Win a trip in the Jane Austen Tardis courtesy of the Hollywood marketing machine

Jane Austen was no slouch when it came to the coining of pithy catchlines. You don't have to stretch the fancy very far to imagine a cinema poster for Pride and Prejudice adorned with "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife". Well, yes, all right ... that might prove a little too elegant for contemporary tastes. After its passage through the colonic bureaucracy of the marketing department it would probably look different - "He's loaded. He's loathsome. He's looking for love", perhaps, or "He's got the means but is he too mean to marry?". The point is that Austen would have understood the impulse to pitch the essential core of the story to the audience. But even if she was broadminded about the cinema's commercial impulses, I think she might have taken a slightly giddy turn at the sight of the catchline for the recent film of Emma: "This little cupid's no angel", if my recollection is correct, a piece of copy that accompanies a winsome photograph of the film's star, Gwyneth Paltrow, looking as puckish as she can manage.

This isn't the only pitch made to potential ticket-buyers. Both the trailer and the poster use the word "timeless" to refer to the story, a word also employed in the trailer for a forthcoming movie version of Jane Eyre. Obviously, "timelessness" is deemed to be a tempting commodity for cinema- goers, which is slightly paradoxical when you consider that time, above all, is what a period film offers you. In one sense, these films aren't timeless at all - they are time-crammed, bulging with history, or what passes for it in Hollywood (long dresses and nobody saying "yeah"). Wouldn't it be more logical to trumpet these virtues - "Jane Austen's wonderfully dated story", say, or "as old-fashioned as they come", particularly because such films (quite unlike the novels on which they are based) necessarily exploit a nostalgia for vanished manners and modes of life. When you read Emma, the past has no opportunity to impress you as an escape from the present - because unless specifically mentioned, the paraphernalia of period is effectively invisible. When you watch Emma, however, everything must be present and correct, and the negligible elements of any scene - the shape of the tea-cups or the cut of a bodice, jostle for your approval. We watch in large part because we desire to be out of our own time, and anachronism - which might be the best demonstration of a work's genuine timelessness - is perceived as a breach of contract (those who talk about the "timeless" qualities of Shakespeare are quite often the same people who moan grumpily about modern dress productions).

Naturally, the attention we pay is highly selective - the implicit presence of modern dentistry and modern detergents would only be troubling to the most determined refugee from the 20th century. And while a film based on the life of George Washington might be brave enough to include outdated racial opinions, or scholarly enough to relish the accuracy of a frock coat, it would almost certainly draw the line at exposing the President's wooden false-teeth. In a similar vein, as Adam Mars-Jones pointed out on our Film pages last week, every director of an Austen adaptation has to decide whether servants are a pleasing accessory to the dream or an embarrassment we don't quite know how to cope with.

The copywriters, I would guess, don't have such matters in mind. They are simply using "timeless" as a euphemism for classic, a sort of chronological superlative - the word is a shorthand for saying something like "so good that the passage of time has had no effect on it", as well as offering a mild reassurance that you'll still enjoy it. But even here the phrase raises some questions. For a species that can never quite forget its own mortality, the idea that something is exempt from the fatal tick of the clock has an obvious appeal. Jane Austen, the woman, wasn't timeless but her comedy has proved itself so; perhaps we should buy a ticket in the hope of getting in on the secret. But what would it be for a work to be genuinely timeless, to pass through the years without any abrading friction whatever, so that it registered on an audience in 1996 exactly as it had a hundred or even 500 years earlier? Is such a work even conceivable?

"Timeless" doesn't worry about such issues because it has simpler business in hand, encouraging cinema-goers with a coded guarantee of antiquity. Strictly speaking, a work written last year might be equally "timeless", equally resistant to temporal decomposition, but it would never be described as such because it would be a false bill of goods. "Timeless" actually means "timeful", and you only achieve that by waiting patiently.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions