Emma, by Jane Austen (Naxos AudioBooks) – A Review and Giveaway

Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel was published in 1815 and dedicated to the Prince Regent, later King George IV.  Austen privately abhorred the Regent for the treatment of his wife Princess Caroline and his dissipated lifestyle. In 1813 she wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd, “I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” She did, however, recognize the value of his name and agreed to the dedication. Upon publication, Emma also had its own share of critics. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked “incident and romance” and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well-read individuals attributed as a weakness is actually Emma’s greatest strength.

If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel, we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she matchmakes for her friends with disastrous results. It is no wonder that Maria Edgeworth gave up reading Emma after the first volume. At that point, we have met most of the characters in Emma’s insular world and are coming to fully understand her ignorance and misguided perceptions in relation to them. She is truly exasperating. Austen tests our endurance fully as the novel progresses and her heroine continues to make mistakes. It is a testament to her skill as a writer and deft comedian that she holds our fascination with the “busy nothings” of every-day country life in Highbury, a small village filled with endearingly flawed characters. The transformation of the heroine from spoiled and insufferable into a contrite, mature and likable young lady that you want to root for, is nothing less than remarkable. It is truly a shame that Edgeworth could not recognize the genius of Austen’s sly sashay of characterization into a world that could be your own neighborhood. We can only account that, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

If you liked the new BBC/PBS miniseries Emma (2009), enjoy the original novel with all of Austen’s resplendent language in this expertly produced audio recording. Read by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, viewers of the 1996 movie adaptation of Emma will remember her superb portrayal of the vulgar a vacuous Mrs. Elton and know you are in for a treat. Adding an equal measure of energy and humor to each of the characters, Stevenson’s perfect blending of a classic novel and a sensitive interpretation enhanced my enjoyment greatly. Pop this one into your CD player or iPod during your commute to work. I highly recommend it. “It is such a happiness when good people get together — and they always do.” Ch 21

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Emma, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson
Naxos AudioBooks (2007)
Unabridged (13) CD’s, 16h 40m
ISBN: 978-9626343944

GIVEAWAY CONTEST

Enter a chance to win one copy of a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Jane Austen’s novel Emma by leaving a comment by midnight PST February 16th, 2010 stating who is your favorite character in the novel or movie adaptation of Emma. Winners will be announced on February 17th, 2010. Shipping to the continental US addresses only. Good luck!

Cover image courtesy of Naxos Audiobook © 2007; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose.com

Adieu Miss Woodhouse – Emma (2009) concludes on Masterpiece Classic

Image from Emma Episode 3: Box Hill picnic x 450 © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Episode three of Emma (2009) aired tonight on Masterpiece Classic PBS. I am feeling more than a bit of melancholia setting in!

Spoilers ahead! 

Despite being a “troublesome creature” throughout most of the story, Emma does redeem herself by admitting her misconceptions and blunders. How could we not forgive, admire and love her? After all, Mr. Knightley does and everyone knows he is the voice of reason throughout the story! You can read my original thoughts on this new adaption of Jane Austen’s classic novel at my review, Miss Woodhouse – a nonsensical girl.

Austen has taken us on a great ride from revulsion to delight with her exasperatingly heroine Emma Woodhouse. Screenwriter Sandy Welch may not have included much of Austen’s original language in this new adaptation, but the story and the Austen magic remained. By the third episode our Miss Woodhouse had matured from spoiled and willful to contrite and accepting. What a relief. Along the way, I came to respect Romola Garai’s interpretation of Emma, I suspect because her delivery improved and I just adore Austen’s story. Jonny Lee Miller was not my first choice as Mr. Knightley and I had my doubts, but he shined in the proposal scene and everyone knows that’s what really matters. *wink* I will conclude with one of the most joyful quotes from the novel that unfortunately was not included in this adaptation – but should have been.

“It is such a happiness when good people get together — and they always do.” Miss Bates Ch 21 

Adieu Miss Woodhouse, it was sorely lacking in Austen’s language, but I got over it.

