Part IV: Emma, cont’d.
I just finished watching the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma, which, like the Paltrow version, was produced in 1996. This one was made for television, and was written by Andrew Davies and produced by Sue Birtwistle, the two of whom combined forces to give us P&P95. In addition to Kate Beckinsale as Emma, this production stars Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley, Bernard Hepton as Mr. Woodhouse, Samantha Morton as Harriet, Samantha Bond as Mrs. Weston and Prunella Scales as Miss Bates.
I’d only seen it once before, when it was first shown on US television back in early 1997, and I was not overly fond of it. First of all, it’s only 15 minutes or so shorter than the Paltrow version, but it just feels rushed. For example, we see Mr. Elton maybe once or twice, then all of a sudden it’s Christmas and he’s in the carriage coming home from the Westons’, asking Emma to marry him. And, speaking of the Westons’ Christmas party, Emma starts imagining out loud that she and Frank Churchill might form an attachment before they’ve even met.
This version does not have the party at the Coles’ — instead, there is a party at the Westons’ after Frank arrives, and that’s where Emma tells Frank she thinks Mr. Dixon sent Jane the piano. In the book, Emma does not come up with the idea that Mr. Dixon is in love with Jane on her own, but here it seems that she does.
The ball at the Crown perturbed me; first off, we see Harriet dancing, but then all of a sudden she’s standing off to the side looking bereft. But then we see her dancing again…all this before Mrs. Weston ask Mr. Elton to dance with Harriet. We also see Mr. Elton dancing during a dance where Harriet has a partner. And then, when Mr. Knightley asks Harriet to dance, they dance for only the last minute or so of the music and then he escorts her off the dance floor and walks away. So, based on all this, the whole snubbing episode does not really work.
We don’t see the scene where Mrs. Elton tries to take charge of the Donwell strawberry picking party until during the party. That doesn’t work for me either. Another thing that doesn’t work for me is that we see Jane and Frank meeting each other as Jane is leaving and Frank is arriving. My first thought was “typical Davies…he’s giving away surprises again.” And, while Andrew Davies does make sure to add lots of significant looks between Jane and Frank, we never see the scene at Hartfield where Mrs. Elton scolds Jane for going to the post office to get her own mail.
I did like the Box Hill picnic, however. Jane was present (finally!) and did hear Emma insult Miss Bates. One thing, though, about this Box Hill picnic is that the anagrams game is played here, rather than at Hartfield. But that’s just a nit pick because I do understand that some scenes need to be condensed.
The ending is not the same as in the book — here, we get a harvest festival where all the engaged couples dance together. I wish they’d omitted the made-up scene and instead given us more of what Austen actually wrote.
When it comes to the individual performances, I’ll start with Kate Beckinsale. I don’t like her very much as Emma at all. I don’t find that she has chemistry with any of her co-stars — not Bernard Hepton (Mr. Woodhouse), not Samantha Morton (Harriet), not Samantha Bond (Mrs. Weston), not Raymond Coulthard (Frank) and not even Mark Strong (Mr. Knightley). She just seems to be distant with everyone. It’s possible that this is how the writer and director wanted things done, but she was cold and distant in Last Days of Disco (granted, this role needed her to be cold and distant) so perhaps that’s the way she sees the character. Who knows. Regardless of what the script called for, it didn’t work for me. Emma may be clueless, but she’s not an ice queen.
As for the other characters, I love Bernard Hepton as Mr. Woodhouse. I’ve been a fan of his since I first saw him as Archbishop Cranmer in Henry VIII and Elizabeth R, and he’s been excellent in everything since (he’s still my favorite Sir Thomas Bertram). I don’t love Samantha Bond as Mrs. Weston. It could be because of the lack of chemistry between her and Kate Beckinsale, but I just don’t see any hint of the kind of intimacy that these two women are supposed to have. Raymond Coulthard is merely OK as Frank — I think he seems rather untrustworthy from moment we first see him. The Eltons are alright, but nothing special. I do appreciate Lucy Robinson using a Bristol accent as a means of showing us just how vulgar Mrs. Elton is but, once again, there’s just “no there there.”
I love Prunella Scales in general and, while she’s older than my idea of Miss Bates, she’s stellar as always. Olivia Williams is absolutely wonderful as Jane; she’s possibly the best thing about the entire adaptation. And then there’s Samantha Morton. I have not liked her in anything I’ve ever seen her in; some people might say I have an irrational dislike of her, and that’s OK. I didn’t like her as Jane Eyre, I didn’t like her as Sophie Western, I didn’t like her as pregnant teenager Joanne Barnes in “Cracker,” and I don’t like her as Harriet Smith. She’s 0-for-4 in my book, so nobody can say I’ve never given her a chance. This is besides the fact that Harriet is supposed to be pretty, and Morton’s Harriet is not pretty and this hair color is not flattering.
Last but not least, we have Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley. Strong is the favorite Mr. Knightley of a lot of my friends, but he’s not mine. His eyes practically bug out when he’s scolding Emma for interfering in Harriet’s life, and that just doesn’t work for me. I’d always thought that Mr. Knightley was supposed to embody his name, not rant and rave and carry on.
This film also has flashbacks and slow-motion “dream sequences” that I find annoying. There’s one scene at the end of the Christmas party where Frank Churchill’s portrait comes alive and flirts with Emma. That was just weird.
This is the version that was shown on ITV in the UK and on A&E in North America and, given that A&E has been known to do the same sort of “slicing and dicing” as PBS does, it is conceivable that I have not seen the entire production as it was originally shown in the UK. I do own the Region 2 disc, but it’s in storage, so I had to rely on Netflix to rent me the Region 1 version. As a result, I don’t know what scenes may be missing from the original.
Given the 3 adaptations we’ve discussed so far, I have to say that none of them really “hits the spot” as an adaptation. It’s a real shame.
Next up is Emma09, with Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. Luckily, I know for a fact that the DVD in my possession is uncut and contains everything that was originally shown on the BBC.