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Dear Readers and friends,

I read yesterday that Sandy's Welch's 2009 Emma (BBC/WBGH, directed by Jim O'Hanlon, producer Phillipa Giles) is going to air on the US PBS channels in three episodes (the first 2 hours, and the 2nd and 3d one hour each) late this January into February, so I thought I'd put my first impressions (after 3 or so viewings here) to whet curiosity and appetites.

First I'll give my reactions to the first and second episodes, and then to the third and fourth. I'll then offer an assessment of some of the new and older features in this film by comparing it to two previous British TV productions, Denis Constanduros's 1972 Emma (BBC, directed by John Glenister) and Andrew Davies 1996 Emma (A&E, Meridian directed by Diarmud Lawrence).  I bring in Douglas McGrath's 1996 Miramax Emma much less because it seems to me in mood so idyllic and sheerly romantic, picturesque with such a gentle Mr Knightley that it's not comparatively relevant to this film of ambivalent realistic emotions and themes.


Parts 1 and 2:

My feeling is this film adaptation is meant is something different: they had it in mind to be different from the previous ones and also to bring home to us this is another time and place, 18th century, not to make it easily assimilable.

Yes it's startling that the series opens with Jane, Frank, and Emma as babies. Why? Well in Part 4 it's brought home to us how one of the attractions between Jane and Frank is they both come from Highbury and were both displaced children.  One should recall that this bringing into present time a back story is a prime innovation of Andrew Davies in his 1995 A&E/WBGH Pride and Prejudice (the long history of Darcy and Wickham, told in a letter).

Here is the baby Frank, taken away:

Our first view of Jane, a little girl listening to her aunt talk to Colonel Campbell who has come for her It's not overt in Austen, but it is there. The groundwork is laid to make us see how Emma and Isabella could possibly have been shuffled off to some other relative,and in many cases would have been: what man keeps children? (is the implied question). It is to Mr Woodhouse's credit, he did.

Odd angle shows us Frank taken away -- this use of the odd angle seen in the 2009 Sense and Sensibility.  Welch has learned a lot from Andrew Davies. 

Mr Western does feel it. We see him waving goodbye.   We are to see Mr Woodhouse as feminine for keeping his children and other traits (retreat) and all this is seen positivelyi in the film as well as the price in ignorance and arrogance paid in the development of Emma's character. The relationship between Romola Garai as Emma and Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse is thus given an new spin which also coheres with the book -- not him as tyrant or him as innocent child, but them as having developing uneasy but emotionally tightly-knit compromise, with both sacrificing a lot, more her than him. Jodhi May as a young MIss Taylor who is more older sister than mother to Emma, and thus peer and friend rather than full authority figure is the interpretation here.

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates is moving in an invented scene of the kind so often seen in adaptation (and particularly by Davies in these Austen films): the author didn't dramatize or emphasize it (bring it to life) but the film-makers do and in so doing alter the meaning of the story, here deepening it: one really good scene featured her and Valerie Lilley as her mother alone together; in a brief flash we got a vision of the loneliness of this woman's life which was worth much -- and had it been in Austen's book might have prevented Devoney Looser in her recent book from inveighing against Austen's treatment of Miss Bates as an old maid as reinforcing stereotypes.

Here first is Miss Bates telling Mrs Bates they must give up Emma and Mrs Bates crying. Mrs Bates's later silence emerges as resentment rather than muteness and indifference.

Here Miss Bates is arguing her mother into giving Jane up. Now we are to see all those letters from Jane as longed for by a lonely woman. Not the young Emma's view at all, is it?  Welch has thought about the two women who receive these letters and how much they are wanted -- and how little they can do to change their lives, although Miss Bates asserts otherwise to keep herself going.

Miss Bates holding the new letters

Miss Bates keeps back distress, and there is a shot of the mother looking at her with pity. A rare instance of expression given
Mrs Bates.

They settle in again, alone, in poverty.

