'Jane Eyre' and the decline and fade of the 'Masterpiece Theatre' movie


Image Credit: Laurie Sparham

This weekend, the stormy, deluxe new version of Jane Eyre opens, and in just about every way the rituals that have long attended the mounting and marketing of a lofty romantic period piece have been duly observed. The film’s star, Mia Wasikowska, is a ravishing and talented up-and-coming classy It Girl of the moment — just as Gwyneth Paltrow was 15 years ago when she first set hearts aflutter in Emma (1996), and Helena Bonham Carter a quarter of a century ago when her stately carriage and wistful dark eyebrows anchored in A Room with a View (1985). Audiences, I have no doubt, will line up to see the movie, at least for a few weeks. And though I personally didn’t think Jane Eyre was all that, many critics have disagreed with me, like A.O. Scott of The New York Times, who gave it the kind of reverently thoughtful sendoff that distributors crave. For a long time, movies like Jane Eyre have occupied an essential niche in our moviegoing culture, and in this case the niche appears, once again, to have been filled.

Yet I don’t think I’m being churlish if I say that when it comes to these films, and you can call them what you will — literary chick flicks, Masterpiece Theatre movies — the bloom is off the rose, and has been for a while. I mean, name the last one you loved. To me, the last really terrific one was Pride & Prejudice, the sumptuous and playful Keira Knightley version that came out in 2005. That’s a long time ago, and since then, Joe Wright, the director of that film, made the overblown postmodern bodice ripper Atonement (2007), and we had a version of Brideshead Revisited (2008) that I thought was perfectly okay but that didn’t exactly set the world on fire, plus the Noel Coward-on-Adderall comedy Easy Virtue (2008). That’s not a complete list — I’m surely forgetting a few — but I don’t think that would be the case if these movies hadn’t become so…forgettable.

It wasn’t always so. But then, it’s worth remembering that these films weren’t always so vital and celebrated either. Back in the early ’80s, when I was starting out as a critic, you felt like you were drawing the short straw whenever you had to review a Merchant Ivory film. Too often, they were stodgy and half-baked, and they just about reeked of “prestige,” with overly arch performances and dialogue that could make your teeth hurt. James Ivory, as a director, still hadn’t quite figured out what he was doing, and so the films, in their very quasi-ineptitude, seemed to be flaunting their literary pedigrees to an unseemly degree, like the art-house version of a designer label. I confess that my casual disdain for such Merchant Ivory films as The Europeans (Henry James!) and Quartet (Jean Rhys!) was influenced by a remark Pauline Kael dropped into her review of The Warriors (1979), when she said that the counterculture kids started out as the film generation, but “now, they’re the Masterpiece Theatre generation.” At the time, that was a real insult. It was saying that for certain people, “art” had become a fancy word for “class.” A lot of us became movie buffs to get away from that sort of thing.


Image Credit: Everett Collection

But then something happened: The Merchant Ivory team pulled itself together and made A Room with a View, an enchanting and much, much more finely woven drama of civilized feminine desire — and with that movie, a lace-doily revolution was launched. A form, and an audience, found each other, and it was love at first blushing gaze. A Room with a View was more than a hit — it was the elegant crystallization of a certain highbrow populist dream. I’m not just saying, however, that these movies, around that time, got better. They got better for a reason, which is that the purpose they were about to serve had become, spiritually and culturally, much more vast.

In the ’80s, Hollywood began to turn itself into a born-again high-concept playground for arrested adults, and the films that came out of it grew shoddier and shoddier, overrun with special effects and knockabout gross-out comedy. During this period, the virtues of a Merchant Ivory movie — shapely and rounded storytelling, a classical sense of understatement — began to seem far more redemptive. They were no longer the short straw. They were an honest relief from all the noise and clutter.

