More Random Thoughts ~ Emma Part II

Well, not sure what happened here Sunday night in the North Country, but my PBS-HD station played not only Episode II, but also Episode III! – This was not on the online schedule, but I went in to DVR the 9pm program and saw that the 10-11 slot also said “Masterpiece Classic” – I assumed it was a re-run, but the “info” button suggested the final episode – did anyone else have this delightful gift from PBS??  So that said, I am only going to share a few thoughts about the second show, those certainly being colored by the final chapter … especially by the filming of the pivotal scene at Box Hill.

 I agree with most everything that I said above:

The Good: the fabulous clothing, museum-like houses and their decorative accessories, the gardens, the ornate flower arrangements, the finely-done cinematography, the music, and most of the characters with noted caveats [see more below]…

The Bad, but not so bad really: the language is still off, so forgetting largely that this is set in the early 19th century, we have 21st century teenagers who like to dress up – sort of a Regency House Party rather than authentic Austen with people who couldn’t remember their lines… … but enjoyable anyway. I am, you may have noticed, not a purist in the sense of everything must be Austen or relegated to the trash bin – the spirit of Austen is here in so many ways, and coupled with great views, and a liveliness that cannot help but draw you in…

So the Good, the Bad, and thankfully nothing ugly… but some new scenes, new characters, and new suggested plot lines to be explored:


Mrs. Elton and Mr. Elton – Christina Cole brings the right amount of snobbishness, status-obsession, and manipulative machinations as Austen created her – she is sufficiently overdone in manner and clothing [though she “dislikes being overtrimmed”, this said while verily dripping in ribbons and yellow feathers], and seems the perfect match for Mr. Elton, who appears more foppish than ever… what a pair! I am glad they found each other and spared others such a match.  And nice to see Mr. Elton actually preaching a sermon, the serious and obviously-needed-in-Highbury “let deceitful lips be dumb” … [I did however find Mrs. Elton’s ridiculous curls more appropriate for her rather than Harriet, whose hair continues to be all wrong for the character, despite liking this Harriet in every other sense…]

We see more of Frank Churchill [not quite right for the part and I am not sure why – should he have been more dashing and elegant? rather than so hyper-active and immature, one minute dancing around, the next sulking like a spoiled brat – is this maybe more true to what Austen wrote? [I need to re-read the book yet again on this one!]- I do wonder though why he felt the need to fling himself off his horse on each dismount – quite funny really!

Jane Fairfax is all wrong – she looks and acts like a waif about to fall into a swoon and drift away – she IS supposed to be more lovely than Emma, strikingly handsome, albeit a little pale, accomplished in all things; I could see Mr. Knightley more interested in Harriet Smith than this Jane…so this key part of the plot seems to fall flat…

Miss Bates just doesn’t get enough screen time to give us more of her comedic babbling… Tamsin Greig is currently the star in the London play, The Little Dog Laughed, where evidently she is stealing the show with her humor – more of that needed here perhaps?

Emma’s eyes continue to pop and bulge at every possible moment of surprise, awe, sadness, anger, concern, fear – but Romala Garai is growing on me – the further I move away from the Emma “as she was wrote,” I begin to find this almost child-like Emma endearing – but I do hope she grows up some in Episode III…or Knightley just might rightly decide to stay in London…  One plus, the male narrator who speaks in the first part seems to have been fired after all, and we do hear Emma’s thoughts as she begins to doubt her own long-held belief that she knows EVERYTHING – her reasoning that this lethargy and listlessness MUST be the love of Frank Churchill begins her much-needed introspection – she IS hopefully growing up… [her absolute hissy-fit when she walks home from Mrs. Elton’s, raging about her calling him “Knightley” is spot-on:

“Insufferable woman!” was her immediate exclamation. “Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Knightley! I could not have believed it. Knightley! never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley! and discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and under-bred finery. Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady. I could not have believed it!

[Emma, vol. II, ch 32]  – this is Emma in teenage mode – and funny – the first time I think she sees Knightley as someone other than her father’s daily visitor, someone who other people relate to, have thoughts about… and Emma does not like it. Well done in the movie!