In this series such bare but respectable rooms are matched by seeing Louise Dylan as Harriet alone in her attic around Christmas time when sick and again later. Here is the moment after the scene between Mr Elton and Emma in the carriage when Emma has to tell Harriet she is not the preferred one.

Different from all the other transposition, the scene in the carriage is much less important than this of Harriet in the bare bleak attic room. Harriet is a third young person the min-series who is at risk openly as someone without parentage.

The point is made these are strongly marginalized women. Emma's cruelty to Harriet in depriving her of the Martins is brought home at the same time as we realize Emma does not see what we see. There is a depth given by dramatizing scenes before the novel proper begins. We how the novel begins in displacement and death for 3 principles. And grief and degradation (from large house to small flat in lodging) for Miss Bates:

That's more serious than Austen intended for us to think about it in a way, at least early in the novel, but it is there (I have it in my calendar). Parts 1 and 2 were uneven at times: too much comedy at first with too quick wrenched scenes where caricature is sometimes resorted to (especially for Louise Dylan as Harriet and Ritson Blake as Mr Elton) -- but it should be noted I write from first impressions and study of the film might show everything is well interwoven.  As the film went along the scenes became more continuous psychologically and were very absorbing -- especially the set-tos between Knightley and Emma There are a couple of scenes which show appreciation and imitation of the 72 BBC Emma.

One in particular is the scene over the baby (only Miller and Garai are less sexual than Doran Goodwin as Emma and Carson, and unlike the 72 couple, the 09 one are not holding a baby for real between them). Dan Fredenburgh as John Knightley in the village warning Emma shows Welch knew the 72 one well. The strong emphasis on comedy harks back to the 72 and an attempt at least at irony and distance from Emma. Davies is more critical of her through Mark Strong's outbursts as Knightley. The comedy in the 72 one is through straight acting, the comedy in this 09 one is done through speeding up scenes, music, exaggerated performances (especially Garai as child-like) but it works well. We are to like Emma but also the series distances us from her.

In general I thought Welch had studied the 1972 and this was close to it in outline and choices of scene, and the emphasis on the development of Mr Knightley and Emma's relationship -- though they are made more in conflict, more rivals while in the 72 film a fundamental understanding and empathy is there throughout (they have the same sense of humor in the 72 film)


Emma and Mr Knightley sparring before going into Coles's party.  What was added were the many scenes of country life, some quite beautiful:

Winter scene seen by Mr Knightley from his door; alas, it was not persuasively in front of Donwell. And there is a distinct attempt to make us feel for the women beyond Emma as women, from Jodhi May as Mrs Weston (although she is asked to smirk too much over Emma's teasing ways and her own sexuality), to Louise Dylan as Harriet and Poppy Miller as Isabella Knightley swamped by children and babies (though she doesn't seem to mind).

Harriet has been told Mr Elton is married; far shot brings the women thus far (but for Isabella) together.  John Knightley (Den Fredenburhg) was brought out the most I've seen done; in the 72 film he does warn Emma, but in this one he is also dramatized meeting Jane outside the post office. This time given to landscapes, to John Knightley, and the other women characters shortened the Elton and Harriet/Emma scenes and also the clash between Emma and Elton in the carriage.

Two more striking changes from the previous Emmas. Mona Lauritsen studied the 1972 Emma and noticed a larger number of scenes where Emma is not in story than is warranted by the novel: some are striking: one between Ania Martin as Jane and Fiona Walker as Mrs Elton and another between Mrs Elton and John Carson as Mr Knightley (this latter is justified by an unplaced dialogue between the two just before Mr Knightley gives his party at Donwell Abbey). But they remain controlled and rare. As we all know in Austen's novels, except for two chapters where we suddenly switch to Mr Knightley's view, the second of which is intended to alert us to something going on between Jane and Frank (over the alphabet letters) and two more brief chapters (one in the second chapter of Volume 1 and the other in the second chapter of volume two) where the narrator gives us previous histories (of Frank's family first in Vol 1, and Jane's family in Vol 2), and here and there a scattered sudden switch to neutral narration (usually enigmatic), everything we see in Austen's Emma is from Emma's standpoint.