But these movies, for a time, sustained and fulfilled a mythological romantic promise as well. It’s no coincidence that their rise in the culture roughly paralleled the return of the romantic comedy. That form came back thanks, almost singlehandedly, to Nora Ephron, who kicked off its resurgence in 1989, with her script for When Harry Met Sally. And though the two genres — refined, teacup-rattling, ultra-WASPy literary adaptation; vulgar, wisecracking, love-on-rye screwball comedy — couldn’t on the surface have been more different, both expressed the desire of moviegoers, especially women, for a newly chivalrous ideal of manhood, and for a new set of tough-love rules for womenhood, in the wake of how hyper-sexual and degraded our instant-hookup, beer-bong “relationship” culture had become. The longing for a vision of love that was, in a word, old-fashioned wasn’t just nostalgia. It was downright primal — an essential corrective, and a rebirth as well. Suddenly, there were a lot of Bridget Joneses out there looking for their Darcys.

The Masterpiece Theatre movie, by which I mean films made in that style, not the actual PBS series (though that continues to thrive), became a genre unto itself. And it had a great run, buoyed by the presence of actors like Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet and Colin Firth — the 1995 six-part British television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice made Firth, as Darcy, the Tyrone Power of the genre — and, of course, Emma Thompson, who in the ’90s became a kind of poster girl for the radiant and funny sanity of these films. You only have to think back to Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (1995) or the Merchant Ivory The Remains of the Day (1993) or Iain Softley’s ravishing adaptation of The Wings of the Dove (1997), starring Helena Bonham Carter in her richest and finest performance, or the grandly cutting upstairs-downstairs comedy of Gosford Park (2001) to realize how deftly these films had insinuated themselves into the universe of mainstream movies.

There were limits, though. Jane Austen, Henry James: To be adapted, these authors needed, in certain ways, to be simplified. There was, quite simply, no way to fit all the nuances onto the screen. That’s why, to me, no one has ever truly successfully adapted the creator of drawing-room psychodramas who I believe to be the greatest American novelist: Edith Wharton. No, not even Scorsese. The Age of Innocence was too fetishistic in its stateliness — it had gorgeous moments, but the interior chambers of Wharton’s characters are too vast, echoing with too many emotional crosscurrents. That’s why they resist adaptation. When filmmakers like Terence Davies and Jane Campion made their agonizingly ambitious art-film versions of Wharton and James (The House of Mirth, in 2000, and The Portrait of a Lady, in 1996), you could feel this genre begin to get stretched to the breaking point. It couldn’t accommodate what the filmmakers were trying to do, which was literally to put the novels, in their entirety (and with an added-value myopic leftist-feminist slant), onto the screen.

Yet now we face a moment when James, Wharton, and  Austen, as sources, have been more or less squeezed dry. And what’s left, really? Another version of Wuthering Heights? Well, now we’ve got Jane Eyre, a movie by a different Brontë, featuring her (masochistic) variation on Heathcliff, but somehow I don’t suspect that Michael Fassbender’s unsmoldering, gentlemanly Mr. Rochester is going to take up residence in a lot of moviegoers’ dreams. That’s a male critic’s subjective assessment, of course. Far be it from me to say that Fassbender in mutton-chop sideburns isn’t the new Colin Firth, or that Mia Wasikowska’s not-so-plain Jane won’t make you swoon in empathy. But the trouble with a genre when it’s been around for this long is that its beloved tropes start to look like tics. We don’t just enjoy them, we expect them. And so it’s harder for them to delight us in the way they once did, and harder for a certain myth of idealized romantic suitor to feel as if he’s triumphantly undercutting the cruder, Jersey Shore frat-house spirit off our time. He has, instead, just become part of the wallpaper. The Masterpiece Theatre movie isn’t dead — it will probably be around for quite a while — but every time I see a new one, it’s starting to look more and more like a room with a very familiar view.

So do you agree with me? Have these movies lost their luster? If not, name a recent one that you adored. And what’s your all-time favorite Masterpiece Theatre movie?

Comments (206 total) Add your comment
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  • Deets

    You are obviously the wrong critic to be addressing this subject.

    • Pink Lemonade

      You are so right.

      • Sharon

        I think my problem with this review is that he thinks Rochester is ‘[Charlotte Bronte’s] (masochistic) variation on Heathcliff’.

        This could not be further from the truth. Rochester is a man, who betrayed by his family and naive in matters of love, was nearly ruined by the consequences. He certainly isn’t cruel as Heathcliff.

        In addition, Jane Eyre was published first (though written at the same time as her sister’s novel) and concerned Divine Providence and the role of women as well as how love can be destructive and warped.

