Tuesday 6 October 2009

Badly done... or not?

Have any of you seen the first part of Emma, the BBC's latest costume drama? And last for a while, if reports are to be believed. There hasn't been a big production of Emma for over a decade, so Romola Garai has rooted through the bonnet cupboard, and a four part series started last weekend.

I've watched the first episode, and I enjoyed it a lot, though am still more or less straddling the fence. I love Romola Garai in everything she does - mostly I Capture the Castle, but also Amazing Grace, Elizabeth Taylor's Angel, and Atonement. She makes a feisty, self-confident Emma, and could turn out to be rather great.

Michael Gambon is a wonderful hypochondriac as Mr. Woodhouse, wrapped in scarves and uncertainty. Tamsin Greig wasn't quite as funny as I know she can be, but perhaps her Miss Bates is played more for pathos than humour.

My issues? Their Mr. Knightley (Johnny Lee Miller) was young and handsome and everything a modern film hero should be, but not remotely like Mr. Knightley is. Miller is much too young, and the match is much too suitable... on the page, I found it a little creepy, since they are much more brother and sister than anything else... Still, Miller may do for Knightley was Alan Rickman appears to have done for Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, and made a rather bizarre, unromantic match seem like a dream come true.

And the other thing... the language was so often too modern. I found myself muttering to the television, 'is there no historical advisor?' When the credits rolled, I saw that there was... and he is my tutor at Magdalen! Well, there you go.

All in all, fun and fresh way to 'do' Emma, and only slight misgivings. I'll certainly be watching the rest. (Any UK readers who missed it, the programme is available through BBC i-Player.)


  1. This is news to me. I love Emma and I love Romola Garai. Will definitely look this up!

  2. We'll probably have to wait donkey years for it to make it across the pond. But I'll look for it hungrily. Alan Rickman made me swoon as Colonel Brandon. So much so that now I can tolerate no other actor in the role.

  3. I watched this and agree with you about Mr Knightley - Miller was far too young.

    I thought I was safe to watch it as it has been years since I read Emma, so little danger of sitting watching and constantly muttering it isn't like that in the book!

    Even though I have too many books on the go it made me get Emma off the shelf and start reading it - I did enjoy it and will be watching the rest.

  4. My issue with this was - does the world REALLY need another adaption of Emma?!

  5. To answer Verity's question: Emma is my second-favourite Austen novel and I have yet to watch an adaptation of it ... so yes!

    Simon, I have house-guests this week but plan to catch it on iplayer at the close of the week and looking forward to it. How funny that the historical advisor is your tutor! Does that bode well for your own work?!

  6. Oh, I loved it! Romola Garai was enchanting as Emma - the perfect blend of naive arrogance, snobbery and well meaning goodheartedness. I adored her portrayal.

    Michael Gambon was wonderful as Mr Woodhouse, and so was Jodhi May as Mrs Weston - she is lovely.

    Personally I thought Jonny Lee Miller was perfect - he is in his late 30s so the age gap is about right and I think he does the whole brother/secret lover thing really well. The chemistry between them came across well on screen too.

    I am really looking forward to the next instalments. Emma is my favourite Austen alongside Persuasion and I think this adaptation has really caught the spirit of the book.

  7. Obligatory post from envious blogger across the pond. It's okay, really...quiet whimpering for ten minutes and I'll get over it...really.

  8. The language wasn't so very bad - much of it was direct or indirect quotation (Jane can take you by surprise sometimes!) but there was the odd jarring note and I am not alone in finding Emma's facial expressions, at times, a little too modern (the only 'feisty' ladies at that time were high society or VERY low!)
    As for Mr Knightley - I approached the programme fearing I would find him too young - but in fact I loved him - thought him just right! After all they are not 'too much brother and sister, indeed!'
    I thought the introduction very cunning - really bringing out the links between the 3 children and giving good reasons for Mr Woodhouse's finicky ways.
    PLEASE don't phone me on Sunday night until it has finished!!!

  9. Here I must disagree with you, Mum! I think there were *lively*, even feisty, people at the time - it's just we expect people to be more staid in costume dramas. Seeing Emma with active facial expressions made her seem more real in my opinion... hmm.

    Sorry everyone outside the UK, I'm sure it will be on DVD soon (or, if you're feeling very wicked, YouTube)

  10. Sorry to bicker - but I still maintain that those with a fear of society's censure (and this would have included the 'single' Emma - even if her position protected her to a great extent) could not afford to take too many liberties. Mind you, our friend Lizzie was always running about the countryside knee-deep in mud... so maybe I'm wrong!

  11. Hmm... good point. But was Emma so complacent about an unexciting society in Highbury, and one which had known her since she was born, that she needn't exert herself to please them? It might all change when Frank Churchill turns up...

    We'll have to chat about it!

  12. Can I jump in on a family argument?? I agree with OVW about the facial expressions. I thought Emma was wont to sneer, or be dismissive in an openly 'modern' way. In particular her conversation with Mrs Goddard over her lack of companion seemed not to ring true. I think it's very hard for modern actresses to get underneath the skin of the characters they are playing in a way that reflects in their movements. I've not seen an Austen adaptation I thought did this well since 1995 (which was the year of P&P, S&S and Persuasion).

    I think Elizabeth was a little more free in the way she moved (running about the countryside after her sick sister) because she never expected to make a 'good' match. Even though Emma does not want to marry, she is clearly expected (and expects to some degree) that wealth will enter into it.

    Simon, your last question about Emma's complacency is actually quite true. She IS complacent, because she is pretty much on the highest rung of the social ladder. She only realises exertion is necessary when she is proved so completely wrong by those around her, and she falls in love with Knightley.
    I'm so going to have to write my thoughts up on my blog now - and there I was thinking I could avoid it!

  13. I liked this Emma very much and reversed my opinion on JLM as Knightley, I thought he was very good. Michael G wonderful as he is in everything he does and Romola Gari an excellent Emma. On checking it appears that the last Emma on the Beeb was 18 years ago and the droopy Paltrow portrayal must be ten now so I am more than happy with another Emma though I do think that the Divine Jane needs to be let alone for a while.


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