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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dream Casting Austen: a Janeite Conversation

One of my favorite things to come of my Austen events over the last few years has been the collaborative Austenite "conversations" with participating authors. Basically, I send all of the interested authors the same set of interview questions, and then, rather than posting an interview with each author, I compile all of their answers on each question into one fun conversation.
I mean, this is what Janeites do when they get together, right?

I love seeing how similar and how different everyone's takes are on all things Austen, and I love seeing the conversations it inspires in the comments! So today we're kicking it off with something I like to ponder every now and again — Austen dream casting...

Click through to see what happened when I asked:
Earlier this month, HuffPo had a piece on the worst casting decisions ever, and Kiera Knightley as Lizzie Bennet kicked off the list - what have been your favorite/least favorite casting decisions, and who would be your one perfect dream casting for any particular character?

JOY: Other than Sense & Sensibility, I don't like any of the Hollywood/movie adaptations much myself. I think I might agree with HuffPo, but I also thought that fim's Darcy left much to be desired.
ANNA: My favorite casting decision is Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy! Matthew Macfadyen was also good as Darcy, but I think he seemed a little boyish. Colin was all man!
MISTY: He was also a tad...emo? He just seemed like a sad puppy, rather than an aloof and proud Lord of the Manor. I liked him, but it didn't bring the same dynamic (except in the very first few scenes, where there were flashes of that hauteur, and it was brilliant).
ALEXA: I am a fan of Keira Knightley, but I pretty much agree with the critique in Huffington Post.
MISTY: I love her, but she was just not right. Very few in that adaptation were, and though it's grown on me, for awhile I was angry at that film. Haha!
ALEXA: Still, she is far from the first (or most troublesome) actress of great talent to butcher the role of an Austen heroine. There are four very fine actresses who have tried to play either Anne Elliot or Fanny Price over the past twenty years, and I can barely tolerate watching any of them, much preferring the versions produced by the BBC in the 70s and 80s.
MISTY: Oh, don't even get me started on Anne & Fanny! Fanny is a tricky one, admittedly, because you either have to play her very true to the book, in which case audiences might not like her, or you have to try to bring something new and not necessarily accurate to her, in which case audiences might not like her...It's tough.
ALEXA: If I had to cast the parts, I think I'd have Romola Garai as Anne and Emma Watson as Fanny.
MISTY: Romola was perfection as Emma to me, and I don't think I could see her as anything else.
MARIA: I like Billie Piper on Dr. Who, but seeing her as Fanny Price kind of made my brain hurt. I kept looking for the tardis on the lawn of Mansfield Park.
MISTY: Mighta made things better... ;)
MARIA: I loved Hugh Grant as Edward in Sense and Sensibility and Allen Rickman as Col. Brandon in that one as well. I cannot see anyone else but Cirian Hinds As Captain Wentworth. I just loved him in that role.
MISTY: I (eventually) allowed Ciaran Hinds to work for me, but for the most part, he just felt so wrong that I almost couldn't watch the movie when I first tried. Both him and Amanda Root, actually, even though I think she did a good job. They just felt off, and too old, which is something I see a lot of. Don't know if it's supposed to bring gravitas or something, but most Austen characters are actually pretty young, and they're always cast way older!
CECILIA: Most favorite? Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth. My friends consider the 1995 Persuasion miniseries casting of Ciaran Hinds sacred, and disagree adamantly, but at least I know Misty knows Rupert is better.
CECILIA: He doesn't match my idea of the literary Wentworth but if I were judging the adaptations on their own merit, he's the hero I love. Plus the man wears boots and breeches like nobody's business.
MISTY: ... Yum.
CECILIA: Least favorite? Martin Henderson as Darcy in Bride and Prejudice. He's easy on the eyes but reminds me a friendly golden retriever – I never believed his Darcyness.
MISTY: I've never seen Bride & Prejudice! I meant to work it in before this year's AIA, but hasn't happened. 
ANNA: My least favorite casting decision was Donald Sutherland as the unflappable Mr. Bennet.
ANNA: While Donald is a wonderful actor, his accent wasn’t quite up to par. It’s annoying when Americans portray English characters and their accent isn’t up to snuff!
MISTY: ...Okay, you do have a point there.
ANNA: As a tie to poor Donald, I have to add that Gwyneth Paltrow was not my first choice for Emma. It was the accent and the studied way she had with the character. She looked the part, but the voice throws me.
MISTY: Her in that role will always hold a special place in my heart, even though Romola blew her out of the water, and that's because her Emma was my first exposure to Austen, and I fell in love. Serious Jeremy Northam crush after that... (And I actually do like her in the role.)
MARIA: If they were to do Lady Susan in film, I think Glenn Close would be a fascinating Lady Susan.
MISTY: Hmm, now that might work.
JOY: It may be the script's fault, but the absolute worst in my opinion was the Hollywood Mansfield Park's Fanny. She's far too adventurous and dashing to be Fanny.
MISTY: That whole movie was just weird.
JOY: Dream casting? I guess I'd like to see Lee Pace as an Austen hero--but so many of them have been so well done in the miniseries, I don't want them to be replaced!
MISTY: I'd like to see Lee Pace in anything, because Lee Pace. Actually, he'd probably be pretty excellent in an Austen role. Someone make this happen, pls!
ANNA: My dream casting? Hmmm…I can’t think of anyone right now.
MISTY: This is one that's always hard for me, because I mostly want someone unknown to be cast in these roles. I want a blank canvas that I'm not going to associate with anything else, someone that can just inhabit it and be the characterThere are plenty of actors/actresses that I like, who also happened to star in an Austen film, and of course I love that when it happens, but dream casting...I 'd know 'em when I saw 'em, I guess.
ANNA: For the record, I actually enjoy Keira Knightley as Lizzie!
MISTY: Haha! Well, they'll never please all of us, that's for sure.

