I wasn't going to post on the new BBC adaptation of Emma for another week or so, but Simon has done so, and I got rather animated in my response to it, and the other comments, so I feel I must air my views on this latest bonnet and bodice fest.
I like Emma, although it's not my favourite Austen, but I don't think I've ever seen a truly satisfactory production. The BBC's 1972 version is terribly stuffy - Emma looks to be in her 30s (even though Doran Godwin was only 22), Mr Knightley is hopelessly old, and not remotely handsome, and it has that odd lighting quality that seems to be a feature of 70s television. The filmed version with Gwyneth Paltrow has two redeeming features: Jeremy Northam (be still my beating heart) as Mr Knightley and Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates. Stellar casting, both of them.
The new version of Jane Austen's classic started this Sunday, and I sank quite comfortably into the familar story. Interestingly, a good fifteen minutes were spent depiciting Miss Taylor's wedding to Mr Weston, when in the book the event is covered in the first three pages, so the movement into the actual story is considered in the frame of Emma's loss. After that, we are very swiftly catapulted into Emma's ridiculous matchmaking, with the inevitable problems that causes.
Casting is always an issue, and I think Romola Garai is good in the title role. She's very good in period drama (I loved her in Daniel Deronda and Vanity Fair ), but there was something lacking in her performance. Perhaps it was the slight modernity of the script, or some of her movements, but I felt jarred slightly. I am very much on the fence over Michael Gambon's performance as Mr Woodhouse. In my opinion, Gambon is a very forceful actor; one is always aware of his presence. In contrast, my view of Mr Woodhouse is rather peripheral. Just a fussy nuisance. Having said that, Gambon does have flashes of whiny genius, so perhaps there is hope.
The biggest casting decision, that seems to be dividing people all over the place is Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley. Is he too young? Is he too handsome? Is he too modern? The answer to all three of these is possibly 'yes', but in actual fact Knightley was only 38, and Jonny is 37, so it's probably his slightly pretty boy looks that have got people's backs up. I have to say that the rapport he has with Emma is fantastic, if a little less brotherly than we are led to expect. It's only the first episode and he's already tearing a hole in Emma's judgement. I can't wait until the picnic (and ooh - Mrs Elton is played by Christina Cole, who played Caroline Bingley in Lost in Austen ... that should be fantastic to watch!).
I am reserving my complete judgement for a while. I like it, and think the main aspects work, but there is something I can't put my finger on that makes me think it's lacking in some way. Is it just that everyone is just a touch too modern to be properly Austenesque? I shall have to watch the second episode ... watch this space!