bitchy. On the other hand, Claudie Blakely gave a nice performance as Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas. She also had one memorable moment in which her character tried to explain her decision to marry William Collins, Elizabeth’s unpalatable cousin. “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” marked the first time Keira Knightley worked with Tom Hollander. His Mr. Collins did not strike me as obsequious as previous versions. For some reason, Hollander reminded me of a socially awkward geek. The scene featuring Mr. Collins’ attempt to get Mr. Darcy’s attention struck me as particularly funny. Penelope Wilton and Peter Wight gave solid performances as Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, the Gardiners. But I did not find them particularly memorable. Rosamund Pike made a very beautiful and charming Jane Bennet. She perfectly conveyed the character’s shyness and penchant for thinking too good of others.

Matthew MacFadyen was not that well known to U.S. audiences when he was cast in the role of Mr. Darcy. I realize that I am going to attract a good deal of flak for this, but I am glad that MacFadyen did not try to recapture Colin Firth’s take on the role. An actor or actress should never try to copy another’s performance. Frankly, I thought MacFadyen did a fine job on his own. He is the only actor to openly convey Mr. Darcy’s inability to easily socialize before the story’s second half, due to some silent acting on his part. I especially enjoyed his performance with Knightley featuring Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr. Darcy’s first marriage proposal. But Keira Knightley, as Elizabeth Bennet, contributed just as much to the scene as he did. For some reason, the actress has attracted a great deal of bashing from moviegoers. I will not try to determine the reason behind their behavior. But I will compliment Knightley for her performance. Like the other actresses who have portrayed Elizabeth, she conveyed all of the character’s wit, prejudices and exuberant nature. But thanks to Moggach’s screenplay, Knightley was given a chance to put a new spin on Elizabeth’s character. Due to the Bennet family’s behavior, Knightley was able to convey Elizabeth’s increasing emotional distance from them. Many critics did not care for this new spin on the character. I, on the other hand, found it fascinating and new.

Joe Wright’s “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” has its flaws. There is no denying it. But I can say the same for the other three adaptations of Jane Austen’s novel that I have seen. For me, the movie’s virtues outweighed its flaws. And its biggest virtues were Roman Osin’s photography and a memorable cast led by the talented Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen. This was Joe Wright’s first film and so far, my favorite he has done during his seven years as a director.

JANE AUSTEN’s Heroine Gallery

janeaustenHEROINES

Below is a look at the fictional heroines created by Jane Austen in the six published novels written by her. So, without further ado . . . 

JANE AUSTEN’S HEROINE GALLERY

Elinor 4 Elinor 3 Elinor 2 Elinor 1

Elinor Dashwood – “Sense and Sensibility” (1811)

Elinor Dashwood is the oldest Dashwood sister who symbolizes a coolness of judgement and strength of understanding. This leads her to be her mother’s frequent counsellor, and sometimes shows more common sense than the rest of her family. Elinor could have easily been regarded as a flawless character, if it were not for her penchant of suppressing her emotions just a little too much. Ironically, none of the actresses I have seen portray Elinor were never able to portray a nineteen year-old woman accurately.

Elinor - Joanna David

1. Joanna David (1971) – She gave an excellent performance and was among the few who did not indulge in histronics. My only complaint was her slight inability to project Elinor’s passionate nature behind the sensible facade.

Elinor - Irene Richards

2. Irene Richards (1981) – I found her portrayal of Elinor to be solid and competent. But like David, she failed to expose Elinor’s passionate nature behind the stoic behavior.

Elinor - Emma Thompson

3. Emma Thompson (1995) – Many have complained that she was too old to portray Elinor. Since the other actresses failed to convincingly portray a nineteen year-old woman, no matter how sensible, I find the complaints against Thompson irrelevant. Thankfully, Thompson did not bother to portray Elinor as a 19 year-old. And she managed to perfectly convey Elinor’s complexities behind the sensible facade.

Elinor - Hattie Morahan

4. Hattie Morahan (2008) – She gave an excellent performance and was able to convey Elinor’s passionate nature without any histronics. My only complaint was her tendency to express Elinor’s surprise with this deer-in-the-headlights look on her face.

Marianne 4 Marianne 3 Marianne 2 Marianne 1

Marianne Dashwood – “Sense and Sensibility” (1811)

This second Dashwood sister is a different kettle of fish from the first. Unlike Elinor, Marianne is an emotional adolescent who worships the idea of romance and excessive sentimentality. She can also be somewhat self-absorbed, yet at the same time, very loyal to her family.

