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Posts Tagged ‘Emma 2009’

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 reads two pages of Milton

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's very pale painting of Harriet Smith

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:

Emma is invited to play first at the Coles' party

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?

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Romola Garai as Emma

Once again PBS will host a Twitter Party during the second installment of Emma 2009. Come join me and Laurel Ann from Austenprose for a chat from 9-11 PM EST. PBS has also arranged for a Twitter Fest for those who live on the west coast. That Twitter Chat will begin at 9 PM PT and last until 11 PM. Click here for the details. Don’t forget to use the hash tag #emma_pbs! See you there.

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IMDb has become an indispensable site for those of us who love movies. I especially love the trivia the site features about each film. Take Emma 2009, for example. Costumes that were recycled from other films are listed there. Let’s look at a few:

Johdi May's purple coat

The purple coat Jodhi May (Mrs. Weston) wears on market day in Highbury is the same costume Hattie Morahan (Elinor Dashwood) wears when she arrives at Barton Cottage in “Sense & Sensibility” (2008).

Elinor in purple pelisse

The dark Spencer worn by Louise Dylan (Harriet Smith) to visit the poor is the same costume Lucy Scott wears in “Pride and Prejudice”(1995).

Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan) in dark spencer

The off-white dress with floral embroidery on the bodice worn by Christina Cole (Mrs. Elton) for her big entrance in church is the same costume worn by Cesca Martin in “The Regency House Party” (2004) during her “engagement,” and by Natasha Little (Becky Sharp) at Park Lane in “Vanity Fair” (1998).

Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton, Her Entrance in Church

The gray gown with gold bow print worn by Tamsin Greig (Miss Bates) to Miss Taylor’s wedding is the same costume worn by Anna Massey (Aunt Norris) in “Mansfield Park” (1983), Phyllida Law (Mrs. Bates) in Emma (1996), Lindsay Duncan (Mrs. Price) when Fanny leaves home in Mansfield Park (1999), Janine Duvitski (Mrs. Meagles) in “Little Dorrit” (2008), and Linda Bassett (Mrs. Jennings) in London in “Sense & Sensibility” (2008).

Miss Bates in gray pelisse and Emma in a floral gown

The floral print dress worn by Romola Garai (Emma) to Miss Taylor’s wedding is the same costume worn by Dagmara Dominczyk (Mercedès Iguanada) for Edmond’s homecoming at the beginning of The Count of Monte Cristo (2002).

Johdi May in lilac floral colored wrap dress

The lilac colored floral wrap dress Jodhi May (Anne Taylor/Weston) wears at Hartfield is the same costume worn by Denise Black (Mrs.Brocklebank) in “To the Ends of the Earth” (2005), and Alex Kingston (Mrs.Bennet) in “Lost in Austen” (2008).

Wearing a floral waistcoat at the Cole's party, Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley

The blue floral waistcoat Jonny Lee Miller (Mr.Knightley) wears at the Coles’ party is the same costume worn by Joseph Beattie (Henry Crawford) in Mansfield Park (2007) (TV).

Henry and Mary Crawford

For more recycled fashion comparisons, go to this link.

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Miss Emma Woodhouse was a bright, articulate, privileged and beautiful young lady who possessed an unswerving sense of her lofty position in Highbury society. To some, Gwynneth Paltrow, an equally privileged woman in real life, was perfect for the role. For me, Kate Beckinsale (A&E Emma) and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) are unbeatable as Jane Austen’s favorite heroine. With PBS’s recent showing of Emma 2009, many are coming to prefer Romola Garai’s more vivacious interpretation. (Read my review here.) Regardless of which actress portrays Emma, class distinctions play a pivotal role in the plot . Today I present to you (largely in Jane Austen’s own words) the reasons why so much ado was made over who could marry whom and why a very young, single woman was given the best seat at Highbury’s tables.