In this new mini-series, Part 1 the number of such scenes has multiplied. We have the departures of the children, the upset of Mr Weston and Miss Bates, plus scenes of Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley advising Jefferson Hall as Mr Martin, Miss Bates and her mother, 4 at the opening of Emma and Jane and Frank as children. I need to count them but the effect is to diffuse the story and make Emma an element in it. A determination to dramatize what is left offstage in the novel is seen again and again..

More and just as important:  the voice-over narrative is by Jonny Lee Miller. It's Mr Knightley's voice we are hearing as the mini-series opens, his point of view that is our voice-over again and again, our linkage. He comes in and out; not intrusive but there and in the first part we end on his face and his sharp anger at Emma for breaking up Mr Martin and Harriet Smith. He says he anticipates (or words to this effect) she will bitterly regret he interference with Harriet, and eventually she does.  . As the series closes, he is holding Emma's hand as the two tiny figures stand over a cliff.

Welch's film reminds me of the reading of Emma in P.M. Scott where he argues the novel does not deserve the high regard it has or is seen complacently for the ending blurs over much that Emma should pay for:  Emma stays the same basically, is rewarded and the novel does not bring out how a real Jane might feel, marginalizes Harriet's understandable alienation. Miller's voice is not ironic nor condemnatory outwardly, but implictly there is an ethical standpoint which is not that of the child-like Emma we are seeing in Part 1. What the series also does is make Emma less to blame, and excuses her as very young, and sheltered and having to mature. Emma is not abject (as are the heroines of the 05 P&P, and 07 Persuasion and Mansfield Park) nor is she in charge (as is Rozema's Fanny Price in the 1999 MP).

And so the last scene (comparable to a long one in the 72 Emma also) can have full weight. Some of the scenes are long and developed in the two parts like this one: Mr Knightley and Emma quarrelling after she gets Harriet to say no to Knightley. Her treating others as dolls is made explicit there. That was a moving scene. Emma and Mr Knightley are reseen. Like the 72 film there are long dialogues between them. Yes he's stronger -- and older too. She's childlike and that must grate (see below) but her malice and spite and other qualities are made more believable while not overdone.

Jonny Lee Miller has just the right amount of anger, it's on behalf of his friend, Mr Martin, and because Harriet a chance at a decent life and Emma has deprived her of that, hurt both young adults badly.


In response, Emma displays a gleeful triumph: she sees herself as having beat out Mr Knightley in this moment.  Harriet and Mr Martin are puppets to her in the way children sometimes regard other people.


Parts 3 and 4:
These were more integrated, powerful and bought to a variety of effective climaxes the developments we experience in Parts 1 and 2. Part Three is very good. We suddenly get a deepening of the relationship of Mr Knightley and Emma. There is a long scene between them at the end of 1, but they show no understanding of one another; in 3 they suddenly do, are on the same wave length even when they disagree because their values are the same (even if Emma does not enact her sober ethics).

These and other scenes from this part are moving: Welch brings out and through hints makes obvious early on (even if Emma doesn't see it) there's a romance between Rupert Evans as Frank and Laurie Pyper as Jane; we have Frank's desperate leave-taking. The dance at the inn is particularly good not so much for Mr Knightley rescuing Harriet (which is de-emphasized), but for Mr Knightley and Emma's dancing together and his flashbacks and dreams of this moment later in the episode and the next. We see Frank and Jane's attachment becoming obvious to Mr Knightley (and seen probably by Miss Bates), but of course Emma remains oblivious.

The scenes are also more consistently realistic in feel in the later two parts and have more continuity within them while the scenes of 1 and 2 and some of those in 3 had more deliberate fastening up, and use of comic background music.  Still alas I found some losses too - at least at first viewing. 

