Part IV: Emma, cont’d
Emma09 was written by Sandy Welch, who also wrote adaptations of Mrs. Gaskell’s North & South and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It stars Romola Garai as Emma, Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse, Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton, Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton and Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill. I saw it last autumn thanks to YouTube and then again over the winter via PBS’s Masterpiece Classics (see my rants about that airing here and here).
It is now my favorite adaptation of the book. There are some scenes that I don’t like very much (for example, why does Welch have Emma and Harriet run into Frank several days before he shows up in Highbury? Or, why does Welch have Harriet Smith just happening to walk by the vicarage when Mr. Elton arrives home with his new wife?) but, for the most part, the story follows the book quite nicely (even though much of the film’s dialogue is not taken from the book). I especially liked the opening, where the parallels between Emma, Jane and Frank are shown. I found that this really helps us better understand the characters. We see how painful it was for Miss Bates to be forced to give up Jane and some reasons behind Mr. Woodhouse’s fears. Jonny Lee Miller does the narration, which is a nice touch (Greta Scacchi does the narration for the Paltrow Emma) because he’s older than all of the characters and can remember Highbury as it was before the younger children’s lives were changed forever.
Overall, I really like the cast. Blake Ritson’s Mr. Elton is terrific. He really nails the obsequiousness of the character and did a very good job at making even me think he liked Harriet. I thought his Edmund Bertram was quite good (one of the few good things about that particular adaptation), and he’s even better as “Mr. E.” Christina Cole is OK as Mrs. Elton. I am still quite biased towards Juliet Stevenson here, even though Cole seems to be closer to the actual age of the character than Stevenson was. I love Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates — she is so good at making us see what makes the character tick. I differ with a lot of my acquaintance in that I like Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax; she’s not as good as Olivia Williams, but she’s still a solid #2 on my list. Rupert Evans is quite good as Frank Churchill, and he and Laura Pyper make a lovely couple. Michael Gambon’s Mr. Woodhouse is properly fussy, but you can really see how much he loves his daughter. The John Knightleys are possibly the best of any I have seen. I really liked Jodhi May as Poor Miss Taylor — there was obvious affection between her and Emma and she was more than believable as Emma’s former governess. Robert Bathurst is a more laid-back Mr. Weston than I have seen, but he and Jodhi May make a good couple.
As for the three most important characters (Emma, Harriet and Mr. Knightley). I have to say that they all grew on me over the course of the four episodes. I’d only seen Romola Garai in one other film (Amazing Grace) and she was excellent, so I was predisposed to like her. I didn’t at first, but by the end I thought she was very good. As for Harriet, I haven’t loved any of the four Harriets I’ve watched, but Louise Dylan is the best of a mediocre lot. And, last but not least, Jonny Lee Miller is a wonderful Mr. Knightley. He doesn’t have temper tantrums and he isn’t so good-looking that you forget the role he’s playing. I actually liked his Edmund Bertram, but he’s even better as George Knightley.
As I said before, this is now my favorite version of Emma, despite the fact that much of the dialogue was made up by Sandy Welch rather than taken from the book. The plot remains the same, and I can’t think of any changes that were so egregious that the story was adversely affected as a result. I’ve seen it at least three times now, and I like it more each time. The ending has gotten me all choked up every time I’ve seen it. But in a good way, because I’m smiling through the tears.
One more thing — I cannot write about Emma09 without mentioning the costumes and the music. The extras on the Region 1 DVD have special features on both. The music is particularly outstanding. After the Paltrow Emma (music by Rachel Portman) and S&S95 (music by Patrick Doyle), this is possibly the best score for any adaptation I’ve seen so far. Samuel Sim, who wrote the original music for this adaptation, has a lengthy filmography at IMDb, but I’ve never seen any of the films he’s been involved with, so I cannot comment on his work as a whole. But I would definitely like to own the soundtrack to this film because it’s really that good (I already own the soundtracks to both of the above films and listen to them regularly). As an aside, I will state that I also loved the music for MP99 (by Lesley Barber, a composer whose other work I do not know) but, since I loathe the film with a white-hot passion, I will not be buying the soundtrack. No in this lifetime, anyway.