Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Movie Review: Emma (Masterpiece)

A couple of years ago, the Brits got all ambitious and made new movies of Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Sense & Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey. When the US aired them all on PBS Masterpiece as part of Jane Austen Season, they threw in the old TV version of Emma from 1996 and called it good.

They finally got around to making a new, three-part Emma this year, and I finished watching it last night. It's not as glossy and refined as the Hollywood Emma, and not as simple and strong as the old TV version, but I found myself liking it quite a bit on its own merits. In fact, by the end, it had really grown on me.

I thought Romola Garai as Emma was an interesting choice, considering I'd only ever seen her in weepy roles like Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair or whatever her name was in Daniel Deronda. Here, in Emma, she is so smiley and sunny I had to look away from time to time just to escape her overbearingly charming demeanor. But I liked how the movie allowed her to be silly and foolish, which is a side (and the truth) of her character that the other versions haven't really allowed. I did think she was too modern sometimes but again, maybe that's because period movies don't often allow their characters to show unguarded happy emotion so much.


Harriet Smith was another character who benefited from the movie's honest style. In the other versions, I've always felt like Harriet came across as an earnest, worthy project. In this new Emma, however, she's, well, kind of slow, and you can actually see how that begins to try even good-hearted Emma's patience.

Then there's Mr. Knightley. I was curious to see how this version's Mr. Knightley would come across, considering he was being played by the same actor who was Edmund in my favorite Mansfield Park. (I should also mention that the Mr. Elton in this version was played by another Mansfield Park Edmund veteran, which was interesting to see.) I guess this makes sense since that Mansfield Park was made 11 years ago, but as Mr. Knightley, Johnny Lee Miller was appropriately stodgier, brusquer, and more mature than Edmund ever was. It was nice to see him play an Austen character with some backbone for a change.

Some final thoughts:

-This version of Emma was earthier than the others. The Bates' apartment actually looked kind of shabby. The costumes were brighter and more colorful and not as stiff as we've usually seen. And the dances! None of the other Austen movies have had dances as fun as these.

-Speaking of dances, the ball scene ended up being my favorite one in the whole movie. The music was good and the setup of Harriet being snubbed and Mr. Knightley coming to her rescue was perfect. I ended up watching it two or three times.

Did anyone else watch the new Emma? If you didn't, and you want to, you can watch it online (legally) here.

14 comments:

Suzanne Bubnash said...

This Emma is more natural and naive than others have been and I like that. On the down side, she smiles too broadly way too much. The dancing is fabulous, yes. And the staging (if that's the right term)--did anyone else notice how the colors and props in the rooms complemented the costumes? Example: in part 3 Mr. Woodhouse is wearing a shawl matched by the furniture and paint colors. In another scene Emma is set off by a vase of tulips. It is deliberately crafted and very effective.

Lisa Lou said...

I really loved this version and was especially excited for Mr. Knightly! I love Mansfield Park as well and I think Jonny Lee Miller was perfect for this Mr. Knightly part. I have mixed feelings about Harriett Smith. I didn't really get her character. I think mostly her hair bothered me. The dude that played Frank Churchill was also perfect. Well choosen! Overall, I definately love this version.

Katie said...

Lisa was telling me about it, but I haven't seen it yet. Thanks for the link! I'm excited to watch. :)

Lark said...

I just blogged about this too! Loved it...actually the same as you. Loved the Hollywood Emma version and this new one for different reasons. This one I didn't love at first, but like you, it really grew on me.
Anyway, go online and take the Bachelor's of Highbury Quiz. Its funny.

Crys said...

I'll have to watch this. I loved this guys as Edmund...it should be interesting!

Fromagette said...

Thanks for posting the link! I'm going to visit my parents for two weeks and I think my mom and I will just have to watch it.

Lark said...

Mr. Woodhouse! Oh...too funny. Seriously, can't stop laughing. Sorry. But it also might be your reaction of "moderately horrified" that is even more funny than the actual result.

Good thing we already have our "Mr. Knightlys!"

Bridget said...

Lark, Mr. Woodhouse shouldn't even be an OPTION in that quiz. Ugh.

(We're talking about this quiz.)

Melody said...

I just finished watching it! I wouldn't have even known about it if you hadn't posted the link. I think it might be my favorite version of Emma (it's the 3rd I've seen. how many are there?). Now I'm going to have to find some of the others you've mentioned. I've not seen Mansfield Park or Persuasion in any version and the Northanger Abbey that I've seen was too serious and not the silliness that the novel intended. I've only seen the Hollywood version of Sense and Sensiblity. If you know of any other links to watch them online, send them my way.

Bridget said...

Melody, you need to read this post.

I just looked online to see if any of these were available to watch legally and it doesn't look like it. BUT, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are going to be on PBS Masterpiece in the next few weeks. So if you have TV, you can watch them there. I'm sure they're also on DVD, somewhere...

Amanda said...

I just watched this yesterday on your recommendation, and this Emma reminded me so much of how Alicia Silverstone played Cher in Clueless that I was quoting lines in my head the whole movie. I mean, I completely expected her to say, "I'm totally butt-crazy in love with Josh, I mean... Mr. Knightly." But, maybe you haven't seen that movie as many times as I have, which is WAY more than I'd like to admit.

Bridget said...

Amanda, me too! Especially the huge wide smiles she gave all the time!

Jennifer said...

I've been slowly working my way through it online for the past few weeks. I loved it! I liked it better than the Hollywood version because I felt like Emma was more real. Thanks for the heads up on legal online viewing!

Melody said...

Hey Bridget, this is kind of fun. Take a look!

http://austenacious.com/?p=1166

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