Marianne - Ciaran Madden

1. Ciaran Madden – Either Madden had a bad director or the actress simply lacked the skills to portray the emotional and complex Marianne. Because she gave a very hammy performance.

Marianne - Tracey Childs

2. Tracey Childs – She was quite good as Marianne, but there were times when she portrayed Marianne as a little too sober and sensible – even early in the story.

Marianne - Kate Winslet

3. Kate Winslet (1995) – The actress was in my personal opinion, the best Marianne Dashwood I have ever seen. She conveyed Marianne’s complex and emotional nature with great skill, leading her to deservedly earn an Oscar nomination.

Marianne - Charity Wakefield

4. Charity Wakefield (2008) – She solidly portrayed the emotional Marianne, but there were moments when her performance seemed a bit mechanical.

Elizabeth 4 Elizabeth 3 Elizabeth 2 Elizabeth 1

Elizabeth Bennet – “Pride and Prejudice” (1813)

Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of an English gentleman and member of the landed gentry. She is probably the wittiest and most beloved of Austen’s heroines. Due to her father’s financial circumstances – despite being a landowner – Elizabeth is required to seek a marriage of convenience for economic security, despite her desire to marry for love.

Elizabeth - Greer Garson

1. Greer Garson (1940) – Her performance as Elizabeth Bennet has been greatly maligned in recent years, due to the discovery that she was in her mid-30s when she portrayed the role. Personally, I could not care less about her age. She was still marvelous as Elizabeth, capturing both the character’s wit and flaws perfectly.

Elizabeth - Elizabeth Garvie

2. Elizabeth Garvie (1980) – More than any other actress, Garvie portrayed Elizabeth with a soft-spoken gentility. Yet, she still managed to infuse a good deal of the character’s wit and steel with great skill.

Elizabeth - Jennifer Ehle

3. Jennifer Ehle (1995) – Ehle is probably the most popular actress to portray Elizabeth and I can see why. She was perfect as the witty, yet prejudiced Elizabeth. And she deservedly won a BAFTA award for her performance.

Elizabeth - Keira Knightley

4. Keira Knightley (2005) – The actress is not very popular with the public these days. Which is why many tend to be critical of her take on Elizabeth Bennet. Personally, I found it unique in that hers was the only Elizabeth in which the audience was given more than a glimpse of the effects of the Bennet family’s antics upon her psyche. I was more than impressed with Knightley’s performance and thought she truly deserved her Oscar nomination.

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Jane Bennet – “Pride and Prejudice” (1813)

The oldest of the Bennet daughters is more beautiful, but just as sensible as her younger sister, Elizabeth. However, she has a sweet and shy nature and tends to make an effort to see the best in everyone. Her fate of a happily ever after proved to be almost as important as Elizabeth’s.

Jane - Maureen O Sullivan

1. Maureen O’Sullivan (1940) – She was very charming as Jane Bennet. However, her Jane seemed to lack the sense that Austen’s literary character possessed.

Jane - Sabina Franklin

2. Sabina Franklyn (1980) – She gave a solid performance as the sweet-tempered Jane. However, her take on the role made the character a little more livelier than Austen’s original character.

Jane - Susannah Harker

3. Susannah Harker (1995) – I really enjoyed Harker’s take on the Jane Bennet role. She did a great job in balancing Jane’s sweet temper, inclination to find the best in everyone and good sense that Elizabeth ignored many times.

Jane - Rosamund Pike

4. Rosamund Pike (2005) – She gave a pretty good performance as the sweet and charming Jane, but rarely got the chance to act as the sensible older sister, due to director Joe Wright’s screenplay.

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Fanny Price – “Mansfield Park” (1814)

Unfortunately, Fanny happens to be my least favorite Jane Austen heroine. While I might find some of her moral compass admirable and resistance to familial pressure to marry someone she did not love, I did not admire her hypocrisy and passive aggressive behavior. It is a pity that she acquired what she wanted in the end – namely her cousin Edmund Bertram as a spouse – without confronting his or her own personality flaws.

Fanny - Sylvestra de Tourzel

1. Sylvestra de Tourzel (1983) – She had some good moments in her performance as Fanny Price. Unfortunately, there were other moments when I found her portrayal stiff and emotionally unconvincing. Thankfully, de Tourzel became a much better actress over the years.

Fanny - Frances O Connor

2. Frances O’Connor (1999) – The actress portrayed Fanny as a literary version of author Jane Austen – witty and literary minded. She skillfully infused a great deal of wit and charm into the character, yet at the same time, managed to maintain Fanny’s innocence and hypocrisy.

