Friday, 30 October 2009

Jane Austen's Emma



I first read Emma by Jane Austen a decade ago when I studied it in my final year of school. I have never seen an adaptation -not even the 1996 film version with Gwyneth Paltrow- but being a devout fan of the 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, I was intrigued as to how well they would treat my second favourite Austen novel. I was not disappointed. Although it will never surpass the Pride and Prejudice adaptation in my esteem and affection, I did enjoy Emma and found it, for the most part, well done. I did have initial reservations and mild criticisms whilst watching; I found it flawed in some respects but it is was a faithful adaptation if a little ... unreserved. The language was modernised, not fully but enough that it jarred, and there was an altogether looser tone to their speech, mannerisms and interactions with each other.

Romola Garai made a suitably flawed Emma, and was more mature than her portrayal of Cassandra Mortmain (another of my much-loved literary heroines) that I could separate them in my mind's eye. Her vanity and snobbery were well depicted and, as always, I had a soft spot for the well-meaning Emma. However, I did take issue with Garai's exaggerated facial expressions that did not seem fitting with the period; her eyes were far too wide and it began to irritate me some. I had misgivings about Johnny Lee Miller's suitability in the role as Mr Knightley and their relationship was more of a brother and sister one in the first episode, but he overcame my prejudices to fully embody the role, so much so that I developed something of a literary crush on him; oh how my heart ached for him during some scenes and fluttered when he gentlemanly saved Harriet Smith's shame at the dance.

The casting of Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse was inspired; he was lovably vulnerable, only slightly infuriating and shared a touching and tender chemistry with his on-screen daughter. Tamsin Greig played Miss Bates to an exceptional standard and I sympathised with her exceedingly whilst also finding her amusing. The other exceptional comical character, Mrs Elton, was unbearable and testimony to Christina Cole in the role (she also played Caroline Bingley wonderfully well in Lost in Austen). I wasn't too enamoured by the casting of Frank Churchill nor Jane Fairfax but I suspect that is due to my lack of affection for the characters.

Watching this diverting adaptation, although enjoyable, compels me to read Austen's own words again and I will seek the time for a reread of the novel at some point. I will probably rewatch this at some point but I doubt it has the longevity of the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which I happily watch over and over.

This is the second of six Austen-related items completed for the Everything Austen challenge.

The scene I anticipated most to see acted was the one from Box Hill, where Emma is at her most flawed, and I share that below.




24 comments:

Steph said...

I recall reading that the dialogue had been oddly modernized for this version. I know I might be in the minority on this one, but I actually really like the Gwyneth Paltrow version of "Emma". I think all of the actors do a great job in their parts, even if Ewan McGregor is sadly forced into a terrible wig as Frank Churchill! That said, I haven't seen any of the BBC productions of this book, so I've no measuring stick when it comes to film adaptations of Emma, but if you do get around to watching the Mirimax version, I'll look forward to your thoughts.

verity said...

I didn't see this, though I am sure I will eventually. I have to confess to feeling more than a little put off by the modernisation of language.

Karen said...

I will have to work out how I can see this over here in Australia!! We do usually get the BBC shows eventually.

farmlanebooks said...

I have to confess that I haven't read Emma yet. I have this series recorded, but haven't watched it yet. I really should read it first...

Paperback Reader said...

Steph, I'm not averse to seeing the Gwyneth Paltrow version, it just hasn't happened yet. I haven't seen many Austen adaptations, in fact, and only saw the Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet Sense & Sensibility around eighteen months ago (late one night at a friend's house with cocktails in hand). I can't measure this one against anything else the BBC has done except P&P.

Verity, the language hasn't been completely modernised but enough that most people will notice (an audience unfamiliar with Austen).

Karen, I find it odd that BBC iplayer isn't available worldwide and think it should be. I imagine it is because we pay for it with our TV license.

Jackie, sometimes -especially with period literature- it can be easier to watch the adaptation first or read-along whilst watching it episode to episode. I love Emma.

verity said...

I wonder if they thought "modernising" it makes it more accessible to the masses?

Reading along episode by episode is fun but risky. My parents did this with Brideshead in the 80s; it was only 10 years later that my Mum revealed she'd read the last few chapters before the last episode as she couldn't wait to find out what happened. My Dad was quite cross!

Darlene said...

Thanks for the clip, I'm so looking forward to Emma reaching us over on this side of the pond. I must admit though, Jeremy Northam is MY Mr Knightley.

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, isn't it curious how we become attached to particular characters in the role and that is then whom we imagine when we read about the character? I cannot -nor would I want to- see anyone but Colin Firth in my mind's eye as Mr Darcy.

