Monday, February 08, 2010

Masterpiece Classic: Emma

I say this as a Janeite but sometimes I wonder, there have to be other novels out there worth adapting into movies/miniseries instead of always coming back to Jane Austen. I found the timing of this adaptation to be a little strange too because just 2 years ago Masterpiece had "The Complete Jane Austen" with new adaptations of 4 of the 6 novels (see my reviews of Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park) but not Emma.

I mean, I'm not really complaining, Austen is Austen, and I actually really enjoyed this new version. I thought Romola Garai was a very good Emma--I liked her much more than both Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale. She had just the right combination of clever and spoiled but also good intentioned. Jonny Lee Miller was surprisingly wonderful as Mr. Knightley. Even though I've loved him in other things, I wasn't sure if he would be right for the part but I'm glad he proved me wrong. I loved the scene where Emma and Mr. Knightley dance. Great acting, because not a word was said! Michael Gambon as Emma's father didn't have much to do but was a nice presence and I was happy to see Jodhi May as Mrs. Weston. She's a regular in these period dramas and is always excellent.

One funny thing to note was that there were two former Edmund Bertrams (Mansfield Park) in the cast. Jonny Lee Miller played him in the 1999 film version, and Blake Ritson (Mr. Elton here) played him in the awful Billie Piper version from 2008.

Other than that I don't know that there's really much else to say about this. The production values on Masterpiece productions are always great, and I appreciated the length of the series (split into 4 episodes in the UK, 3 parts in the US) but it got me thinking that my favorite adaptation of Emma is actually...Clueless. I know, that movie is 15 years old now and I'm not discovering anything new but the more I think about it, the more I realize how inspired the way they moved the story to a 90s high school was. The sister's husband's brother becomes the ex-stepbrother, the secretly engaged suitor becomes the gay boyfriend, the farmer becomes the skateboarding slacker...even the title of the movie is perfect!

Anyway, Masterpiece is re-airing Northanger Abbey and Persuasion over the next two weeks, but after that there look to be some interesting programs coming up, including one co-starring Padma Lakshmi (of Top Chef, how random) and an Anne Frank adaptation. Lots to look forward to!

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