Fanny - Billie Piper

3. Billie Piper (2007) – Many Austen fans disliked her portrayal of Fanny. I did not mind her performance at all. She made Fanny a good deal more bearable to me. Piper’s Fanny lacked de Tourzel’s mechanical acting and O’Connor’s portrayal of Fanny as Jane Austen 2.0. More importantly, she did not portray Fanny as a hypocrite, as the other two did.

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Emma Woodhouse – “Emma” (1815)

When Jane Austen first created the Emma Woodhouse character, she described the latter as “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like”. And while there might be a good deal to dislike about Emma – her snobbery, selfishness and occasional lack of consideration for others – I cannot deny that she still remains one of the most likeable Austen heroines for me. In fact, she might be my favorite. She is very flawed, yet very approachable.

Emma - Doran Godwin

1. Doran Godwin (1972) – She came off as a bit haughty in the first half of the 1972 miniseries. But halfway into the production, she became warmer and funnier. Godwin also had strong chemistry with her co-stars John Carson and Debbie Bowen.

Emma - Gwyneth Paltrow

2. Gwyneth Paltrow (1996) – Paltrow’s portryal of Emma has to be the funniest I have ever seen. She was fantastic. Paltrow captured all of Emma’s caprices and positive traits with superb comic timing.

Emma - Kate Beckinsale

3. Kate Beckinsale (1996-97) – She did a very good job in capturing Emma’s snobbery and controlling manner. But . . . her Emma never struck me as particularly funny. I think Beckinsale developed good comic timing within a few years after this movie.

Emma - Romola Garai

4. Romola Garai (2009) – Garai was another whose great comic timing was perfect for the role of Emma. My only complaint was her tendency to mug when expressing Emma’s surprise.

Catherine 2 Catherine 1

Catherine Morland – “Northanger Abbey” (1817)

I have something in common with the Catherine Morland character . . . we are both bookworms. However, Catherine is addicted to Gothic novel and has an imagination that nearly got the best of her. But she is also a charmer who proved to be capable of growth.

Catherine - Katharine Schlesinger

1. Katharine Schlesinger (1986) – I cannot deny that I disliked the 1986 version of Austen’s 1817 novel. However, I was impressed by Schlesinger’s spot on portrayal of the innocent and suggestive Katherine.

Catherine - Felicity Jones

2. Felicity Jones (2007) – She did a superb job in not only capturing Catherine’s personality, she also gave the character a touch of humor in her scenes with actor J.J. Feild that I really appreciated.

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Anne Elliot – “Persuasion” (1818)

Anne - Ann Firbank

1. Ann Firbank (1971) – Although I had issues with her early 70s beehive and constant use of a pensive expression, I must admit that I rather enjoyed her portrayal of the regretful Anne. And unlike many others, her age – late 30s – did not bother me one bit.

Anne - Amanda Root

2. Amanda Root (1995) – Root’s performance probably created the most nervous Anne Elliot I have ever seen on screen. However, she still gave a superb performance.

Anne - Sally Hawkins

3. Sally Hawkins (2007) – She was excellent as the soft-spoken Anne. More importantly, she did a wonderful job in expressing Anne’s emotions through her eyes.

“DIE ANOTHER DAY” (2002) Review

 

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“DIE ANOTHER DAY”  (2002) Review

The 2002 movie, ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” marked several milestones in the James Bond franchise. One, it was released during the 40th anniversary of the cinematic Bond, which began with 1962’s ”DR. NO”. Two, it was the first time that a non-white actress portrayed the leading lady in a Bond film. And three, it happened to be Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film for EON Productions . . . at the moment. 

”DIE ANOTHER DAY” starts out with a mission in which Bond has to kill a North Korean army officer named Colonel Moon, who has been illegally selling military weaponry in exchange for African conflict diamonds. Betrayed by a MI-6 mole, Bond is swept up in a chase and shootout that results with Colonel Moon being killed by Bond before falling over a waterfall. In a departure from the usual Bond formula, the agent ends up captured Colonel Moon’s father and the North Korean military. He spends the next fourteen months being tortured for information. Disavowed by his superiors upon his release, and his status as Double-0 Agent suspended by M, Bond sets out to find the mole on his own. He eventually uncovers evidence that overtakes his personal vendetta, and M restores his Double-0 status and offers MI6 assistance to help him uncover what he has found. Bond’s search eventually leads to billionaire businessman Gustav Graves, who is actually Colonel Moon surgically altered via gene therapy. Graves/Moon has been collecting African conflict diamonds for an orbital mirror system that uses the diamonds as a source of solar energy for a small area to light the Arctic nights and, if the investment goes well with buyers, provide year-round sunshine for crop development. In truth, the orbital mirror system is actually a super weapon to be used to clear a path through the minefield in the demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from South Korea. Needless to say, Bond discovers the MI-6 mole who had betrayed him and with the help of American NSA agent, Jinx Johnson, destroys Graves/Moon’s weapon and the latter’s scheme.

Since the release of the latest Bond film, 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE”, a harsh backlash against Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond and especially, DAD in particularly has grown considerably. In fact, DAD is now regarded as the worst Bond movie in the franchise’s history. Personally, I do not agree with this harsh assessment. I do not consider DAD to be a masterpiece or even among the better Bond films. But I certainly do not view it as the disaster that many are claiming it to be. I can honestly say that my assessment of DAD has improved slightly after my last viewing.

Pierce Brosnan had to wait three years after 1999’s ”THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” to portray James Bond for what turned out to be the last time (so far). I do not think I would consider his performance in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” to be amongst his finest. Yes, he had some very good moments in the film that were featured in the following scenes:

-his confrontation with M aboard the British frigate in Hong Kong Harbor

-his last meeting with General Moon before being released and exchanged by the North Koreans

-his first meeting with Gustave Graves at the Blades Club

-and his discovery of Miranda Frost as the mole

But I did have problems with certain aspects of his performance – especially his second meeting with M inside one of the London Underground tunnels and some of the sexual innuendos that he was forced to spout. In fact, that second scene with M left me with an uncomfortable feeling that dramatic angst might not be Brosnan’s forte. And I find this ironic, given his superb peformance in an old 1980 TV miniseries called ”THE MANIONS OF AMERICA”. Perhaps he simply was not up to par during the days when he shot that particular scene.

EON Productions seemed to have better luck with the movie’s leading lady, Hollywood superstar, Halle Berry. Many fans felt it was improper for her to co-star in a Bond film – viewing her as a bigger star than Brosnan. I do not know if I agree with this assessment. Both Honor Blackman (”GOLDFINGER”) and Diana Rigg (”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”) were already well-known thanks to the successful TV series, ”THE AVENGERS” when they shot their respective Bond films. So, I cannot really see the harm in Berry following in their footsteps. She portrayed Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson, a NSA agent investigating the whereabouts of one of the villain’s henchmen, Zao. Her investigation leads to a sexy encounter with Bond in Cuba and eventually a showdown with Graves and Miranda Frost in Korea. Due to her current unpopularity with Bond fans, many of them view Berry as the worst Bond girl ever. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps in some way, she does not fit their image of what a Bond girl should be. Personally, I thought that Berry gave an excellent performance, despite some of the bad sexual innuendos that she was forced to spout. In fact, I really enjoyed Berry’s take on the competent, yet humorous and very sly Jinx. She made the character a fun person to know. And she performed her action sequences in a competent manner. Granted, I did not feel impressed by Berry’s “homage” to Ursula Andress’ watery entrance in ”DR. NO”. But I was never that impressed by Andress’ little moment, either. Although I would never list Berry among my top five Bond ladies, I would certainly list her in my top ten. Probably at number six.

British actor, Toby Stephens portrayed Gustav Graves, a billionaire with sinister ties to North Korean agent Zao, a DNA gene therapy machine and a supply of African conflict diamonds that provide energy to a new destructive weapon called ICARUS. Graves turns out to be the same Colonel Moon with whom Bond had clashed (and allegedly killed) in the movie’s pre-title sequence. Stephens had the double task of portraying a credible villain against Brosnan’s Bond and recapturing Will Yun Lee’s performance as Colonel Moon during Graves’ private moments. Personally, I felt that Stephens did a pretty good job. Not only did he managed to portray Gustav Graves’ overblown persona, he also succeeded in recapturing Lee’s portrayal of the scheming and arrogant Moon, who also longs for his father’s approval. Unfortunately, being sixteen years younger than Brosnan, there were times I felt that Stephens seemed too young to be considered as an equal adversary for Bond. And quite frankly, some of his dialogue seemed overblown . . . even when Moon was not doing his Gustav Graves’ impersonation.

