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.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker