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29 January 2010

The Latest PBS "Emma"




After I busy work-week, I finally wrestled the TV away from my 6 year old and insisted it was my turn---I invited her to watch "my show". Reluctantly, she settled on the couch next to me, but much to my amazement, she never peeped for the next two hours---watching "Emma" on PBS.

Now this is child who can quote song and verse from High School Musical One, Two and Three, a child who will find the latest version of I Carly, or the Wizards of Waverly Place, and yes, sometimes even Hannah Montana, before she can find her shoes. I was shocked. But sat she did, all the way through, seemingly fascinated.

Now the latest version of Jane Austen's Emma has been advertised as "more approachable"---as if it wasn't. And it was widely hoped that the lovely young actress and actor who play the leads were "more relatable" than those of the past. I guess if a 6 year old found something particularly view-worthy about this show, then PBS has far exceeded anyone's expectation in creating a version with mass market appeal (but IMO, no updating to the story-line has EVER been needed---it has always had mass-market appeal).

So is this version more contemporary? What I notice is one lively Emma, who makes a lot of faces at everyone (not a Regency attribute, I believe), but she certainly is engaging. I think I like her a little more than other Emmas, because she is so incredibly naive and clueless---a lot like the well-cast Alecia Silverstone in "Clueless". Emma in this PBS version is portrayed as interfering, class-conscious while ignoring the realities of life, and ego-centric, but she has a certain charm that makes everyone, even the viewers, tolerate her. I do not share the opinion of some reviewers that she was "as clueless as a block of wood." Not on all accounts. She argues far too well with Mr. Knightly.

In PBS' latest installment, Emma is still a heroine, well-dressed and clever enough not to be at all dull. She's been that way for 195 years. No modernization needed. To prove my point, she captured the interest of a 6 year old, who asked me if we could read the book. I leapt from the couch yelling, yes! Move over Troy and Gabriella. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightly have arrived.

PBS, you get an A from me for "Emma".

What do you think? How does the latest PBS installment of "Emma" stack up? Does it make the grade?

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17 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Grant said...

How wonderful to share Emma with your daughter, Kathrynn! I was six when I saw the Garson/Olivier Pride & Prejudice, and then asked my mom to read the book to me. Which began my fascination with Austen and ultimately the Regency/Napoleonic era, and led to the books I write today.

I'm enjoying this adaptation of Emma (wonderful to have one that's long enough to tell the story in real depth), but it isn't quite my vision of Emma as a character. I always saw her as more superficially polished. Most people around her think she's wonderful and clever (part of her arrogance). It's Knightley who sees how clueless she can be, seeing the real Emma beneath the veneer. I'm missing the veneer in this adaptation, which to me takes a layer away from the story.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous RfP said...

What a nice experience with your daughter. I agree that the story itself provides most of the appeal; that quality isn't unique to one production.

My childhood introduction to Austen was the 1980 BBC Pride and Prejudice with David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie. When I expressed interest after the first episode, my parents gave me the book--which we read together, with three bookmarks for when one (or two) of us couldn't resist reading ahead.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I love that you're sharing it with your daughter, Kathrynn. And I suspect that what's giving me pause about this Emma isn't making a whit of difference from her perspective -- which is that most of the cast seems pretty much of the same age, even to Miss Bates.

Making me want to call it Emma, starring Michael Gambon and the Cast of Friends.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

I like that, Tracey---you sum it up well, that Mr. Knightly saw the real Emma beneath her veneer. I agree, it seems in this version, many other people see it too, and in the past (and in the book) she was better at hiding cluelessness. People seemed to take more stock in what she had to say. In this version, I get the sense that the characters are rolling their eyes at her, but still love her dearly.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

RfP, my first screen introduction to Austen was that same Pride and Prejudice version in the 1980s. I wasn't, er, a child then, but I have been hooked on watching every film/TV version of a Jane Austen book ever since!

9:15 PM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

I agree, Pam. Especially Miss Bates. She's a little young. But I chalked it up to my getting older now---the whole cast looks sooooo young to me. Also, even though I am enjoying this tremendously, I have a strong feeling that THIS Emma Woodhouse wouldn't have had the time of day for me, should our social paths cross. She is far too pretty, well-dressed and sure of herself!