MI-6 agent Miranda Frost turns out to be the mole who initially turns Bond’s life, upside-down by betraying his mission to Moon and the North Koreans. Rosamund Pike gives a subtle peformance as the treacherous Frost, who seemed to blow hot and cold toward the sexually interested Bond. Her performance, in fact, strongly reminds me of American actress Grace Kelly’s performance in the Hitchcock film, “TO CATCH A THIEF”. However, I did have problems with Pike’s love scenes with Brosnan. She seemed to come off as a little too breathless . . . and fake. Perhaps that breathless quality was meant to be an indication of Frost’s fake (or real?) ador for Bond. If so, I feel that Pike may have overplayed her scene a little bit. Sophie Marceau did a more subtle and superior job in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”. And like Brosnan, Berry and Stephens, Pike had to endure spouting some bad dialogue. Rick Yune portrayed Zao, Graves/Moon’s right hand man, who is wanted for terrorist acts by the Americans and the Chinese. He is the very Zao who is exchanged by the Americans and the British for Bond at the North/South Korea border. Aside from his imposing presence, I did not find anything particularly unique about Yune’s performance. All I can say is that he did a competent job. On the other hand, I found myself being very impressed by Will Yun Lee’s performance as Gustav Graves’ alter ego, Colonel Moon. Like Toby Stephens, he did a beautiful job in capturing Moon’s arrogance, impatience and great need to impress “Daddy”. And speaking of Moon’s father – namely General Moon – it seemed a pity that the latter did not turn out to be Bond’s main adversary. Kenneth Tsang portrayed the North Korean general as an intimidating and intelligent man that no one would want to trifle with. Even Bond seemed to feel the presence of his forceful personality after a joke failed to make any impact. I must commend Tsang on an impressive performance.

Judi Dench returned as M in “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. By this time, she had made the role of MI-6’s director as her own. But I must say that I did not find anything unique about her performance in this movie. John Cleese went from Q’s assistant to the Quartermaster in his second appearance in the Bond franchise. And if I must be honest, I enjoyed Cleese’s performance very much. Unlike his role in TWINE, he did not ruin his character’s sharp wit with ridiculous slapstick. I realize that I am about to commit an act of sacrilege, but I found myself preferring Cleese’s Q to the one created by the role’s original actor, the late Desmond Llewellyn. Do not get me wrong. I thought that Llewellyn did a great job. But I simply preferred Cleese’s more acid take on the role. Colin Salmon returned as M’s assistant, Charles Robinson. I like the guy, but I barely noticed him in this movie. I did notice Michael Masden’s performance as Jinx’s NSA boss, Damian Falco. Who could help but notice? The Falco character came off as an aggressive blowhard. It seemed a shame that I found Masden’s performance appalling, considering his reputation for portraying his past characters with more subtlety. I can only assume that he was forced to adhere to the Bond franchise’s cliche of “the Ugly American”. And finally, there is Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. Poor woman. Poor, poor woman. I disliked her sexual innuendo-spewing performance in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”. But I had to wince through that embarrassing sequence that featured Moneypenny’s holographic dream of being seduced by Bond. Personally, I feel that Ms. Bond managed to reach the nadir of her tenure as Moneypenny in that scene.

I think that it seemed fitting that “DIE ANOTHER DAY” marked the Bond franchise’s 40th anniversary. In many ways, the 2002 movie reminded me of its 40-year counterpart, 1962’s “DR. NO”. The older movie featured Sean Connery’s first performance as Bond. “DIE ANOTHER DAY” featured Brosnan’s last. Both movies featured the first appearance of the leading ladies, emerging from the water. Both featured Asian or part-Asian villains. And both seemed to be hampered by what I feel were schizophrenic plots and production styles.

Actually, that is the main problem I had with “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. Like “DR. NO”, its story was presented in a manner in which the first half seemed more like a spy thriller and the second half, a fantasy adventure reminscent of Bond movies like “GOLDFINGER”“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE”“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “MOONRAKER”. And instead of the two styles blending seemlessly into a solid movie, “DAD” nearly became a schizophrenic mess. I enjoyed the first half very much. Bond’s capture by the North Koreans, his and Zao’s exchange and the search for the MI-6 mole who had betrayed him felt like a genuine spy thriller . . . well, except for that ludicrous moment in which Bond appeared in the lobby of a Hong Kong hotel. Unfortunately, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade really screwed up the movie’s second half in two ways – they had Q present Bond with that invisible Aston-Martin, which still makes me wince; and they sent him to Iceland and that ridiculous ice hotel. Even worse, they subjected fans to that ludicrous ice duel between Bond (in the Aston-Martin) and Zao (in a Jaguar XKR). The second half also featured the uninspiring fight between Bond and Graves/Moon aboard a military transport over Korea. The only scenes that truly made the movie’s second half worthwhile were the tense scene that featured Miranda Frost’s revelation as the mole and her deadly fight with Jinx aboard the transport.

