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DVD REVIEW: A&E’s “The Romance Collection: Special Edition” “Tom Jones”

DVD REVIEW: A&E’s “The Romance Collection: Special Edition” “Tom Jones”

Last month we received an unusual request at Dear Author. We were asked to review something other than a book -’ a DVD set called "The Romance Collection: Special Edition." The 14 DVD set, which can be found here, retails currently on sale for $49.98 and contains nearly 30 hours of programming (not including the special features) from A&E’s romantic films and miniseries.

The eight titles included in "The Romance Collection: Special Edition" are as follows: "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, "Victoria and Albert," starring Victoria Hamilton, Nigel Hawthorne, Jonathan Pryce and Sir Peter Ustinov, "Emma," starring Kate Beckinsale, "Jane Eyre," starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, "Lorna Doone," starring Martin Clunes, Richard Coyle, Aidan Gillen and Amelia Warner, "The Scarlet Pimpernel," starring Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern, "Tom Jones," starring Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Benjamin Whitrow, and "Ivanhoe," starring Steven Waddington and Ciaran Hinds.

Directors: Metin Hüseyin
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
Language: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 2
Rating: Brief nudity, sexual situations, bawdy humor
Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Release Date: March 26, 2002
Run Time: 300 minutes

People expecting a gentle period piece need to change their expectations. This is a bawdy, full throated, spot on rendition of one of the first novels in the English language. The humor comes in all varieties from subtle to pratfalls. The lessons learned by all might take a while to be brought to fruition but be assured that by the end of the second disc, virtue is rewarded, vice is punished, happiness comes to those who’ve earned it and them what needs thwacking, get theirs.

I’ve not read this book. Having once tried, and failed, to finish “Joseph Andrews,” I wasn’t that keen to give Fielding another go. After watching this presentation, I’m still not about to run out and grab a copy but might, one day, attempt to read “Tom Jones.” So with no plot already in my head, I sat down to watch how Metin Hüseyin would approach the story. The five hour length allows plenty of time to delve into the intricately plotted tale. It could also, depending on your taste, allow the whole thing to plod on too long. However, I enjoyed watching the slower parts as well as the fast paced, farcical moments.

After a quick googling to get the gist of the tale, I can say I think Simon Burke did an excellent job of paring down the plot and number of characters. Some minor characters from the book were eliminated, while a few others such as Lord Fellamar were slightly changed. The basic plot, however, remains the same with the actions of the removed characters being taken over by others. Even with the reduced number of speaking roles, there are still a number of actors/characters to keep straight. Luckily, many of them wear differentiating costumes or wigs which helps. Still, if one has never read the book, a quick cliff notes type review of the story is advised.

The full plot would take too long to type out so here’s a link to a summary. Tom Jones is a foundling discovered in the bed of a very kind, wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy, in Somerset in England’s West Country. Over the course of 20 some years, Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. He falls in love with his neighbour’s daughter, Sophia Western which is returned. However while her family likes and admires Tom, they are determined on a match with Allworthy’s nephew, Mr. Blifil. Through a series of events, Blifil gets Tom disinherited and thrown out of Allworthy’s house. Sophia vows never to accept Blifil and runs away towards London.

Squire Western sets off in pursuit, the two lovers encounter scads of other people while managing to always just miss each other, and everyone arrives in London. There, Sophia’s cousin, a Lady of the first quality, seduces Tom and attempts to debauch Sophia. More mix-ups ensue, Tom fights a duel and is arrested on charges of murder. Just when things are at their worst for him, the worst news of all becomes known to him. But since this is a romantic book, all, of course, must end well, as it does after a narrow escape for Tom Jones.

Fielding does have a sense of “young men will be young men and virile young men at that.” Tom gets away with so many things that the world of that era would view with outrage if a young woman tried them. Yet underneath it all, he’s a decent man who gives of what little he has and who always keeps Sophia in his heart. Max Beesley is a fine Tom. Handsome and with a gleam in his eye, he still manages to play the more serious moments and convince me of his ardent love for Sophia.

Sophia at first seems a somewhat insipid young woman of Good Birth. She’s a bit of a snob, really. But then many of the characters are before life lessons are learned. Yet she’s got the strength to stand up to her blustering, bullying father when he’s determined to marry her off. Then run away from him (though with a destination in mind and money in hand) to someone she thinks will offer her sanctuary. Then when her father shows up again, she still tells him no. And she calls Tom on the carpet for his past actions and questions his committment to her for a future together. She’s far from weak. Samantha Morton does a nice turn showing her beauty outwardly this time, unlike her portrayal of Jane Eyre.

I can’t say I’m dissatisfied with any of the actors cast here but there are some standouts. Benjamin Whitrow, one of my favorites in “Pride and Prejudice,” is worthy Mr. Allworthy. Brian Blessed does an earthy version of hunting mad Squire Western. Frances de la Tour is marvelous as his social climbing sister, Aunt Western. Lindsay Duncan makes you love to hate her as the ever so slightly evil Lady Bellaston. John Sessions takes over the written role of the narrative voice. And Kathy Burke became one of my favorite characters, Sophia’s maid Honour.

The production is a visual treat. The costumes, hair styles, and wigs are wonderful. Even though I’d hate to be trussed up in the panniers and corsets, I soaked up the gorgeousness of the dresses. I delighted in the men’s maquillage and elaborate coats. The locations are divine. The furniture, paint colors, candle sconces, bed drapery, coaches and even the darn landscapes are fantastic. Those in charge of these areas truly put their hearts into this. The music is authentic 18 century and the opening score is snazzy and ear catching.

