Part IV: Emma, cont’d.
I just finished watching Emma72, with Doran Godwin as Emma and John Carson as Mr. Knightley. I own this version, but had never seen it in its entirety until now. I had never heard of any of the actors before, but a quick trip to IMDb told me that, even though the names were not familiar, I had indeed seen some of them in other productions. For example, Donald Eccles (Mr. Woodhouse) was in Young Sherlock Holmes, I, Claudius and The Pallisers and Robert East (Frank Churchill) was in Spooks (a.k.a. MI-5) and Blackadder. The production was directed by John Glenister (father of Philip and Robert) and was written by Denis Constandruros, who also wrote both S&S71 and S&S81.
The reason I’d never seen it in its entirety the first time I watched it is because I found it boring. This is not a slight against older productions in general because, as I’ve said repeatedly, some of the these older productions are among my favorites. I don’t like Doran Godwin as Emma at all — it’s hard to put my finger on why, but I just don’t — but I do like John Carson’s Mr. Knightley more than I did before. This is despite the fact that he was around 45 when the series was made, and looks somewhat older than the 36 that the character is supposed to be. As an aside I must take back comments I’d made in the past where I said that he looked like he was wearing a girdle — I was obviously thinking of another adaptation (which one, however, I cannot remember for the life of me) where the lead actor did not look or sound like a romantic hero at all. But Carson’s Knightley is quite good. I like the Westons and Frank isn’t bad. Mrs. Elton is pretty funny, and Mr. Elton is a non-entity. As for the rest of the cast, well, Miss Bates is far too old, Jane is a lump and Harriet is just annoying.
Normally, a primary complaint about these older adaptations is that they are “too faithful” to the book and feel very staged. But, in this adaptation, there is what I consider to be a major deviation from the plot. In the book, Jane Fairfax was raised by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell (friends of her father) and the Campbells’ daughter, Jane’s close friend, marries a man named Dixon. It is this Mr. Dixon about whom Frank Churchill teases Jane, and the Mr. Dixon about whom Frank gossips with Emma. But in this series, the Dixons are potential employers for Jane, and not the Campbells’ daughter and son-in-law. So here, Emma is the one who comes up with the idea that Mr. Dixon is in love with Jane and that he is the one who sent the pianoforte. That makes no sense to me because there is now no real reason for Frank to tease Jane. In the book, he knows the Dixons because they all met at Weymouth. In this adaptation, however, Frank doesn’t know the Dixons at all, making his teasing even more pointless. And then, all of a sudden, we learn that Jane is to be a governess for a friend of Mrs. Elton. So what happened to the Dixons? It’s all very confusing.
I’m not fond of the Crown ball, the Donwell picnic or the Box Hill picnic. At the Crown, Mr. Knightley calls Harriet by her Christian name, and he’s far too proper to speak to her so informally. In this series, the preparations for the Donwell picnic are discussed by only Mrs. Elton and Mr. Knightley, whereas in the book, Mrs. Elton announces her plans and Mr. Knightley shoots them down before Emma and several others. This scene packs no punch at all without Emma, et al. being present. As for the Box Hill picnic, Jane is not present, so she does not see Frank flirting with Emma, nor does she hear Emma’s insult of Miss Bates and cannot react to it. This is yet another change that makes me scratch my head in confusion. Then, the next day, Emma goes to visit Miss Bates and we actually hear her apologize to Miss Bates for insulting her. That was just odd.
We get to see Harriet tell Emma that she is going to marry Mr. Martin, and she brings Mr. Martin to Hartfield to meet Emma and, in effect, to get Emma’s blessing. I’m not sure I liked that very much.
But the weirdest thing of all happened towards the end, when we see Emma tell Mr. Woodhouse that she and Mr. Knightley plan to marry. Mr. Woodhouse puts his fingers in his ears and says he won’t listen — all I could think of was a child going “la la la I can’t hear you!” It was truly bizarre.
All in all, I am not overly fond of this adaptation. I liked Robert East as Frank, and I liked the Westons, but I can honestly say that I don’t really care if I ever watch this one again. I own it, of course, but I am indifferent to it.
On edit — there’s another scene in this adaptation that was out of place. At the very end, when Mr. Woodhouse is forcing himself to toast Mr. Knightley and Emma and Mr. Martin and Harriet, he freaks out when Mrs. Weston tries to take a sip of wine. He can’t bring himself to say it’s because she’s nursing her baby, but that’s exactly what he means. This makes me think of two things. First, a woman of her station in life was not likely to nurse her own baby and second, people back then didn’t think twice about drinking wine. Water was far more dangerous.