Lee Tamahori (“MULLHOLAND FALLS” and “ALONG CAME A SPIDER”) directed “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. I thought that his direction was not that bad. But I suspect that he may have been hampered by Purvis and Wade’s schizophrenic script – especially the movie’s second half. Speaking of the script, I think I may have already said a lot about it. On second thought, perhaps not. For example . . . the dialogue. Yes, the movie had a some good lines. But like “DR. NO”, it pretty much sucked. To be more specific, the dialogue containing sexual innuendos pretty much sucked. But that seemed to be the case in most of Brosnan’s 007 films. If “TND” seemed annoyingly peppered with bad innuendos, “DAD” seemed to choke on them. I truly felt sorry for Brosnan, Berry and Pike who had to spew them every now and then. Cinematographer David Tattersall had beautifully captured the exotic color of Cuba and London’s elegance. But that is as far as my admiration can go. I simply could not drum up any excitement over the Korea and Iceland sequences. Madonna sang the movie’s title song (penned by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzar) and made a cameo appearance as a fencing master named Verity. Many fans raised a fuss over her contributions to the movie. Frankly, I found their fuss a waste of time and Madonna’s contributions – both the song and the cameo – rather mediocre.

On the whole, I disagree with the prevailing view that “DIE ANOTHER DAY” was the Bond franchise’s worst movie or one of the worst. Frankly, I have seen worse Bond films. In fact, I have a slightly better view of “DAD”than I do of the movie it was supposed to be celebrating – namely “DR. NO”. But it seemed a shame that Brosnan’s last Bond film had to be one of sheer mediocrity.

5/10

“WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” (1999) Review

“WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” (1999) Review

Eleven years have passed since the BBC first aired ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”, the 1999 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1865 novel. And despite the passage of time, it has a sterling reputation as one of the best adaptations of a literary source in recent years. 

Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Nicholas Renton, ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” told the story of Molly Gibson, the young daughter of a local village doctor during the last decade of the Georgian era. The four-part miniseries struck me as Molly’s coming-of-age story. She and her widowed father lived an idyllic life until two things occurred. One, her father married a woman she disliked, a former governess named Hyacinth “Claire” Kirkpatrick. And two, Molly fell in love with one Roger Hamley, the scientifically-minded younger son of a local squire.

If Dr. Gibson had his way, Molly would have never experienced any coming-of-age. But after one of his apprentices became romantically interested in her, he became determined to keep her in a state of perpetual adolescence. But his actions merely ensured that he would fail. First, he arranged for Molly to become the companion to Mrs. Hamley, the sickly wife of the squire. This gave Molly the opportunity to form an emotional attachment to the Hamley, befriend and fall in love with younger son, Roger. Then Dr. Gibson committed another act that defeated his purpose. He married former governess Hyacinth Kirkpatrick in order to provide Molly with a stepmother. This action backfired, since Molly never warmed up to the selfish and socially ambitious older woman. However, she did befriend the new Mrs. Gibson’s rebellious and more worldly and daughter, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. Not only did both Kirkpatrick women managed to disrupt the Gibson household, but Molly’s relationship with Cynthia would open her eyes to a great deal more about relationships and life in general – both the good and bad.

Other subplots abounded in ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”. Molly had a first-hand look into the conflict between the loveable, yet impatient and slightly selfish Squire Hamley and his more genteel older son, Osbourne. At first, the Hamleys seemed to regard Osbourne as the key to the family’s return to its former glory. But Osbourne’s scholastic troubles and excessive spending (for a secret French wife for whom he provided a private household) ended up disappointing Squire Hamley. Instead, he transferred his hopes to his younger and more studious son, Roger; who seemed to be on the verge of making a name for himself as a naturalist in Britain’s scientific community.

Another subplot centered on Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The French-educated and very beautiful young woman seemed to have struck both the Gibson family and the village of Hollingford with the force of a whirlwind. Cynthia projected a sexuality and worldliness that attracted nearly every male around her – including Roger Hamley. Unfortunately for Molly, Mrs. Gibson’s plans for her daughter included an ambitious marriage to the older Hamley sibling, Osbourne. But when the intensely pragmatic woman discovered that the older Hamley sibling’s health was in a precarious state, she encouraged Cynthia to set her sights on Roger. And considering his feelings for her, Cynthia had no trouble in achieving her mother’s goals with an engagement. Cynthia also had a secret that eventually affected Molly. Five years before, she had become secretly engaged to Lord Cumnor’s land agent, Mr. Preston. The latter’s insistence on a wedding date and Molly’s involvement on Cynthia’s behalf led the doctor’s daughter to become a target of village gossip.