Mr. Elton was presumptuous in courting Emma:

Mr. Elton’s wanting to pay his addresses to her had sunk him in her opinion. His professions and his proposals did him no service. She thought nothing of his attachment, and was insulted by his hopes. He wanted to marry well, and having the arrogance to raise his eyes to her, pretended to be in love; but she was perfectly easy as to his not suffering any disappointment that need be cared for. There had been no real affection either in his language or manners. Sighs and fine words had been given in abundance; but she could hardly devise any set of expressions, or fancy any tone of voice, less allied with real love. She need not trouble herself to pity him. He only wanted to aggrandise and enrich himself; and if Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, the heiress of thirty thousand pounds, were not quite so easily obtained as he had fancied, he would soon try for Miss Somebody else with twenty, or with ten…”

Mr Elton presumes to sit between Emma and Mrs. Weston

Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family–and that the Eltons were nobody. The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged; but their fortune, from other sources, was such as to make them scarcely secondary to Donwell Abbey itself, in every other kind of consequence; and the Woodhouses had long held a high place in the consideration of the neighbourhood which Mr. Elton had first entered not two years ago, to make his way as he could, without any alliances but in trade, or any thing to recommend him to notice but his situation and his civility. – Chapter 16


Donwell Abbey

When a woman married, she took on her husband’s status. Therefore it would have made no sense for Emma to have come down in the world and married Mr. Elton, a mere vicar. For marriage material, she (and her sister) would have naturally looked towards the Knightley brothers.  Be that as it may, Emma thought of Mr Elton as “quite the gentleman himself, and without low connections; at the same time not of any family that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Harriet. He had a comfortable home for her, and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property;” (I, Ch.4, p.33)  After Emma’s unceremonious rejection of his suit, Mr. Elton left Highbury in a dudgeon and wound up marrying well, for his bride came with £10,000.

The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away—he had gained a woman of 10,000, or thereabouts; and he had gained her with such delightful rapidity—the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious—the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green’s, and the party at Mrs. Brown’s—smiles and blushes rising in importance—with consciousness and agitation richly scattered—the lady had been so easily impressed—so sweetly disposed—had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.

Mr and Mrs Elton on Box Hill Emma 2009

Blake Ritson and Christina Cole as Mr and Mrs. Elton

Mr. Elton provided his wife with a respectable home and living. Augusta’s mistake was in thinking that through her marriage, she belonged to the same echelon of society as Emma. In Emma’s estimation:

[Mrs. Elton] was good enough for Mr. Elton, no doubt; accomplished enough for Highbury—handsome enough—to look plain, probably, by Harriet’s side. As to connection, there Emma was perfectly easy; persuaded, that after all his own vaunted claims and disdain of Harriet, he had done nothing. On that article, truth seemed attainable. What she was, must be uncertain; but who she was, might be found out; and setting aside the 10,000l., it did not appear that she was at all Harriet’s superior. She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol-merchant, of course, he must be called; but, as the whole of the profits of his mercantile life appeared so very moderate, it was not unfair to guess the dignity of his line of trade had been very moderate also. Part of every winter she had been used to spend in Bath; but Bristol was her home, the very heart of Bristol; for though the father and mother had died some years ago, an uncle remained—in the law line—nothing more distinctly honourable was hazarded of him, than that he was in the law line; and with him the daughter had lived. Emma guessed him to be the drudge of some attorney, and too stupid to rise. And all the grandeur of the connection seemed dependent on the elder sister, who was very well married, to a gentleman in a great way, near Bristol, who kept two carriages! That was the wind-up of the history; that was the glory of Miss Hawkins.

