anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (darcy/emma [world domination])
[personal profile] anghraine
antskog at Tumblr asked:

How do you feel about Romola Garai's Emma?


My response:

I liked it, with reservations.

Adaptations of Emma, particularly the long ones, can be slow and plodding, and I appreciated that this one was infused with energy. I never found my attention drifting or that sort of dutiful “okay, just another half-hour, I can get through it.”

The framing device of the three motherless children was intriguing, because while it’s of course not in the text, it’s also not wrong. The fates of these three motherless children (Frank handed over to overbearing relatives, Jane to kindly strangers, and Emma shut up in Hartfield, both spoiled and smothered) are all there. It particularly highlights Emma’s gilded-cage existence, which … I have two minds about. I do like the idea of bringing it out (I think it’s very much there), but it’s so heavy-handed–I mean, there’s literally a voice-over spelling it out and then it’s just hit so hard that I was like “yes, I get it, thanks.”

Emma herself was also mixed for me. Like most versions of Emma, I feel like they were afraid of letting her be unlikable. The hyper-exuberance of their take gets forced at times–it’s the reason I stopped watching, originally. That said, I did like that we get a sense both of her sweetness and her intelligence, her snobbery neither dialed down nor some grim ~dark side~ to her. It’s just … there, part of who she is. I guess I would say–I enjoyed watching the character she was playing, even if that character wasn’t so much Emma as her giddy blue-eyed second cousin.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley was one of those casting choices that I was initially very “?????” about. Maybe it was coming right on the heels of the TERRIBAD Mark Strong!Mr Knightley, but I liked him a lot. He had the good humour of the character, but also the seriousness and depth of feeling. They didn’t shy away from the age gap, but he came across as an older friendly peer rather than an angry father-figure, even with such a youthful Emma.

A wonderful Anne Weston. She’s often a sort of blandly supportive older woman mentor figure, but you get a strong sense of spirit and real camaraderie here. You feel for Mr Weston, too.

A very human Miss Bates–perhaps a little too much so, with the ridiculousness scaled down, but I appreciated it.

Very good Frank, gets across the charm of the character and the real affinity with Emma, emphasized by bringing out the parallel childhood gilded cages thing. Again, overdone, but a lot of adaptations treat Frank more as a watered-down villain than the darker version of Emma that he is. It’s a narcissistic friendship that reinforces their shared flaws as well as simply exploitative. I think it’s easy to come away from most adaptations thinking that Frank was merely using Emma (which he is!), without any real liking and sympathy between them–but it’s important that that is there, that the very sympathy is how they instinctively know their flirtation is safe.

Jane: okay. The secret engagement was far, far, far too obvious, and she opens up to Emma enough that I feel her extreme reserve is more talked about than really present. Not bad in general, but mostly a less subtle version of Olivia Williams’ Jane.

Harriet: sure exists, which is all that Harriet needs to do. I was constantly jarred by the casting–it’s not wrong, but Romola Garai looks so much like my idea of Harriet while Harriet’s own fine-boned actress does… uh, not, that I kept getting distracted. Honestly, it’s just odd to me to cast Emma and Harriet with the same colouring–they’re some of the only characters in Austen whose appearance does get described, and they’re physical opposites.

The Eltons: excellent. Other minor characters are generally good.

The actual writing ranged between good and extremely questionable, IMO. A lot of times the Austen text gets watered down–it’s saying basically the same thing, but rephrased to be more modern or ~dramatic~ or whatever, often cutting out salient bits. In a feature film, I can see that (though I still find it questionable in many cases), but most of the times it just felt rather patronizing. And it’s not every cast that can make the language work, but this one handles it extremely well when they’re given the chance, so it felt rather a waste. I almost felt like they didn’t trust their own invention to mesh with Austen’s level of dialogue, so brought hers “down.”

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anghraine

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