Sunday, 1 June 2008

Austen on the Telly Salon I: Emma

ITV's 1996 adaptation of Emma is playing at 8.30 on ABC1 this evening, and there will be three other (newer) Austen adaptations screened in the coming weeks. If you're going to watch it, and you could do a lot worse, although I'm not sure what drugs Mr Knightley's hair stylist was on, I'd really like it if you dropped in here afterwards for general gossip and debriefing purposes.

33 comments:

TimT said...

Can't watch it as I don't have a telly at the moment, but I gather this was the Austen season reviewed a few weeks ago in the New Yorker...

Ampersand Duck said...

Roger. Wilco.

Although annoyed that the last five minutes of Emma overlaps with The Flight of the Conchords.

Kirsty said...

Ah, well I started to watch it, but found it quite charmless. The performances all seemed rather perfunctory--although perhaps that's about the script--and I found I didn't really care about any of the characters. Perhaps I just liked Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightly more. I really even preferred Gwyneth as Emma (but perhaps that's no surprise in view of my avatar).

I agree about the hair on this Mr Knightly, it was a distraction.

lucy tartan said...

Well, I watched the whole thing. I think all the hair was horrible, everyone's, and I'd forgotten how shouty Mr Knightley is all the time.

Ampersand Duck said...

yes, the hair was a bit much... but he had his version of The Look pinned, I thought.

And I really enjoyed the Strawberry Picking scenes, and the Picnic. All that hoiking of gear, the emphasis on 'naturalness'.

This was an Andrew Davies script, wasn't it? I quite liked the earthiness of it; lots of awareness on the servants and the obligatory virile horse's rump. And the costumes were nicely understated.

I guess I'm saying I enjoyed it... I didn't mind Knightley's shoutiness. I enjoyed the flares of anger.

Ampersand Duck said...

Also, I never liked Gwyneth as Emma, so I really watched this with an open mind. I thought Kate did ok.

[geez your doorbitch is giving me a hard time tonight! 4 times I had to do it with the last comment. Picky, picky picky...]

lucy tartan said...

I wondered if the Mr Elton fellow was deliberately done up to look a bit like Colin Firth? I can't actually remember if this show was made after P & P or at the same time.

lucy tartan said...

I wasn't thrilled with Gwyneth either - too coy, she was. Yep, Kate was ok.

Andrew Davies did write this. At times I thought he was more interested in Mr Knightley than in Emma. The big speech at the end for instance.

Mrs Elton is one of those people who's very hard to get completely wrong. And Prunella Scales was very good, but maybe she laid it on just a little bit too thick?

Ampersand Duck said...

Hmm, I thought the accent was a tad weird, but Mrs Elton had the right attitude, and is, as you say, very hard to get wrong. When Mrs E talked about being natural and then gestured disdainfully for the man to shift her pillow I guffawed as loudly as when I read your '(Did she smell?)' in your excellent Meanjin article.

I loved Mr Elton's fabulous transition from swooning to sulky; he had a great face for it.

Wasn't sure about the painting coming to life, but the rest of the daydreaming kept that in its place in the end.

lucy tartan said...

I sort of agree with Kirsty, overall - it was fairly charmless. Good as some of the performances were and the dresses etc. Dorian asked me early on if it was supposed to be obvious what a slimeball Frank Churchill was. I don't know whether it was intentional or not.

Miss Schlegel said...

Even though I loathe Gwinny and her fashionable children and her droney boyfriend, I thought she was quite a good Emma. She is Emma-esque in reality, I suppose. Kate was okay, but she wasn't enough. I think she did a better Emma in Cold Comfort Farm. Kate is very beautiful, but. None of the boys really did it for me.

Ah, Matthew McFayden...

Actually Rupert Penry-Jones is one of the Austen numbers, right. Ah, Rupert Penry-Jones... So dishy and posh.

Overall, I think it missed the mark.

Having said that, I did cry at the end.

lucy tartan said...

this is an overshare: I got the tiniest bit weepy when Mr K asked Harriet to dance at the ball, and when Emma was such a bitch to Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic.


Not at the end though.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I thought Frank Churchill's hair was even worse than Mr Knightley's.

Duck, I thought Mrs Elton's accent was supposed to be modified West Country/Cornish -- perhaps suggestive of a country girl made good? Also, do I deduce from your use of the word 'hoiking' that you watched Trinny and Susannah the other night or is that just a coincidence?

