FILMS WORHT WATCHING by Robert Alstead
Film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels have reaped Oscar glory and the 1995 BBC production Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth’s memorable turn as aloof, aristo-in-love Darcy, remains one of the most popular television mini-series ever made. Unfortunately, while there is a continuing appetite for Austen’s stories of English manners, there is limited material to draw on; she wrote only six books before her death at the age of 41. As a result, filmmakers have turned their attention to Austenesque stories, first with a fictionalized adaptation of the author’s life in Becoming Jane and now in a romantic drama set around a book club where people read Austen’s novels.
Modern Sacramento, California, the setting for the The Jane Austen Book Club is a long way from provincial England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but similar romantic themes and complexities experienced by Austen characters continue to be played out here. The film, based on Karen Joy Fowler’s novel of the same name, and adapted by debut American director Robin Swicord, is full of neat parallels and symmetry with Austen’s work; there are six characters in the book club who meet over six months to read the six books.
Each character’s story is associated with one of the books. Serial divorcee Bernadette (Kathy Baker) sets up the club for dog-loving friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello), with unhappily married Prudie (Emily Blunt), Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), who is being divorced by her cheating husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) and Sylvia’s semi-closeted lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace). There is one lone male to complete the group; Grigg (Hugh Dancy) has joined out of his interest in Jocelyn, rather than in the literature of Austen, being more of a sci-fi man, although Jocelyn is more interested in setting him up with Sylvia.
The film has received warm praise for the way it brings together the various plot strands and while you don’t have to be a Janeite to enjoy the movie, you’ll appreciate the allusions to Austen’s work (opens October 5).
If you are reading this early in the month, there’s still plenty of film fare to be found at the Vancouver International Film Festival (www.viff.org). Among the offerings is Seachd: the Inaccessible Pinnacle, which is a remarkable achievement. To understand why, it helps to know a bit of the background story. Gaelic, the native language spoken by highland Scots, was heavily suppressed following the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and the subsequent rout of Bonnie Price Charlie’s highland army by English forces. As a response to Scottish rebelliousness, the English government passed laws forbidding the wearing of tartan (hence the popularity of the kilt) and children were forbidden to speak Gaelic at school.
Centuries later, the Gaelic language in Scotland looked doomed to slip away. However, in recent years, government money has started flowing into cultural initiatives aimed at revitalizing and spreading the language and it’s a sign of Gaeldom’s growing confidence that a feature film of this calibre is being made.
The “inaccessible pinnacle” is a sharp, rocky summit in Skye, which stands as a metaphor for a young boy’s challenge to come to terms with the death of his parents and reconcile himself with his dying grandfather who raised him and gave him his Gaelic roots. The film revels in contemporary highland culture and, in particular, the rare art of storytelling, comprising a series of recreations of romantic folklore narrated by the grandfather to his grandchildren.
The skill of the filmmakers matches their ambition, resulting in a visually arresting and poetic work. The film was made with a limited budget, meaning that many of the young cast were non-professional. This is barely noticeable thanks largely to Aonghas Padraig Caimbeul, whose central, engaging performance as the grandfather carries the viewer through to the warm-hearted conclusion. (Seachd screens October 9, 6:20pm, Empire Granville 7 and October 10, 1pm, Visa screening room.)
Finally, one other film that looks intriguing is Gavin Hood’s Rendition (due out October 12). When a US terrorism suspect has “disappeared,” his American wife (Reese Witherspoon) and a CIA analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) become caught in the struggle to secure his release from a secret detention facility.
Robert Alstead’s eco-documentary You Never Bike Alone about Vancouver’s Critical Masses is out on DVD at www.youneverbikealone.com