Further Reading:

Images courtesy © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Emma (2009) concludes tomorrow night on Masterpiece Classic

Image from Emma 2009: Emma and Frank © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Don’t miss the last episode of Emma (2009) staring Romola Garai on Masterpiece Classic PBS Sunday, February 7th from 9-10 PM. (check your local listing).

In this final installment of the three part mini-series, we travel to Box Hill for the famous picnic and witness more than a bit of bad behavior by our heroine Miss Woodhouse. Later, shocking news angers the Highbury community and Emma has a revelation about her future – but it might all be too late!

Also, be sure to join the bi-coastal Twitter party, Sunday February 7th, 2010 9-10PM eastern and pacific coast times.

Image courtesy © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Deconstructing Miss Emma Woodhouse

Image from Emma (2009): Emma Woodhouse © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

The second episode of the new adaptation Emma (2009) aired last night on Masterpiece Classic. You can read my review of Emma and watch previous episodes until March 9th, 2010 at the Masterpiece website. As we move further into the story of Highbury’s misapplying match maker, I thought it would be interesting to delve into her character in the novel a bit deeper and explore the different Emma’s portrayed in the film and television adaptations.

Since it’s publication in 1815, Jane Austen’s Emma has had its share of advocates and adversaries. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked ‘incident and romance’ and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well read individuals attributed as a weakness, is actually Emma’s greatest strength.

If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is a intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Its heroine, the  privileged, self-conceited and spoiled Emma Woodhouse may not be as appealing as Austen’s sparkling and clever heroine Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, but her character offers the reader a harder wrought and more rewarding dénouement. Like Miss Woodhouse who believes that she knows better than anyone else what is best for them, we must trust Jane Austen’s instincts for what she believes is the best subject and narrative style. Since many scholars, critics and readers attribute Emma as a masterpiece of world literature, I think Jane Austen has the final laugh on her early critics. Emma may be about nothing and lack romance, but what a pleasure it is to be so resplendently deficient.

Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. In the famous opening line she appears rather appealing, ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her,’ but Austen quickly dispels the readers good opinion with an equally opposite retort, ‘The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.’ In those two sentences we learn so much: she has every advantage in life that a young lady could wish for but is untempered and totally clueless.

Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.” In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lives the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she match makes for her friends with disastrous results. It is no wonder that Maria Edgeworth gave up reading Emma after the first volume. At that point we have met most of the characters in Emma’s world and are coming to fully understand her ignorance and misguided perceptions in relation to them. She is truly exasperating. Austen tests our endurance fully as the novel progresses and her heroine continues to make mistakes. It is a testament to her skill as a writer and deft comedian that she holds our fascination with the “busy nothings” of every-day country life in Highbury, a small village filled with endearingly flawed characters. The transformation of the heroine from spoiled and insufferable into a contrite, mature and likeable young lady that you want to root for, is nothing less than remarkable. It is truly a shame that Edgeworth could not recognize the genius of Austen’s sly sashay of characterization into a world that could be your own neighborhood. We can only account that, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

Miss Emma Woodhouse on screen

Image from Emma (1972): Doran Godwin as Emma Woodhouse © 1972 BBC

Doran Godwin (1972), with her regal repose and swan-like neck gave us an elegant Miss Woodhouse that was more a toffee-nosed London snob than the country girl from the first family of consequence in a small Surrey village. Though I enjoyed her performance, I could never warm to her Emma and rejoice in Mr. Knightley choosing her as his Mistress of Donwell Abbey. After Mr. Woodhouse’s demise, I envisioned them packing it up and moving to Town. This Emma was meant for superior refinement.

Alicia Silverstone (1995) as Cher Horowitz in Clueless, she gave us a contemporary version of Emma set in Beverly Hills infused with Valley-speak and designer fashion that was so totally fresh and outrageous hilarious that even after fifteen years it may be what she is best remembered for. Her Cher may have been a superficial cell phone wielding Emma who soul searches while shopping, but we were not only charmed by her innocence, but by her high-tech closet. Totally, fur sure!