        There have been many more versions of Jane Eyre than Wuthering Heights for exactly this reason.

        Having said that, I do think this version of JE is too soon but I don’t think that reflects on the entire genre.

    • Cate

      Indeed. My reaction, as someone who went to all these movies, and more, is just “Huh?”

    • Lucy

      All versions of ‘Jane Eyre’ are worth viewing, but my favorite is the one with Joan Fontaine and I think “Orson Wells.” Bye, till never

      • Liz

        I absolutely love the version with Charlotte Gainsbourg and the gorgeous William Hurt as Mr Rochester…

    • Mac

      Owen’s right, although possibly premature in declaring the genre stale. Why don’t you offer up why Owen is the wrong critic to make this assessment – or can you?

      It seems to me that he has seen the movies and possibly read the books. How may books by Wharton and James have you read?

      It seems to me that you have an emotional connection to this movie which prohibits you from making a fair assessment yourself, Deets.

      • Prunella Von Schleidlhaagen

        Why do you assume Deets has not read the books? I agree with Deets and I have both seen most of the movies Owen mentioned and read most of the books.

    • seattle maggie

      You are so right. Gleiberman also has a short memory; otherwise, he might have mentioned that little Masterpiece Theatre film that just won the oscar for Best Picture: The King’s Speech. I can only assume that his definition is limited to costume dramas with a love story– so much easier to marginalize as period chick flicks!

      • Wade

        “Period chick flicks” are exactly the the type of movie he was talking about. He said that…quite blatantly, actually.

      • Lisa Simpson

        That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s a very Masterpiece theatre type of movie. And yes, that definition expands way beyond his myopic “period chick flicks” denigration.

      • txvoodoo

        And how about Downton Abbey, which aired to great success in the UK and here on (wait for it) Masterpiece?

        And the new Upstairs/Downstairs?

        I think he also missed the success of the latest Pride & Prejudice. While I dearly love the 1995 version, the newest one was excellent.

      • thin

        Would that be the 2005 version with Keira Knightley that he specifically mentioned (favorably, no less) earlier in the article?

      • @txvoodoo

        Do you mean the newer Masterpiece Classic version of Sense and Sensibility? That version was great. I don’t think they’ve done an updated Pride and Prejudice recently. (MC wasn’t involved in the Knightley/Macfayden movie.)

      • Sharon

        And he isn’t even correct about this movie.

        EW just reported that JE2011 has the highest theatre percentage so far this year. People obviously want to see it. I’m having to drive an hour to see it even though the treatment of the material described in articles is not especially appealing to me.

        I’ve seen almost every version of JE, my favorite book, and I shouldn’t have to drive an hour to see it.

        The real problem is distribution. I never could see ‘The Young Victoria’ at a theatre. I saw Ang Lee’s S&S (Rickman is awesome) at a mainstream theatre in the ’90’s.

        Why should ‘period chick lit’ fans (a very condescending term and so typical of Owen’s lazy writing) be relegated to DVD? Take one screen of BATTLE: LA from the multiple screens being used at the multiplex and show more ‘Masterpiece Theatre’-like productions.

      • Amy

        He’s not talking about period pieces in general, just movies based off classic British literature, especially, but not only, romances (Oliver Twist is another one I believe should be retired, at least for a little while). They’re stories that would be made by Masterpiece Theater.

  • Callie

    Masterpiece Theatre has done some really great movies/miniseries over the years like “Little Dorrit” or their Shakespeare productions mainly “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”

    There isn’t a decline in Masterpiece Theatre at least not to me.

    • Dreamrose

      As I understand it, Mr. Gleiberman was not referring to Masterpiece Theatre as such, but more generally period pieces such as those produced by Masterpiece Theatre.

    • Liz Lemon

      Completely agree. A more recent Masterpiece Theater that I LOVE is “Downtown Abbey.” The quality of Masterpiece is 100% intact. It just doesn’t get the amount of viewers that it deserves and that’s a shame.

      • Melokesm

        Downtown Abbey was great!

      • GHB

        You liked it so much, you don’t even know the title? It’s “Downton Abbey”

      • Liz Lemon

        @GHB: Whatever. Classic typo.

      • Dave

        Typo … really? Yeah, right. Look at the w in relation to the o and the n. You were mistaken/wrong. Don’t insult the entire board by claiming typo.

