Time for another period drama review! I was going to do Pride and Prejudice next, but I was inspired by Jeanine to review Emma instead. She always gets me in the mood to watch a good period drama! I just had to go and watch Emma as soon as I read her post!
When it comes to adaptations of Emma we Austen fans are blessed with abundance. There have been two movie versions and one TV series, and I suppose we will have to mention the modern teen flick, Clueless, inspired by Austen's novel ( and I use the term "inspired" loosely). Lets face it Emma is that timeless story that every movie director salivates over. So let me break down the adaptations for you.
The newest version to date is the 2009 BBC version, directed by Jim O' Hanlon. This is a real gem. I can't even count the number of times I've watched this. This is a true adaptation of the book. Instead of stringing together scenes from the book, this version seeks to lay out the story as it happens in the novel.
Romola Garai is perfect as Emma, and I don't know if anyone could do better. She effortlessly balances Emma's snobbishness and whimsical girlishness. Emma is young, energetic, mischievous, and fiercely strong willed; she is a lady, but still a whole lot of fun. Okay girls, now lets focus on Jonny Lee Miller! Mr Knightly is my absolute favourite of Jane Austen's male leads. While all the rest of the girls were drooling over Mr Darcy, I was dreaming of a banter session with Mr Knightly! Mr Knightly is my man, I'm admitting it right here, right now on the internet. Oh heaven help me! I'm in love with a fictional character! And I'm in love with Miller's portrayal of him! Miller is kind, gentle, principled, down to earth, yet still approachable. Garai and Miller have great chemistry. Their relationship comes across as very natural and informal, and so it should be with two people who have supposedly grown up around each other. They joke, tease, scold, and spat with relative ease.
What I loved most about this version was that the supporting cast were not made redundant by the leads. What's special about Emma is that it's all about the characters and their interactions with each other. The Westons, Mr Woodhouse, The Eltons, Harriet Smith, Miss Bates, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax are a comical company, and are not to be separated from each other. This adaptation really highlights this and there is really strong chemistry with the whole lot of them.
The supporting cast are brilliant. Mr Elton is delightfully smarmy, Harriet Smith is adorable, Frank Churchill is the lovable scoundrel, Miss Bates is funny and yet surprisingly well developed (there is a particularly touching scene between her and Emma), and Jane Fairfax is a delight to watch. Also I should mention Dumbledore is in it! That is to say Michael Gambon plays Mr. Woodhouse and may I say he is fantastic. Mr Woodhouse definitely comes into his own in this one. The soundtrack is amazing, the scenery is a real treat, ( I want to live in Emma's house!), and I also want wear every single one of her dresses. To sum up this adaptation gets a big thumbs up!!
The next adaptation came out in 1996, directed by Douglas McGrath, and stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam. This is a delightful version. The mood and look of the film is so light and airy. There are so many pretty details in the sets and costumes that just scream charming. This sumptuous feast for the eyes is definitely going to lift your spirits on rainy day for sure.
The cast in this version doesn't seem to have the same togetherness as in the previous; the spotlight is all on Gwyneth. She is undisputedly a talented actress, and the director takes full advantage, however with all the focus on Emma, the supporting characters do suffer. They just can't keep up with her. Gwyneth herself is a perfectly snobby, and refined Emma, but lacks warmth and spirit.
Jeremy Northam is an oh my gosh, hot Mr Knightly! He is a dish! I just wish he was in more scenes than he was!
I should also mention Toni Collette as Harriet Smith and and Phyllida Law as Miss Bates. These two are hilarious and give brilliant performances! All and all this edition of Emma is nothing remarkable but it definitely a good time.
You have to love Andrew Davies because he truly does amazing work. He and Austen novels were made for each other. This adaptation which also came out in 1996 stars Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong. It may not be much to look at as far as cinematography, but the script is iron tight and the acting is spot on. Kate is amazing as Emma. She is the picture of the blue-blooded heiress, but is still the mischievous girl with a lot to learn. Harriet Smith played by Samantha Morton is the perfect shy and insecure friend of Miss Woodhouse and Frank Churchill is every bit the cad. I especially loved Emma's hilarious day dream sequences in this version, it's fun to get into the ridiculous parts of Emma's mind.
Now what didn't work? Well for a start Mrs Elton was sporting a mysterious American accent and I was completely distracted during her scenes, and probably more annoyed than I needed to be with her character.
The other issue I had with this version (and now this is the big one) was Mark Strong's performance as Mr Knightly. This was a total deal breaker for me. One might think he was trying to be Mr Darcy rather than Mr Knightly. He is far too cold, severe and aloof and is definitely NOT the Mr Knightly I fell in love with. Join that with the fact that Kate Beckinsale, despite her attempts, cannot conjure up chemistry between them, and you have story that fails at romance, but ticks all the right boxes in other areas. So sad!
I think you can probably guess by now that my favourite of these versions has got to be the 2009 Emma!!
This version is very near perfection (the issues I have with it would just sound like petty nit-pickery). This version was nominated for 3 Emmys (it won an Emmy for Outstanding Hairstyling; who would have thought it!) and 2 Golden Globes nominations, and it's not hard to understand why. This truly adapted it best!