Let us know your favorite, least favorite and dream casting choices in the comments! 

Special thanks to the authors:
Alexa Adams, author of the Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice series
Maria Grace, author of the Given Good Principles series and Remember the Past
Cecilia Gray, author of the Jane Austen Academy series
Joy Penny, author of A Love for the Pages
Anna Small, author of How to Marry a Rogue, In the Arms of an Earl and Back in His Arms Again

Click the button or HERE to return to the Austen in August main page!


  1. The Janeite conversations are my favorite of AIA! I think the worst casting of an Austen film was Sally Hawkins in the 2007 Persuasion. She is an excellent actress, but why did she always look like she would rather eat RPJ than kiss him?!? They had zero chemistry. The wait for the perfect Persuasion continues...

  2. Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet is so bad I can no longer watch 1995 series. My favourite Darcy - try the 1980 mini-series, everybody is better than the 1995 version. Yes, I said that

  3. Oh my stars and garters- Lee Pace as Henry Tilney. THIS MUST HAPPEN.
    (or Lee Pace as Knightley....or Bingley....or Edward Ferrars)

    Really, though, I think we just need more period Austen films. I'd love to see a Sanditon take, given that it's a lesser-known work (and even though unfinished, I think scriptwriters can find interesting, Austenesque ways to adapt it to screen).

  4. Let me know when the Lee Pace petition circulates because I will sign all over it!! ANNA?? No love for Donald? Okay I totally know what you mean about the accent and yes it was absolutely bothersome but he won me over at the end when he was "at his leisure" and all misty-eyed over losing Lizzie, EVEN TYPING THIS I AM TEARING UP.

  5. Worst Austen(esque) casting for me was Anna Maxwell Martin in Death Comes to Pemberley - she is all wrong in every way for that part. She looks wrong, and acts wrong and it's all WRONG!

    As for actual Austen adaptations - I think that both Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden (can't spell his name!) could make a good Lizzy and Darcy if they'd been allowed to speak their dialogue at a normal rate, they speed through it. The casting in that film I think is generally pretty good, better than the 95 version in a lot of cases, such as Jane, and Mrs Bennet in particular is an absolute triumph in the 2005 version. Bingley is awful, but that is the script and directors rather than the casting, he's played as a simpleton. I wouldn't mind Donald if he made an attempt at an English accent,but I prefer Mr Bennet from the 95 version.

    Persuasion is a difficult one. I'd have preferred Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds if they'd been younger, they are both too old for the roles, and Rupert Penry-Jones (while a hottie) doesn't look like he's been sailing with no sunscreen, I can't believe him in the role.

    As for Mansfield Park, the 80s version is the best one I've seen, because Fanny isn't changed into a different character, however, the actress really overplays her IMO, she is too gauche.

  6. Very entertaining discussion! I was not a fan of either Keira Knightley or Matthew Macfadyen in the 2005 P&P. I actually really like Macfadyen in the BBC miniseries of Little Dorrit, but he didn't work for me in the role of Darcy. Although part of that is probably due to the dialogue the actors were given to work with, so it's not entirely a casting issue.

    One casting I really love is in the 2007 Northanger Abbey. Both Felicity Jones and JJ Feild really bring the characters of Catherine and Henry to life beautifully. Pretty much as soon as I saw JJ Feild in that movie I was like, "Woah, he looks EXACTLY like Mr. Tilney is supposed to look." And I think it would've been easy to have overplayed Catherine as really naive, and ended up making her look vapid/immature, but Felicity Jones' performance just makes me see the character as young, fresh and charmingly innocent.

  7. I love following these conversations and yes, the casting has occupied my thoughts many times as each new movie adaption comes out. I'd love to see what Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberpatch and Martin Freeman do to an Austen movie (no preference, and yes, I'm on a Hobbit kick).

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