The break is over, and the Complete Jane Austen is back with a broadcast of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale, first broadcast on A&E about ten years ago. How interesting to ponder the later careers of some of the actresses involved: Kate Beckinsale, Samantha Morton, and Olivia Williams. We also get a big kick out of Raymond Coulthard’s take on Frank Churchill in this one (as seen to the left). He’s handsome and charming, just as he ought, and yet you believe he can be feckless. We often think that we would like to combine this version with the Gwyneth Paltrow version to make a very tolerable film version; though don’t make us pick a Miss Bates. We imagine most of our Gentle Readers have seen this one by now, but we’re sure you would like to discuss it anyway.
Self-knowledge is highly regarded by Austen, so a character who is ignorant of his or her own faults is clearly in need of correction before he or she can marry a worthy partner. On this path, Emma (Kate Beckinsale) walks a very fine line. If she were fully aware of her faults at the outset of the novel (therefore acting with willful disregard towards others) she would be a horrible person, and a hateful character. It is her naivete, her self-ignorance, her “clueless”-ness, if you will, that saves her from our scorn. We certainly do not admire her, and may even pity her.
Erica S. Perl is not a fan of period films, but was won over.
And then, something happened. I’m not exactly sure when, but my hackles came down. It might have been when the egotistical, self-satisfied Emma and the absurdly-rich-yet-unpretentious Mr. Knightly swapped their first flirty smile, or it could have been when the gullible Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton) appeared like a vision to the trolling-for-a-DIY-project Emma. All of a sudden, the characters seemed complex, edgy and flawed. In a word: modern. Not in their dress, or manner of speech, of course. But their emotional frankness and sly sense of humor took me by surprise. And hooked me.
So, Gentle Readers: how YOU doin’?