Everybody Loves Emma

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The first part of Emma 2009 (in which we see the inherent problems of the year-labeling system, but we still like it better than the numbering system) starts in a very short time on PBS’ Masterpiece Classics. The New York Times liked it fine, and we’ve no doubt that most of our Gentle Readers will do so as well, though Sarah Seltzer at the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog writes that while it may be fine, it will be hard to top Clueless (we agree). So what did everyone think?

46 thoughts on “Everybody Loves Emma

  1. Liann

    Was not a fan. Would much prefer to watch the Miramax version, or even the other BBC production with Kate Beckinsale. Emma should not be over-the-top and irritating in a Regency world, no matter how modern they try to make it.

    Ah well. Won’t have to wait long, I’m sure, for the next version to roll around πŸ™‚

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    • Remember the Beckinsale Emma is NOT BBC, it is a Meridien (not ITV) production, just like the 2007 NA, P and MP, but of course the former is not bad as the last ones.

      Count me too in the number who still prefers GP Emma.

      On the new Emma, this is the first time I’ve watched on TV (unfortunately I return to my country this week, so I will not be watching the rest episodes in order to continue my assessment). I agree that this one is not the worst adaptation, I even think that Emma along with S&S have been the fortunate novels in being adapted, but it is certainly not the best and I think we still have to wait for a more definitive one. IMHO BBC does not disappoint in the matter of technical matters (costumes, decoration, some locations), etc. However, for me the script is not up to the level and as I have said at other times, the leads are not what I would expect, in particular JLM is still not and never will be my Mr. Knightley (in general, I believe all the 2000 JA adaptations’ male leads have been too softened for my taste, save for the S&S3 -I do not remember correctly the year- Col Brandon).

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      • Mags

        It certainly is all we could want as far as the production values. The costumes, sets, etc. are all first-rate. Really most of the cast is lovely (adore Michael Gambon’s air of polite befuddlement and Blake Ritson is hilariously smarmy–and I like Romola, just wish she would STAND UP STRAIGHT).

        But I don’t know, it’s missing something. Some spark of being great. It’s nice. It’s just nice.

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      • Liann

        “Remember the Beckinsale Emma is NOT BBC, it is a Meridien (not ITV) production, just like the 2007 NA, P and MP, but of course the former is not bad as the last ones.”

        Huh! I did not know that, thank you so much! That’s the American in me failing πŸ˜›

        And I didn’t want to wait till it came to the US either, so I watched the whole of this series when it came out online. I know there’s a few YouTube options if you’re interested. I didn’t want to judge it until I had seen the whole thing, but really, it does not get better. You are very right, the costumes and locations are always perfect, but Romola’s Emma, JLM’s Knightley, the script, the Harriet–its all wanting in wit, class, and sophistication. It is possible to make something appeal to modern audiences AND keep Regency attitudes, I promise.

        After seeing the whole series, I did, in fact, “wash my mouth out” with the Miramax version. Jeremy Northam has been, and always will be, my Mr. Knightley.

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      • Do not worry Liann, it is a common misapprehension to think that any British programm is by BBC. I also ade a mistake, what I meant to write is that Meridien is now ITV.

        As for the miniseries itself, I did not wait either, I too also watched it online when it was broadcasted back in October in UK, what I meant about my assessment is that I was finally watching in a proper screen and thus a proper quality image.

        However, the script is still wanting and that cannot be improved by any quality image. Some might argue that the miniseries include more dialogue than any previous adaptation, but I’ve yet to believe that the supposed inclusions were among the most brilliant ones. Perhaps only when I got the DVD I would be able to assess that, but so far, I think that both McGrath and Andrew Davies selected better in quality of what to include of JA’s original words than what Welch has done, it might be more in quantity, but not in quality.

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  2. surreyhill

    Was not a fan, either, although of course I will watch the second part. The only plus was the nice, smarmy casting of Mr. Elton. Him, I liked. And Mr. Wodehouse, of course. And shrubbery porn. Plenty of that.

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  3. I can’t say anything against Jonny Lee Miller’s performance, but that’s ’cause I love his work. (Wonders if it’s too soon to watch “Hackers” again with the hubster.)

