Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Emma 2009: my verdict

Emma 2009

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty much all Austened-up and Austened-out for now. I think this will be the last Austen-themed post for a while.

I've been a bit hesitant to write this post, partly because my opinions of new Austen adaptations inevitably change over time. . . I suppose all I can do is write down what I think of Emma '09 now, even though (like I said) my opinion is bound to change. Ideally, I would have liked to have watched it a second time before writing my verdict, but I don't really have four hours to spare right now. . . 

Emma 2009

The cast: I thought about 70% of the actors in this series were well-cast. 10% were hopelessly miscast, and the remaining 20% were not exactly miscast, but. . . but - they didn't seem perfect for their roles, either. I'm thinking of the two leads in particular - Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. In spite of my early misgivings , JLM was really pretty good as Mr. Knightley, but I think most of you will agree he didn't look like Mr. Knightley. . . even though his acting was good, he just wasn't the Knightley that I imagine when I read the book. 

Romola Garai is a good actress, and she did well as Emma, but her gestures and mannerisms really bothered me! She went over-the-top with her facial expressions, and her posture was so bad - she had this annoying habit of hunching her shoulders forward, giving her an awkward, ungainly appearance. I know they were aiming for a "modern" feel with this production, but I would have been very grateful if they could had the cast's deportment a little more accurate for the period. . . maybe it sounds like I'm nitpicking here, but it was just something that annoyed me throughout the series.

Emma 2009

The rest of the cast were mostly good - though I wasn't entirely convinced by Laura Pyper's Jane Fairfax. She was very sweet, but she seemed too small and mousy - more like a Harriet Smith than a Jane Fairfax. Rupert Evans was okay as Frank Churchill. . . better than Ewan McGregor, anyway. 

I really loved Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley in this adaptation. This is the only version in which we get to see much of them. The other real stand-out was Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton - she played this part almost to perfection, snobby and obnoxious and unwittingly hilarious. Blake Ritson was excellent as Mr. Elton. Michael Gambon was good as Mr. Woodhouse, but this certainly wasn't his most memorable role in a BBC costume drama (think Wives and Daughters or Cranford). 

I admit I was quite disappointed by Sandy Welch's screenplay. After her brilliant scripts for Our Mutual Friend and North and South (and an okay one for Jane Eyre) I was expecting something really special. . . I mean, a screenplay for a Jane Austen movie written by someone other than Andrew Davies? Of course I was looking forward to seeing what the translation from novel to screen would be like. Like I said, I was disappointed. Only a relatively small amount of Austen's dialogue was retained, and I was also disappointed by the proposal scene and the "badly done, Emma" scene. They didn't seem nearly as powerful or as poignant as they were in the two 1996 adaptations.

Emma 2009

It's a big-budget BBC costume drama, so of course the production values were high. Costumes, music, filming locations. . . all were gorgeous, but. . . it just seemed a bit too sanitized, too flawless. Would Mrs. Goddard's school really have been as vast or as beautiful as it is in this production? I don't know, I just found all of the perfect gardens and perfect country homes to be a bit stifling after a while. . . I was crying out for some dirt, some disorder, some brooding skies. I guess it's the Bronte side of me coming out, LOL. . . 

But in spite of all of my quibbles, I really did enjoy it. It may not be the definitive Emma we were hoping for, but it is still definitely worth watching, particularly since it includes quite a few scenes from the book that weren't in the 1996 adaptations. My prediction was correct - sort of. Like Sense and Sensibility 2008, it's not brilliant, but it's good. I'll probably end up buying the DVD in spite of myself.


Theresa said...

Ooh, interesting! I actually think that this was the best Emma yet, although it's not anywhere near perfect. I loved JLM in this one and although Romola's mannerisms sometimes annoyed me, I could definitely see their two personalities fitting well together. Yeah... I actually liked all the characters apart from Harriet, she was too loud.

How's nanowrimo going for you? haha, that's why you don't have four hours to spare isn't it? haha!

Alexandra said...