Kate Beckinsale (1996) at 23 was the youngest actress to portray 21 year old Emma Woodhouse, bringing a youthful vitality and naughty school-girl persona to the part. Her immature busybody was at times both annoying and redeemable. I was highly suspect that she would mature enough to be a good match to Mark Strong’ assertive and angry Mr. Knightley. Their future life together was bound to be wrought with boisterous rows and passionate reconciliations.

Gwyneth Paltrow (1996) was another elegant and long-necked Emma Woodhouse but played the part more as a mischievous altruist, than the spoiled, conceited and misguided match maker that Austen intended. The fact that her comedic skills and suave polish suited the screenplay was a benefit too. Oh and she actually got to say some of Austen’s great lines. Screenwriter Douglas McGrath actually trusted Austen enough to leave more than a few of those in.

Image from Emma (2009): Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse © 2009 BBC for MASTERPIECE

Romola Garai (2009) is the newest and most energetic Miss Woodhouse to grace the screen yet. Physically she fits the part perfectly and has the experience and maturity to play a complicated heroine closest to Austen intentions. Early in the production she had an odd habit of exaggerated facial expression and popping eyes, but as Emma matures through the story we saw less of this and more refinement. Unfortunately, she did not get to say much of Emma Woodhouse’s great dialogue, but the spirit remained, and I grew to appreciate her performance. How she will be ranked among the Emma’s on the screen, we will have to wait a few years for a better perspective.

Who is your favorite Emma Woodhouse? Have your share of the conversation and vote today.

Images from Emma (2009) courtesy © 2009 BBC for MASTERPIECE

Emma (2009) on Masterpiece Classic – Miss Woodhouse, a Nonsensical Girl!

Image from Emma 2009: Emma and Frank at The Crown Inn dance © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Sage advice from the philosophizing Forrest Gump. The same can be said of Jane Austen adaptations. Last nights US premiere of screenwriter Sandy Welch’s newly retooled Emma on Masterpiece Classic had its mix of nuts, chews and soft centers. Most viewers will be tempted to consume it quickly like the beautifully crafted confection that it is. I prefer to take a small bite first to see what I’m getting.

Emma may very well be the last Jane Austen adaptation (or any other bonnet drama) that we see on television for quite some time. The BBC is feigning Austen fatigue after years of milking the almighty cash cow. Since 2005 we have been treated to a new major movie or television production of each of Jane Austen’s six major novels. Emma (2009) completes the set. Time to bring on the reality television and grittier fare. So speaketh auntie Beeb. Because of their partnership with the BBC, Masterpiece PBS is hooked into their decisions too, though I suspect with more regret than they will admit since Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton remarked last week “We are not stupid: Jane Austen is catnip to our audience.”

This new Emma has almost everything that this bonnet drama geek could hope for in an Austen film adaptation: four hours to develop the story to its fullest, beautiful, beautiful production values, a seasoned and award winning screenwriter and a cast dappled with some of Britain’s finest veteran actors and up and coming stars. What’s not to like? How could it go wrong? Let me extol upon its many charms and a few foibles.

As host Laura Linney began her introduction, I was waiting for her to pop in Jane Austen’s famous ironic remark about Emma Woodhouse, “a heroine no one but myself will much like.” She did not disappoint. Over the centuries Emma has had her share of advocates and adversaries. She is actually a bit of a pill. Handsome, clever and rich with nothing to vex her, she is not one of Austen’s typical financially challenged heroines. There in lies the rub. We are not in the least sympathetic to her situation, and in fact, quite annoyed by her self-deluded notions of merrily matchmaking for her friends with disastrous results. In the three previous adaptations of Emma, we have seen her portrayed as an elegant toffee-nosed snob by Doran Godwin in 1972, an immature busybody by Kate Beckinsale and a mischievous altruist by Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996. Now Romola Garai has been passed the baton and plays it close to Austen’s intensions, but with thrice the emotion.

Emma (2009) might just surpass the venerable 1995 Pride and Prejudice in superior production values. It is a visual delight, skillfully crafted by a gifted production team of designer Stevie Herbert and art director Pilar Foy. Bravo. The stately Regency-era homes chosen to stand-in for the Woodhouse estate of Hartfield (Squerryes Court, Kent), Mr. Knightley’s residence at Donwell Abbey (Loseley Park, Guildford, Surrey) and the village of Highbury (Chilham, Kent) elegantly and historically set the stage for all of the other production elements.