    • meg

      Agreed – the issue isn’t that the genre is dead but that the same material is being reused. But this is the case with all genres that overproduce tired material – whether it’s the fourth Pirates movie or the 39th season of American Idol. BBC and Masterpiece (notably Downton Abbey and Cranford) productions are a great way that this genre can stay fresh – by producing new stories that speak to the same subtle complexities of class and relationships in a changing world.

      • Sharon

        No one ever seems to mount a version of Agnes Grey or Villette.

        Agnes Grey, which concerns spouse abuse and child endangerment, seems ripe for a modern treatment.

      • G.R.

        I read ‘Agnes Grey’ a little over two years ago, and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been touched upon for an adaptation nearly as often as ‘Wuthering Heights’ or ‘Jane Eyre’ (if at all). It could make for a great, hard-hitting drama.

    • ECM

      Masterpiece did an excellent miniseries recently of Emma that I thought was much, much better than the one with Gwyneth Paltrow. Romola Garai played the lead and she was instantly more likeable, more funny, and more fallible than Gwyney. The performance alone made it something unique to watch.

  • Niles

    It’s an annoying genre. But I have my favorites. There was never a better costume drama better than “Barry Lyndon”, which I am in a minority in thinking is Stanley Kubrick’s best film. I think you miss the ball on “The Age of Innocence”, which impresses me increasingly with every viewing. Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” was criticized for being merely a Masterpiece Theatre movie, but I think it requires severe eye problems on the viewer’s part to think so – every composition and actor’s expression astounds me. I agree about “Portrait of the Lady”, but Campion’s “Bright Star” represents how I wish a lot more period films would look; the music is never consciously stately, and the actors seem so completely at home in their surroundings (that cat is one of the best props I’ve seen in a movie) A totally affecting experience.

    • Jen

      Huh. I think this comment says something (at least to me) about what people love and hate about these kinds of movies. I love this genre and you hate this genre; and all the movies you admire in this genre are ones on my list of most boring movies of all time: Age of Innocence, Bright Star, etc.

      • Edu

        I think there can be 9/11 humor, as evidenced by the Onion etiidon after 9/11/01. But the caveat, is– as with so many things– there will be things that could make us laugh and there will be things that could be exploitation of tragedy masquerading as humor. Different folks may have different views of exactly where the line is. (For example, there are aspects of hospital chaplaincy that we here think are funny; but never funny is the loss families feel.)

    • Yay

      OMG Love Barry Lyndon. but it’s cubrick which makes it more than just a costume drama, so much more. beautiful, beautiful movie.

  • L B Parker

    I agree with much of what you say, but I don’t think it’s insane to posit that 12 months from now we’ll look back and say that Julian Fellowes Downtown Abbey revitalized the genre. Unlike so many of the forgettable films you mention (most of them produced in the later half of the last decade), Downton Abbey was such a loving tribute to the genre, every detail painstakingly thought out, it’s easy to see what those other films lacked.

    • L Wheeler

      as previously noted, the author is not referring to Masterpiece Theatre productions specifically, but movies that invoke the Masterpiece Theatre feel…

      • Maggie

        The reason why they don’t do many theatrical films of “period chick flicks” is the same reason why they don’t do much of any kind of theatrical chick flicks, TV does them better. The “period chick flicks” are being done beautifully by Masterpiece. You can’t discuss OG’s commentary without discussing Masterpiece. You could also say that they don’t do a much period drama at all on the big screen, because TV does that as well. The big screen has become the place for movies made for teenaged boys.

  • Lola

    Your analysis seems less of an analysis than a piece strung together with opinion, conjecture and a few well-placed ten-cent words. Please stick to letter grades and leave the essays to real critics.

    • L Wheeler

      I have to disagree – from my 63 year old perspective, the analysis was spot on!

      • txvoodoo

        From my 48 year old perspective, I thought Lola was, while a bit pithy, on the money.

    • Caryn

      And you, Lola, are just rude.

