Friday, August 7, 2009

Jane Austen's Emma - Davies' Dramatization

Back in February the book group I belong to chose Emma by Jane Austen as it's selection. I had not read Emma in over a decade and thought it was long overdue to revisit the inhabitants of Highbury. I had a really hard time getting back into the book, which for me is odd. I love Austen and Emma used to be in the top three (previous Austen ranking being: Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey). I think it's just been too long since I've read this and I'm older and, to an extent, more mature. When I was younger I thought wouldn't it be cool to be Emma trying to control everybody and move them around like her own chess pieces or living dolls. But now that I'm older, no thank you! (She's a little bit of a bitch).

But after the re-reading, I thought lets watch the Andrew Davies adaptation again. I personally favor the Gwyneth Paltrow version with Jeremy Notham and Alan Cumming, but it's Andrew Davies, so it's worth another try. I still did not really like it. The adaptation was enjoyable, and I like seeing my favorite actors but I had some issues (see below for detailed list), also I personally think Andrew Davies' issues with Emma also color the adaptation. He doesn't like Emma and thinks Knightly a creep and Frank Churchill psychotic, and he's got a point. In his introduction to the Emma re-issue by Max Literary Classics, he says flat out Emma is a spoiled brat and that it's plain creepy how Mr. Knightly is attracted to a girl he held in his arms as a baby and was attracted to when she was about 13, making him the Humbert Humbert of his day. This prejudice of his, while I agree is a valid interpretation, leads to Mr. Knightly discussing how he held her as a baby twice in the film, which isn't exactly a romantic thought. But he devotes the majority of his introduction to Frank Churchill, the man who continually insults the woman he loves for all to hear. Traditionally, Jane Fairfax is more of an Austen heroine, she's poor and gets secretly engaged, yet all works out for her...but does it. To marry a man so taciturn and so willing to commit deceit to get what he wants, even if it hurts those he loves, is not exactly a happily ever after. She's really marrying a mental case, I mean at the root here is someone who gave Jane deep pain despite saying he loves her! Also she tries to break it off to no avail. Poor poor Jane. This dislike of Frank also leads to their relationship being a little less romantic in this adaptation and a little more a psychological game.

All in all I don't think there yet exists a perfect version of Emma, but there is hope, the new version will be longer and has a great cast, so cling to that. Till then, this is enjoyable, but not the perfect happiness one would like.

My Main Problems:

Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly. He is a fine actor, but, I'm sorry, even if Mr. Knightly is far older than Emma, a receding hairline is not attractive.

Samantha Morton's wig. She has yet another atrocious wig job, she had quite a few around this period, also she was heavily overused, being in
Tom Jones to Jane Eyre, some working better than others.

Lucy Robinson's accent as Mrs. E. And what the hell is that accent supposed to be? It's like weird posh meets badly done broad American.

It's too rural, with focusing on the chickens and farmers.

Only 90 minutes! At this length the book is done in such broad strokes, yet it seems to randomly jump about, like they weren't sure of how the overall thing worked so it feels patched together.

Things I love:(Or maybe I should have said thing).

The servants! Just watch the poor put upon servants in every scene, they are priceless. From having to carry large furniture up Box Hill to having to provide knee pads so Mr. Knightly's guests can pick strawberries "like in nature". If only nature provided be-wigged footmen holding my fruit picking basket and providing a nice cushion so I wouldn't soil my clothes.

Also for anyone interested my current Austen Ranking is: Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Emma.


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