This one is so like that in many of its choices.  It's hard to escape the previous:  perhaps that's another reason why Welch resorted to Davies's techniques of adding scenes we may presume occurred (in his 1996 Meridian/A&E Emma we have that magnificent harvest festival).  So, for example, some of the comparison were not to the benefit this: it's not as satiric as the 72 film, not as incisive as Davies's 96 film.  The scenes between Mr Knightley and Emma not as long as the 72 one; Fiona Walker so much more vibrantly unbearable than Christina Cole.  On the other hand, Welch doesn't want hard satire; she wants to paint a community much like that we experienced in last year's Cranford. Chronicles.

For example, the opening of three is simply a scene of good feeling, with Mr Knightley striding along to his house:

There is a distinct sense of a community in the film: we see fairs in the common square, the market day, walk by local churches, the town streets. The sense of families or groups of intertwined people beyond our small set is strong. So here is  Harriet, Mrs Weston (Anna Taylor that was) and Emma out for their morning walk called to by Miss (Hetty) Bates

The palette or colors of this series are greens, light and dark greens or greys, all shades of grey -- pastoral to poverty, which is true to Austen's book if we think about it a bit.

Jonny Lee Miller too is different and very good; he is true to the character -- truer than the 1995 and 1996 ones, in a way more rounded and complicated than John Carson's acting. In these series things are often scanted and this one has scanted Miss Bates (I've not watched 4) and Mrs Elton. Romola Garai plays Emma very well: she shows all the meanness and insouciance of the character without making us dislike her by playing her very articificially; the words are intended to make her childlike; and now in these episodes she is first maturing, but does not go so far as she does in the 72 play. She is now going to grow up under Mr Knightley's care is the feel of this Emma. Some viewers (of the Claudia Johnson/Janet Todd/Alison Sulloway/Susan Morgan school of thought) who want an all powerful Emma will not like this. Like the other film adaptations since 2005 (and resembling the first one of 1940), the language is continually modernized and only stray very famous phrases are repeated from the book.

Films have depth but they convey this differently than books. Narration in Light by Wilson is among the first films to show to do this is the 1930s You only Live Once. They imitate Davies's Mr Knightley dreaming  but see where it occurs:  while Mrs Weston attempts to persuade Emma that Mr Knightley loves Jane, we see Mr Knightley in his house and the camera goes on his face and there we are led to think he dreams of seeing Jane Fairfax playing the piano in his beautiful room. Is this his dream or Mrs Weston's of him. If it's his, what exactly does it mean? Mr Knightley is given a rich inner life in this one. 

Unlike thee 1995 and 1996 Emma Miss Bates is not scanted; this time Christina Cola as Mrs Elton is; she bullies Mr Elton. This is a mini-series which is against bullies, men or women. I did feel Jane is brought out more than she has been since Ania Martin's Jane Eyre typology in 1972: she is no longer a slightly seething Jane Eyre but a nervous and moving into the abject young woman.

We are given the scene of Jane going to the post office in the rain:

meeting Mr John Knightley on the way, and then at home again, so relieved over her letter as Miss Bates looks on:

In general all the young women (and men too) are much much less sexy in their clothes and behavior: the dance at the inn is rousing square dancing until Mr Knightley and Emma dance and then we return to the slow elegant kind of erotic moments and it is made to feel like a high point dream (Mr Knightley also remembers it as a flashback). Harriet's crisis is made to play a secondary if vital role, it's a catalyst, not there for itself. The rescue of Harriet is a phase and presented as a young girl's natural worry.

Be that as it may, what's important is Mr Knightely and Emma's erotic relationship comes out (to be fair, this is the center of the 1996 Miramax film too, with Jeremy Northam and Gweneth Paltrow doing an imitable sort erotic snake-like weaving to music that is precisely that of the driving music of the famous aggressive-quarrelling dance of Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy):

I've already suggested the film also de-sexualizes the males again and the females (no push up bras at all, nothing low cut beyond when it would be natural, as at a dance): during Mr Knightley and Emma's dance at the Crown Inn, unlike most of the recent films, they at first do not dance erotically, but rousingly (as in a square dance), but then in the traditional line, they are set up to closely intertwined with back and forth close-ups, and the film becomes dream-like, grave and quietly erotic.

