You don’t have to know the books to be in the club.
Emily as: Prudie
Genre(s): Comedy | Drama | Romance
Written by: Robin Swicord (screenplay), Karen Joy Fowler (novel)
Directed by: Robin Swicord
Other Cast: Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, Hugh Dancy
Release Date: September 21, 2007
Production Budget: $6m
Total Worldwide Gross: $7.1m
Filming Locations: Los Angeles, California, USA
Today’s central California may be far removed from Regency England, but some things never change. We’re still every bit as preoccupied with the complexities of marriage, friendship, romantic entanglements, position, and social manners and mores as was Jane Austen at the turn of the 1800s. The Jane Austen Book Club reveals the lives of an ensemble of present-day friends through the witty prism of their literary heroine.
Six book club members, six Austen books, six interwoven story lines over six months in the busy modern setting of Sacramento, where city and suburban sprawl meet natural beauty. While the contemporary stories never slavishly parallel the Austen plots, the six characters find echoes, predictions, warnings and wisdom about their own trajectories within Austen’s beloved narratives.
Prudie: No. Do you know it mixes up Fanny Price with the author of the book? Makes Sir Bertram some kind of slave owner.
Bernadette: Well, it means well. And a little Jane Austen’s better than none at all.
Prudie: No. No. No. That is how I talk myself into everything. I’m married to a man who would cancel our trip to Paris for a basketball game, which is making me a fraud in front of my students. A French teacher who’s never been to France?
Prudie: No, I dress like a teacher. Or it gets confusing.
Allegra: I hate Fanny Price.
Prudie: Excuse me, we’re not electing the homecoming queen, okay? I mean, yes, if this were high school, yes, we all know Elizabeth Bennet would be most popular and that Fanny would be least.
Prudie: But you had a motorcycle once. And you ended up hating it. Remember, Trey? Remember? You used to park it on the other side of the gym. It was red and black. And you got really tired of taking care of it.
Trey: What are you talking about?
Prudie: That was my mom’s technique when I wanted something. She’d say, “But you had a birthday party last year. Remember? We had a big cake with pink icing and roses all over it. And you hated it.”
Trey: And she was totally messing with you?
Prudie: It got her out of giving me a birthday party.
Prudie: I mean, I have wonderful memories of balloons and ballerinas and rollercoasters.
Trey: And it never happened. That’s pretty messed up.
Prudie: “We certainly can’t have a big party like that every year, can we?”
Trey: So, when did you finally figure it out?
Prudie: Well, by then she had this other trick. So suggest something to me. Something you’d like to do.
Trey: Okay. Um… Let’s get a room.
Prudie: Let’s not get a room and just say we did.
Prudie: Let’s not and just wish we did.
Dean: Baby, high school’s over.
Prudie: High school’s never over.
Quoting: Emily Blunt
On her character: I wanted the wig. I thought it was essential for Prudie to have a French hair cut or a really contrived French hair cut. She’s really trying the clothes, the navy blue, the European custom of wearing the ring on the right hand. She’s trying so hard to be French and also to look so far removed from her mother’s hippie-do.
On her attraction to the role: I found the script very charming. I really loved the rather offbeat, wacky characters in it. They were very well written. The part of Prudie was a bit of a removal for me, so when they offered it to me I read it and was thinking: “God, this is something I’ve never really done before, to play someone that vulnerable.” Yes, she’s kind of profoundly irritating and uptight but she charmed me. She’s socially so hopeless, but I found her quite funny. It’s a real roller-coaster ride that she goes on and I usually look for someone that’s got conflict in them.
On being cast: I know that Robin had seen a couple of things that I’d done and she felt that I had the right heartbeat for this character. I was amazed that she’d thought of me really, because the character, she’s so secretive and unhappy and the roles I’ve played and the roles that she’s seen me in have been more conniving and, you know, quick-talking… The bitch, basically. So to play the wallflower was exciting for me, that’s why I wanted to do it.
On participating in audition read-throughs: I read with both of the guys I work with. I hate being on the other side of the audition process – it’s vile because you’re essentially there to put in some kind of input as to who should get the part and who shouldn’t. It’s horrible and you realise how subtle a deciding factor can be… it could be one thing that makes the difference between someone being turned down. But I really wanted to get those relationships right at the end of the day.