  • Kim E

    North & South
    Pride & Prejudice
    Jane Eyre
    Downton Abbey
    Sense & Sensibility
    Wives & Daughters
    Bleak House
    Lark Rise to Candleford
    Wuthering Heights
    Daniel Deronda
    Northanger Abbey

    • L Wheeler

      Wow! I have said for years that no one actually reads anything anymore, and the comments here, such as yours, prove my point. The author was NOT referring to Masterpiece Theatre productions – he was referring to MOVIES that invoke the feel of a Masterpiece Theatre production.

      • Louise

        Masterpiece Theatre productions certainly DO invoke the feel of a Masterpiece Theatre production and are not excluded from the category.

      • SirLizard

        Sorry, Louise, but you’re just wrong. Clearly, from the context of the article, OG was asking for readers’ favorite theatrical films of the “Masterpiece Theatre”-like genre.

      • Melokesm

        He also asked for favorites. Why do you assume that these are not Kim E’s favorites? Why also do you assume that she means the Masterpiece versions of the movies? Example: BBC version of S&S and not Ang Lee’s?

      • txvoodoo

        You do realize that not all of these are Masterpiece productions, but only have been sourced for Masterpiece, right?

        What this says, really, is the Brits do it better. About half of these were ITV (UK Channel), not BBC, not Masterpiece co-productions.

        The longer versions do an excellent job with adaptations that 2 hour cinema movies can’t.

      • CS

        Since you accuse others of not reading carefully, I will quote directly from the article: “The Masterpiece Theatre movie […] had a great run, buoyed by the presence of actors like Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet and Colin Firth — the 1995 six-part British television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice made Firth, as Darcy, the Tyrone Power of the genre.” By opening “the genre” to include this television adaptation, Gleiberman cannot possibly be said to have ruled out everything besides theatrical releases.

    • Solange

      Thank you! I loved BBC’s North and South as well as Jane Eyre (2006)and Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion. These are classics and can never, in my opinion, go out of style. While Twilight will not have the same longevity.

    • Ruby

      I LOVE all those productions. You have good taste. :)

  • Sven

    So long as Owen is not confusing what Masterpiece Theatre truly puts on, and what is shown in the theaters, I will not argue with him. But as earlier comments have suggested, PBS (and BBC) still produce wonderful programs for television. But I will agree that in terms of movie theaters, Pride and Prejudice was the last of the great films.

    • C

      Owen Gleiberman makes if very clear that he is talking about a genre and style of show when using the term Masterpiece Theater and NOT the actual PBS series itself. See this quote from the article -“The Masterpiece Theatre movie, by which I mean films made in that style, not the actual PBS series (though that continues to thrive), became a genre unto itself. “

      • Louise

        The PBS series itself also belongs to the genre and style of show termed “Masterpiece Theatre movie.”

      • Flyer

        No, Louise, it doesn’t, because the PBS series productions aren’t first released in a movie cinema where you have to pay to see them. Owen is talking about the movies he reviews – as in, the ones you leave your house to go pay to see.

      • Lisa Simpson

        People are getting so confused by something so simple. OG is not talking about Masterpiece Theatre, but about theatrically released “costume dramas” which he describes as films done in the style of Masterpiece Theatre productions. He’s a movie critic, not a TV critic.

      • CS

        Gleiberman’s a movie critic, yes. But HE mentioned the 1995 Pride and Prejudice TV miniseries in the article, opening this can of worms.

    • Stephanie

      Please tell me that when you say “Pride and Prejudice was the last of the great films” you are not talking about that dreadful 2005 version with Keira Knightley. Don’t get me wrong — I like Keira Knightley — but the film was such a disappointment. Perhaps it is inevitable that any attempt to reduce P&P to two hours of screen time will be a failure. Certainly the 1940 version suffered from the same issues, even though Laurence Olivier might be the sexiest, most charismatic Darcy ever.

      • casi

        Stephanie, I so agree. I equally love the UK version of P&P in which Colin Firth played Darcy and English actress, Jennifer Ehle, played Elizabeth. Excellent. :) I also think that something always gets a bit lost in American transalation, relative to Masterpiece Theatre-like productions, story telling. They are never quite as impactful as the original BBC productions.

      • Petra

        I couldn’t agree more, Stephanie. My theory on the Kiera version of Pride and Prejudice is that it’s like the cheater’s way out- it’s short, sweet and pretty but lacks much substance. Also, I found that the Mr. Darcy in this version was completely wooden and lifeless.

