Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Very little to distress or vex

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!

10 comments:

StuckInABook said...

Nice review :-)
My problem is that JLM *looks* about 24, however old he might actually be... but, like you, I can't wait for Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton. I think she'll be amazing.

GeraniumCat said...

Oh dear, it made me feel old and grouchy, everyone too modern, though some of the costumes are lovely. I'm very fond of the book, it's always my favourite when I'm reading it (as are all the others).

Alina Gordelli said...

Totally agree with you regarding marvellous Jeremy Northam (as usual) and fabulously and pitifully irritating Ms Bates in the film version. Even childlishly naughty Gwyneth was good, in my opinion.

OVW said...

Mrs Bates was also a wonderfully silent 'spectre at the feast' and an extremely unrewarding companion for Miss Bates - no wonder Miss Bates was inclined to gush - she must have been desperate for company - hence the outcome of smothering the friendships she might have had if she hadn't been so needy.
Thanks for backing me up in other respects!
Anne (aka OVW)

Bloomsbury Bell said...

I haven't watched any of this series yet - I am going to watch them all on iPlayer at some point. I really enjoyed Romola Garai in I Capture the Castle so I hope her performance as Emma lives up to my expectations!

Thomas said...

I look forward to seeing this. I liked the Paltrow version until I developed a near hatred for Paltrow the person. Now I can't really stand the Paltrow Emma. Even though you are right Miss Bates was astounding.

oxford-reader said...

GeramiumCat: I think that's the main problem with it, far too modern in it's take. I'm sure audiences now could cope with an accurate portrayal. They did for Cranford!

Having seen the second episode, I think it's Emma's pert and slightly silly attitude that annoys me the most. She's not Lydia, and Romola Garai shouldn't try to make her so. And what's with that terribly quick curtsey she does? That really gets on my wick!

skirmishofwit said...

I very much enjoyed your review! I too have been watching the latest Emma with mixed feelings. I had been really excited about the choice of Romola Garai as Emma (remembering her from Daniel Deronda), but there is something about her performance that I find quite jarring. I hate her clumsy, bob-like curtsy for one - so un-Emma like!

skirmishofwit said...

Just read the comment before and see you hate her curtsy too! Glad I'm not the only one!

Elaine said...

I will freely admit, now that I have just watched the final episode, that I loved this Emma. I know lots of people did not and can understand why, but despite my misgivings prior to its showing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think Romola Gari was perfect in the title role and emphasised the self doubt and vulnerability which is really at the bottom of emma's behaviour (IMHO). Michael gambon - I could watch him do anything and I liked his portrayal of Mr Woodhouse and found the father-daughter relatinship as portrayed here, very moving