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26 January 2010 @ 12:51 pm
Emma 2009, part 1  
Scattered thoughts on part 1 of Emma 2009, in list form. I will try to leave out as much of the "er what" as possible.

1. The beginning is odd. I'd need to ask someone who's never read Emma before, but it seems to me that putting the fates of Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax together like that rather gives away the game. And it's odd that Mr. Knightley is the narrator, too. (At least I think that's him.) The other peculiar thing about the opening is the way that it foregrounds the death of Emma's mother as a mournful event, whereas the novel's first page tells us that "Sorrow came - a gentle sorrow" only at Miss Taylor's becoming Mrs. Weston, and that Emma's memory of her mother is indistinct at best. I'm not really sure what purpose that serves, except to make Highbury the Town of Lost Children at the beginning, little Emma staring owlishly at the other children being carted away in carriages.

2. The teenage!Emma stuff is misguided, I think. Box Hill really doesn't work if we feel like that's the kind of thing Emma says all the time, to whoever might be around, rather than a momentous lapse in decorum.

3. The supporting cast is pretty good. I really like Jodhi May as "poor Miss Taylor," and Blake Ritson is a very good Mr. Elton, smug and over-serious without going totally over the top like Alan "A party is a party, but a Christmas party!" Cummings. I didn't think of Edmund Bertram once. The actor playing Frank Churchill is good too, although possibly I am blinded to his faults by the simple lack of Ewan McGregor's awful wig in the Miramax Emma. The best scene in the whole first half, for me, was the extended scene between Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley; it really got across a sense of long familiarity and respect between the two. And it kind of made me ship them, because I am *so* not feeling Emma/Mr. Knightley in this adaptation.

4. Speaking of which, they got my favorite scene in the novel wrong! It's the bit at Randalls, when the snow starts to fall and everyone else is behaving as though a catastrophe has occurred--but not Emma and Mr. Knightley:

...while the others were variously arguing and recommending, Mr. Knightley and Emma settled it in a few brief sentences: thus --

"Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?"

"I am ready, if the others are."

"Shall I ring the bell?"

"Yes, do."

The thing that I find frustrating about this adaptation is that they seem to be going for the traditional/cliched notion that if you argue with someone of the opposite sex, you must be in love with him or her. But that only works if there's something behind the argument--and while Emma and Mr. Knightley do argue, the thing that I love about them, the thing that makes them work for me as a couple, is what makes the arguments possible, not the arguing itself: it's that perfect frankness they have with each other. "We always say just what we like to one another," Emma says; Mr. Knightley agrees, in his way: "Emma knows I never flatter her." And so they are able to harmonize, to understand each other, because they are always honest with each other. (The proposal scene is a case in point--"As a friend, indeed, you may command me. I will hear whatever you like. I will tell you exactly what I think.") That's more than merely argument.

And this adaptation keeps the first two lines of dialogue, but changes the third to "Shall I ring for the coaches?" which is not in itself a bad change (ring the bell for what?), but it's delivered as a teasing remark, playing off of their earlier bickering about Mr. Knightley's not riding in a coach, and Emma's only reply is that scrunched-up "ha bloody ha" face she's made so often in this miniseries. It's just another round, not a difference, not the thing that shows us how these two characters work so well together.

5. Emma Woodhouse is NOT, in fact, Cher Horowitz. She isn't really a wide-eyed flouncer. She has poise and tact (even if she is a snob), and should be able to manage her father with patience and grace, not just gawk at others in disbelief when Mr. Woodhouse says they can't have cake at the Westons' wedding. And really, she should be able to handle Harriet Smith with a lot more subtlety than *that*.
Neaneadods on January 26th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
I don't have anything deep to add, because as you know, I was gone around half an hour after it started. Emma needs subtlety to be done well; this had none.

Except, oddly, with Miss Bates. She was at least portrayed as someone holding fear and sorrow at bay with babble, as opposed to the village idiot.
tempestsarekind: austen snark is the best snarktempestsarekind on January 26th, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Emma needs subtlety to be done well

Very true. I think my biggest problem with the production is its Emma, who is just too thoughtless and too, well, clueless to work.

Miss Bates, though--yes. I called my best friend and left her a rather incoherent message as I was watching; one of the things I remember saying was "the beginning is kind of like Emma through the eyes of Miss Bates." With her mother so silent, no wonder she's gotten into the habit of talking to fill up the silence.
Neaneadods on January 26th, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
With her mother so silent, no wonder she's gotten into the habit of talking to fill up the silence.

