Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Last week I went to see the film Casanova starring Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller. I hadn’t seen either of these actors in a historical drama before and I have to admit I was curious, especially to see whether Heath could carry off the role of the legendary rake! It was no Pride and Prejudice, in fact a friend of mine said it should have been called “Carry On in Eighteenth Century Venice” but despite that I enjoyed it. It was a romp and there was some fun dialogue and some good plot twists. The thing that struck me about it, though, was how strong and spirited all the female characters had to be, from the heroine disguising herself as a man in order to get into the university and campaign for rights for women, to her mother conveniently pinching the daughter’s fiancé! It seems that in both books and films now the female characters have to be strong and forge a future for themselves, regardless of how true (or not) this is to historical accuracy. As someone who writes strong heroines and enjoys reading about them, I’m not criticising although I do wonder whether this says more about audiences these days than the times we are writing about. On the other hand, most of Jane Austen’s heroines were strong in their own way and in keeping with their times. Lizzy Bennett was secure in her own accomplishments: “I am no longer surprised at you knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder at your knowing any.” And Anne Elliot was quieter but still an admirable person, generous, calm in an emergency, thoughtful and wise. We can still identify with these characters today.