    The rest of it, however, I’d label as “not the worst adaptation ever, but certainly not the best.” I’m another who prefers the Miramax version. πŸ™‚

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  4. Nili Olay

    I go against the stream. I loved it. I found myself smiling most of the time. I think the casting was excellent, the story pretty faithfully followed and lots of energy.

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    • I loved it too, Nili. I didn’t love Romola Garai, but I thought Jonny Lee Miller was wonderful as Mr. Knightley. I also really liked the “backstory” they gave at the beginning — it gave the audience a totally new perspective on the parallels between Jane and Emma and Frank and Emma. Who knows what would have happened if Frank and Jane hadn’t had to move away as children? The introduction also showed us just how far the Bates ladies had fallen, and also showed us a reason for Mr. Woodhouse’s behavior going forward. In this adaptation, Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse weren’t caricatures anymore. They were far more real to me than in other adaptations I’ve seen over the years. My favorite Emma has long been the Paltrow version, but this is just wonderful and, upon repeated viewings, could possibly move to the top of the list.

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  5. Deborah

    Anyone else irked by the conclusion to the NYT review: “Austen was satirical about love but reverent about money; she had an almost romantic belief in the healing powers of wealth and breeding.” What? The creator of Lady Catherine de Bourgh — not satirical about wealth and breeding? I’d say JA had a deeply pragmatic belief in the power of wealth — i.e., she knew that without it, you were going to have a pretty hard life.

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    • Maria L

      Yes! And for that matter, I’d say that the creator of Lady Catherine, Sir Walter, Elizabeth Elliot, Sir Thomas and Maria Bertram, Mrs. Ferrars and Gen. Tilney to name just a few, had a decidedly less than romantic belief in the powers of breeding also.

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    • aniko

      I haven’t read the review, but it sounds to me like the reviewer was doing what so much of the media does: trying to write in a cutesy way and overly simplistically. It drives me up the wall.

      They only succeed, IMO, at making themselves seem incapable of comprehending the meaning that’s behind the text and, frankly, is not really hidden.

      Anybody who has grasped the idea that an utterance or conversation can have a literal meaning and as well as one that is found between-the-lines (in other words anyone who is over the age of twelve) knows that Austen did not have “an almost romantic belief in the healing powers of wealth and breeding.” How insulting!

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  6. I enjoyed it (it is Emma, after all) but still prefer the Hollywood version. This new one makes all the negative attributes of the characters so much worse than they really are. Frank Churchill actually comes to Highbury to visit Jane Fairfax without visiting his father, Miss Bates not only talks incessantly but also insults her audience, and Mr. Woodhouse is just curmudgeonly without the gallantry that should mark his character.

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  7. surreyhill

    “Mr. Woodhouse is just curmudgeonly without the gallantry that should mark his character.”

    I did notice him offer a handkerchief to Miss Smith last night, but that was about the only gallantry I saw. And why does Romola clomp around like a heffalump, sticking her neck out and hunching her shoulders like a goose on the green?

    She acts more vulgar than Miss Smith, other than knowing which side of the spoon to use to scrape up her soup.

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  8. I came here to see what others were saying about the production.

    It is such a treat to see the production technically correct and as someone said, “shrubbery porn.” Love it!

    The girl who plays Emma is very cute, but the character, to me, is obnoxious. I have not read the book yet, but certainly will now.

    I liked the girl who played Harriet Smith. She’s very funny, particularly when she was laid up in bed with a cold. Too funny!

    I am enjoying Jonny Lee Miller’s performance. He portrays a man with a good sense of humor, who could love and put up with Emma.

    I wish I could say I “fell in love” with her like I did with the other Austen girls. Perhaps the book will persuade me.

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  9. Katharine T

    I had really low expectations, which is good because now I’m being pleasantly surprised. I liked it. I like both Romola Garai and JLM much more than I thought I would. I didn’t notice any clumping or hunching – I think you all are a little harsh there. I like the passion JLM is putting into the role, and he seems to be at least making it his own interpretation. My biggest disappointment so far is Miss Bates. It seems like a lesser impression of Sophie Thompson doing Miss Bates.