I've only watched the first two parts so far...like you said, gotta find two hours to spare on it ;-) but so far...I like Romola. She is a bit modern, not *quite* as modern as Kiera's Elizabeth (but then I've only seen the first half, as I said) but she's so cute and her dresses are so lovely! So far the only person that really rubs me is...ahem...JLM. Ok, he was better than I thought, but he's not Knightley. I love Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates...she's up there with Sophie Thompson, who is my fave Miss Bates. I think that the reason is that with this adaptation's Miss Bates you saw the background. I liked seeing them little and getting older and all that...I didn't get to see the scene when Frank Churchill comes...so I guess I didn't see the whole second episode...anyway...time will tell...

Did you read that Joe Wright is not directing MFL after all? Just found that out the other day...

The Editrix said...

LOL yes, that, and trying to get through Lorna Doone. . . :-)

The Editrix said...

Alexandra, we posted our comments at exactly the same time, LOL!

Yeah, I read somewhere the other day that Joe Wright said he is definitely not doing MFL. A little disappointing, but I'm still looking forward to seeing it. I wonder who is directing it. . .

Charleybrown said...

I have to say I agree with you in that I liked it but I didn't love it. (and yes I would watch it again especially after many of my friends are so enthused by it!)

Anonymous said...

The 2009 Emma was far superior in many ways to the 1996 Emma. The cinematography was stunning, crisp and bright, not hazy or romantically fuzzy. The plot deployment was clear and well done with many themes more clearly portrayed in this film. Upon watching this film one is able to distinguish nuances so “badly done” in the 1996 version. JLM was more of a man’s man in the 2009 Emma than Jeremy Northam. Emma 2009 was the superior film, no presupposed nostalgia here!

LadyBug-Laurie said...

I can't help putting in my opinion which is (after three viewings, in various segments) I really love this adaptation. I've actually been re-watching the proposal scene 10-12 times in the last three days. JLM's mild mannered approach to Mr. Knightley is so sweet and touching. His acting for this was so good I tend to accept his appearance even though as you say his outward appearance doesn't match up with the book. But my view from the book is that of a rather plain, hearty Englishman which I don't think we've quite see to date.
As soon as it's available in the US I'm adding this one to my Austen film library! :)

Siminy said...

I still need to see it!

And I've tagged you, but only do it if you have time!

The Editrix said...

Anonymous - I'm not sure if you noticed, but in my post I referred to the 1996 Emmas. :-) I would agree with you that the Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam version isn't that great an adaptation of the book. The other 1996 version with Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong is my favourite.

Laurie - His acting for this was so good I tend to accept his appearance even though as you say his outward appearance doesn't match up with the book.

Yeah, I agree. He really was very good in this.

Siminy - cool, thanks for the tag! I will defintely do it if I have time, LOL!

the W. family said...

Sometimes it takes a few viewings to decide what to think about a new film. But so far, I think I like this EMMA, with the exception of how they did the proposal scene (Mr. knightly should have put HIS hands on Emma's face and initiated the kiss! - what was the director thinking!:0)and probably the "badly done Emma" talk after the picnic. They left off too much of the dialogue... Although that didn't bother me as much as the proposal scene.


Here is my review: http://vindaystoremember.blogspot.com/2009/10/my-thoughts-on-emma-09-review.html

Rebekah said...

I too enjoyed the movie, though there were somethings that I was disappointed in. Truthfully though, as I have not read the book, I am only comparing movies ... Even so, I think that I agreed with your review about 70%. :)

I really liked this Mr. Knightly. I couldn't help it. He was so gentle and sweet and kind! :p Emma was a little to modern at times - I agree that she was really annoying at times - she talked and acted too fast but the actress was probably told to do so - I don't know. At least she was still respectful and loving to her father and most of her elders (Miss Bates excluded). That was one thing that really bothered me in the new version of P and P - Elizabeth loses most of her respect for both of her parents!

I was disappointed with Frank Churchill - he just wasn't ... charming enough or anything. And I really liked Jane and Harriet. :)

A great review!! Maybe you should review some of your favorite Dickens! (I love Dickens!)

To the KING be all the glory!

BLOG: http://www.donotgrowweary.com/blog

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

Mrs.L said...

Dear Elise,

To me it is so clear that the '96 version with Gwyneth Paltrow is far superior to the new one, the acting alone is 'Heads Above' the 2009 version! In the '96 version the chemistry between Emma and Knightley is without a doubt present for all to see! The rich depth of character development is so remarkable especially when we see Emma being rebuked by Knightley. She is obviously convicted and seeks to repent to Miss Bates. This depth of conviction by Paltrow was sadly left out of the 2009 version. I hope that those who weren't aware of these nuances will reconsider and watch again the '96 version, they just might be pleasantly surprised!