Not only is Gaskell’s novel considered a masterpiece by literary critics, but this 1999 adaptation turned out to be highly regarded by television critics and viewers, as well. Some critics consider it to be the best adaptation of a Gaskell novel. Other critics believe it might be a toss-up between ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” and the 2007 miniseries,”CRANFORD”. The 1999 miniseries certainly won its share of television awards. And if I must be honest, those awards were well-deserved. ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” provided a complex and in-depth peek into an English village society during the last decade of the Georgian era through the eyes of Molly Gibson. I must admit that I have rarely come across a movie or television series set during the 1820s or the 1830s. And I would certainly consider ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” among the best. Screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Nicholas Renton did a marvelous job in drawing the audience into Molly’s world.

The setting and story of ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” – or at least most of them – seemed to perfectly represent this precarious stage in Britain’s history in which the country found itself balanced between the static world of the Georgian period and the social and scientific upheavals that ushered in the Victorian Age. Davies and Renton manifested this in Molly’s coming-of-age story, which included her father’s reluctance to allow her to develop into an adult and her relationship with Cynthia. The screenwriter and the director also manifested this precarious stage in the relationship between Squire Hamley and his two sons – Obsbourne and Roger. As for the latter, many believe that Gaskell based his character on her distant cousin, the naturalist Charles Darwin who became a prominent figure in the Victorian Age’s scientific community.

Davies and Renton also did an excellent job of exploring the in-depth emotions of familial and romantic love in ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” also explored the in-depth emotions of familial and romantic love. Molly’s close relationship with her father – fully explored in Episode One – eventually grew weaker due to Dr.Gibson’s attempts to keep her close and at an adolescent stage. I found it interesting that although Squire Hamley grew to adore Molly, he made it clear to the doctor that he would never consider her – the daughter of a country doctor – as a suitable wife for either of his sons. Yet, Roger Osborne ended up married to a young French woman beneath his social station, and Roger eventually became engaged to Dr. Gibson’s step-daughter, Cynthia and married to Molly by the end of the series. Already, Victorian Britain’s social upheavals – at least in ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” – had began to rear its head. Cynthia’s love life, which turned out to be the best plotline in the story – also turned Molly’s life upside-down and forced her onto the path of adulthood.

The miniseries’ greatest virtue turned out to be the collection of complex supporting characters that gave ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” its energy and drive. For me, this was especially true of five characters – Hyacinth Kirkpatrick Gibson (Francesca Annis), Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon), Osborne Hamley (Tom Hollander), Mr. Preston (Iain Glen) and Cynthia Kirkpatrick (Keeley Hawes). When the miniseries focused upon these characters, I found myself fascinated by the story. Each character struck me as so complex that it seemed a pity that none of them was the main character. Michael Gambon won both a BAFTA TV Award and a Royal Television Society Award for his portrayal of the likeable, yet socially rigid and selfish landowner, who seemed determined to return his family to its former glory, via one or both of his sons. I must admit that Squire Hamley was truly a fascinating and complex character. Although I liked him a lot, there were times I could have happily strangle him for viewing his sons as instruments for his familial ambitions and inability to truly understand them at times. Francesca Annis earned a nomination for her portrayal of the self-absorbed and social climbing Hyacinth Kirkpatrick Gibson. One would, at first, be inclined to label Hyacinth as an “evil” stepmother. But Annis’ performance made it clear that Hyacinth was not at all one-dimensional. She also managed to inject a good deal of pathos into her character, allowing one to understand that some of Hyacinth’s behavior stemmed from a sense of survival for herself and her family, due to years spent in the social wasteland as a governess and underpaid schoolteacher.