  • Michael

    The 2005 Pride and Prejudice, was, as you say, fantastic. Also, I’m pretty sure Downton Abbey could be considered one that was very well done as well. But I agree, many are forgettable; I could hardly sit through The Age of Innocence, (and I love this genre).

    • Rick

      So maybe the issue is that the really rich storytelling is being found in miniseries? Downton Abbey is every bit as good as the wonderful movies mentioned here. Did all of them move to PBS?

      • C

        I think that productions like Downton Abbey, which was fantastic, simply can’t be done on the big screen. In order to tell the story, you need hours and hours not just 120 minutes.

      • Mori

        Yes, the movies based on literature require a lot of time to be well told which makes the miniseries the better medium for these types of stories. After seeing the ’95 P&P, the ’05 theatrical film was just plain annoying!

      • Sharon

        2006 Jane Eyre and 83 Jane Eyre with my favorite Rochester, Timothy Dalton, were both miniseries.

        I have never liked the two hours Jane Eyres and I don’t expect to like this one that much.

        I think the problem is that the great screen writiers of this material are mini-series writers/directors.

        I find the scripts in movies to be lacking, generally.

    • Leslie

      Name one genre that isn’t loaded with forgettable films. For every classic there are numerous duds. Such is life in the movie business.

      • Michael

        That’s very true. For every Saving Private Ryan, there’s a Windtalkers (blech!); for every When Harry Met Sally, there’s a The Ugly Truth; for every The Shining, there’s a (good Lord, there’s so many awful horror movies, that list could go on forever, for argument’s sake we’ll just say the Saw series); etc., etc., etc.

  • LD

    ‘Room With A View’ remains one of my all-time favorite films. I read E M Forster’s novel as well and I can go so far as to say that the film was actually better than the book. Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis and every other supporting actor were so perfectly cast and did such an astoundingly great job that if there were like a “How-to” guide for making period films, ‘Room With A View’ should literally be made mandatory viewing!

    I loved BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as well. For me that’s always been the definitive P&P and none comes close. I saw the one with Kiera Knightely and let’s just say that I had to exercise a lot of self-control to stop myself from hurling something at the TV in frustration/indignation!

    Kevin Sullivan’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ with Megan Follows is also one of my absolute favorites! Very faithfully adapted and wonderfully acted!

    Would love to watch Downtown Abbey!

    • Prunella Von Schleidlhaagen

      Room With a View is also one of my favorites and I also love the book and I agree movie’s a bit better!

    • Liz

      You’re SO right! The BBC version of P&P with Colin Firth and the lovely Jeniifer Ehle is THE one. That movie with K. Knightely was horrible!!!

    • Kate

      I think with the two P&P films (the BBC and the theatrical versions) a lot of people who saw the BBC version first are just naturally going to dislike the 2006 version because it has created a picture in their minds of how the book should be portrayed. However, there are quite a few faults with the BBC version that come out when it isn’t viewed through rose-coloured glasses. P&P is quite a short book and didn’t really need to be drawn out to the length of the BBC version. It can quite comfortably sit in theatrical release length. Also, Keira Knightly looks much closer to the right age of Elizabeth Bennet. Lastly, the thing that really bothered me was how posh the Bennet family comes across in the BBC version…their house, clothes, and behaviours were all way to aristrocratic-esque for Jane Austen’s characters. I think both versions have faults and merits. But it’s like anything really, when you fall in love with one version first, nothing else will ever compare. That’s why I probably won’t go see the new Jane Eyre.

  • Hillary

    Downton Abbey was great and new Sherlock Holmes with a modern twist were really good. Maybe these stories are not meant to be theatrical releases, but not everything can be Battle LA.

  • Thom

    Bright Star was great. Where I feel it succeeded was that it wasn’t yet another umpteenth adaptation of a piece of writing, but rather *about* writing, amongst other things.

    • G.R.

      100% agreed. It drew from real life (in this case, the last few years of John Keats, and his romance with Fanny Brawne) rather than trying to do justice to familiar literary characters.

  • Jessica Sison

    I agree that this assessment of Masterpiece Theatre classics is a bit short sighted, considering the critic failed to mention any o the most recent offerings from MT, which are fantastic in this reader’s opinion.

