Romantic Classics and Why I Prefer Them in Film


Much of my contact with romantic classics was in high school. It seems odd as a lover of romance novels to prefer most of them in film over the book. In part, I blame forced reading in classes. As Orson Scott Card says, “No book, however good, can survive a hostile reading.”

To date I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights once each. I don’t know if I’ll ever pick them up again. My most recent of them was Pride & Prejudice and I know quite clearly why I disliked it.

Even after seeing it in films, falling in love with Colin Firth and Matthew MacFayden as Mr. Darcy, it’s hard to read. I found myself lost in dialogue and having to reread passages. You would think having heard the dialogue acted out I would know easily who said what, but Jane Austen was not a fan of dialogue attribution and tags. Very little he/she/person’s name said such and such. Frankly, I’m surprised anyone could tell enough of what was going on to write scripts for actors based on it.

Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were hostile reads. I read them after being forced to read Tess of the D’Urbervilles and I was not a happy camper with my English teacher. I thought he was deliberately trying to waste my time with terrible reads. I think I skimmed them as I learned to skim Tess of D’Ubervilles. Even now, I’m not so sure of Wuthering Heights (I think it was that one) in film. I do like Jane Eyre as a film though.

As I was telling Katiebabs on Twitter I like the 2006 Masterpiece Theatre version with Toby Stephens as Rochester over the 1997 A&E version with Ciarán Hinds simply because they made Hinds look way old and gave him very bad side burns. I’m shallow like that. I think I need to see the Timothy Dalton version. Katiebabs mentioned that one.

To sum up real briefly, I prefer romance classics in film over text because:

  1. The language is easier to understand in film.
  2. The films were not forced on me like the books were.
  3. Film adaptations are fairly modern and don’t put me to sleep.
  4. The actors are hot and give me a new appreciation to their heroic personas… plus the wet white shirt phenomena in the Austen films… yum.
  5. Films are 100% visual and audible. I can see and hear it with much more understanding on the screen.

So now that I’ve admitted my deepest, darkest, most terrible sin. Will you forgive me?

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PS – For all those who vote 1 or 3:

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  1. Well, I do prefer the books, but wouldn’t think less of anyone for preferring movies. There is something about seeing the stories on the screen that is enchanting. Just not the same as reading their words for myself is all!

  2. I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, but the amount of times I have watched the 1995 Colin Firth version and the one that came out a few years ago feels like I’ve read the book.

    After watching these classic novels come to life on the big screen you want to go read them.

    PBS Masterpiece Theater is one of the best things to come out of television. The amount of classics I have watched there is too numerous to count.

  3. Enchanting is indeed the word, Meghan. They sparkle on screen.

    Katie — how about Sense and Sensibility? I’ve watched those a hundred times too. (Both Emma Thompson’s and the 2008 version.) I had planned to read it after P&P, but I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up.

    I was talking with a friend on instant messenger and we were comparing my love for Georgette Heyer with classics. The conclusion was drawn that Heyer while dripping in funny language and sentence structures was 1) more modern and therefore 2) more easily understood. What does everyone here think?

  4. Definitely try the audio. I’ve listend to many classics on audio and they were so so much easier to get through!Scarlet Pimpernel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Pamela (Samuel Richardson). Actually that was really hard to get through and I’m not sure I did; I don’t remember the ending. Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, and anything Russian.

    With a large cast, or with names that aren’t ‘typical’ Anglo names, the audio is easier. You don’t have to struggle with pronounciation every cingle time it’s on the page.

  5. When Masterpiece had the Jane Austen fest, I was in love!!
    Ahhh Sense and Sensibility! Another wonderful adaptation to screen and one I still have to read.

  6. I want to see the new version of Emma so badly! I even went to BBC1’s website but no luck – gotta be in the UK. It looks so good. Anyone in the UK and seen it?

  7. I forgot to bring your list with me to the library today Isabel – so I grabbed the first romance classic I saw right off the bat: Emma by Jane Austen. 🙂 Have you listened to it? The reader is Victoria Morgan.

  8. I read somewhere that Emma will premiere on PBS in early 2010.

  9. I haven’t listened to Emma, but it really does depend on the reader. I looked on Recorded Books site and she got decent reviews, so you might be in luck. Let me know how the version is.

  10. First glitch in audio format – you really have to pay attention and not get interrupted 500 times. Restarting Emma again because my first hour to sit down with it was interrupted repeatedly… 500 is almost not an exaggeration hah. (Of course that could be for all audio books not just the classics.)

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