I so wanted to watch this film and now my disappointment is undescribable. On one hand, I’m glad I saw it because I had heard about it and it was one of the few Austen-based movies I had never seen. But I even added it to my DVD collection and that is …too much, I think: definitely not worth re-watching.
In this Merchant Ivory ‘s absurdist “romance” Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980, U.S., 111 minutes), past meets present and flamboyant egos collide as two modern-day theatre companies compete to stage a literary gem: a lost play by one of Britain’s best loved authors. This film tries to blend the artifice of Jane Austen’s 18th century charming creation, tracing the seduction of an innocent girl by a devious rake, with the thrusting , ambitions and sexual mores of 1970s New York. The result is one of the quirkiest and most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen.
The two theatre companies , anxious for the kudos of giving the play its world premiere, must vie with each other for the theatrical rights, which are owned by an artistic foundation. One is led by the traditionalist Lilianna Zorska (Anne Baxter), the other by her former protégé and lover , charismatic Pierre (Robert Powell) who runs an avante-guarde off-Broadway troupe. Complicating this situation is Ariadne (Sean Young) a beautiful young actress Pierre is determined to seduce away from her husband, Victor (Kurt Johnson) . Modern day events begin to mirror the themes of seduction and salvation in Austen’s play as Lilianna strives to thwart Pierre and save Ariadne from his clutches.
The inspiration behind Jane Austen in Manhattan lies in an actual event: the sale at Sotheby’s in London of the manuscript of a piece of Jane Austen's juvenilia, a play based on Samuel Richardson’s SIR CHARLES GRANDISON. The manuscript was passed to Merchant Ivory Production. Although the company considered the play too slight to warrant a production of its own, it was deemed ideal material as a “play within the play”.
They missed a good occasion, I think. The idea of the play within the play was not bad at all. But I would have set the story in Jane Austen’s house with her and her family home-staging this short play. Not that original but a good chance for a good costume film. James Ivory has a wonderful period film among his credits, “A Room with a View” , based on E.M. Forster 's novel. I love that adaptation. So maybe that was what I was expecting from him as a director and, not finding a bit of that poetry an beautiful photography, I felt sort of betrayed.
This is my third task completed for the Everything Austen Challenge II
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