Thursday, October 13, 2011

BBC Emma (2009)

As any Jane Austen fan, I was eager to see the new BBC Emma adaptation. Until now, my favorite was Kate Beckinsale's and while I was convinced it would be difficult to do better, there was hope for something outstanding, something that would surprise me and knock my socks off. The result wasn't quite what I expected, nerveless I did enjoy revisiting Jane Austen world.

The story happens somewhere in the beginning of the 19th century in Highborn, a small village in England. Emma Woodhouse is a rather proud young lady who imagines herself as the perfect matchmaker. Her family is healthy and respected and as the younger child she is spoiled and surrounded by people who admire her. Miss Taylor, her governess and later her companion, can't find any fault with the enchanting and lively girl.

When Miss Taylor becomes Mrs Weston, Emma tries to find a new friend. In one of her visits to Mrs Goddard's School she notices a charming young woman, Harriet Smith. Not much is known about her except she has a mysterious protector who always paid for her expenses. Emma immediately thinks her future friend might be the illegitimate daughter of a gentleman and decides to take her under her wing.

After the success of her matchmaking schemes with the new Weston couple, Emma is convinced she can find the perfect husband for Harriet. Her first choice is the new reverend, Mr Elton. But she will learn the hard way that her wishes are not always the right ones for the people she loves.

I have to be completely honest and confess right away that Emma was never quite among my JA favourite female characters. She is the kind of heroine difficult to warm up at first, her proud attitude and snobbish comments don't make the task easier. In this new adaptation, Romola Garaï managed to give her the little thing that made her much more agreable and funny at my eyes : a mischievous and free caring attitude that quite suits the character and shows her in a much more sympathetic light. If there were moments where I was not entirely convinced by Romola Garaï's choice, she taught me how wrong I was with her bright smile and bouncing blonde curls. This more immature side of Emma made some things more easily forgiven.

My main complain about this new adaptation is the lack of screen time of Mr. Knightley. Is there a need to explain to screenplay writers that Austen's men are one of the strong points in her novels? I felt Jonny Lee Miller gave us a wonderful performance but certainly he could have been even better if he had the chance. I know I’m not completely rational about this point, but I do have an explanation : I’m a big Knightley fan.

Harriet Smith was probably the most annoying character in the series. If she's gentle and sweet, she's also too insecure and easy manipulated. She gets in and out of love for three different men in a year without much thought. Her permanent whining is something that got really on my nerves.
Now, I couldn't end my review without mentioning the Elton couple.  You never really know if someone should slap them or thank them for providing us with some of the most hilarious moments in the series. Christina Cole is absolutely brilliant in this role !
A curious fact about Jodhi May who played already in a period drama with Romola Garaï - Daniel Deronda. There she was the young and beautiful Mirah Lapidoth and Garaï played the spoiled and selfish Gwendolen Harleth, both were about the same age. Strangely, here they must have 20 years of difference...

After watching this adaptation several times, I must say that I find the casting absolutely perfect. The costumes and surrounding were beautiful, as always with the BBC.

In the end, this was a good adaptation that certainly wins after being watched a couple of times, it grows on you without you noticing.


  1. I appreciate this posting on Emma and was curious what would be said as there is such a split on how people feel about this book. I, too, struggled to enjoy the story in book or movie format because I just didn't like her meddling. I can accept that she was young and untried- blind to how the gentlemen both the vicar and Mr. Knightley felt about her, but I didn't like her activities with Harriet Smith who reminded me of a female Charles Bingley allowing herself to be so influenced by friends. Thanks for the posting!

  2. I actually did a post comparing this version and the 1996 version with Jeremy Northam.

    I have to be honest and say that the 96 version is my favorite but that is because of Northam (I love him as Knightley). However, there was a lot in this version that I really liked - mainly the fact that it was longer, showed more of the story and characters, and we got to see more beautiful scenery.

  3. I think this a series that grew on me, I wasn't too excited in the beginning (first time I watched it) but it improved with further viewing. ;-)

    Robinbird, I love Northam as Knightley too!

  4. Alex you are right the Elton's are hilarious!!

    Robinbird do you want to leave us the link to that joint review so we can read it? Here or in the Share your experiences post... thanks!