Miss Jen said...

Great post~ Elise!
I enjoyed reading your

Although.... the 2009
Emma is not my favorite....
I enjoyed watching it
and like you thought it was
good but not brilliant.
The Cinematography was stunning...
and the acting was good.
I must confess I too was bothered
by Emma's posture and her outlandish mannerisms. *sigh*
I think my favorite performance was that of Frank Churhill~ he did a fabulous job... portraying a restless and impetuous "Frank"
Didn't he play in "North and South"
as Fredrick Hale?!

I liked how they began the film
from Emma's childhood and how they ended it on the sea... but please no wedding and dress?! *sigh*
The proposal scene was very
touching and romantic.... but
for me it was alarming that
a woman would grab a man and kiss
him... not very 'lady like'
I think.

Emma's sorrow for Miss Bates
was more of "self pity"
than a heart of true repentance...
like it is wonderfully conveyed in the 1996 versions.

The 1996 version with Gwyneth Paltrow remains to be my favorite. ;) Gwyneth is an academy award winning actress and it shows. ;)
And... Jeremy Northam~ well
he is superb as Mr.Knightley!!
His "badly done" scene is one
of the most amazing movie
scenes on film!! ;)

I think Miss Bates does a
fabulous job too... ;)
(Emma Thompson's sister I

Awww.... *sigh* Can you tell
that my mom and I agree! :)

With Much Love~ Miss Jen

The Editrix said...


and probably the "badly done Emma" talk after the picnic. They left off too much of the dialogue... Although that didn't bother me as much as the proposal scene.

That is partly what bothered me about those two scenes. Throughout the series, they seemed to leave out much of the best dialogue from the book.

A great review!! Maybe you should review some of your favorite Dickens! (I love Dickens!)

Thanks, Rebekah! I'll have to have a go at some Dickens reviews sometime. The thing is, I'm just discovering Dickens. I haven't read many of his novels, and I've only seen a handful of movie adaptations. Unlike Jane Austen, whose books I have read several times each. . . I'm just not as confident writing about Dickens' works - yet.

And thanks for the link to your blog!

Mrs. L. - fair enough! :-) I'd agree with you in that there really was great chemistry between the two leads in the Gwyneth Paltrow version. If there was one thing that version did well, it was portraying the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley.

Jenny - yes, he did play Frederick Hale in North and South! And Miss Bates in the Gwyneth Paltrow version is Sophie Thompson, Emma Thompson's sister. What a lot of talent in one family, LOL!

Anna said...

I have to say I share your sentiments exactly, Mr. Knightly was good but didn't look right. and you said it right with Jane Fairfax being mousey, I couldn't put my finger on it till you said it.

The Editrix said...

This is test to see what my new profile pic looks like. . .

The Editrix said...

Hmm, not bad. :-) I liked my old one, but I've had it for so long. . .

Anonymous said...

Nice new profile icon! Are you an Arwen fan? I've always been partial to Galadriel myself. LOL But Arwen's good, too.

Interesting thoughts on Emma '09. I only saw the first episode, so I can't say anything about it. My favorite version is the Gwyneth Paltrow one, and I don't think this new one could ever be better! :)


The Editrix said...

Actually I'm more of an Eowyn fan, though personality-wise I am possibly more like Arwen. I just happened to like that picture. :-) Love the red dress, love the books!

Rebekah said...

I like your new avatar! :)

One of the best Dicken's movie adaptations would be Bleak House. There are two versions, but the newer one is certainly better in point of acting and cinematography whereas the older one is more accurate to the book. I also love A Christmas Carol (one with Patrick Stewart and the other with George C. Scott) and Great Expectations with Ioan Grufford. :)

I hope to read more Dicken's next Summer! :)

To the KING be all the glory!

BLOG: http://www.donotgrowweary.com/blog

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

The Editrix said...

Yeah - I've seen the newest Bleak House and Great Expectations + Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend. But I haven't read any of the books yet, apart from Our Mutual Friend. I'm working my way through Great Expectations, then after that maybe I'll tackle Little Dorrit. . .