One side when we look at Emma (Garai) her face is strongly assertive, and we see her arm held up, the camera focusing erotically on her inner upper arm, very sexy. Cut to the other angle and we see Mr Knightly (Miller) we see a grave intensely moved face and the camera conveys a plangent response in her to his face.

And we have a full development of Mr Knightley hurt and appalled for Jane and disappointed, distressed by Emma's conduct) and Frank as the enigmatic cad, I found startlingly good the alphabet scene.


As with Davies 1996 film (where the alphabet scene is part of the Box Hill picnic), Welch gives it full play (and there's a similar scene in the free adaptation of Mansfield Park, and Stillman in Metropolitan which shows how deeply imagined is this kind of scene)., Emma and Mr Knighley's quarrel afterwards is as hard-hitting as Mr Knightley's angry hurt response to her insult of Miss Bates. In a way Emma's behavior over the alphabets is worse than her behavior at Box Hill; it's more premeditated, and she sits and enjoys Jane's painful discomfort.

Jane is newly seen in interesting subtle psychologized ways: in this film she is the product of a childhood which in outline resembles that of Fanny Price, only parted so much sooner than Fanny; her comment about slavery comes out of her character which is deeply unhappy and she has a good speech (modernized from Austen).

The third episode in fact ends on a quarrel more embittered and subtle in feeling than the one which ended Part 1. There Emma was a wayward child playing with Harriet as a doll. She meant not harm. Here she has backed (unknowingly but also refusing to see it) the spite of Frank against Jane. In this film each of Frank's acts are hintingly placed so we see his meanness is a form of spite aimed at Jane when she has refused to acknowledge herself as his in some way. 

When Mr Knightley walks away and doesn't come back, we feel despite the magic of the dream dance, he might not be back. He is himself too ethical to be fooled by romantic erotic moments. 

She might just be losing him and for those who have not read the book, this implication is powerful. She looks back

He walks on:

Part Four gives us the Donwell abbey expedition, Box Hill and its aftermath. Mrs Elton makes an ass out of Mr Elton (we hear the beast neigh and see Ritson's irritated face at the same time).  Mr Elton pays for his marriage to a rich woman: she is a narrow bully -- in the 72 film Elton remains subject to Mrs Elton's sexuality but seems otherwise to be able to assert himself; in Davies' 96 film he remains resentful of the class slights and injuries from Emma; in the McGrath he is simply more of a cypher (but then Jane is also undeveloped -- only fleeting fragments of their story are felt).

Mr Woodhouse at peace near fireplace; this series vindicates his view of social life repeatedly, and it's a kind of joke; oh did you go there, he asks, and didn't have a such a pleasant time, did you?

No, Emma didn't.  The scene with Jane is done insightfully.  Welch shows an understanding of the condition of anxiety, depression, the result of one's circumstances. Jane says to Emma she has been so exhausted for such a long time:

How much energy it takes to endure life's miseries

This Jane seems to herself to have been exhausted a very long time. This is a tremendous gain on previous Jane Fairfaxes. It reminds me of Richardon's Clarissa: "long, too long has my life been a burden to me."  Emma  is astonished; she knows nothing of this about how and why Jane suffers; Emma is a pampered child in comparison and here her first chance to learn something of life. Jane is rightly presented as someone distressed nearly beyond bearing, and it's the circumstances that are impugned. She has words later suggesting how miserable it is to live with her aunt, but we have seen how that aunt suffers.

As I suggested the Miss Bates insult at Box Hill was treated in accordance with those critics who say we are overdoing it when we say Emma did something to spectacularly bad; this film suggests Emma's conduct as whole is what's bad.

  Far Shot

Frank being obnoxious and Emma amused.

The insult comes out more naturally, less emphatic, Miss Bates is as hurt and Mr Knightley ashamed and the emphasis of his words falls on Miss Bates's poverty and circumstances, and what's to come


Unlike the others, in this one Emma keeps to her denial for much longer, recalling her behavior at the close of Part 1 and 3:

She is brushing him off, literally.   Equally more interesting and more openly moving is Emma's visit the next day produces a painful scene where Miss Bate's dependency and desperation for Jane become the center of what Emma hurt . To make this second scene painful makes more sense (even if it's not what Austen did) as well as gives Emma's visit and her attempts to make up to Jane more play.