I didn't cry at all. Though I agree that Mr Knightley asking Harriet to dance is a high point, no matter what the version. Like Mrs Elton, that moment is very hard to stuff up .

lucy tartan said...

Yes, Frank's hair was 'absolutely revolting', I think the police should do something about it immediately!

Ampersand Duck said...

Actually, no, Pav, I didn't! 'Hoiking' is a part of my daily vocab... What is T & S, anyway?

Jason said...

I knew that blonde guy was bad news from the start.

Fyodor said...

What Jason said.

Sorry, arrived a bit late to this one.

EW: too mousy and tentative. She came across as far too petulant at times and simply didn't fill the role with enough personality. Beckinsale is pretty but can't act.

Mr K: far too cross, too often. He also took Emma's arm far too roughly after the Three Dull Things incident. Mark Strong's very good (excellent in Stardust, BTW), but his presence is too forceful and he is miscast here. Yes, his hair [What shade of hair colour is that? Apricot Brown?] was trully appalling.

Mr E: tolerable. Would have made a good Wickham. Althogether far too fecking ardent in the coach scene, however. Everyone has their level, and he crossed mine.

Mrs E: dreadful. No presence, no comedic timing [that said, they left out some of her best lines] and agree absolutely with &Duck and PC: WHAT WAS WITH THE BIZARRE ACCENT? If you can't do a West Country accent without sounding weirdly Mid-Atlantic, don't do it. Juliet Stevenson absolutely stole her movie in this role, and Lucy Robinson just doesn't cut the mustard.

Miss Bates: Sybill Fawlty. I was half expecting her to smack Emma across the chops when she got dressed down. Too knowing, and not nearly meek enough to play this character.

FC: sleazy, leering and charmless coxcomb. Very unsubtle performance, with no chemistry with either of EW or JF.

JF: moody depressive. OTOH, Olivia Williams [schwing].

HS: she's a great actress, but Samantha Morton has too disturbing a look to play such a minor character without distracting the audience.

John Knightley: colossal whinger. I can't remember him being such an irritating moaner in the book.

Gypsies: not filthy enough. Also: too blond.

Other comments:

- The screenplay was dull, with little comedic verve - it's one of the funniest of Austen's novels and yet this adaptation just plods along, despite a short run-time.

- The pacing was off, with too much acceleration at the very end.

- Too much emphasis on Mr K's wealth - excessive shades of Pemberley, for mine.

- The daydream sequences were cute but superficial, unnecessary and lacked subtlety. Why not have Mr K jump into a pond at an opportune moment, Mr Davies?

lucy tartan said...

Ha ha ha! Tell me what you really thought, Fyodor!

Lots to chew on there - seriously - thanks.

Mr Elton was too ardent you think? That little scene was given a disproportionately long time to play out in. I have to admit I'm inclined to attribute the worst motives to Andrew Davies, and in this screenplay he does his usual silly thing of giving lots of extra space to men expressing their manliness, because he's convinced himself the novels don't do this.

I liked the little moment when Mr E flung himself at Emma though, grabbing her fingers - for a split second it looked like he was going to suck her hand instead of kiss it. A nice actorly rendition of drunken slobberiness.


I agree with you too about Kate Beckinsale not quite filling the role. Yes, it's a failure to project personality in a way the camera can record. No reflection on the intelligence or personilty of the actor herself, just a wrongness for the part. The same thing happened with Kiera Knightley in P & P: the face is beautifully made but the eyes aren't lit from within in the way they need to be to draw you into the character's inner world. So I found myself staring at the actress's mouth, not looking at her eyes.

Ampersand Duck said...

The other thing I thought at the time -- just remembered whilst discussing E with my students this morning -- is the EWWW factor of Mr K constantly reminiscing about holding Emma as a baby. Can't remember if the book has THAT much emphasis on it, can remember it being mentioned once. I know it was common for the gentlemen to be 'mature' when they land their young fillies, but thought AD revelled a bit too much in this last night. Combined with the hair it make Mr K come across a bit sleazier than was meant, methinks.

lucy tartan said...

I don't remember him saying all that about holding her when she's a baby. He does (from memory) say though that he's loved her since she was sixteen, which is probably worse in the creepiness department.

Thus far, then, is this approximately the consensus?

a) creepy men

b) universal bad hair

c) Frank Churchill waay too obviously a sneak

Elsewhere007 said...

Agree with the above post.

I was underwhelmed, esp by Kate B whom I expected to give a far better performance.

Also -- Knightley needs to be hot, to make up for his rather carping personality.

I preferred Clueless.

Ampersand Duck said...