On reading Jane Austen: I’d read a couple of her books at school and then read all of them before the film, so I knew what they [the characters] were talking about. But I think what’s great about the film is that you don’t actually have to be a Jane Austen fan – you don’t even necessarily have to have read any of Jane Austen’s work to go and see it and enjoy it. It’s really about these people, not people sitting around and talking about Jane Austen.
On working with Robin Swicord: I’ve never seen a director so considerate of her crew and how they feel. She writes letters at the end of a hard week, thanking everybody, everybody, not missing out anybody.
On working with Kevin Zegers: Kevin just had this remarkable ability to embarrass me when I was reading the lines with him. He’s just the kind of guy that would really have embarrassed Prudie and he really had such a great take on it – slightly predatory and very intense. He just had this absolutely perfect quality. I think he brought some vulnerability to a part that could easily have been played like a smooth operator, which would have been dull.
On working with Lynn Redgrave: I think she was really thrilled to play this part because she often plays serious. I think she was just so thrilled to get on that eye shadow and get her hair spiked and dyed purple.
On working with Kathy Baker: Kathy Baker, I’m so thrilled, is playing Bernadette because she is someone who you would love for her just to wrap you up in her arms. And I think, for Prudie, Bernadette is the only person she really feels safe with. She is so warm and loving and there’s a compassion that she has for Prudie. I love my scenes with Kathy.
On working with Marc Blucas: I read with two guys and he just blew it out of the water. He was great.
Quoting: Cast and Crew
Director Robin Swicord: I had a very short list of dream people that I wanted to make the film with. And I got most of them. Emily Blunt was definitely right there.
Director Robin Swicord: Everybody felt inspired to give extra. Emily Blunt came in to do readings with actors when we were casting Trey—I picked Kevin Zegers because he made her blush. Emily paid to have a wig made because she felt that Prudie should have that tidy French bob, and she couldn’t cut her hair because of her next commitment. We couldn’t afford a wig.
Producer Julie Lynn: Emily Blunt, you heard it here: Major movie star. I have a signed piece of paper somewhere that says she has to be in other movies with me because I love her. She’s a great human.
Co-star Kevin Zegers: When I read the script, I knew that she was already attached, which was obviously an incentive to sign on as well. For the little amount of stuff there is actually in the film, we needed to have it sort of resonate for an hour and a half. We had to make sure that all six or seven scenes that I have with Emily need to stir up a lot of stuff.
Dennis Harvey, Variety: Cast is first-rate all around, unafraid to play up the annoying, insensitive or self-pitying aspects of their nonetheless likeable characters. An unrecognizably severe Blunt almost makes Prudie too much of a pill, though we understand how she got that way once Redgrave’s mother makes her memorably obnoxious appearance.
Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times: When Jocelyn (Maria Bello) loses her beloved dog to the great beyond and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) loses her beloved husband to a woman from the office in the same week, their friend Bernadette (Kathy Baker) decides what they need is a six-pack of Jane and some company. Standing in line at the movies she meets a dedicated Austen fan named Prudie (the excellent Emily Blunt), a depressed French teacher unhappy in her marriage, and invites her to join too.
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: The stories driving the movie belong to Jocelyn, whom Bello plays with peppery sensuality, and Prudie, the club’s resident snob who, it turns out, has more than earned her myriad defenses. (Between this and her work in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt is becoming one of the best comedic actresses on screen, and certainly its most delicious bitter pill.) Thanks to Bello and Blunt, The Jane Austen Book Club seems populated less by characters than people, who even when put through some unlikely paces emerge as somehow believable, especially in their self-deceptive foibles.
Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: The actors are good–especially Bello, Blunt (who makes Prudie a heartbreak of shrill, unfulfilled dreams and desires) and Dancy.
Lou Lumenick, New York Post: The Jane Austen Book Club is worth watching primarily for Blunt, the delicious scene-stealer from The Devil Wears Prada. She’s so persuasive, she even makes you believe a scene in which Prudie gets her hubby to not only read but also love “Persuasion”.