Hartfield

The Coles, who made their living from trade, did not move in the same circles as Emma, but many of the people she associated with felt comfortable visiting the Coles, including the Westons and Mr. Knightley:

The Coles had been settled some years in Highbury, and were very good sort of people–friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. On their first coming into the country, they had lived in proportion to their income, quietly, keeping little company, and that little unexpensively; but the last year or two had brought them a considerable increase of means– the house in town had yielded greater profits, and fortune in general had smiled on them. With their wealth, their views increased; their want of a larger house, their inclination for more company. They added to their house, to their number of servants, to their expenses of every sort; and by this time were, in fortune and style of living, second only to the family at Hartfield. Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared every body for their keeping dinner-company; and a few parties, chiefly among the single men, had already taken place. The regular and best families Emma could hardly suppose they would presume to invite– neither Donwell, nor Hartfield, nor Randalls. Nothing should tempt her to go, if they did; and she regretted that her father’s known habits would be giving her refusal less meaning than she could wish. The Coles were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them. This lesson, she very much feared, they would receive only from herself; she had little hope of Mr. Knightley, none of Mr. Weston.

But she had made up her mind how to meet this presumption so many weeks before it appeared, that when the insult came at last, it found her very differently affected. Donwell and Randalls had received their invitation, and none had come for her father and herself.

Mr. Robert Martin, yeoman farmer, made a comfortable living, but he had no social standing to speak of, at least not in Emma’s eyes:

Jefferson Hall as Robert Martin

There was no reason for Emma to associate with a young yeoman farmer and she was not expected to acknowledge him when they met in public, for they had not formally met. And he would not presume to speak to her until he received a proper  introduction.  This conversation between Emma and Harriet explains Emma’s attitude towards Mr. Martin:

Harriet: But, did you never see him? He is in Highbury every now and then, and he is sure to ride through every week in his way to Kingston. He has passed you very often.”

Emma: “That may be—and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.”

The success of tradesmen and farmers meant the class distinctions were beginning to blur at this time: “Mr. Martin is not, in fact, a mere tenant “farmer” but a prosperous yeoman – an excellent catch for the portionless Harriet Smith.” (- Cathleen Meyers, Emma). In fact, Harriet recalls her two months with the Martins with fondness:

… she had spent two very happy months with [the Martins], and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place … of Mrs. Martin’s having “two parlours, two very good parlours indeed; one of them quite as large as Mrs. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of her having an upper maid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her; and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow, indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying, as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow; and of their having a very handsome summer-house in their garden, where some day next year they were all to drink tea:—a very handsome summer-house, large enough to hold a dozen people.”

Mr. Martin worked on Mr. Knightley’s estate, and the two men saw each other frequently to conduct business, which is how Mr. Knightley came to greatly esteem the sensible young man:

I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin. He always speaks to the purpose; open, straight forward, and very well judging. He told me every thing; his circumstances and plans, and what they all proposed doing in the event of his marriage. He is an excellent young man, both as son and brother. I had no hesitation in advising him to marry. He proved to me that he could afford it; and that being the case, I was convinced he could not do better. I praised the fair lady too, and altogether sent him away very happy.

Once Harriet married Robert Martin, she and Emma would no longer travel in the same social circles. But, as Mr. Knightley rightly pointed out,  Mr. Martin was an excellent catch for Harriet, the natural daughter of somebody. When Mr. Knightley learns that Harriet (through Emma’s persuasion) had rejected Mr. Martin’s proposal of marriage, he exclaimed:

Louise Dyland as Harriet and Romola Garai as Emma read a riddle

“No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith’s claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. My only scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath his deserts, and a bad connexion for him. I felt, that as to fortune, in all probability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, he could not do worse. But I could not reason so to a man in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, to her having that sort of disposition, which, in good hands, like his, might be easily led aright and turn out very well. The advantage of the match I felt to be all on her side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would be a general cry-out upon her extreme good luck.

Miss Bates and  Mrs. Bates, although well respected, had no money to speak of:

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates

The penniless widows of Vicars led a hard-scrabble life, for there were no pensions. As a former Vicar’s wife, Mrs. Bates still had some social standing in the community, retaining her position in the second tier of society. But she and her daughter needed to live economically and they depended on charity from friends to help stretch their meager income. After moving from the comfortable vicarage house, they settled into spare rooms above a shop in the center of town.

After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so often that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.

Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible.