9:23 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I have a thing for the actress playing Emma (Romola Garai). I just fell in love with her the love interest in Amazing Grace. I've liked her pretty much all of her roles to date (esp the historical ones).

I haven't seen this new version yet, but I certainly intend to!

9:55 AM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

Let me know, Kalen, what you think about the historical accuracy of the costumes. They are very beautiful and look soooo wearable. Real-life, like one could possibly wear short versions of the dresses today!

7:02 PM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

It's certainly the prettiest version--and that includes the cast (I agree with Pam on that) who are easily outacted by Michael Gambon. I enjoy watching Romola Garai's very expressive face, but gawd the woman gallumphs around. Kalen, do you think anyone is wearing stays in this production? As for Miss Bates, top marks for the director realizing that she's the only one who knows everything that's going on, but she lacks that oh god stop talking before I throttle you quality, which makes Emma's rudeness at Box Hill meaningless. Oh, and Frank looks like a frog. Sorry, some guys just don't look good in a high collar and cravat.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Caught the second installment last night. Loved it. So far it's by FAR my favorite (Paltrow was just so know-it-all-insipid and she seemed, well, too old; and the other version just didn't make me happy at all, so many little things that just didn't work).

I really like the costumes in this version. The prints they're using for the gowns are lovely, and yes, it looks to me as though they're wearing stays (check their posture when they sit).

I even like the galumphing. It's far better than the calm queen-of-all-she-surveys attitude that is usually given to Emma.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Oh, and Frank looks like a frog. Sorry, some guys just don't look good in a high collar and cravat.

That was my response to Dominic Cooper as Willoughby in the latest version of Sense and Sensibility. He made my flesh crawl, and normally he's quite an attractive boy.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I'm still a fan of the Beckinsale version... in fact I played hooky from last night's Emma to check out the Grammys -- bad romance writer!

I do like the fact that the screenwriters got that Frank and Jane are both orphans of Highbury -- well, I sort of like it; I miss the smug feeling that not too many people besides me got that.

And no, I don't like this Frank either. Or this Jane. And I don't believe in the Mr. Knightley character here -- yes, he looks 36 or 37, but in our version of go-to-the-gym 36 or 37, not their kind of survey-your-vast-estate 36 or 37.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

A solid B-

And only because the cinematography and costumes are so luscious. I could move into those homes in a heartbeat. But the actors (except for Tamsin Grieg as Miss Bates, and the actress playing Mrs. Elton) are only adequate. I tend to like Romola Garai but her contemporary and very theatrical body language and facial expressions are at odds with her surroundings. Jonny Lee Miller is always a yawn. Not sexy, no spark behind the eyes of any intelligence and no chemistry with Garai.

Most of the cast seems to be phoning it in, esp. Gambon, who has this world weary "oh, God, another costume drama, but at least it's a paycheck" aspect to his portrayal.

Missing entirely is Austen's wit. It's a charmless adaptation. But darn, I love those Georgian homes!

8:46 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I thought the first 20 minutes of the first episode were completely unnecessary. And it really dragged for me. I found myself admiring the costumes, the furnishings, and the houses more than what was going on. The second episode was better, but it's very slow and missing the wit of both the Beckinsale version & Gwyneth.

And I've never really liked Jonny Lee Miller as an actor. I do like Romola Garai (I thought she was also wonderful as Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda), she has the child-like qualities and sweetness that Emma needs. I don't like the Frank Churchill, but then I've never liked the character. And this Jane Fairfax is like wallpaper. I would have to give it a B- as well.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

I agree, Elizabeth, with you and others--I don't like this Frank Churchill enough...he simply isn't an appealing character. Emma does have a child-like quality (she even looks like a little girl at times). Jonny Lee is Meh. But it's wierd, I do wish I could see more of Miss Bates. Jane Fairfax seems frightened all of the time (of something), but still, concurring with the group, the whole thing is luscious to look at.

I'll be there for the final installment!

2:34 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Re: this Frank Churchill. He telegraphs sleaze, just as the actor playing Elton does, which tips the balance of the narrative and makes this Emma TSTL not to notice the untrustworthiness coming off these guys in waves.

I, too, wish I could see more of Miss Bates because in this version she's the only sympathetic character.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Juanita's Journal said...

Considering the negative response to this miniseries, I did not expected to like it. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it as much as I did the Gwyneth Paltrow version.

12:12 PM  

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