Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 1980. Merchant Ivory Productions, Polytel International. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the libretto Sir Charles Grandison by Jane Austen, Samuel Richardson. Cinematography by Larry Pizer, Ernest Vincze. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Music by Richard Robbins. Production Design by Jeremiah Rusconi. Costume Design by Jenny Beaven. Film Editing by David E. McKenna.
Pointlessly driven drama by the team of Merchant Ivory stands with The Proprietor and Jefferson In Paris as among their worst. After a manuscript of Sir Charles Grandison, a play written by Jane Austen when she was twelve, is purchased at an auction house for a grand sum of money, two rival New York production companies fight for the rights to mount it. The one who at first seems successful is a con man of a theatre director who encourages his followers to cut themselves off from their personal lives and devote all their cash flow to him. The other is his former teacher, an aging Russian acting instructor (played wonderfully by Anne Baxter) who envisions a more traditional approach to the material than her pupil has in mind. The goings-on of the theatre world in early eighties New York is captured vividly, and all the performers excel, but Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay is atrociously hollow and there is no dramatic impulse to the characters. The project was initially devised as a straight adaptation of Austen’s work, but when director James Ivory discovered it to be a shallow piece he instead commissioned a screenplay that was inspired by the headline-making auction sale of the manuscript instead. What results on screen is a forgettable disaster.