Portlandia said...

I too will always consider Jeremy Northam to be "MY Mr. Knightley" and Colin Firth to be the only real Mr. Darcy.

In recent years I have been introducing the little girls in my family (10-12 years old) to Jane Austen's books and their movie adaptations. It's interesting to observe that my 11 year old niece likes Keira Knightley's Elizabeth but prefers Colin Firth's Darcy (and would rather watch the 6 hour BBC adaptation than the two hour movie). I'm proud of her even though I prefer Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Portlandia, thanks for commenting. Good for you introducing Austen to the younger girls in your life and good for your niece deciding on her own preferred versions of Elizabeth and Darcy. I prefer Jennifer Ehle too although in the clip I've seen of the big-screen adaptation of P&P, Keira Knightley did a impressive job.

Mae said...

I've never read Emma but I'm reading it now. I'm a fan of Romola Garai so I'm looking forward to seeing the adaptation (although I do think wide eyes are better than bad acting!).

BBC and Andrew Davies do generally do good adaptations but the recent Wuthering Heights (Davies?) was a bit...meh.

Paperback Reader said...

Mae, I hope you are enjoying Emma and I envy you your first read of it.

Wide eyes are definitely preferable to bad acting and it is the only thing that I could criticise! I just found it odd and it began to grate.

I rarely watch period dramas but ones of Jane Austen books are ones I don't like to miss.

Samantha said...

I have to say I am an unadulturated (sp?) Romola Garai fan - I first saw her in the I Capture the Castle adaptation and have loved her ever since so I am really looking forward to watching this. I have only read Emma once - about 20 years ago - so I think it is probably due a reread!

Hazra said...

I've seen nearly all the Pride and Prejudice adaptations, but none of the others. Honestly, I haven't read all of Jane Austen's novels (shame, I know), and I want to read the books before watching the movies

Paperback Reader said...

Definitely due a reread! Garai is lovely and I look forward to her future endeavours.

Hi Hazra, thanks for commenting. It is definitely wise to read the books before watching the adaptations and then enjoying them afterwards. I've only recently read the last remaining Austen novel I had to read (Persuasion) but now I can reread them all!

mjk said...

...the BBC set a high mark for Jane Austen adaptations with Pride and Prejudice - it will take something quite exceptional to surpass Colin Firth coming out of a pool of water dripping wet in *that* shirt... ; ) ha!

Paperback Reader said...

Miss mjk, I sincerely doubt that scene could ever be surpassed ;).

Lisa said...

I don't know that I would like a "looser" adaptation of "Emma." Part of the great fun of the book is the speech and mannerisms.

makedoandread said...

I hope we get that here in the states soon! I have a fondness for Emma, and while I do like the Gwyneth Paltrow version, this one looks quite good. I'm especially intrigued by Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Lisa, thanks for commenting. I agree and, as I said, it jars at times. However, I didn't think I would like a modernised Pride and Prejudice/modern girl trapped inside her favourite novel but I love Lost in Austen.

makedo, I hope it makes it across the pond soon. Tamsin Greig was great, I thought!

Jodie said...

It seems awful to say, but the facial expressions got to me too. It was a bit Austen-lite for me but cute enough to watch (and Harriet was wonderful). Having never read Emma I was horribly disappointed by the way Frank and Jane ended up together, he jsut wasn't worthy of her, but she couldn't see it.

Paperback Reader said...

Jodie, glad that it wasn't just me! The facial expressions were incongruous. It was quite Austen-lite, certainly compared to P&P. Frank & Jane's relationship annoyed me in book too but I didn't think there was any chemistry to merit their relationship in the adaptation; Frank Churchill is an ass.

Michelle said...

This adaptation including took a lot of artistic license. I thought the "wanderlust" theme was interesting and done pretty well, especially in the interactions between Emma & her father. Romola Garai & Michael Gambon made this a great adaptation for me.

My biggest gripe was the Jane/Frank romance. What a jerk he was throughout! And then suddenly auntie dies & everyone is saying how "well suited" they are for one another. Phony & unbelievable. On a positive note, it makes me want to reread the book to see the actual interaction between these characters.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Michelle, thank you for commenting. Michael Gambon was wonderful as Mr Wodehouse and I agree that the wanderlust addition made a wonderful addition, emphasising the restrictions on the way of life at the time (especially Emma's).

Frank Weston's behaviour was deplorable and his relationship with Jane wasn't believable in the slightest. I also wanted to reread the novel to see how their chemistry was on paper.