Over the last little while, I have got to know a rather splendid person, one I’ve come to admire immensely. Her name is Sue Pomeroy and she’s the director of a film-to-be about Jane Austen…
You know, there’s so much hype and chatter and all sorts about Austen’s work these days, but so often, at least to me, she seems to have got lost in it all. Forgotten. And perhaps it was that which made me warm so much to Sue and her ideas. Because she puts Jane herself back into the picture. And I love that. I just love it. And I thought you would too.
“My first encounter with Jane Austen was on a school trip to a stage production of – I think it must have been Emma.
“All I remember was an old fashioned ‘box set’ and actors wandering about with cups of tea in tights and carpet slippers, speaking very archly. It was a total turn off and it put me off Jane Austen for years. If that was the best Jane Austen could offer I wanted nothing more to do with her.
“The highlight of the evening was when one of the students dropped a box of Maltesers in the back row and they all bounced down under the staggered seats for ages. That at least made us laugh.
“How wrong first impressions can sometimes be! As the plot of her novel of that name reveals, sometimes first impressions prove to be the exact opposite of the truth.
“When I turned back to Jane Austen some years later to read Pride and Prejudice I realised how wrong I had been in my estimation of her. I had reacted to the creaky theatre production and not to her at all. So, somewhat humbled, I started afresh with a rediscovery of this rather brilliant novelist.
“The other major factor in my re-assessment of Jane Austen was my stay in East Berlin. Strange, but true.
“I was thrilled to be awarded an arts bursary to work behind the Berlin Wall with the world famous Berliner Ensemble. What an amazing experience that was.
“One of the things I saw at very close quarters were the tactics employed by writers and playwrights to step around the censorship of the communist regime, and get their ideas across. For instance there were no less than three productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare in East Berlin during one season, which bemused me – until I realised they were using ‘the Wall’ in the Pyramus and Thisbe story, acted out by the rude mechanicals as a comment on the ‘die Mauer’, the Berlin wall.
“The more productions I saw in East Berlin the clearer it became – writers were using symbolism, humour and comedy as well as adaptations of classical work, to communicate their ideas. The audience knew this and were looking out for all the clues to the author’s real views. In a repressive regime you have to employ all sorts of inventive ways to step around the political restrictions.
“That opened my eyes when I got back to reading Jane Austen. It was her delicious wit and mischievous sense of humour that allowed her to find her own unique voice and deal with issues that would not have been considered palatable for a woman to voice openly in Regency England!
“She exposes hypocrisy within the church, the obsequious behaviour of the landed gentry to anyone of title, the blind obsession among the upper classes with breeding, the limited opportunity for intelligent women when a good marriage offered their best, and only, chance of happiness.
“In the period in which she was writing, novels were dealing with fantasy, great adventures, romantic extremism and epic subjects. Jane on the other hand created novels which reflected the real world which she observed in great detail. She had strong opinions and her characters played out her views on the world she lived in. I am sure she got away with it through her wit and comedy.
“By the time I was working on an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I was smitten. The more I worked on the adaptation, the more Jane Austen’s novel resembled a beautifully crafted cut jewel, shimmering as you hold it up to the light.
“We took the production on an extensive UK tour of No 1 theatres at the same time as the BBC series was broadcast, and enjoyed the same rapturous reception. It was fascinating to see the audience response to the characters and the twists and turns of the plot. They picked up all the nuances of the hidden barb, the ‘off the cuff’ witticism, the send up satire. As readers would have done when first reading the novel, published during Jane’s own lifetime.
“Over the years, I feel I have become closer and closer to Jane Austen. I feel I have got to know her as a person. And my feelings toward her are of the greatest admiration, and an almost sisterly pride in her achievements. I also feel a little protective of her. To watch the public enthusiasm for her work grow to such proportions is breath taking. And I sometimes wonder when I hear the experts pronouncing on her work, see the opulent screen adaptations and observe the universal delight in dressing up in frocks and breeches, what would Jane have made of it all?
“I see her in her modest cottage in Chawton, writing away quietly, leaving the squeaky door so she could hide her papers when someone came in and I wonder if we have forgotten her individual journey to bring those novels to fruition and then to publication. Hers was not an easy life, as a poor country parson’s daughter, and it became less easy after her father died and she and her mother and sister had to rely on the generosity of others to get by.
“Her sense of humour, her love of family and her deep faith must have sustained her through some of the difficult times, but I do feel for her. My heart goes out to her. This single woman, writing, keeping the flame of hope and love alive.
“That has been the catalyst for wanting to make this film. The growing love and enthusiasm for her work across the world is wonderful, but amid all the adulation and admiration and commercialisation I see a woman at her desk, in a small English village, having the tenacity and courage to keep on writing, to keep on hoping, to keep on loving. I want to celebrate the events of this 200th Anniversary year, and the people we have met on our journey to film them.
“But before we all get carried away with the delight and the fun of it all, I want to bring the focus back to Jane herself and remind ourselves of her story. To look at what it must have taken to write six brilliant novels as a woman at the dawn of the nineteenth century, and how Jane overcame the pride and prejudice of her own life and times to become a published author. That’s what my film will be exploring.
Sue Pomeroy is currently making a new film about Jane Austen’s life and work.
To find out more about this new film, and to help make it happen please visit http://www.fuschiafilms.com/jane-austen-film-products-and-events/.
For more on Fuchsia Films see http://www.fuschiafilms.com
For regular updates follow the project on twitter @JaneAustenFilm and @FuschiaFilmsLtd