Mr. Weston’s social position was inferior to his son, Frank’s:

Robert Bathurst as Mr. Weston

Mr. Weston, a former military man, married up. His first wife assumed his social standing and came down in the world. This brought conflict to their short marriage. After the first Mrs. Weston died, her son,  Frank, was raised by his rich uncle and his wife, the Churchills. It was quite common at the time for childless families to adopt someone else’s child (this happened with Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, who took on the name of his adopted family – Knight), and thus Frank’s social position rose above his father’s. It was not inconceivable or far fetched that Emma would set her eyes in his direction. The adoption meant that Frank was in line to inherit Enscombe, which meant that his most pressing duty lay towards the ailing Mrs. Churchill, who was in control of Frank’s purse strings and her will. Had Mrs. Churchill known of Frank’s secret engagement to Jane Fairfax, a woman with no marriage portion or prospects, she would have been seriously displeased.

Mr. Weston was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectable family, which for the last two or three generations had been rising into gentility and property. He had received a good education, but on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers were engaged; and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.

Captain Weston was a general favourite; and when the chances of his military life had introduced him to Miss Churchill, of a great Yorkshire family, and Miss Churchill fell in love with him, nobody was surprized except her brother and his wife, who had never seen him, and who were full of pride and importance, which the connection would offend.

Miss Churchill, however, being of age, and with the full command of her fortune—though her fortune bore no proportion to the family-estate—was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it took place to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, who threw her off with due decorum. It was an unsuitable connection, and did not produce much happiness. Mrs. Weston ought to have found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper made him think every thing due to her in return for the great goodness of being in love with him; but though she had one sort of spirit, she had not the best. She had resolution enough to pursue her own will in spite of her brother, but not enough to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother’s unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her former home. They lived beyond their income, but still it was nothing in comparison of Enscombe: she did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once to be the wife of Captain Weston, and Miss Churchill of Enscombe.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill

Captain Weston, who had been considered, especially by the Churchills, as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died, after a three years’ marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child, however, he was soon relieved. The boy had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering illness of his mother’s, been the means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, having no children of their own, nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of the little Frank soon after her decease. Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations, the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills, and he had only his own comfort to seek and his own situation to improve as he could.

A complete change of life became desirable. He quitted the militia and engaged in trade, having brothers already established in a good way in London, which afforded him a favourable opening. It was a concern which brought just employment enough. He had still a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away. He had, by that time, realized an easy competence—enough to secure the purchase of a little estate adjoining Highbury, which he had always longed for—enough to marry a woman as portionless even as Miss Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of his own friendly and social disposition.

Jane Fairfax’s future as governess was tenuous at best:

Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax

Well educated and raised in comfort by the Campbell’s, Jane’s only hope of making her way in the world was as a governess. Her position in society would have been untenable, as Jane Austen described: “With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace, and hope, to penance and mortification forever.”  Read more about the position of governess in my post,  The Governess in the Age of Jane Austen at this link. The following conversation between Mrs. Elton and Jane describes her predicament:

“I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do.”

“Something that would do!” repeated Mrs. Elton. “Aye, that may suit your humble ideas of yourself;—I know what a modest creature you are; but it will not satisfy your friends to have you taking up with any thing that may offer, any inferior, commonplace situation, in a family not moving in a certain circle, or able to command the elegancies of life.”

“You are very obliging; but as to all that, I am very indifferent; it would be no object to me to be with the rich; my mortifications, I think, would only be the greater; I should suffer more from comparison. A gentleman’s family is all that I should condition for.”

“I know you, I know you; you would take up with any thing; but I shall be a little more nice, and I am sure the good Campbells will be quite on my side; with your superior talents, you have a right to move in the first circle. Your musical knowledge alone would entitle you to name your own terms, have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the family as much as you chose;—that is—I do not know—if you knew the harp, you might do all that, I am very sure; but you sing as well as play;—yes, I really believe you might, even without the harp, stipulate for what you chose;—and you must and shall be delightfully, honourably and comfortably settled before the Campbells or I have any rest.”

