Your RDA of Irony

Morte d’Author

When the Old Hollywood tampered with the classics, it was to simplify and cheer them up.  Hamlet and Ophelia lived happily ever after!  Now, however, literature can’t be complicated enough for films.  Perhaps you could show the cold, hungry servants in “Pride and Prejudice.”  That would be historically accurate–but that  is an insufficient challenge to the director.  No, how about recreating “Pride and Prejudice” as if Emily Bronte had written it. You could have a bedraggled, blowzy Elizabeth Bennet showing her disapproval of burly Mr. Darcy by beating to death a cow.  If you think that I am joking, then you must have missed the 2005 film with Keira Knightley.  (The bovinicide may be my slight exaggeration.)

The idea of swapping authors turned out to be trend–or at least a contractual demand by Ms. Knightley.  She is now starring as “Anna Karenina”–at least the version that Anton Chekhov and Samuel Beckett would have written.  In this version, the Revolution is imminent and the story is set on a stage.  And here is a scene…

Anna:  Shall we make passionate love or just stare at the samovar?

Vronsky:  I wonder who will kill us first: the peasants or the audience.

Boris Pasternak:  This actually is how I wrote “Doctor Zhivago.”

Anna:  Yes, the movie was more interesting than your book.

Boris:  I could say the same about the first five versions of “Anna Karenina”.

Vronsky:  But not this one!

Boris:  But not this one….

Anna:  Let’s stare at the samovar.


Now we have to worry about the next transauthor interpretation.  How about John Le Carre’s “Wind in the Willows”?  Who is the Mole in MI6?  Since this is LeCarre, it probably is everyone but Mr. Mole.  (No, we can still trust Mr. Toad; he never learned anything at Cambridge.)  But there is not really a good role here for Ms. Knightley, although she certainly could pass herself off as one of the willows.

However, I can see her as one of the repressed daughters in an Edwardian family, eager to partake of the sensuous delights allowed her rakehell brother.  In fact, we are overdue for the D.H. Lawrence version of “Peter Rabbit”.



  1. Peg Pruitt says:

    I was actually thinking about seeing this. Now – not so much.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Hello Peg,

      I wasn’t tempted even before I learned of its Chekhov/Beckett perspective. Isn’t Keira Knightley a bit young for the role–or is this “Fast Times at Petersburg High?”

      I have seen a number of versions, and I would say my favorite remains Garbo’s 1935 version, with Frederic March as Vronsky. He was the only Vronsky I recall who did not seem like a vacuous pretty boy. In fact, March wasn’t as handsome as Basil Rathbone–who played the chilling husband. March presented a logical escape from the marital embalming with Rathbone. But such logic actually was the exact contradiction of what Tolstoy conveyed.

      The self-destructive obsession is better conveyed in the 1948 British film. There Karenin, played by Ralph Richardson, is a decent if constrained fellow who bores Vivien Leigh. This film’s Vronsky seems more an oaf than a charmer, but why should love have reason or taste? Tolstoy would have approved. So, how does this more faithful adaptation fail? Vivien Leigh just can’t command the role of Anna. At most, she seems petulant.

      Of course, I wonder if Keira Knightley can even convey that.


  2. Cindy Starks says:

    Now, Eugene, you’ve gone and done it. Trashed both the 1995 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” which I rather liked and like more with each viewing on TV. And attacked the new version of “Anna Karenenenenenenia.” I saw both Tom Stoppard and the director (whose name escapes me) on “Charlie Rose,” and you know they wouldn’t be there is the film wasn’t tip-top. I joke, but I was really impressed with them. Stoppard talked about having enough faith in Tolstoy to look at the film with fresh eyes, but also being respectful of the original work. In fact, he said that although the book actually has not that much dialog in it — much more description — he tried to use the actual dialog from the book wherever he could. So, nertz to you, you old curmudgeon. Although I love you still… 🙂

  3. Eugene Finerman says:


    With your Republican sense of arithmetic, you have rounded off 2005 and 1995 so that they are now the same year. I loved the 1995 production of “Pride and Prejudice” and have watched the BBC series–in its entirety–three times! It bothers me a bit that Jennifer Ehle, who was so charming as Elizabeth, never achieved the success her co-star did. I think that she would be just as “interesting’ in a wet, clinging blouse as Mr. Firth was.

    To slightly change the subject, I named one of my pugs “Anna Kaninina.” Fortunately, she never ran off with a Russian wolfhound.


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