Yairs, I do have a soft spot for Clueless.

Agreed, Ms Tartan.

tigtog said...

I did like some moments. Perhaps the mid-Atlantic accent of Mrs E was meant to imply that she was one of those wicked American Buccaneer types? (although would have to have been a very modestly ambitious one to have settled for a country parson, unless she just wanted a suit she could boss into a bishopric)

Mr K's hair was horrid. Kate B's sense of self-containment worked much better for Miss Post than for Miss Woodhouse. I still thought she was better than Gwyneth though.

I agree Samantha Morton was distractingly watchable as HS, but back in 96 she was still very new and I don't think anybody had quite yet realised what a scene stealer she is.

Fyodor said...

I think It's Time to unleash that long-awaited Clueless review, Miss Tartan.

"I liked the little moment when Mr E flung himself at Emma though, grabbing her fingers - for a split second it looked like he was going to suck her hand instead of kiss it. A nice actorly rendition of drunken slobberiness."

Yes, that worked well. What also worked well was him leaping across to sit beside EW. What pushed it too far was jumping seats AGAIN, after EW had attempted to escape him. Very ungentlemanly, even for Elton.

"...the eyes aren't lit from within in the way they need to be to draw you into the character's inner world. So I found myself staring at the actress's mouth, not looking at her eyes."

Yes, I found the same, though probably for somewhat different reasons. I suspect the camera also lingered a little too long on Beckinsale's mouth. As you say, her acting seemed rather mouthy: alternating from petulant pout to coquettish grin. Hate to admit this, but the latter caused me to notice that the movie was evidently shot before she had the California smile installed.

"I don't remember him saying all that about holding her when she's a baby. He does (from memory) say though that he's loved her since she was sixteen, which is probably worse in the creepiness department."

Good pickup, Ducky. He said it at least twice, which was definitely a Fritzl on the creepiness scale.

Kate H said...

I'm afraid I was so underwhelmed I let Mr Kate watch Narnia (which I then proceeded to whinge about, particularly the awful way Lewis treated Susan, etc etc) until 9:20, when I went to bed.

But from what I did see I'd concur with everyone about the hair. And my pretty english rose namesake has always left me feeling a tad underwhelmed, possibly because she can't act.

On a more technical level I thought the quality of the lighting in the indoor scenes was also rather poor, but again this is based on only the first 15 minutes or so.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I think you're limiting your options there, Fyodor -- if he'd said it three times, what would that rate?

The whole movie suffered in my eyes from my having seen The Painted Veil a couple of hours before, with a surprisingly good Naomi Watts, the always-electrifying Edward Norton, and what seemed to me to be a very sophisticated attitude to the adaptation of literature from another era. And of course the staggering landscapes of China.

Fyodor said...

"I think you're limiting your options there, Fyodor -- if he'd said it three times, what would that rate?"

A "Henson", natch.

"And of course the staggering landscapes of China."

Coming soon, to a theatre near you: Pride & Putonghua. Directed by Ang Lee, with fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping.

Elsewhere007 said...

Kate -- but Susan was into lipsticks and nylons, unlike George from the Famous Five. Mr Lewis had a point.

Pavlov's Cat said...

"Pride & Putonghua. Directed by Ang Lee, with fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping."

You say that like it's a bad thing.

jac said...

Emma's one of my favourites, but not this one so much. I missed the first 10 minutes and it took me ages to figure out which one was Mr Knightley, because he had the personality and presence of a soup tureen. I thought Isabella made the better choice with the Younger Mr Knightley - he was only on screen for 2 minutes, but definitely the more interesting brother.

Fyodor said...

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Not at all. Madam, if you knew me you would realise that a Janeite wushu epic is my life's work.

genevieve said...

Gwyneth, hoicking, Trinny, Shouty Knightley, Clueless, Meanjin.
Really, this post has everything. I did not watch, by the way - but Kate B. does a terrific version of herself in Stillman's Last Days of Disco.

Ariel said...

I preferred Kate's Emma to Gwynnie's, but preferred Clueless to both. Yes, please post on Clueless!

A bad Mr Knightley - not the least bit attractive. He needed to be played by a Colin Firth type, I thought. He was too schoolmarmish for my liking. I would have preferred the younger brother, too. The URST (unresolved sexual tension) was underdone, I thought. Probably the fault of the actors' chemistry. And I didn't like the reference to holding her as a baby either. Creepy.

And I didn't like the way the film kept going after the proposal, it all felt a bit superfluous after that.