Mr. Knightley also continues to improve for me – Miller’s furrowed brow, his vigilant observation of everything going on around him, his good sense and steady presence serves to act as a foil to this Emma who is in such need of his good guidance. And this is countered with Knightley’s apparent change in feelings toward Emma – a shift in his own world that unnerves him, he often looking quite grave – this of course not so clearly shown in the book [but there if you are looking for the clues!] – so though some of the “mystery” of Emma is lost in these glimpses into Mr. Knightley’s feelings – it does make it so clear that they must and will end up together…

 Emma [Garai] & Mr. Knightley [Miller]

The Dance is fabulous! – the extravagant fashions [Emma’s dress is so lovely!] – the bouncing jaunty hand-clapping country dances are just great fun; the Harriet as wallflower / Mr. Elton snub, with Mr. Knightley to the rescue rightly sets Emma on the path to seeing him in a different light – and their dance together is, as in all the Austen adaptations, such a turning point in the story [recall the 1995 P&P Elizabeth and Darcy dance; the 2005 same scene where all disappears as Elizabeth and Darcy focus only on each other] – the dance in the 18th-19th century was the only way men and women could flirt, touch, and get to know each other – and here it seems is the first time that Knightley and Emma actually do connect in this way – the feelings of both undergoing some fundamental change. But major complaint here! – one of the most telling lines in the book is when Emma suggests Mr. Knightley dance with her:

Emma was extremely gratified. – They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr. Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.
“Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing? -Come Emma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body is asleep!”
“I am ready,” said Emma, “whenever I am wanted.”
“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley.
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”
“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.
“Indeed I will. You have shown that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”
“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

[Emma, vol. III, ch, 38, p. 332] – a prime piece of dialogue and should have been included…

I am feeling like Mr. Woodhouse is not in the movie enough, so does not show this very generous and compassionate side of Emma [but just as I was thinking this – Part III starts with such a scene – so ok after all…I will say no more].  Also I did check about the John Knightleys – they indeed do have FIVE children: Henry, John, Bella, George, and Emma.

One other scene that is changed from the book is at the beginning of Part II – [vol. II, ch. 10, 244 ff] Mr. Knightley is called in from the street by Miss Bates to visit them – he is ready to do so until Miss Bates tells him Frank Churchill is there as well – he immediately changes his mind and raises his voice for all to hear his comments about Jane Fairfax – in the movie he comes in – a fine difference, but a telling point in this change of Knightley’s feelings toward Emma.

Laura Linney begins this second episode suggesting that Jane Austen’s works might be considered “too ordinary and narrow” for today’s world of super-human action stories the likes of Spiderman and the extremes of techno-thrillers and special effects – what can Austen give us in this non-magical world of Emma Woodhouse? She concludes that we are given a view into the world of people who are really just like you and me – the steady ones, the loving, the amusing, the annoying, the manipulating and greedy, all the believable characters that make up our daily lives – Emma is an “authentic human being” says Linney, who with an over-developed sense of her own importance has created quite the mess. We see her grow and become aware and realize that she does live in a very closed world and that perhaps her ideas are limited – I am enjoying seeing her come to these realizations, her blinders slowing slipping away, extravagant eye-popping or not! – and there are still those lovely costumes and decorating ideas to ponder…

The Masterpiece website for all things Emma; you can also watch the first two episodes online until March 9th here.

Stay tuned for Part III…

[photo from Costume Drama Reviews]

[Posted by Deb]

7 thoughts on “More Random Thoughts ~ Emma Part II

  1. I was very upset by Laura Linney’s super hero comment – it flies in the face of Austen incredibly popularity over the last few decades and seemed a grasping rationalization for the modernizations employed in this adaptation. Nevertheless – the ball scene is wonderfully done and, after five viewings, I find myself desperately in love with the film soundtrack.


  2. Ha! Alexa – FIVE viewings! – you must like in spite of yourself! [must be that Knightley fellow!] – yes, I love the soundtrack as well, whether you like this adaptation or not. I agree that Linney’s comment is a way of explaining away the “modernization” of this film – but I think she was emphasizing in our world of special effects and super-human heroes, that just this “ordinary,” unworldy Austen creation Emma and all the rest of her characters, are just like all of us, even here in the 21st century – and we don’t need super-powers on the big screen to awe us, as Austen does indeed…

    Thanks for visiting – I enjoy your blog very much…


  3. I think the role of Jane Fairfax is definitely a miscast. She’s supposed to be Emma’s imagined rival, the object of her jealousy, because she’s more talented and elegant. How can they miss this role after all the attention being put into the set, the costume, the cinematography, the whole meticulously run production! JF is no minor character. I’m not too keen on Frank Churchill either, but at least he delivers.


    • Hi Arti, Yes, I agree with you completely – not sure why they took that casting tactic – to make Emma shine even more? but that defeats the intent of the text – having Jane Fairfax a viable rival would have given the viewer those few moments of doubt that Mrs. Weston is correct in her surmises about Mr. Knightley and give Emma a much needed dose of jealousy – and yes, all the effort in place to create such a beautiful production, to have Jane Fairfax an almost invisible character and Frank Churchill such a spoiled brat ruins the mystery, doesn’t it?
      Thanks for stopping by!


  4. I have just stumbled upon your wonderful Austen blog and am sold solid. You are officially in my Google Reader. :)

    Just wondering if you might post a comparison of the PBS production with the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version of “Emma.”

    Looking forward to getting to know you better!


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