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

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

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

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

Mansfield Park (1999) Movie: Musing & Discussion: Day 10 Give-away!

 

MOVIES

Take a controversial classic novel, mix in a liberal filmmaker’s re-interpretation, add in slavery, lesbianism and incest and presto! you have Mansfield Park (1999), writer-director Patricia Rozema’s provocative adaptation of Jane Austen complex novel. I don’t think that I am exaggerating when I estimate that Janeites find this one a bit puzzling. So did critics. It has spawned a rash of conversation since it premiered in 1999. Just Google it and you get 28,000 hits! The reviews where mixed and run hot or cold; no gray area anywhere for this film. Here are a few of the choice opinions.

 Mansfield Park manor house

“Stifled and tedious adaptation of an Austen classic strips the heroine of her usual power of perception and tongue.” CinemaSense 

“Rozema’s point is that Mansfield Park, and the amorous escapades of its wealthy inhabitants, are founded on and sustained by this debased form of exploitation. This is certainly an intriguing opening-out of the novel, but in doing so the film appropriates the moral high ground in a way that further distances it from the delicacy and ambiguity of Austen’s insights.” Andy Richards, BFI 

“what the film represents is the marketing of a new ‘Jane Austen’ to a post-feminist audience now receptive to its reinvention of the novel” John Wiltshire, Recreating Jane Austen (2001) 

“In the hands of a less talented filmmaker, this extensive tinkering and modernizing might seem irritating and pretentious. But in peering beneath Austen’s genteel surfaces and scraping away the Hollywood gloss that traditionally accrues to screen adaptations of Austen, Ms. Rozema has made a film whose satiric bite is sharper than that of the usual high-toned romantic costume drama.” Stephen Holden, New York Times 

“By breaking the seal, Rozema has freed costume drama from the shackles of tradition, exposing its naked flesh. The window that Thompson unsnibbed has been flung wide. Fresh air tastes good.” Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye for Film 

“an audacious and perceptive cinematic evocation of Jane Austen’s distinctively sharp yet forgiving vision” Claudia L. Johnson, Austen scholar

Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) & Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) riding together 

When Rozema was originally offered the opportunity to direct Mansfield Park she declined stating the script was boring and the heroine annoying. She then proceeded to re-write the script by perking up Fanny Price, adding a political and sexual subtext that Jane Austen would never have broached, and fixing the broken storyline (in her opinion) by working in Jane Austen’s juvenilia stories and personal letters. The results are a thought provoking jumble of reinvention and dalliance that had never been attempted with a Jane Austen adaptation before.

 A bored Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola), and a flirtatious Maria Bertram
(Victoira Hamilton) & Mr. Rushworth (Hugh Bonneville)

Austen’s novel seriously contemplates the controversial 19th-century theme of ‘improvement’ of the estate and social values. Writer-director Rozema has overtly taken it yet a step further renovating and expanding the plot and characters so much so that subtly sardonic Jane Austen might have been a bit alarmed at the liberties.

Edmund Bertram & Fanny Price discuss the Ball

Our heroine Fanny Price, energetically portrayed by Frances O’Connor, has morphed from the shy and oppressed glorified servant into an exuberant outspoken aspiring writer – what Rozema visualizes Jane Austen had been! Oh my! Fanny’s mentor, friend and love interest Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) is now a romantic, more a Byronic hero that the Bronte’s would have approved of than a pious and clueless minister in training.

Henry Crawford visits Fanny Price in Portsmouth 

The Crawford siblings (Embeth Davidtz & Alessandro Nivola) are as wicked as ever, which suits Rozema’s purpose totally as they are pushed further with lesbianism and seduction. The greatest liberty is taken in the slave trade subtext as we are shown graphic illustrations of the atrocities of slavery that the character Tom Bertram (James Purefoy) witnessed at his father Sir Thomas’ (Harold Pinter) plantation in Antigua. Even though slavery is only alluded to in the novel, this stab brings Rozema’s vision of the injustice of ill-gotten-gains sharply to view. Other notable British actors playing out this theatrical are; Lindsay Duncan (Lady Bertram/Mrs. Price), Victoria Hamilton (Maria Bertram), Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Rushworth) and Justine Waddell (Julia Bertram).

 Henry & Mary Crawford entertain their new spouses
who look more intriged with each other!

If taken as a whole this film does work on the level of art for film making’s sake. Visually it is stunning, the costumes fabulous and the music joyful. I do find it fascinating that people are still debating its merits after almost ten years. If anything, it has stimulated thought and closer reflection on what Jane Austen is about, and how she is interpreted. As a Janeite, I find watching it so distracting. If readers of the novel want to yell at Fanny Price for being so passive, then in turn I want to yell at Rozema’s Fanny for being SO vivacious. This is not Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, but it is a worthy amusement all-the-same.

A happy ending for Fanny & Edmund 

Further reading & viewing 

“It could have turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.” Fanny Price
 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 10 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30 to qualify for a free drawing on August 31 for one copy of

 

Mansfield Park (1999)

Written and directed by Patricia Rozema. Major motion picture, 112 minutes. Staring Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram and Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford 

Upcoming posts
Day 11 – Aug 25          MP Fun with Fanny & Friends
Day 12 – Aug 26          MP novel discussion chapters 33-40
Day 13 – Aug 27          MP 2007 movie discussion
Day 14 – Aug 28          MP novel discussion chapter 41-48