I found this production to be delightful and look forward to rewatching it many
times. I just wish I had understood the Latin phrases tossed around by Mr. Partridge. A-

~Jayne

Purchase link at the A&E store.

DVD REVIEW: A&E’s “The Romance Collection: Special Edition” “Jane Eyre”

DVD REVIEW: A&E’s “The Romance Collection: Special Edition” “Jane Eyre”

A while back we received an unusual request at Dear Author. We were asked to review something other than a book -’ a DVD set called "The Romance Collection: Special Edition." The 14 DVD set, which can be found here, usually retails for $99.95 but is currently on sale for $59.97, and contains nearly 30 hours of programming (not including the special features) from A&E’s romantic films and miniseries.

The eight titles included in "The Romance Collection: Special Edition" are as follows: "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, "Victoria and Albert," starring Nigel Hawthorne, Jonathan Pryce and Sir Peter Ustinov, "Emma," starring Kate Beckinsale, "Jane Eyre," starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, "Lorna Doone," starring Martin Clunes, Richard Coyle, Aidan Gillen and Amelia Warner, "The Scarlet Pimpernel," starring Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern, "Tom Jones," starring Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Benjamin Whitrow, and "Ivanhoe," starring Steven Waddington and Ciaran Hinds.

This review is, obviously, for Jane Eyre starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds. It’s an A&E Home Video Production originally shown in 1997 and released on DVD in 1999.

Directors: Robert Young (III)
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 26, 1999
Run Time: 108 minutes

I will also cop to Janine’s claim of being a Philistine and admit that if I’ve ever managed to make it all the way through this book, I’ve forgotten when it was. I do know the outline of the story and was able to follow the storyline with no problems. And that is where some may have problems with this film version of the book. With its short runtime (108 minutes) there’s a lot that was, of necessity, cut from the book. Jane’s early years at her aunt’s home and at Lowood School are zipped through by the 12 minute mark. Her early months at Thornfield over within 3-4 more minutes. Her trip to her dying aunt’s home is never actually shown and her stay with the Rivers is over almost as soon as it’s begun.

The bulk of the film dwells on Jane’s growing relationship with Mr. Rochester, watching him flirt with Blanche Ingram, seeing Jane teaching Adele, wondering who Grace Poole is and if she’ll burn the house down around their ears. While the book most definitely should be called “Jane Eyre” as it showcases her throughout her life, this film version should almost be called “Jane and Mr. Rochester” since he shares so much screen time with her.

A quick check of other reviews and review sites shows a broad range of opinions for this version. Some people loved it while others loathed it. Morton and Hinds are praised, individually and together, almost as much as each is panned. I’ve seen both of them in other productions and know them to be excellent actors. Here I was torn.

I like Morton as Jane. She has a mercurial ability to be both plain and beautiful. Unlike Blanche Ingram, Jane is not supposed to be a “knock’em dead” beauty. Hers is the beauty that shines from within and glows under the care of a man who loves her. Morton captures this nicely. But I did wonder at her outspokenness to Mr. Rochester and the fact that, due to the telescoped nature of the production, she almost comes off in almost Mary Sue fashion. She’s quickly the beloved teacher at Lowood, the adored governess of Adele, the overwhelming love object of Mr. Rochester and the perfect missionary’s wife candidate for St. John Rivers.

As Mr. Rochester, Ciaran Hinds seems to have two speeds: smoldering jealousy and shouting. In a few scenes, notably when he tells Jane of Adele’s mother and later welcomes her back to Thornfield from her visit to her aunt’s, he shows his usual range of nuanced feeling. But most times he looks like he’s about to erupt in a shouting session or is already in one. Physically, he’s a great Rochester, all dark and brooding. Not classically handsome but a face that captures one’s attention and speaks of strength. Their declarations of love and first kiss are palpable while Jane’s heartache at needing to leave Thornfield after their aborted wedding is wrenching.

As for the other actors, Gemma Jones is her usual outstanding self as Mrs. Fairfax while Abigail Cruttenden is a fine Blanche. Most of the other adults are adequate in their roles but unfortunately few of them have enough screen time for me to really comment. I did find that the children tended to overact their parts and I was quite happy for them to leave the sceen.

The costumes, locations, hair styling and music were fine. The lighting made the scenes fairly dark and the colors look muddy. I’m not sure if this was an intentional attempt to capture the gothic feel of the book or just badly done. The DVD has closed captioning which I like though the captions lagged behind and often didn’t match what was actually occurring on screen. I especially liked the scoring of the film. The music highlights the emotions shown onscreen but never overwhelms them in an ocean of stringed instruments. The exterior and interior shots of Thornfield convey the dark emotions of the house while the final lighting of Jane and Edward shows the happiness they’ve found in each other.

I would have liked for this production to be a little longer. Even a full two hours would have allowed for a more complete exploration of the book. It does hit the highlights of the story and includes the crucial scenes needed to show how the characters end up together. Additional features include cast filmographies and a short biography of Charlotte Bronte.

Anyone interested in buying it should probably rent it first to see if this is a version that will please them. If you like banked emotions waiting to roar into flames, dark glances and brooding scenery this could be the one for you. On the other hand, some will see it as too darkly shot, filled with blustering and missing favorite scenes from the book. I like it well enough to give it a B- and this is from a woman who doesn’t particularly like gothic, Victorian era settings.

~Jayne

Purchase link at the A&E store.