The costumes designed by Rosalind Ebbutt may not have been completely period accurate as to color, but the coordination of color schemes to the set of actors in a scene and within the room it was filmed in was stunning. I particularly appreciated Emma Woodhouse’s lovely pale coral evening gown and Harriet Smith’s virginally white frock at the Crown Inn Ball. Ebbutt has a keen eye for accessories and her use of jewelry and shawls was striking, but sadly I was quite disappointed in the bonnets which tended to be too droopy and not quite as refined and highly fashioned as one would wish. Highbury is in the country, but the elegant Miss Woodhouse can still be allowed a bit of London millinery foppery. The gentleman’s attire was tolerable, though I admit to feeling more than a bit embarrassed by the cut of Mr. Knightley’s waistcoat in one scene that made him look rather like he was twelve and in need of ten years to grow into it. Many of the actors have director of photography Adam Suschitzky to thank for making them look glowingly elegant and refined. Ladies never look so fine as by candle light and the interior evening scenes of the Woodhouse dinner party, the Christmas eve dinner at Randalls and the Ball at the Crown Inn were particularly flattering.

When I read the original casting announcements I was a bit surprised by some of the choices. I had been rooting for Richard Armitage as Mr. Knightley and could envision no other in his stead. When the part was given to Jonny Lee Miller, I was crestfallen. On the other hand, I was pleased by the selection of Romola Garai as Miss Woodhouse. I had enjoyed her performances in I Capture the Castle and Atonement and thought her a talented young actress. Interestingly, I would change my position on each of the leads, resisting Miller at first, then growing to admire his comedic timing while accepting Garai immediately until her overplay of emotion with eye popping and exaggerated facial expressions was totally distracting. I will admit though, that she did improve upon acquaintance. As Miss Woodhouse matured through the course of the narrative, so did my respect for her.

Among the secondary characters that stood out most in this large ensemble cast was Louise Dylan as Emma’s dear friend and plaything Harriet Smith. Happily she did not play Harriet as a complete airhead as we have seen in the past by Toni Collette in the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version. I am Miss Smith’s warmest admirer of her character in the novel and always cast a critical eye on her portrayal in adaptations. Ms. Dylan filled the part emotionally, but she looked a tad bit more than 17 to Romola who did not look 21 either, so there you have it. On the comedy/tragedy front Tamsin Greig’s interpretation of the garrulous Miss Bates was really heart wrenching to experience in opposition to the ditzy and dotty versions by Sophie Thompson or Prunella Scales in the two 1996 Emma productions. She made me cry at the Box Hill picnic scene. You could really feel her fear and trepidation as a spinster living in genteel poverty at the mercy of the kindness of her neighbors the Woodhouse’s and Mr. Knightey. Blake Ritson gave us a Mr. Elton that I had not thought possible, but I enjoyed. Austen had described him as handsome, which Mr. Ritson certainly is, but I had thought of him as more of a toad than a suave charmer.

My greatest disappointments in characterization were Mr. Woodhouse, Mrs. Elton, Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Michael Gambon who portrayed Mr. Woodhouse is a legend. He was given little to say and looked way too healthy for the part of a valetudinarian who is frightened by a piece of cake. Christina Cole as the vulgar Mrs. Elton missed the mark completely. Since social rank in marriage was everything in Regency society, she is far too pretty to play a rich woman who would accept a country vicar as a husband. In addition, her delivery of some of Austen’s most brilliantly biting lines was decidedly flat. Laura Pyper as the reserved Miss Jane Fairfax was a beautiful and accomplished foil for Miss Woodhouse, but too demure for my sensibilities. I liked Olivia William’s edgier kettle ready to boil over containment in the 1996 version. Ah Frank Churchill. Rupert Evans looked the part and spoke the part, but he did not live the part. No one in my estimation has yet to fill those boots with enough oozing charm and decided deception.

Now for the cream as Emma says to Harriet. Was this a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s masterpiece of characterization and biting social commentary? Hardly. Screenwriter Sandy Welch has taken the bones of Austen’s brilliant story and padded it with her own words. Very little of Austen’s amazing language remains. A few quotes here and there, but this is entirely her own imagining. Director Jim O’Hanlon has built upon that premise and interjected a totally different tone and energy to Austen’s original subtle and underplayed story that some of her adversaries have said is about nothing. Possibly they felt it was also about nothing and needed to modernize it with heightened emotion and darker depths. Austen revealed in the first chapter of Emma that ‘The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way.’ Ironically, this Emma could have been perfection if the screenwriter and director had heeded Miss Austen’s warning and not used their power to go their own way. As Austen adaptations go, this nonsensical Emma is the best of the last six supplied, but I still feel we have a way to go in interpreting Austen faithfully to the screen. Was it enjoyable? Certainly. Will I watch it again? Without hesitation.

Reviews

Image courtesy © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Join the Emma Twitter Party on Sunday hosted by PBS Masterpiece Classic

Image from Emma 2009: PBS Emma Tweet Party © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE“Why not seize the pleasure at once?” 

Emma (2009), the new mini-series staring Romola Garai as the clever, handsome but misguided Miss Emma Woodhouse premieres on Sunday January 24th on Masterpiece Classic.

Join me as co-host with Vic of Jane Austen’s World, Kali of Emma Adaption Pages, Austen enthusiasts, bonnet drama lovers and the good folks at Materpiece PBS for a red carpet premiere Tweet party during the broadcast starting at 9:00 to 11:00 pm ET on Twitter or Tweetgrid.

Comment on the production, ask questions and join in the celebration by using hashtag #emma_pbs.

Follow this link to the Emma Tweet Party on TweetGrid

For additional information, visit the official Emma Tweet Party page at the Masterpiece Classic website

Remember to use hashtag #emma_pbs in your posts to be included in the festivities

Twitter accounts for co-hosts & PBS

Laurel Ann tweets as Austenprose
Vic tweets as janeaustenworld
Kali tweets as magicskyway
PBS tweets as PBS
Masterpiece Classic tweets as masterpiecepbs

Image courtesy © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Emma (2009) staring Romola Garai premieres on Masterpiece Classic next Sunday

Image from Emma 2009: Romola Garai as Miss Emma Woodhouse © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

US bonnet drama lovers are in for a treat when Emma (2009) premiers on Masterpiece Classic next Sunday January 24th, 2010 on PBS. This is the first of three episodes of the new adaptation by BAFTA award winning screenwriter Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend, Jane Eyre, North And South). The esteemed cast is lead by Romola Garai (Atonement, Vanity Fair) as the clever, handsome and rich (but misguided) Miss Woodhouse, Michael Gambon (Cranford, Brideshead Revisted) as her valetudinarian elderly father Mr. Woodhouse and Jonny Lee Miller (Byron, Eli Stone, Trainspotting) as Emma’s reproachful neighbor.

This highly anticipated new mini-series aired in the UK on the BBC  last September and will finally jump the pond and arrive in the colonies for our immediate consumption and deconstruction! To herald its charms it has a proven screenwriter, superior production values from the BBC/WGBH, an incredible cast, authentic locations, and beautiful costuming.

Emma (2009) is based on Jane Austen’s fourth novel of the same name published in 1815 and is the sixth film or television adaptation of what many deem her masterpiece of characterization and wit. You can read a full synopsis of the story and description of the characters at the Masterpiece website, as well as these incredible features:

Janeites will remember the two most recent adaptations of Emma in 1996 staring Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow in two entirely different interpretations of Austen’s misapplying matchmaker. It will be very interesting to add Romola Garai’s Miss Woodhouse to the list of actresses brave enough to take on a character that even Jane Austen joked was “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.”

Emma (2009) will be shown on three consecutive Sundays on January 24th, 31st and February 7th at 9:00pm (check local listings) with each episode viewable in streaming video on the Masterpiece website following each broadcast, January 25th – March 9th, 2010.

EMMA TWEET PARTY ON SUNDAY

“Why not seize the pleasure at once?” Please join the Masterpiece Classic red carpet Emma Tweet Party co-hosted by yours truly on January 24th, 2010 from 9:00-11:00 at Twitter. Don’t miss the real time chat and deconstruction of this very special Jane Austen mini-series.

Image courtesy © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Emma 2009 Masterpiece Classic Preview

Image from Emma 2009: Boxhill scene © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Mark your calendars for January 24th, 2010 at 9:00 pm for the North American premiere of the new miniseries Emma on Masterpiece Classic on PBS. Staring Romola Garai (Atonement, Daniel Deronda) as the handsome, clever and rich heroine Emma Woodhouse, this new 3 part historical drama/comedy will run on three consecutive Sundays: January 24th (2 hours), and January 31st and February 7th (1 hour ea).

Based on Jane Austen’s fourth published novel Emma, this new adaptation is by renowned screenwriter Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend, Jane Eyre, North And South) and aired in the UK in four one hour episodes in October 2009. It was jointly produced by the BBC and WGBH. It also stars Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone Endgame) as Mr. Knightley, and Sir Michael Gambon (Cranford) as Mr. Woodhouse. PBS has created a beautiful Emma page on their Masterpiece Classic website and this amusing video.


The DVD of Emma (region 1) will be available for purchase on February 9th, 2010 and will include 3 bonus featurettes: Emma’s Locations, Emma’s Costumes, Emma’s Music and Emma’s Mr. Woodhouse interview with Michael Gambon. This 2-disc set runs 240 minutes, which I am assuming Image of the DVD cover of Emma © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECEincludes the running time of the special features. The UK edition of the DVD (region 2) will be available for purchase on November 30th, 2009 in the UK. The running time for the UK edition is 228 minutes.

I have seen this adaptation and am looking forward to North American viewer reaction to this unique interpretation of Jane Austen’s classic novel. I will not reveal any spoilers. I can, however, say that the costumes, locations and music are stunning. Stay tunned for more information on this production as it arrives.

Images courtesy © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

Preview: BBC One’s Emma 2009 staring Romola Garai Begins on Sunday

Image from Emma 2009: Romola Garai as Miss Emma Woodhouse © BBC 2009 UK bonnet drama viewers are in for a treat this week as the new BBC One miniseries of Jane Austen’s novel Emma premieres in the UK on Sunday, October 4th from 9–10:00 p.m. GMT. This is the first of four episodes of the adaptation by BAFTA award winning writer Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend, Jane Eyre, North And South). The esteemed cast is lead by Romola Garai (Atonement, Vanity Fair) as the clever, handsome and rich, but misguided, Miss Woodhouse and Jonny Lee Miller (Byron, Eli Stone, Trainspotting) as Emma’s reproachful neighbor and eventual love interest.

Cast list 

Emma Woodhouse – Romola Garai
George Knightley – Jonny Lee Miller
Mr Woodhouse – Michael Gambon
Harriet Smith – Louise Dylan
Ann Taylor/Weston – Jodhi May
Mr. Weston – Robert Bathurst
Frank Churchill – Rupert Evans
Jane Fairfax – Laura Pyper
Miss Bates – Tamsin Greig
Mrs. Bates – Valerie Lilley
Mr. Elton – Blake Ritson
Augusta Elton – Christina Cole
John Knightley – Dan Fredenburgh
Isabella Knightley – Poppy Miller
Robert Martin – Jefferson Hall
Mrs. Goddard – Veronica Roberts
Mrs. Cole – Liza Sadovy
Miss Martin 1 – Eileen O’Higgins
Miss Martin 2 – Sarah Ovens
Mrs. Churchill – Susie Trayling
Mr. Dixon – Frank Doody
Miss Campbell/Dixon – Amy Loughton

Surprisingly, the advance press on this production by BBC One has been rather slim and may reflect their move away from “traditional 19th century-set ‘bonnet’ dramas in favor of a grittier look at the period and a new focus on other historical eras.”  We hope that despite BBC One’s meager publicity effort that Emma will pull viewers in strong numbers and sway their feeling on future period dramas. Emma certainly has superior production values in its favor with a talented screenwriter, an incredible cast, authentic locations, and beautiful costuming. North American audiences will have to wait to enjoy this miniseries when it airs next winter on Masterpiece Classic. Until then, this Janeite is all anticipation.

Episode 1 – Emma persuades Harriet that she is too good for her suitor, the farmer Robert Martin. Full episode description

Episode 2 – Emma hopes to meet the mysterious, elusive Frank Churchill at a village Christmas party. Full episode description

Further reading:

Original preview trailer from the BBC – Enjoy!

Image courtesy © BBC 2009

Jane Austen Allusions in I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (2003)I know of few novels – except Pride and Prejudice – that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in their readers as I Capture the Castle. – Joanna Trollope

This fall, UK audiences will be treated to a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, starring Romola Garai as the irrepressible handsome, clever and rich matchmaker of Highbury, Miss Emma Woodhouse. A joint BBC and PBS production, US audiences will have to wait until the winter of 2010 to enjoy the heroine that Austen jokingly warned her family “no-one but myself will much like.” We all love to hate Emma, at first, but fall for her in the end, just like her Mr. Knightley. I am quite pleased with the producers casting of Garai and fondly remember her excellent performance as one of my other beloved heroines, Cassandra Mortmain in the 2003 major film adaptation of one of my top ten favorite books (outside of Austen’s canon of course), I Capture the Castle.

I first read I Capture the Castle about ten years ago and was delighted with the story, characterizations, and Smith’s witty and adventuresome style. It had been highly recommended to me by a friend who knew I was an Anglophile and Jane Austen enthusiast. Like Jane Austen, author Dodie Smith has a passionate following of readers ready to promote her works. She beamed about the allusions to Austen and the story set in England of a young girl coming of age. I was intrigued. Published in 1948 in the US, the book was written as an antidote for her homesickness for her native England while she was living in the US with her husband. Amazingly, it was her first novel after being a successful playwright in England for several years. Most readers will identify with her popular children’s book 101 Dalmatians published in 1956 and adapted into the Disney animated movie in 1961. Who could ever forget her over-the-top characterization of villainess Cruella de Vil? – a whacked-out Lady Catherine de Bourgh with a fixation on a Dalmatian dog fur coat.

Romola Garai as Cassandra Mortmain in the 2003 movie adaptation of I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

“But some characters in books are really real – Jane Austen’s are; and I know those five Bennet’s at the opening of Pride and Prejudice, simply waiting to raven the young men at Netherfield Park, are not giving one thought to the real facts of marriage.” pp 55 

The story of I Capture the Castle is revealed through the eyes of its 17-year old heroine in the making Cassandra Mortmain, whose artistic and eccentric family is barely surviving in a crumbling castle in England. Her negligent father, bohemian step-mother Topaz, beautiful but shallow older sister Rose and precocious little brother Thomas are the center of her unconventional world that she is struggling to understand, and emerge from. The Mortmain’s are trapped in the run-down castle by a long-term lease originally obtained from the proceeds of her father’s first and only novel. Suffering from writers block, he has not written a word since, choosing instead to spend his time reading novels and avoiding his family. Seemingly living off air, the family has not paid their rent in years, and has long since sold the last of their belongings. An aspiring writer, Cassandra copes with her dire life by writing in her journal as catharsis, and an attempt to improve her skills as a ticket out of her circumstances.

Romola Garai and Henry Thomas in I Capture the Castle (2003)

‘I don’t intend to let myself become the kind of author who can only work in seclusion – after all, Jane Austen wrote in the sitting-room and merely covered up her work when a visitor called (though I bet she thought a thing or two) – but I am not quite Jane Austen yet and there are limits to what I can stand.’ Cassandra Mortmain pp 26

Her sister Rose will use other means to free herself from her parent’s neglect, hoping her beauty will snare a rich husband.  She laments woefully about their penurious condition and dreams about marrying a wealthy man until two arrive in the neighborhood in their new American landlord Simon Cotton and his brother Neil, fueling her fantasy to be a Jane Austen heroine.

