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.