    My full review is posted on my LiveJournal if anyone’s interested.

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  10. Welcome to chrisd! Glad the adaptation is turning you to the book – the best of all possible results!

    I, for one, love this Emma, and have said so to the internet’s resounding disinterest (which, of course, will not stop either me or the internet) ;-).

    And I think Tamsein Grieg is far, far superior to Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates – Thompson was directed as a flat figure to make fun of, which becomes a sentimental cipher in the last act of the film, and angers me greatly in a great many ways. Grieg is certainly odd in many ways, but she never becomes a rather mean-spirited caricature as I feel Thompson was directed into playing.

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    • Katharine T

      What I meant is that Grieg seems to be mimicking Thompson’s speech patterns as Miss Bates. But actually I think Miss Bates is pretty hilarious in the novel. The pathos only comes in at the very end, and even then Emma is not wrong that’s she’s silly, only wrong to make it an excuse for a public smackdown. I think Sophie Thompson’s portrayal was right on, and not mean-spirited at all, just really, really funny.

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  11. Overall, I’m enjoying it so far. Both Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller are exceeding my (admittedly not high) expectations, although I think Garai sometimes overacts a bit. I’m not terribly impressed with most of the secondary characters though, and I’m very disappointed with the girl playing Harriet Smith. She just doesn’t seem timid, deferential, or silly enough!

    Am loving Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton, though. During the Christmas party at Randalls, I just kept thinking “OMG DATE RAPIST!” He’s so sleazy and hilarious.

    At any rate, I’ll definitely continue watching the series — I’ll be interested to see what happens as Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax play a larger role, and I can’t wait until Mrs. Elton appears on the scene!

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  12. KathleenC

    I had the same impression that surrey hill described, that Romola seemed awkward and lacking in elegance. I even wondered if this was deliberate to highlight her “cluelessness” and we would understand why Mr. Knightley felt the need to lecture her.

    On the positive side, I think that there is a more sensitive focus on Miss Bates then I have seen in other versions of Emma. I agree with ibmiller that her character has more depth and I am interested to see how her experience is potrayed in the next episodes.

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  13. I confess that I couldn’t stand it. Loved the sets and some of the costumes but in my opinion, why mess with greatness?! I understand what they were trying to do but as for me, I couldn’t even watch it to the end. Incredibly disappointed.

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  14. surreyhill

    I do agree with all that has been said about the Miss Bates character/actress. I also like Mrs. Weston very well in this production.

    I was starting to warm up a LITTLE to JLM near the very end last night, but I found his face a little modern for my taste and Romola reminds me too much of Cameron Diaz. I shall try to get past it.

    I am not entirely displeased with Frank Churchill so far, but then, anything is a relief after Ewan McGregor’s hair. That was NOT a haircut worth going to London for!!

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  15. DeeDee

    Not happy with Mr. Knightley (though JLM does well in spite of being miscast), but I loved it. I’m glad they’re fleshing out Frank and Jane more than the other versions did. I really like Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse. I agree with an earlier poster that Miss Bates seemed like a lesser copycat of Sophie Thompson’s version.

    Romola Garai is a delightful Emma to me. Doesn’t the book say that she has high animal spirits, or am I completely making that up? It IS Monday. Anyway, I love her.

    Anyone else find it weird to watch two Edmund Bertrams court Miss Woodhouse?

    Oh! And did anyone else get the impression that Mrs. Goddard was hinting that Harriet is the “natural daughter” of Mr. Woodhouse? The more I think about it, the more it kind of makes sense as an interpretation.

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    • Kay

      Yes, The two Edmund Bertram’s from previous adaptations struck me as funny as well. One more thing that kept me smiling while I watched yesterday afternoon.

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      • Mags

        I’d like to think that Jonny and Blake sat around the set saying, “Blimey, that Bertram was a wanker.” But that’s probably too much to ask.