Rose Byrne as Rose Mortmain in I Capture the Castle (2003)

“Did you think of anything when Miss Marcy said Scoatney Hall was being re-opened? I thought of the beginning of Pride and Prejudice – where Mrs. Bennet says ‘Netherfield Park is let at last.’ And then Mr. Bennet goes over to call on the rich new owner.” 

“Mr. Bennet didn’t owe him any rent,” I said.  

“Father wouldn’t go anyway. How I wished I lived in a Jane Austen novel!” 

I said I’d rather be Charlotte Bronte. Rose and Cassandra Mortmain pp 24

Even though she is repulsed by Simon, Rose sets her cap for him, and with Cassandra and Topaz’s help, she succeeds. Meanwhile, Cassandra is attracted to the other brother Neil and is hopeful for her own romance, much to the disappointment of Stephen, the Mortmain’s live-in friend who is infatuated with her. As the wedding plans proceed, Rose and Topaz travel to London to purchase her wedding trousseau. Rose’s vain and selfish nature blossoms with her new elevated social position and money. Cassandra, left out of the plans feels even more neglected and is thrown together with Simon who Rose is treating as an annoyance. As the two cast-offs are drawn together, romantic sparks ignite as they express their mutual attraction in a kiss. Rose on the other hand is drifting away from Simon and secretly into the arms of his brother Neil. An elopement will cause a family panic, a change of heart and an unusual ending.

On my first reading, I picked up on the allusions to Jane Austen throughout the novel. There are obvious ones: Cassandra and Rose can be compared to the two Bennet sisters whose family fortune and social position is impairing them from an advantageous marriage. Simon and Neil are two young unattached wealthy men that arrive in the neighborhood as possible suitors like Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Rose is repulsed by Simon like Elizabeth is by Darcy. There is a negligent father, an eccentric mother, an elopement, and a pivital moment of truth by the heroine, but that is where any apparent resemblance ends. What really prompts the reader to reflect further on the similarities between Jane Austen’s works and I Capture the Castle is the language. Smith’s use of words, phrases, and rhythms is so subtly evocative of Austen that certain passages from the novel stirred my memory of what  Austen had also used. Here are several examples from I Capture the Castle with similar quotes from Austen.

“[T]here is something revolting about the way girls’ minds so often jump to marriage long before they jump to love.” Cassandra Mortmain,  pp 55

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.” Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice Ch 6 

“Certain unique books seem to be without forerunners or successors as far as their authors are concerned. Even though they may profoundly influence the work of other writers, for their creator they’re complete, not leading anywhere.” Mr. Mortmain pp 59 

‘[I]n short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.’ The Narrator, Northanger Abbey, Ch 5 

“Still, looking through the old volumes was soothing, because thinking of the past made the present seem a little less real.” Cassandra Mortmain pp 233 

“You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Ch 58 

Cruel blows of fate call for extreme kindness in the family circle.” Pp 74 

“[W]e must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.” Mary Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Ch 47 

“Truthfulness so often goes with ruthlessness.” Mr. Mortmain pp 228 

“Our pleasures I this world are always to be paid for.” Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Ch 26  

“Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.” Cassandra Mortmain, pp 25 

“[T]o sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Fanny Price, Mansfield Park, Ch 9 

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.” Cassandra Mortmain, pp 38 

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park, Ch 22 

First edition cover of I Capture the Castle (1948) by Dodie SmtihThe Austen allusions may have motivated me to read this novel, but that is not why it remains one of favorites. If I had to narrow it down to one reason, I would definitely say that it was Smith’s vivid and humorous characterizations. This motley cast of players runs the full gamut of human foibles and weakness that are both tragic and amusing. When an author connects with readers through perceptive observation played against dry wit, the results when skillfully combined, can resonate deeply filling our void to know and understand human nature and life.  It’s what makes for great literature, and what Austen is also valued for.

“Just to be in love seemed the most blissful luxury I had ever known. The thought came to me that perhaps it is the loving that counts, not the being loved in return — that perhaps true loving can never know anything but happiness. For a moment I felt that I had discovered a great truth.” Cassandra Mortmain  pp223

“I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.” Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Ch 36

Well done Dodie Smith. I recommend this novel highly. It is a perfect summer read.