Tuesday 7 April 2009

Badly done, Emma?

This might be old news, but I've just found out about the casting for BBC's Emma, so perhaps others haven't heard. I think this is the last Austen-or-Dickens-or-Hardy etc. costume drama the BBC are planning on for the time being, and hopefully they'll put on something special. I'm very pleased with all the names I've seen mentioned - mostly with Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse. Romola Garai stars in one of my favourite films, I Capture the Castle, as Cassandra - she's also been Angel in the adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor's novel Angel, Briony in Atonement during her nursing stage, and the lead woman in Amazing Grace. I'm sure she's done lots of other things as well, but those are the films I own with her in them. She's a fantastic actress, though I haven't seen her do something as funny as Emma before... we'll see.

An actress who definitely does have comic ability is Tamsin Greig, and she'll be playing Miss Bates. I saw her play Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the RSC in London a while ago, and it was both the funniest and the best Shakespeare performance I've seen (she won the Olivier too). You might know her from sitcoms like Black Books and Green Wing, or perhaps as Debbie Archer on The Archers. She was also in the recent, very good, Anne Frank series on BBC. Who else... Michael Gambon, fresh from brevity but successful brevity in Cranford will be Mr. Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller is becoming Jane Austen's creepiest hero (in my opinion) Mr. Knightley. I'd vaguely heard of JLM, and a quick trip to IMDB.com tells me that not only was he Edmund Bertram in 1999 Mansfield Park, but Charles Price in 1983 Mansfield Park. What credentials.
As usual, I don't think a new Jane Austen adaptation is really *essential* (there are so many books out there which haven't had the costume drama treatment) but it is comforting and familiar and the cast looks impressive enough that it might be quite fun. But, as the BBC decide to focus instead on twentieth-century drama, I really hope that they mean all of the twentieth-century, and not just the bit Irvine Welsh was fond of. More 1920s, 1930s, 1940s drama please - and why not look through some Persephone Books for inspiration?

Which book - not necessarily Persephone, of course - would you love to see adapated?
I have two which spring to mind. One, of course, is Frank Baker's Miss Hargreaves (have I mentioned that Bloomsbury will be publishing it?) with Dame Maggie Smith in the lead role - the other, perhaps more likely, is Eva Rice's The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. With dashes of Nancy Mitford and Dodie Smith, that novel would lend itself so well to filming. Watch this space...


  1. Interesting! Emma is one of the ones that needs redoing badly ... and Romola Gari should make a good crack at it (love the idea of Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates!).

  2. Colette's Ripening Seed, published in French in 1923, would adapt well I think.

  3. This sounds a dream cast. Romila Gari was also in the wonderful Daniel Deronda the BBC did some years back, she is excellent and will make a terrific Emma. Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse - well it is sublime casting once more. I love Emma, she is just so nosy and interfering and awful and yet at the end, when self realisation comes to her and she realises she loves Mr K (as Mrs Elton calls him) one warms to her.
    Must go and check more of this out myself.

  4. There are lots of books from the first part of the 20th century that would be good adaptees. Graham Greene is much filmed but many of his books would benefit from the longer, slower treatment of a serialisation. The Heart of the Matter for example (great film with Trevor Howard but inevitably a brief treatment). I am also at a loss as to why Georgette Heyer, who remains so popular, has never been adapted except for a shockingly bad film of The Reluctant Widow.

  5. Neither Emma adaption has worked for me, so I hope the new one will! The casting is interesting, so I'm looking forward to it.

    I'd echo Elaine's praise of the Daniel Deronda adaption, a must see for a Gari fan.

  6. Crying out for a Wheel of Time adaptation. Though it would last about four weeks.

  7. Emma is by far my least favorite Austen. I would love to see an adaptation that would make me love it!

  8. Well, this is very nice to know since I just finished reading "Emma" for the first time. I wonder if the BBC adaptation will be airing here in the States. I'm really aching to see an adaptation of this book. I think I'll rent the other Emma adaptations in the meantime. Any recommendations? Or should I just wait for the new one?

  9. I have a list a mile long of books that I would love to see in film. My current fantasy is an Iris Murdoch book or two turned into a "costume" drama. Surely Britain in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s could be rich ground for a period piece. I love Austen, but afer a while can't we have someting else?


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