Tom Hollander gave a very affecting and sympathetic performance as the poetic Osborne Hamley, the squire’s elder son who constantly disappointed his father. From other articles and reviews of ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”, many tend to view Osborne as a weak and self-involved man. I never got that impression from Hollander’s complex portrayal. Instead, I saw a man whose only real weakness was an inability to admit to his father that he had made a socially inacceptable marriage. It was this weakness that led to scholastic problems at the university and monetary problems. Iain Glen’s Mr. Preston seemed to be the villain of the story – at least on a superficial level. His Mr. Preston tried to coerce Cynthia into honoring her promise to marry him after five years. Superficially, Glen portrayed Mr. Preston as a smug and slightly arrogant man, who seemed obsessed with Cynthia. However, thanks to his complex performance, he revealed to audiences that Mr. Preston had been nothing more than a victim of Cynthia’s capricious and selfish behavior. As for Cynthia, Keely Hawes gave a delicious performance as Molly’s sexy and very likeable step-sister. What I found interesting about Hawes’ Cynthia is that the character possessed a talent for avoiding responsibility for her actions, along with an inability for returning love . . . yet, seems quite capable of winning the affections of everyone around her. Except for Dr. Gibson. The rest of the cast included Bill Paterson, who gave a charming, yet complex performance as Dr. Gibson; along with Barbara Flynn and Deborah Findlay as the Misses Brownings, and Rosamund Pike as Lady Harriet Cumnor, who all gave solid performances.

Justine Waddell did a good job in carrying the four-part miniseries and making Molly Gibson a very likeable leading character. Yet, there were times when Waddell’s Molly came across as a bit too ideal for my tastes. Aside from her quick temper, she seemed to lack any real personal flaws. One could name her naivety as a flaw. But that particular state of mind is something the average human being will always experience during his or her lifetime. Overall, Molly was . . . nice, but not what I would call an interesting lead character. Her reaction to her father’s new marriage and her involvement with Cynthia’s problems with Mr. Preston seemed to be the only times I truly found her interesting. I certainly could not say the same about Squire Hamley’s younger son, Roger. In fact, I did not find him interesting at all. To me, Roger was simply a BORING character. Perhaps Anthony Howell was not at fault and did all he could with the role. The actor certainly portrayed Roger as a likable and compassionate man. But the character was just boring. If I had been Gaskell or even Davies, I would have portrayed Roger as a more complex and interesting character. Or allow Molly to fall in love with a more interesting character. Alas, neither happened. Roger’s only flaw seemed to be a habit of falling in love with women on a superficial level.

Due to Molly’s idealistic personality and Roger’s dull one, I found their romance very unsatisfying. Renton handled their blossoming friendship rather nicely in Episode One. However, Roger took one look at Cynthia in Episode Two and immediately fell in love. Worse, he left England for Africa after proposing marriage to her. Roger did not return to Hollingford until past the middle of Episode Four. This left Renton and Davies at least a half hour or so to develop Roger’s romance with Molly and get them married. And how did he fall in love with her? Roger took one look at Molly wearing a sophisticated ball gown and hairstyle (courtesy of Lady Harriet) and fell in love. Ironically, he fell in love with Molly in the same manner he had fallen in love with Cynthia. That did not bode well with me. Many have praised Davies for providing a memorable ending to Gaskell’s story, considering that she died of a heart attack before completing the novel’s last chapter. I would have found it romantic myself, if I had not found the couple’s romance rushed and unsatisfying. I realize that ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” is not solely about Molly and Roger’s romance. I also realize that the romance was nothing more than one of the story’s subplots. But that does not excuse what I saw as a poorly dramatized romance that began and ended on a hasty note.

I also found the miniseries’ early sequence – Molly’s first meeting with her future step-mother at Lord Cumnor’s estate – somewhat unnecessary. I can only assume that this sequence was supposed to establish Hyacinth Kirkpatrick’s selfish nature and Molly’s dislike of her. Yet, by the time the series ended, I had the feeling that the impact of Molly’s relationship with her stepmother did not seem as strong as I had earlier believed it would, while watching Episode One. Most of Molly’s problems seemed to be centered around Cynthia’s relationships with both Roger and Mr. Preston.

Thankfully, ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” has more to offer than just an interesting tale and excellent performances. Production designer Gerry Scott did a solid job in bringing the late Georgian Era back to life in a small, English village. And if I must be honest, I adore Deirdre Clancy’s costumes. I found them colorful and strongly reminiscent of the late 1820s and early 1830s. Cinematographer Fred Tammes did justice to the miniseries’ early 19th century setting. He made Hollingsford look like a very colorful place to live and southern Africa very exotic, yet desolate.

I wish I could say that I found ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” to be a complete delight. But due to a leading female character that I found too idealistic and her unsatisfying romance with a very dull character in the miniseries’ last quarter, I cannot make that claim. And as I had stated earlier, I found the early sequence featuring Molly’s first meeting with her future stepmother a bit unnecessary. But the virtues outweighed the flaws. ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”conveyed an interesting coming-of-age story, thanks to the leading character’s interactions with some well-written supporting characters. It also provided viewers with a tantalizing look into the changing social mores of Britain, as it prepared to transcend from the Georgian Era to the Victorian Age.