Miss Bates is sitting there openly considering how Jane has accepted governess' position (in the 72 film she is upset about this but not as intensely crying as that was not acceptable then), and what all the years have come.  In this third and fourth episode the Tamsin Greig comes into her own. (

I'm one of those who finds the last quarter of Austen's book slides over problems and suddenly becomes too complacent. None of the film-makers really know what to do with Mr Western (Robert Bathurst): each time they make him into an artificially innocent kind of man at the same time he is an erotic figure for Mrs Western and it doesn't work. In the 1972 one they at least made him a sensible friend of Mr Knightley who can enjoy a risque joke; here Mr Western is once again a kind of nonentity mindless socalizing stick figure who irritates John Knightley.

Welch sees (I suggest) some of the problems at the close of Austen's Emma: it is simply not believable that Jane Fairfax should gush and turn open and unreserved upon becoming engaged -- after such torment and careless pain thrown at her.  So Welch gives Emma and Jane more scenes in the fourth part where Emma is protecting Jane and helping her, her hand on her shoulder at Donwell Abbey especially.   When the secret is out, we see Jane on a sofa confiding to Miss Woodhouse that she had tried and tried to write her while she appeared so adament against her.  This fits a certain kind of injured personality.

Mrs Bates is given her voice again when Mrs Weston gives birth, so at the opening of the film she has one, at one point she shows real pity for her daughter, and we are to feel she was so against giving up the baby Jane. Now a new baby is there and Jane is safe after all.

Most importantly the series makes Mr Knightley so much more vulnerable (as well as I said a voice as major as Emma's from the voice-over narration). In McGrath's 1996 Emma when Northam as Mr Knightley wins Emma it's out of her pity for him, not really because he deserves her so much, and with Emma as voice-over there, she is the rewarded one.  There is no reason to reward Emma so what this series does is give us Mr Knightley as the man finally rewarded, the lonely patient man who never thought it was easy to win a woman and wanted a thoughtful one. He has his hands full now teaching her, but he doesn't mind. It gives him a raison d'etre.

Welch did not solve the problem of Harriet at the close. In Austen's book Harriet is estranged from Emma at the close; Davies makes Mr Martin angry rather than Emma.  The 72 film makes them both abject grateful tenants -- 1972 shows itself to be part of an era where the culture of deference in the UK was still strong.  The McGrath film with Toni Collette has Harriet assert she always loved Mr Martin, but it's Samantha Morton's acting in Davies' film that makes that believable.  But the real problem is a parallel to Mr Knightley and Emma. Mr Knightley's words on Mr Martin's grief over his loss of Harriet (temporary as it turns out) should be recalled:  it is no loss if he would only think it so.  Mr Martin is an intelligent man of higher status than his wife, and much much better read.  We have been given enough before by Mr Knightley to surmize this marriage could well turn out to be another of a man besotted by a girl's beauty who is no companion for a thinking deep feeling man for life. 

This paradigm of intelligent man with stupid wife (who then irritates him for the rest of his existence) is in most of the novels. Welch just has Mr Knightley about to tell Emma some news she's not going to like, we switch to the wedding ceremony with Harriet and Mr Martin married by Mr Elton, and then outside Emma's joy and Harriet's hurried obedience to Mr Martin's calling her away. This is pulling down the curtain swiftly. No time for anything else-- supposedly, but it's a lost opportunity. I wish someone had the nerve to suggest this marriage may be like Benwick marrying Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion.  In none of them is Mr Martin developed enough even here where we see him come to Mr Knightley (memo to self: must rewatch that scene).

Lastly, the final episode instead of emphazing the joke of the chicken house as what allows Knightley and Emma to marry takes Mr Woodhouse objections seriously (as does the 72 film at first). He makes a real argument if paranoid or unreal.

