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Happy news! A good friend of mine had his wedding reception at Mt. Stromlo Observatory some years back, and I was saddened when the place was gutted by bushfires - and I do mean gutted - back in 2003 [not 2000, the article is wrong]. So it's good to see the Mt. Stromlo team with something to celebrate at last.

We went down to Canberra for the weekend and saw my family & our neighbours. Alexander, my childhood best friend, is doing very well for himself and looking forwards to his first child next year, so hooray for him :-) We visited the National Portrait Gallery for their Cecil Beaton exhibition and looked at some of the others as well. I was entertained by the portrait of Joh Bjelke-Petersen; the card next to it explained that it was painted for the 'Joh for Canberra' campaign as a fund-raiser, but the artist refused to go on TV to promote it - in his words, "As a Queenslander I'm happy to take Joh's money, but I wanted nothing to do with the campaign".

Then we saw the new Pride and Prejudice. Enh.

As my mother pointed out, P&P has been done so many times already that there's no point in doing it again straight; you have to give it some sort of a slant. This time they aimed for "light and entertaining", which meant squeezing it for laughs. Although they only once descended to the level of "OMG that pig has HUGE TESTICLES, tres embarrassing!" I found it a bit grating because it really changed the tone of the story.

IMHO, there are two ways of reading Jane Austen's stories. If you view them with modern sensibilities, they're pretty lightweight - they're just a bunch of tales about a bunch of young women so superficial that they can think of nothing more than getting married. This becomes especially hard to avoid when you transplant it to a modern setting, a la Bridget Jones, and I think it's the basis on which many people dislike JA.

But if you view them with Jane Austen's sensibilities, they're about young women trying to get by in a situation where marriage is their only lifeline. Under the tea parties and the ribbons, this is a pretty grim situation, and it leads to some very hard choices. JA's heroines mostly dodge the bullet, managing to find a man who's both wealthy and likeable, but many of the supporting cast aren't so lucky. Charlotte Lucas, for instance, ends up effectively prostituting herself to a terminally dull and unappealing fellow because it's that or risk destitution and homelessness.

To make JA's stories worth following, you have to accept that this is serious business. This certainly doesn't preclude humour - JA used it extensively herself - but it needs to be managed carefully. Lighten the story too much, and the audience is at risk of forgetting why they should care, and then you have to look for some other way to get them involved.

Like, say, clubbing viewers over the head. In this version, Elizabeth doesn't get why Charlotte would marry Collins (which is stupid in itself, because she must have been uncomfortably well aware of the reasons by then) and Charlotte has to end up screaming "Don't you dare judge me!" Later, Lady Catherine's warning-off visit comes in the middle of the night, and I half expected her and Elizabeth to come to blows. Judi Dench would have been great at playing Lady Catherine as written, but she was largely wasted here; the subtlety is a big part of Jane Austen and it's just not the same without it.

It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great either.


Overall, weekend was rather stressful but could have been worse. Oh, and on the way there I saw the most shamelessly weasellish front-cover-review-quoting on a budget DVD for sale at the Goulburn rest stop:

"PERFECT... 10/10!" -IMDB

And you probably *can* find such a review somewhere among these, but when the best recommendation you can find for your movie is that "some anonymous dude on IMDB liked it", you know you're in trouble.
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