“You may well class the delight, the honour, and the comfort of such a situation together,” said Jane, “they are pretty sure to be equal; however, I am very serious in not wishing any thing to be attempted at present for me. I am exceedingly obliged to you, Mrs. Elton, I am obliged to any body who feels for me, but I am quite serious in wishing nothing to be done till the summer.

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller as Emma and Mr. Knightley

Highbury was a small, circumscribed town, and Emma’s choices for a mate were extremely limited. It is with no wonder (and quite a bit of satisfaction) that she came to recognize her feelings for Mr. Knightley. With her marriage to him and his willingness to move to Hartfield, her social situation scarcely changed at all.

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Watching Emma 2009 is a visual feast for the eye. I wrote about my visceral reaction to this film for the PBS blog Remotely Connected and discussed the similarities between Jane Austen and Vermeer. This review addresses my other impressions about Emma 2009, first shown by the BBC in Great Britain last fall and airing on PBS Masterpiece Classic over the next three Sundays. Take a poll here and tell us what you think of Episode One.

A young Emma plays with her sister Isabella in Hartfield

I am of two minds about this new version of Emma. The script follows the story linearly, from Emma’s birth to the moment of Miss Taylor’s wedding to Mr. Weston, whereas in the book the story starts with the marriage. Interestingly, the narrator at the start of the film is Jonny Lee Miller (Mr Knightley), and we hear of Emma’s story from his perspective. The film sets up three characters from the start: Emma Woodhouse, Frank Churchill née Weston, and Jane Fairfax. All three children lost their mothers at an early age, but only Emma remained in Highbury. She led a charmed life under the care of her governess, Miss Taylor, a kind and loving mother figure.

Emma walks with Miss Taylor in Highbury

I must admit that I was in “high dudgeon” when I first watched these scenes, unable to connect the script to Jane Austen’s writing. However, I am aware that films are a visual and expensive medium, and they must not only take into account time restrictions, but also the richness of visual language. It might take Jane Austen several pages to describe a scene that the eye can perceive within moments. Mr. Woodhouse’s nervous-Nellie approach to life, always worried about the minutia of the health and the welfare of his family and friends, is woven into the fabric of the script, and is often shown more than told.

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates

Mrs. and Miss Bates’ downfall is not described per se. We first see them saying goodbye to Jane Fairfax in the hallway of the comfortable vicarage, which was their home when Rev. Bates was still alive. We then see them next in their new lodging, an upstairs apartment in Highbury with crumbling walls and meanly furnished rooms. A single glance from Tamsin Greig (Miss Bates) belies her cheery disposition and tells us all we need to know about their reduced circumstances.

Emma 2010 character costumes compliment the setting and each other

I was also struck by the costumes and how the colors the characters wore complimented the settings as well as each other. In one scene in Hartfield, Mr. Knightley’s vest, Mr. Woodhouse’s scarf, and Emma’s sash picked up the colors in the room and of each other. This scheme is followed repeatedly in many scenes.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley reacts to Harriet Smith's rejection of Mr. Martin

The more I watch this film adaptation (I have seen portions of it four times), the more my impressions of the actors keep changing. In real life, Jonny Lee Miller is 37 years old, exactly Mr. Knightley’s age. Some critics have thought him too young or all wrong for the part, but as the film progressed, especially in the second and third installments, I warmed towards him. I now regard his performance as George Knightley as my favorite of all the actors who have played this gentleman. High praise coming from me, for I admit I was among the naysayers when Jonny’s casting was first announced.

