Continuing the adaptation watching after finishing the book, is the BBC’s newest Emma, a miniseries directed by Jim O’Hanlon and starring Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon, Jodhi May, Louise Dylan, Blake Ritson, Tamsin Greig, Laura Pyper and Rupert Evans.
Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) is “handsome, clever, and rich” and also very interested in matching the people around her. She credits herself with matching up her former governess Miss Taylor (now Mrs Weston) (Jodhi May) and Mr Weston (Robert Bathurst) and encouraged by that success, sets about her next “victim”, naive and unrefined Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan). Despite the warnings of her friend Mr Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller), Emma wants to match Harriet with the local vicar, Mr Elton (Blake Ritson). For herself, Emma has no plans – other than Mr Weston’s son Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans) (who she has never met) excites her curiosity.
This miniseries is definitely the most literal adaptation of the book so far – little wonder, since it’s also the only one that gets four hours to tell the story. It has a surprisingly modern feel to it, which doesn’t always work and high production values, but around the middle it just stopped holding my interest.
I quite liked the added introduction of the film, about Emma, Jane and Frank as children and how life treated them differently – it really tied the whole thing nicely together. And the costumes were great, so much more colorful than what you usually get from movies set in that time [whether it’s entirely historically accurate, I couldn’t say]. I think those were the modernisations that really worked. Where it got a tad too much, though, was the trip to Boxhill, were Frank is suddenly lying in Emma’s lap and that just. would. NOT. happen.
Romola Garai is a good Emma, Robert Evans is a good Frank and Laura Pyper adds a wide-eyed calmness to Jane that works very well. Michael Gambon is good, but doesn’t get the same room in the script as Bernard Hepton in the Kate Beckinsale version, so in direct comparison his Mr Woodhouse is a little stale. Christina Cole was a good Mrs Elton and Blake Ritson has the right balance of good looks and slime, but who I actually loved the most was Tamsin Greig’s Ms Bates.* She is wonderful.
Casting Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley, though, didn’t work at all for me. There’s not enough reserve (probably in an attempt to make him less dusty and more approachable – but that’s exactly Knightley’s charme) and he looks too young. But I guess Jeremy Northam can’t play all the incarnations of Knightley. [Which is a damn shame.]
But the real problem was that towards the end of episode 2, it just got a little boring. There were too many meaningful glances and endless dance scenes. It probably would have been better had they gone with a three hour adaptation rather than four.
Summarising: It might have been not necessary to make yet another adaptation of Emma, but at least this one tries to bring something new to the table.
*Speaking of Tamsin Greig: Do you watch Episodes? Because I’m surprised how much I like that show and most of it is because of Tamsin Greig and her awesome. Also, I’m thinking it’s time for a Black Books re-watch.