Friday, June 4, 2010

EMMA - Spoiled for Choice

Please don't ask why it took me so long, but I have at last watched the 2009 TV adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. It is 240 minutes of pure delight--gorgeously costumed, beautifully set, historically accurate--and of course it is from BBC so one need say no more.

I can't believe it is fifteen years since the A&E version of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale and the Miramax film starring Gwyneth Paltrow were released. I thought they were wonderful when they came out--each had their individual problems of course, but I enjoyed them both and have rewatched them both. At 107 and 120 minutes respectively however, they cannot compete in depth of storytelling with the BBC release.

That said, it is the characterizations--the casting, if you will--that is exercising me most today. Romola Garai is an absolutely captivating Emma and I think, to my mind, probably captures my vision of Emma best of the three actresses. Gwyneth Paltrow was engaging (yes, I like GP!) and Kate Beckinsale brought a hesitant charm to the character which was an interesting viewpoint, but Garai is superb. Overconfident, immature, impulsive, infuriating and lovable, she is Emma.

But Mr. Knightley, I am not so sure. Jonny Lee Miller does an excellent job of the role, and brings a spontaneity to the character that is perhaps not what Jane Austen intended but is very believable. However, he is very much the proper gentleman, who would not be out of place in London, and so too is Jeremy Northam's Knightley. While Mark Strong is not such an obvious leading man/hero, I think I prefer his Mr. Knightley to the others. He is a countryman through and through, reliable, dependable, plain spoken. He has the maturity to reprimand Emma and the age difference between he and Emma is obvious (though not detrimental). His dress, while gentlemanly, is not ultra-fashionable, and when he scoffs at Frank Churchill's London haircut, you can understand his disdain. Northam and Miller are too well-barbered themselves for their scorn to be believable.

Harriet Smith must be played with delicacy. She must not be too silly, but she must be foolish, and ooze naivety. To my mind, she also has a simple dignity that is bewildered by Emma's attentions. Toni Collette in the Miramax film played a coarse, simpering Harriet. Louise Dylan, in the recent film, is a more intelligent Harriet enduring Emma for her own reasons. Samantha Morton's Harriet, playing opposite Kate Beckinsale, was bemused, sweet and confused with a physical delicacy that supported her mental fragility.

Mr. Woodhouse is himself, in all versions. I think Bernard Hepton, in the A&E version is perhaps my favourite. I did not find Robert Bathurst, as Mr. Weston, at all appealing in the new BBC version. James Hazeldine in the A&E version again must take my vote. Anne Taylor/Mrs. Weston also, I could not like in the new Emma. Johdi May played the character too young, too uncertain, and lacking in credibility for a governess of some seventeen years. Greta Scacchi from the Miramax film will always be Mrs. Weston to me. She was calm, mature and wise, with the wisdom Emma needed but did not absorb from her teacher. In my opinion, a perfect characterization.

Likewise, Jane Fairfax was too shy and uncertain in the BBC retelling for my taste. Olivia Williams from the A&E Emma was my favourite, demure but intelligent, strong but so kind to her unfortunate relatives. Ewan MacGregor as Frank Churchill on the other hand, was completely miscast, and was the least memorable characterization. Rupert Evans in the newest version was competently deceitful and all too convincing in his unkindnesses.

I could go on and on--characters are so endlessly fascinating. I wish I could take my favourite actors from each version of Emma and put them together in one film. I wonder if there would be the necessary chemistry between them, if their interactions would make the glorious whole that I envision.

Probably not! But my imagination serves me well in creating the perfect film. I wonder which film adaptation of her story Jane Austen would have approved, or if she would have appreciated a film version at all. Perhaps after all, Jane Austen is meant to be read, not seen.

Til next time,


I want to add my thanks to Joanna Waugh for a superb guest post last week. Those chandeliers have gone on my list of things to see in Bath whenever I get there!

Also please visit my website for a new contest here

Photos on this blog courtesy BBC, A&E, and Miramax Films


Janet said...

Interesting, Lesley-Anne, that you do the same as I when it comes to comparing and contrasting actors who portray the same characters. Your question on the chemisty is an important one, even with a 'dream team' in place, if the chemistry isn't present, then the entire fantasy would be squashed.

I've watched many movies that have actors playing lead roles, actors I love and have envisioned as perfect foils played against each other - but the reality has been more sibling, than romantic. Makes for disappointing movie viewing.

Hope all is well with you and yours - hope to chat with you soon, if not before your retreat, then after. Miss you :)

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

How interesting that you do that comparison too Janet. Well, we knew we were alike--how's the cross stitch coming? :) Mine has stalled in favour of gardening. Miss you too...