The BBC have released a "behind the scenes" video (see above), and the official Emma website has also been launched.
Bright colours, stunning settings, vivid lighting and exquisite characterisation are the watchwords of the BBC’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. The first two hour-long episodes were shown – without a single break – to an invited audience at the Curzon Cinema in the West of London tonight.
Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine was the only press on the guest list, and with a seat immediately behind leading lady Romola Garai – who spoke to us afterwards – we were in an ideal spot as the lights dimmed.
Within the first 15 seconds the audience is moved from delight – as baby Emma Woodhouse appears – to the verge of tears, as her mother is poignantly nailed into a coffin. The arrival of the governess Miss Taylor (Jodi May) and the early-years departure of Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans when he returns in adulthood) and Jane Fairfax are dealt with swiftly. Before then the silhouettes based on the Edward Austen-Leigh drawings are intermingled with the opening credits.
From then on Garai steals the show, reaching a climax in her furious row with Mr Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller). Her manipulation of Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan) is only rivalled for its clever characterisation by the constant worry and anxiety of Mr Woodhouse (Michael Gambon).
Garai’s salmon-coloured clothing may not to be the taste of all purists, nor will Jane Fairfax’s (Laura Pyper) attack on the pianoforte – not to mention her choice of music – at the Coles’ party please connoisseurs. The film’s etiquette adviser, sitting next to me, was none too pleased that her advice on Georgian tables manners had not always been followed. But these are mere quibbles: even as we supped wine afterwards the producer George Ormond was contemplating a couple of changes ahead of Sunday’s nationwide broadcast of the first episode on BBC One (9pm).
Much hangs on the emotions, the sparring and the facial expressions – at which Garai is a true master. In some respects these are more pronounced and informal than many TV adaptations of historic novels, and we anticipate a range of critical reactions. As Emma contemplates her own foolishness we see her reflection in a mirror, examining her conscience. And her utter horror when, in the carriage, Mr Elton (Blake Ritson) declares his affection for her, is a fantastic piece of dramatisation.
Sandy Welch, who wrote the screenplay, has waited a dozen or more years to bring this project to fruition. That wait has been worthwhile. At times you feel that the BBC could have done with another three months to work on Emma – editing of episodes 3 and 4 is not yet finished, yet they are due to be broadcast on October 18 and 25 – but the overall effect is that this is a memorable adaptation and one that will long be treasured by Austen fans. [Let's hope so!]
For the full story, including conversations with Romola Garai, the producer George Ormond and behind the scenes stories, see the November/December issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World.
UPDATE: thanks Charleybrown! :-) There was a feature in The Radio Times this week about Emma 09. This blogger has uploaded scans of the article. Isn't Romola's floral dress in those publicity photos just too gorgeous? I'm so jealous. . .