Emily Hill of the Evening Standard isn’t thrilled with this adaptation of Emma:
The tension of the series comes not from the characters being marooned in stuffy Regency England, but from the bizarre twenty-first-century dating psychobabble. At some point, whoever created this very pretty 9 pm drama seems to have thrown the actual novel aside and adapted the work with exclusive reference to other Jane Austen adaptations and what they think middle-aged women want to down with their end-of-Sabbath Chardonnay. Even the actors seem to be stuck in synthetic Austen-land.
Having watched 3/4 of the film, tell us what you thought of Emma, Episode Three
My rambling discourse about hair echoes my thinking about this production of Emma, for I can’t decide whether I like it or not. Count me as one of the viewers who is still sitting on the fence. I understand that the producers wanted to modernize and jazz Emma up, so that a new audience can appreciate her story. But many liberties were taken in the process, such as with Jane Austen’s dialogue and wit, which are practically nonexistent. Let’s examine the hair styles in this film. Ringlets were in vogue at the time Jane Austen wrote the novel. They peeped out of bonnets and mobcaps. Even when hair was pulled back into a chignon, ringlets would be fashioned around the face and in front of the ears.
In this image, Harriet Smith’s hair style has ringlets aplenty, but is more reminiscent of the updos worn in 1826-1832, when the ringlets resembled poodle ears. Of course, this hairdo did have a certain cinematic effect, for Harriet is a bit silly and naive and the hairdo suits her personality to a tee. If you recall, Mrs. Bennet (Alison Steadman) in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice was given a similar hair do, and every time she spoke, her ringlets shook, making her seem even sillier.
In the next image, Christina Cole (Augusta Elton), below, demonstrates the sort of hair/bonnet combination I have come to associate with the era. Her loose ringlets peep out from under her straw hat most becomingly.
Emma was published in 1815. Let’s compare Augusta’s hair and cap to fashion plate images of the same year. Close enough, don’t you think? Her bonnet is different, but there were many modish styles to choose from and one can’t quibble with a becoming straw cap.
Why was such a plain and unflattering hairstyle chosen for beautiful Jodhi May? Was her hair Quakerish on purpose so that she would not compete in beauty with Emma? At this point she is no longer a governess, but the mistress of her own house and can dress herself accordingly. Even poor Miss Bates (sitting at right below) shows more attempt at “styling”.
This plain upswept chignon was adorned with simple curls in front of the ears, which would have helped Jodhi’s hairstyle immensely, making it seem more “authentic.”
In this image, Blake Ritson wears his hair a la Brutus, a style commonly worn by men in the Regency era. Poor Harriet (Louise Dylan) is stuck with the poodle style for the duration of the film.
In the image below, Blake looks like he’s about to enter Bedlam, which I suppose was his hair stylist’s intention, for Mr. Elton IS a ridiculous character. Still, Blake’s facial ticks should have been enough to clue the viewer in. We didn’t need crazy hair as well.
To be fair, men pomaded their hair and created fantastic styles. Witness Beau Brummel in 1805.
Which begs the question: Why did Jonny Lee Miller fashion his hair a la the 21st century?
Men wore their hair in many styles, some elaborate, and some quite sleek and modern to our eyes. Jonny’s hairstyle is remarkably close to McMurdo’s below, who, from the neck up would not look too out of place in today’s world.
Women often wore caps in bed, which they drew over their paper curlers. Hair was washed only occasionally in those days, and caps prevented pillow cases from being soiled from accumulated oil and dirt.
Ok, we get it. Harriet is SICK. Where is her night cap?
I just had to include the image below. Yes, very young girls at that time wore their hair loose, and, yes, they had to be taught their manners. (For aren’t we all little savages until our governesses teach us better?) For my finnicky taste, this image shows a woman who is much too modern in hairstyle and facial expression. At the very least, Emma would have been taught to place her hand in front of her mouth when yawning.
Goodness. What would the servants have thought?
I’m still on the fence, waiting to like this film adaptation. It seems that the numbers are tanking and people are not staying with the show (a bad omen for the future of bonnet movies on BBC). Kali at StrangeGirl.com and blog author of Emma Adaptations is still liking this adaptation, although elements are starting to get on her nerves. Please feel free to agree or disagree with anything said in this post. :)