    Their 2006 Jane Eyre, for example, was great. I am also partial to their fantastically detailed Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the more recent Little Dorrit. MT continuously produces wonderful versions of classic and beloved novels. Let us also not forget their wonderful 2004 version of North and South, which introduced the world to Richard Armitage (an actor I’d bet money on making it big after the release of next year’s The Hobbit, in which he is playing Thorin).

    For those of us who love such things, this genre is never tired and doesn’t fade. In fact, I feel it gaining speed with each year and find MT’s adaptations to be some of the best. This is one film fanatic who will continue to watch them.

    • L Wheeler

      see previous two comments!!

      • Charley

        Get over yourself.

      • Flyer

        L Wheeler is correct. Jessica Sison’s comments, while well-intentioned, completely missed the point of Owen’s column. Owen wasn’t making any kind of assessment about the Masterpiece Theatre series on PBS (other than to say that it continues to flourish.) Owen was talking about theatrical movies. I love “North & South” too, but it was a BBC mini-series, not a movie.

    • r

      I would concur that the author specifically says that MT is thriving but the 2 hour MT-type film released in the theaters is not.

    • C

      Come on people — read the article — he isn’t talking about the PBS series but a style of movie!!

      • Mori

        It’s as if some comments are written by people after only reading the title and not the actual article!

      • Louise

        Would you say that a Masterpiece Theatre production is in the style of Masterpiece Theatre or not?

      • Mel

        Louise- It does not matter that MT the series is in the style of MT. It was specifically said NOT to be part of the analysis so people constantly bringing it up are not addressing ANY of the statements made in the article because they are not about the series. Also it makes it seem like they can not read or understand distinctions between being an object and being LIKE an object. It is something learned in elementary school.

      • Maggie

        The confusion isn’t with the readers but with OG’s final question. OG’s final question was: “And what’s your all-time favorite Masterpiece Theatre movie?”
        He should have worded it better to say Masterpiece Theatre-like, theatrical movie.

      • C

        Gleiberman lists the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Colin Firth as an example of the kind of film he’s discussing. *He* opened the field to include TV movies and minis, not these commenters.

    • Ruby

      Oh Richard Armitage, how I love thee….

      • Kim E

        @ Ruby- I feel the same way! I got my mother and best friend hooked on him also. I don’t understand why he isn’t more popular!

    • Lycra

      I’ve recommended BBC’s North & South to all and sundry and it never fails to charm. Hands down it’s my all time fave BBC drama, followed very closely by Bleak House and P & P. Richard. Armitage = swoon.

    • Emma

      R. Armitage in THE HOBBIT?!! Made my day!
      I enjoyed this JE adaptation. Mia is BY FAR my favorite Jane! she captures janes personatily beautifullly. Oh why couldn’t this have been the miniseries and not just the 2 hour movie!
      I really disliked the 2006 BBC adaptation. It completely goes against the whole nature of the book. I cringed while watching the bedroom scene where Ruth and Toby are IN BED together.. REALLY?! After that scene it automatically became a whole other story to me and was no longer Jane Eyre. Ruth and Toby got the characters ALL WRONG!
      As for the other miniseries/movie adapts. of JE, there is not one that i would watch again and again. I’d rather read the book.
      As this is my favorite book (though I am only 16 and have a long way to go) I will forever be more than happy to watch any movie or tv adaptation of this beloved piece.

    • Nathan

      I dug Holes at the IRT. Lamest joke ever, but it was really prttey cool. The costumes, especially for the flashback characters, were a lot like the ones I had imagined while reading the books. The way the actors merged what was going on in real-time in the play with the flashbacks was interesting and added another dimension to the play. I also loved how most of the characters are intertwined Hector being Madame Zeroni’s great-great grandson, The Warden being Trout Walker’s granddaughter. It made the expression it’s a small world’ ring all the more true.The fight choreographing was fantastic, although some of the hits’ looked rather fake from the upper left balcony where I was sitting. Although, that is a small price to pay for someone not getting hurt. I was extremely happy that some of the actors- Jaron Cook (Magnet) and Mauricio Suarez (Zero) were my age and doing a production like this, since I’ve taken an interest in drama. One slight problem I had was about the back of the stage, behind the trap door that contained Sam’s boat and Madame Zeroni’s chair. The holes behind there were stationary, and were fairly noticable when they shouldn’t have been. It’s was easy to ignore, but it was also easy for your eyes to linger on them. I think it would be fairly easy to fix, though, as you could just install the same type of trap door you used for the holes towards the front of the stage.Overall, the play was very entertaining. It wasn’t hard at all to be sucked into it. I recommend it to those who want to watch a light-hearted play.

