Jane Austen had a few ideas about what would happen to some of her characters in the future. Emma’s Mr. Woodhouse would live for two more years after his daughter’s marriage to Mr. Knightley, and the letters from Frank Churchill that Jane Fairfax placed before her contained the word “pardon.” These little tidbits of information help to make the books and movie adaptations so much more enjoyable to read and watch.
In my previous observations of the film adaptation of Emma 2009, I mentioned several times that I disliked Romola Garai’s interpretation of the role, but I have now seen the film four times AND rewatched other Emma films, including Clueless, which remains my favorite. I have also been listening to the full book version of Emma on my iPod. My mama sagely told me, “you CAN teach an old dog new tricks”, and after the second episode of Emma aired on PBS last week and after viewing the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma (1996) with a friend, this crotchety old dog has come to the rather astonishing realization that she likes Romola as Emma after all.
Romola’s quick moving, restless Emma captures her immaturity and boredom. Highbury is a town that is much too confining for such a talented, rich and lively young lady, and with so little to do, this self-indulgent and coddled girl can’t help but create mischief. If only Emma could apply herself long enough to become proficient at something, she might have been able to keep her nose out of other peoples’ lives. But she keeps making lists, with every intention of reading the books. As Mr. Knightley observed to Mrs Weston:
Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding.
Emma also paints, but, as her portfolio (and pale painting of Harriet Smith) demonstrates, she is hard pressed to finish these projects.
Emma wished to go to work directly, and therefore produced the portfolio containing her various attempts at portraits, for not one of them had ever been finished, that they might decide together on the best size for Harriet. Her many beginnings were displayed. Miniatures, half-lengths, whole-lengths, pencil, crayon, and water-colours had been all tried in turn. She had always wanted to do everything, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to.”
Emma can play the pianoforte prettily enough, but not as well as Jane Fairfax, which bothers her:
She did unfeignedly and unequivocally regret the inferiority of her own playing and singing. She did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood–and sat down and practised vigorously an hour and a half.
She was then interrupted by Harriet’s coming in; and if Harriet’s praise could have satisfied her, she might soon have been comforted.
“Oh! if I could but play as well as you and Miss Fairfax!”
“Don’t class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like her’s, than a lamp is like sunshine.” – Emma, Volume 2, Chapter 9
Sandy Welch, scriptwriter of this Emma adaptation, observed that Cher, the Emma character in Clueless, was bossy but sweet and well-meaning. In her script, Ms. Welch wanted to show that the coddled young Emma had an attitude of “well-meaning snobbishness” and that in all her meddling, she sincerely thought: “doesn’t everyone think like this?”
And so in my fourth viewing of Romola’s performance as Jane Austen’s wealthiest and most entitled heroine, I have finally come to admire this heroine. My change of heart was especially helped when I reviewed previous Emma adaptations during the last snow storm, and realized just how thoroughly this new production fit in with our modern sensibilities. I (and a few of my Janeite friends) still think that Romola’s facial grimaces and wide eyed interpretation of a very young Emma in the first half of the series were overly exaggerated, but she toned down her performance as Emma matured and grew in understanding.
Her scenes with Jonny Lee Miller during his proposal were tender and touching and gave a fitting ending to the series. I shall miss these Sunday evenings watching Emma. Thankfully, PBS will be showing reruns of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, which were originally shown during Jane Austen Season two years ago. Jane Austen fans can take heart that our time with the bonnet series is not yet over.
Now that you have seen all the episodes of Emma, what did you think?