I also loved how instead of a wedding we saw the pair of people quietly standing by the sea together.

I'm glad the film-makers have elected not to turn this one into sweeping or minimalist or visionary romance (the way of the 2005, 2007 and 2008 films or the 1995 P&P and 1995 Lee/Thompson S&S); it's an uneasy combination of psychological realism, satire, sentiment and inwardly deeply felt romance.

I liked the 1970s and 1980s tranposition costume dramas and really it belongs to that set of seriousness with 2009 computer techiques and budget. I feel an impulse really to study this one - the way I did the 1972 Emma, the 1983 MP (which I love) and 1979 P&P.

I wish I could write faster because then I could do a book on all the Austen films. It's too much and I'm now just trying for S&S and a chapter on a variet of angles. Then I could include this :).

I did like how it reminded me of things I had not paid attention too -- such as both Frank and Jane come from Highbury in effect; both were displaced so when they met at Weymouth: the chord struck was their place of origin and displacement. In the fourth part much is made of this with Emma as lucky that her father wouldn't dream of sending her away no matter how young, and got for her and himself Miss Taylor. There were other such "readings" of patterns I had been overlooking.


A few more thoughts not so narrowly tied, on images across these movies and point of view: I'm reading about time and movement images in movies (Deleuze's two volumes), especially as regards the Austen movies (Pidduck's articles).

I noticed something in my second watching which may interest those interested in these film adaptation mini-series costume dramas: in the Fay Weldon 1979 P&P and then again frequently in the 1990s movies it is common to see the women looking out windows, yearning we feel to go out-of-doors, be free; and we also have men looking out windows, meditatively and more vulnerable. This coheres with the idea these movies are presenting a feminist and feminized sexuality. If you watch the 2005, 07 and 08 movies (there are four, all but Emma were made in close time frame, 3 of them at the same time): this image is rare and the women are presented frequently as abject in some way -- except perhaps for Davies's Elinor but even she is enduring away stoically and that's the point, for that's hard enough. But we do see them out-of-doors a lot, and they like to be out-of-doors. It's not unsafe -- as it is in the 2008 S&S by Davies.

Now in this new one, this window gazing out has become less common, and when it's found the person looking out wants to stay in, or is looking at people playing in a safe place;  it's longing for the person seen, not to escape out of doors and far away.  The Welch's Emma asks Mr Knightley if something is wrong with her that she doesn't want to travel, that she is not eager to socialize widely; he stands there for a minute and says what she needs is a project.  This is one of many scenes of this film I just love: no contemporary cant here. 

The typifying instance is found in Mr Woodhouse who wants to stay in.  I have not seen any film try to recreate Austen's ambivalent attitude towards social life since the 1981 S&S.   While men are not seen doing these masculine kinds of activities (except riding a horse and that's partly to show them going somewhere), they are also not mooning out from windows (which is found in the 1990s films). Home is valued; the home space -- at the end Mr Knightley takes Emma to the sea, and she depends on him, it is he who decides they must tell Mr Woodhouse, he who she leans on in the coach; she holds his hand firmly and they are seen as so small against the vast cliff they stand on and we know will be going back soon -- or poor Mr Woodhouse will surely have a total nervous breakdown now. Images of happy security, of inside places as good are found throughout the film; Mr Woodhouse is not made fun of when he sits and looks at Mr Knightley's curiosity cabinet and books of illustrations -- to be fair nor is Mr Woodhouse in Davies 1996 Emma.

The use of Sudeley Castle and its environs (also used in the 1996 Emma and the 1974 Pallisers) fits this return to retreat.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 9th, 2009 04:36 am (UTC)
IN response to the ridicule and dismissals of the British reviewing press
Why such a response? First, the British press is dominated by virulent males and females (who make money being snarky). So it's too feminine. Women in bonnets, the men returning to the pre-sexy male types of the 1970-80. It’s not that sexual; Welch has taken an older attitude towards the story in order to keep the gentle satire up. It’s gentle satire and that will irritate some. We've had a thread on Janeites about the hatred of men (Twain, Lawrence) for the controlled sexuality of Austen's books. This film is in a sense a return to an older form of women-centered programs -- before the 1970s. The derision of these is endless; it was brave in a way of Welch to stop presenting us with he-men macho males.

