Thursday, February 4, 2010

Emma (BBC 2009): Thoughts and Ruminations

Emma 2009 aired on PBS the previous two Sundays.  It offered both the delight a Jane Austen inspired movie should, and also the pain inflicted by one watching a Ben Stiller flick with numerous uncomfortable moments.  I'm torn between an unsatisfying itch--so far Emma adaptations have not cut the mustard for me, and feeling satisfied in a version of Emma for once. 

Personal note:  I was looking back at my blog post about Emma 1996 when it aired in 2008 as part of Masterpiece Classic.  I thought it was rather hilarious to note that I'd commented on how DH (JD) kept asking me about the characters and their connections.  Kid you not---the exact same conversation was held the previous two Sundays!  Gotta get that man to read Emma.

The following are what I feel are highs and lows of this performance.
  • Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse.  I'd read a lot of reviews regarding Ms. Garai's performance.  She supposedly was bit too melodramatic, with popping eyes and an overly expressive face.  In retrospect, yes she did play the part that way.  But it fit the character of Emma quite well, especially because much of these looks were in part 1, where Emma is less mature and rather obnoxious in terms of her behavior to others.  As Emma matured (part 2), so did Ms. Garai's performance of Emma.  Her looks became more refined and perhaps more confused as she struggled to discern her own feelings on the matters of growing up, matchmaking, making and keeping friends and discovering her own heart.  I thought her portrayal of Miss Woodhouse very well done, indeed! 

  • Miss Bates as played by Tasmin Greig, Mr. Elton as played by Blake Riston and Mr. Knightley as played by Johnny Lee Miller.  Can I just say finally?  I think they got the casting right for these characters!  Finally, they fit how I see them portrayed by Austen.  At first I wasn't sure about JLM as Knightley, but he grew on me in the end. He portrayed the struggle of discovering his affection for Emma very well. 
  • Box Hill scene (half credit, though).   Painful--like watching a painful scene from a Ben Stiller movie.  Ugh! But it was full of the uncomfortableness that the Box Hill scene must have, so I liked it.
  •  Where was Jane Austen's dialogue?  While I did enjoy this version of Emma, I must admit to being disappointed in the lack of Austen dialogue.  Sentiments were expressed well with the dialogue that was written, but there were times when it fell flat and made me stop and think, "And we just jumped to 2009/2010, thank you very much."  (Not that I can think of those moments at the ready, but they were there...)  At least Mr. Knightley said his famous Box Hill line to Emma or something resembling it.  I would have not been able to handle watching the rest of the show if he hadn't.  It is such a poignant part of the book.  
  • What was up with Miss Fairfax and Miss Smith?  (Laura Pyper & Louise Dylan.)  Here is where I much prefer the 1996 version's Miss Fairfax (portrayed by Olivia Williams).  Miss Fairfax was so meek and mild in this version.  As I suppose she is meant to be to some extent, but Ms. Williams earlier performance left the watcher feeling she was a smart and witty young woman simply keeping quiet until her time comes to get what she wants.  Ms. Pyper's performance made me annoyed.  I didn't feel any of that smartness in her nor did I have any great feelings of empathy for her like I did in the previous edition.  And Ms. Smith....a rant about Miss Smith.  Why, oh why, oh why do they (costumers, makeup artists, directors) insist on giving poor Miss Smith such a horrible haircut??--Those side curls?  If I am not mistaken, both the 1996 and now the 2009 versions of Emma used this hairstyle.  It's horrible, simply horrible! While ringlets were fitting of the time Emma was written, I believe I've read that they were not meant to be so, well, formidable.  If the intent is to exaggerate Miss Smith's lack of finery and refinement as an accomplished young woman, they have succeeded. (And I'm guessing that was the thought behind such a 'do.)  But it is distracting to the viewers.  Need I say more?  (Also, Miss Smith's wig in this version was horrific.  Please refer to the scene when Frank Churchill is sitting next to her on the settee after rescuing her from the Gypsy children, not only is the wig askew, but she looks like a vampire.  Poorly done, indeed!) 
(Miss Smith 1996, Miss Smith 2009, Jane Fairfax 1996, Jane Fairfax 2009)
(Samantha Morton, Louise Dylan, Olivia Williams, Laura Pyper)


Anonymous said...

I must agree, the casting for Miss Bates, Mr. Elton and Mr. Knightley were perfect.

I am still deciding on Emma herself.

Sarah AJ said...

I couldn't agree more about the casting -- or Miss Smith's ringlets! I'm wondering, though, how come my PBS is showing it in three parts?! The first one was two hours, last week's was only one, so I'm still waiting for the end.