TV miniseries review: Emma (2009), episode 1, directed by Jim O’Hanlon
First part went out on the Beeb Sunday night. Again, I feel slightly disadvantaged for not having read the book (yet) – although with regards to Wuthering Heights, I have actually started reading it now! The beginning of the first episode said how Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill lived in Highbury as children, but were sent away for various reasons. My reaction to this was “is this in the book or did they make that up?” and that bugs me. I’m just pretty sure it wasn’t in either of the Beckinsale/Paltrow versions.
I would say that yes, it does feel quite modern. While Jane Eyre (2006) can also be accused of being a bit too modern, it doesn’t feel modern in the same way. Hard to pin-point exactly what gives this impression, but it’s there nonetheless.
Michael Gambon as the hypochondriac Mr Woodhouse was my favourite character. He made me giggle. “Cake is bad for you!” Gambon seems to be a rather quirky character in himself, so he’s very convincing. Another quirky character is Miss Bates, played babblingly brilliant by Tamsin Grieg. So is this a comedy? Well, not as such, although Emma is a lot more light-hearted than other Austen works.
Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan) is pretty and although not the brightest candle in the chandelier in previous adaptations, here she seems to be quite … well, daft, I suppose. So far, Mr Elton (Blake Ritson) hasn’t given me any big revelations either way, although I would say that he’s got very big eyes.
Christina Cole will later on be joining the party as Mr Elton’s stuck-up wife, and I’m beginning to wonder if she’s being typecast as a posh bitch. First, there was Hex (the actress playing Jane Fairfax was also in that show, as it turns out), then Blanche Ingram in Jane Eyre ’06, and Miss Bingley in Lost in Austen, and I’m pretty sure other things as well.
Robert Bathurst, the lovestruck Mr Weston, seems to pretty much just be a slightly older David Marsden in period costume. Which isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. There’s something rather Hugh Grant-y over his behaviour, although not quite as much bumbling buffoon.
I completely agree with the general consensus of “oh, I’m not sure about Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley”. He is a good actor, and he does a kind and charming Mr Knightley – although a bit too childishly frustrated at times, but YES: he might be about ten years older than Romola Garai, but they look to be about the same age. In fact, they even had to point out through dialogue that he’s 16 years her senior, because otherwise we would’ve been none the wiser! Knightley was very sweet to Mr Martin, I have to say, and that character is so sweet, it’s a shame we don’t get to make his acquaintance more.
This of course brings us to the pièce de résistance, Emma herself. I quite like Romola Garai, although I get a slight typecast-y feeling about her as well. Okay, so Mary Bryant wasn’t really an annoying brat, but Angel Deverell sure was, and I’m pretty sure it goes for her character in Atonement as well. Emma Woodhouse is supposed to be a rich, meddling brat, and as such I fail to sympathise with her both here and in previous incarnations (I prefer Beckinsale over Paltrow). Good performance, though. We get the message clearly: Emma is a spoiled child with nothing better to do than to meddle in other people’s business.
I do like the costumes and the locations are nice as well. Particularly the Woodhouse residence. Knightley’s place looks a bit too ghoulish, and the Westons’ … oh, to be Mrs Weston (Jodhi May)! If I had a big period property, I’d totally rent it out as a filming location – at least if I could get to be an extra!
The first episode introduces us to the main cast of characters, lets us know that Emma likes to play Cupid, and we get a general sense of dread with regards to trying to set Harriet up with Mr Elton. The story is underway, and in the next episode we get to see Mr Elton’s carriage proposal and meet Frank Churchill. Possibly encountering those gypsies as well. We’ll have to stay tuned to find out. So far, it’s a fun thing to watch, but I think I still prefer the Beckinsale/1996 version.