Good point.

There's a book about Emma from Jane's point of view; I wonder if there's one from Miss Bates'.
Valancy: ExtensiveReadingvalancy_s on January 27th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
I wonder if there's one from Miss Bates'

Not that I know of, but there's one from Mrs. Goddard's, which is actually pretty good.
Neaneadods on January 27th, 2010 12:45 am (UTC)
*perks up* Title?
Valancy: EagerReadervalancy_s on January 27th, 2010 01:08 am (UTC)
I believe it's called A Visit to Highbury. It interweaves Mrs. Goddard's view of the Emma events with an original plot about Mrs. G's sister.
Neaneadods on January 27th, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
*runs to library site*
Constant Reader: Udolphoskirmish_of_wit on January 26th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
YES to all this.

The teenage!Emma stuff is misguided, I think. Box Hill really doesn't work if we feel like that's the kind of thing Emma says all the time, to whoever might be around, rather than a momentous lapse in decorum.

I meant to make a note of that but I think I forgot!

As usual you've managed to pinpoint precisely what's off while I'm all like "Something is off here but I don't know what!"

I am considering trying to reread Emma before Sunday.

Re: Miss Bates -- I still think this actress is playing it too much like Sophie Thompson (WHO, incidentally, I did not know is Emma Thompson's sister!) (did I say that already elsewhere?) in terms of the breathy voice and the rhythms of the speech. But maybe Austen describes Miss Bates as breathy-voiced! I cannot remember.
Neaneadods on January 26th, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
Icon love!
tempestsarekind: not supposed to be a heroine [NA]tempestsarekind on January 27th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yay me! :) *preens*

I think I agree about Tamsin Grieg being similar to Sophie Thompson. I think it doesn't bother me quite as much because my lack of imagination means I can't think of a way to play her that would be really different. It would be nice to see, though!

I thought about rereading Emma, since I actually haven't done it for a while (I wound up having to read it for two grad school classes, back to back, so I reread the others first). But I think I'll wait till I've seen the whole miniseries first, if I do.
Spackle: robin red breastspacklegeek on January 26th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Emma, but my friend, who proudly calls herself an Austenite (or maybe it's Janeite?) convinced me to watch it, and now I'm pretty hooked. I like Knightley, but I see your point: at the end of Sunday's episode, I exclaimed to my friend, "But he and Emma HAVE to get together!", of course, because they'd spent the entire time arguing, and we all know what that means.

I knew that they were friends because I asked my friend about it - not because I saw the friendship in their exchanges.

Also, for most of the first episode, I thought Emma was a bit of a twat. I'm glad she's not really like that.

May I pass your response along to my friend? I'm sure she'd be interested in your reaction. :)

Edited at 2010-01-27 01:49 am (UTC)
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on January 27th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
I guess technically it's "Janeite"? Because for whatever reason, we are on a first-name basis with our beloved authoresses. :)

Emma is my most favorite Austen novel--it eclipsed Pride and Prejudice some time ago, so I am probably biased in the above. And in saying that you should *totally* read Emma! I know she's supposed to be the "unlikeable" heroine, but you can take Austen's comment about that ('I mean to create a heroine that no one but myself will much like') too literally, I think.

I'm flattered that you'd want to pass the response along! By all means, go ahead.
Valancy: OMFJohn&Bellavalancy_s on January 27th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
It's so strange - I had quibbles with this version, but everything you think it failed at, I thought it carried off fairly well! While the snow scene didn't have the right significance, they'd already done "Emma and Knightley manage their family together" at the family dinner, and I thought their perfect honesty came across strongly. Miller, I think, is the least fatherly Knightley I've seen - even compared to Northam, who's fantastic and wonderful but does patronize Emma a bit. Their conversations here seemed familial but on a more equal power dynamic; and it didn't seem like bickering for the sake of bickering to me.
tempestsarekind: elizabeth bennet is amusedtempestsarekind on January 27th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Hee! I suppose there are as many opinions as there are people. :)

I did like the family dinner scene, actually. If I didn't love the Randalls bit so much, I probably wouldn't have had as strong a reaction to their changing it!

I'm having a hard time judging Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, because I'm just really not clicking with Romola Garai's Emma. I quite liked him in the long scene with Jodhi May, though.

I do think that Mr. Knightley *does* patronize Emma, though! That's why I love his admission that Emma has a "serious spirit" to guide her, as well as a "vain spirit"--he has to admit that she can act properly without his guidance.