Emma (Romola Garai) talks to Mr. Knightley

Although I changed my mind about Jonny Lee Miller, I have never quite warmed up to Romola Garai as Emma. She is a lovely and talented actress, and I liked her star turn in Daniel Deronda immensely, but I found her facial contortions in this film disconcerting and cannot recall such exaggerated mannerisms in her other films. A friend who watched the film with me liked Romola’s performance, saying that her portrayal of a spoilt, headstrong girl who was raised by a doting father was spot on. However, I thought Romola’s performance was too theatrical, as if she were trying to reach the audience seated in the last row of a large theatre. The camera’s lens magnifies everything facial movement, and she could have (should have) toned down her grimaces, toothy smiles, and wide-eyed looks of wonder or consternation. I did come to appreciate Romola’s chemistry with Jonny Lee Miller, which was palpable. One can see the sparks fly between these two characters, which is the point of a romance after all.

Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton offers to take Emma's drawing to London to be framed. Mr. Knightley watches the scene, aware of Mr. Elton's intentions, but Emma is clueless.

As for the secondary characters, I admired Tamsin Greig’s Miss Bates, which surprised me. While her character is irritating, Tamsin managed to make us feel sorry for her even as we were irritated by her babbling. Her performance is almost as memorable as Sophie Thompson’s, whose 1996 portrayal of Miss Bates remains my favorite. Valerie Lillie’s performance as Mrs. Bates was way past tea, for she looked comatose and unresponsive. Frankly, her part required nothing more than for her to sit in a chair and look dour. Blake Ritson’s turn as Mr. Elton was a bit too mannered for my tastes, but he was perfectly matched with Christina Cole’s vulgar Mrs. Elton. And I quit liked Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith: pretty but not as attractive as beautiful Emma, sweet-natured and malleable, and as dim as a snuffed candle. I’m not sure Michael Gambon was quite right for the part of Mr. Woodhouse. His face and figure are too vigorous for a hypochondriac and worrywart, and his performance did not in any way displace my estimation of Bernard Hepton’s masterful portrayal of Mr.Woodhouse in 1996.

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse

As far as I am concerned, the Frank Churchill of my imagination has never been captured by any of the Emma adaptations, including this one. I thought that pug-nosed Rupert Evans was all wrong for the part and I did not believe for a moment that anything about his looks or behavior would attract Emma’s interest. As for Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax, she’s talented, but much too mousy for my tastes. Yes, her situation is untenable, for Frank does not at all act in a gentleman like manner, but I rather liked Olivia Williams’ interpretation of the character, beautiful, demure, and alternately angry and hurt.

Emma finally meets Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans)

This film gets stronger with each episode, and the second and third installments sealed my admiration for this latest version of Emma. The cinematography is beautiful and the actors play their characters in lovely interiors, settings and locations. The film is almost four hours long, which, thankfully, allows for more plot and character development than a 2-hour version.

At the Coles, Emma and Mrs. Weston (Johdi May) listen to Jane Fairfax sing and play

I must add that PBS has gone out of its way to make its Masterpiece Classic site worth visiting. Those who missed the first installment can watch it online starting Monday, January 25th. The site offers a Bachelors of Highbury quiz (such fun), a Romola Garai audio slide show, screenwriter Q&A with Sandy Welch, and other features.

My other posts:

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Update: My review of Emma

Oh, how droll! An Emma Twitter Party. What! You have no Twitter account? It’s not too late to form one and join me, PBS, and a host of other Austen lovers during the Twitfest on Sunday, January 24, from 9-11 PM EST.  PBS has kindly asked me (and other Jane Austen bloggers, like Laurel Ann, my co-blogger on Jane Austen Today) to join in on the conversation.  Click here to learn ALL the details.

If you decide to join in, make sure to tag your posts with the hashtag #emma_pbs and visit PBS @pbs@masterpiecepbs on TweetGrid, or use your own favorite aggregator. As Jane wrote sagely:

My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation

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box hill3

The incident at Box Hill loomed large in this episode. What did you think of the series as a whole? How did it stack up against other Emma film adaptations? Vote here.
box hill mr knightley gift of book
More polls sit below asking you how well the actors fit in their roles. To save you from fatigue, not all the show’s actors are listed.


emma mr knightley

eltons frank

bates harriet mr martin

emma and knightley kiss

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