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  16. KathleenC

    Wow, interesting idea but I can’t imagine Harriet as the natural daughter of Mr. Woodhouse. First of all he just doesn’t seem like the type and, secondly, how could he know of her existence and not constantly worry about her health!

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  17. The reason I liked it, was because I learned more about the characters in this version, rather than the Gwyneth Paltrow version. I am sorry to say, I have not yet read Emma …I know, please don’t gasp, but this Emma was nicely done, visually pleasing (as was Johnny Lee Miller), and a joy to watch (even the hubby got into it).

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    • Kay

      I, too, liked how they did the beginning of the episode, pointing out the life changes for Emma, Jane and Frank. Even though I’ve read the book many times, that was nicely done, I thought.

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  18. I was expecting to dislike it after all the negative reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised. I actually like Romola very much as Emma, though I admit to being predisposed to like her after I Capture the Castle, Daniel Deronda, and Amazing Grace. Jeremy Northam will always be “my Mr Knightley” (unless they decide to cast Richard Armitage), but I don’t mind Johnny Lee Miller as much as I thought I would.

    Maybe this is just a case of lowering my expectations so low anything seems like an improvement? However, I will definitely watch the last two episodes and probably add it to my collection. I can’t say that of all of the recent adaptations of Austen novels.

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  19. Mandy N

    I think my expectations were too high. (I enjoyed RG in ICTC, Mary Byrant, etc) but Romola Garai was too modern in mannerisms and gestures to convince me as Emma, who is really a lady. JLM was better as Mr Knightley than I expected Harriet improved on me in the second part. I think they tried to make Miss Bates a sympathetic figure ? But it was off the mark to make Miss Bates so sad. ( I prefer Miss Bates of Emma 2) Are we allowed to talk about the later part ? Harriet improved on me. I won’t comment much as it hasn’t plated in my region yet but I prefer Emma 1 & Emma 3.

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  20. LynnS

    I liked it. Not as much as the Paltrow or Beckensale productions, but I only humphed in indignation a couple of times. In contrast, it took me over a week to rewatch the latest MP. I could only take 15-20 minutes at a time and finally had to start a reread of the book to get the bad taste out!

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  21. ann

    I loved Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley and I also liked the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma. I am enjoying this latest version of Emma too. I think that JLM makes a fine Mr. Knightley.

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  22. Jeffrey

    So far, my wife and I are thoroughtly enjoying it! I thought Emma and Mr. Knightly looked too close in age when they’re actually supposed to be 16 years apart. I loved Mr. Woodhouse and the “cake” scene and was tickled by Mr. Elton’s awkward proposal scene in the carriage. I also thought Miss Garai played a youthful, spoiled and somewhat haughty Emma quite well. Hartfield looked like I mentally imagined it, but Donwell Abbey, although suitably enormous and imposing looks like something from a gothic novel. The scenes, costumes, and sets are sumptuous and lavish. We’re so looking forward to the next installments and predict it will get even better.

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  23. Marsha

    Miss Bates is ALL wrong! She’s not in the least entertaining. Is the screenplay trying to justify Emma’s unjustified dislike of Jane Fairfax by portraying Miss Bates as a jenny-one-note whose conversation consists only of superlatives about her niece? Where’s the homor, where’s the irony? Where’s my Jane Austen?

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  24. surreyhill

    Part 2 tonight for us bootlegless plebes in the US.

    I will watch despite my scathing comments earlier. I am still capable of being won over. After two Hoyden!Fanny Prices in a row, not much can put me off my feed.

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  25. Nicole L. Van Hook

    I thoroughly enjoyed this version of Emma….. I have both of the other two versions and I never take them off the shelf. I have never had an appreciation for Emma, she isn’t a character that has appealed to me. Well, that is until now….. I loved the chemistry of Johnny Lee Miller and Romola Garai. JLM has portrayed Mr. Knightley in a way that has made Knightley my new favorite Austen Man. He had a reserve and an observatory approach to the character, that when he needed to scold Emma it added so much gravity. I also believed his profession of love at the end of this series. It was subtle and yet romantic. perfect!!! Very nicely done.
    Armitage is lovely and he is Thornton….. but, JLM is Knightley!!!

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