  • John Sullivan

    Uh, isn’t the wider problem here that the movie industry of this generation is incapable of coming up with something original?

    • G.R.

      YES!! Thank you!

      I think it would be neat if there could be more *original* stories in the ‘Masterpiece Theater’ mold; the recent ‘Downton Abbey’ got me thinking about that — if only there could be more stuff like this for the big screen, too… Granted, not as much could be done with the roughly 2-hour (give or take 15-30 minutes) format as with the miniseries format; but even so, at least it could possibly encourage more creativity and tighter storytelling.

      • Melissa

        I agree. I don’t think historical movies are out of style or passe. I think that adapting the classics is passe. Hollywood needs to stop rehashing classic novels and either a) adapt more recently written historical fiction or b) solicit original screenplays for historical fiction.

        I’ll be interested know what Owen thinks of the new, original historical drama, The Conspirators, about the trial of Lincoln’s assassins. I saw the trailer for it yesterday and thought it looked amazing.

      • mari

        If I am not mistaken, it is “cheaper” to remake the classics.

      • Lois

        @Melissa, there are ways to put a new spin on the classics. Hollywood has modernized the classics, such as updating “Emma” into “Clueless.” And “Pride and Prejudice” was updated into the novel, and then movie, “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” “You’ve Got Mail” was based on an old film “Shop Around the Corner,” but both were apparently inspired by “Pride and Prejudice.” What is needed is a great screenwriter, and any classic novel can seem fresh on the big screen.

      • B

        Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail, In the Good Old Summertime and a 60s musical called She Loves Me are all based on a Hungarian play called Parfumerie. Each film is very different though the central theme at the core is all intact; a good example of how to “re-do” classics.

  • Mariana

    Girls DO want a return to old-fashioned romance and a chivalrous romantic male lead. That is why Twilight is so popular. The male lead is old-fashioned (he is very old)and romantic. I’m not saying that Twilight is great literature, but it does show a yearning for old-fashioned romance among teen-aged girls.

    • Sharon

      In addition, the author of Twilight made each of her first three novels a modern treatise on a ‘great book’, as she has mentioned many times.

      The bickering couple from Pride and Prejudice for Twilight; Romeo and Juliet for New Moon and destructive love triangles(Wuthering Heights) for Eclipse.

      Discussions about WH are bookends to Eclipse, the book. Edward and Bella actually debate the selfishness of Heathcliff and Cathy in the novel.

      In the teen section of the bookstore, the books Stephenie Meyers referenced have been reprinted with “Twilight-esque” covers. And many other Austin, Bronte, and other classics have done the same.

  • anne

    What about King’s Speech? That to me was a classic Masterpiece Theater movie. It was period piece with gorgeous costumes, setting, royal characters, manor homes, Bitish accents what more do you want? It may have not been based on a book but there was so much history in it that felt like it. The problem is that filmmakers get going back to the same well. The trick is to find stories that perhaps have not been done to death. I would look to modern authors who write satisfying period novels – Marjorie Eccles, Katherine McMahon, Jennifer Donnelly, Joesph Kanon.

    • Laura

      I agree it had elements of the genre but was fresh in that it didn’t focus on a romance, the genre can remain great as long as it’s done well.

    • Rick

      Good call, Anne.

      • Mori

        You’re so right, Anne!

      • Lisa Huberman

        Seriously, how can you claim the British period drama is dead as a film genre after The King’s Speech just won an oscar and grossed over $100million?

        Unless that doesn’t count because it wasn’t an adaptation? Still doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    • Kimba


    • Maggie

      I agree. OG limits the Masterpiece Theatre-style movies to romances. But there are more to classic, costume dramas than just romance. The King’s Speech is a good example of a Masterpiece-style film.

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