It also does something at the same time which goes with that: common consensus has it the 1990s films were an "answer" to the misogyny and sexuality of films like _Basic Instinct_ and pop commercial films. In _Basic instint_ and other films (Fatal Attraction) we are presented with masochistic and super-sexualized monster femme fatales, all of whom are eager to jump to any man's snapping fingers (someimes for revenge, but more often in an abject state). By constrast, the 1990s films gave us strong women in charge, if with low-cut dresses, still standing there with strong self-esteem, and demanding decent respect, with good and idealized male types. These 1990s films were a sort of pop film feminism. Come the 2008-9 set and we have abject weeping women, Bronte stuff.

I loved part 4 but it is so designed that Mr Knightley really rescues Emma and is the strong one in the relationship -- after all as he says in the book he's 13 years older. Claudia Johnson, has this idea of Emma as "reigning" at the end of the novel, well not in this one. Mr Knightley takes her to the sea. It can grate too because it's elitist in the old fashioned way British people don't like -- or most don't who fancy themselves liberal -- it ignores pop culture altogether.

Like the 1940 film and the 2005, 2007-8 set, it uses modern language in lieu of Austen. There really is a strong return to turning Austen's words and phrases into modern idiolects. I like the way Welch does it -- it's not vulgar and there's enough left, as also Davies.

Are the linking lines worse? I don't think so. I think it's the usual cavilling, enjoyment of derision. I found my ears bothered by the 1940 replacements but not these. Welch is an expert at these film adaptations (as is Davies) and I thought the integration worked. What there was too was _less talk_ in the way of recent films -- and that's true of the 2005 _P&P_ too. But it might not have seemed that way since the film-makers kept long scenes (unusually long for films today) between Mr Knightley and Emma.

I went back to the book (and so did my friend, Ian Miller, who wrote the positive blog) and like many another time I found more from _Emma_ itself than I thought. It reminded me of the 2005 _P&P_: what happened was Welch (like Wright) had chosen different lines from _Emma_ -- suggesting again a different point of view was at work. There was a strong tendency to take the more colloquial and shorter and an indifference to all but the most famous lines (as in the exact interchanged with Miss Bates at Box Hill -- that sort of thing is kept).

I do think it would repay studying or watching it against other recent "old-fashioned" adaptations. I mentioned _Cranford_ (also by a woman screenplay writer and many more women on the team). Alas in the US we don't get nearly the number of mini-series that are played in the UK.

And very much against the 72 Emma -- which in a way is more sophisticated. Glenister and Constanduros say they had Schorer's psychoanalytic take on Emma as frustated and neurotic in mind; one may disagree with this modernizing take, but it is one. Welch has returned to us a delicate version of 19th century realism or attempted to in part.


Edited at 2010-06-29 06:52 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)
From James Sanderson on Austen-l:

"Thanks, Ellen for the commentary. I enjoyed the series very much. I
thought it better than the two in the 90's, the only two with which I am familiar.

Dec. 10th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
Wonderful blog on the series and comparisons with other films! I also thought Lousie Dylan was quite excellent as Harriet - she made Harriet just the right amount of mentally slow - not sharp enough to see how Emma is flawed, but not stupid and contemptible at all. A very delicate balance, and I think she walked it absolutely brilliantly.

The question of point of view in this one verses the Davies one is very interesting. I shall have to think about that quite a bit if I want to write on it!

And I think I've finally found a film critic in Britain who's not quite as bad. He doesn't like TV, so he probably won't review Emma, but he enjoys things like the Twilight film series (in a thoughtful way, not in a "oh, it's women's film, let's sniff at it" type of way), and seems to appreciate Jane Austen but not Becoming Jane - a good sign in my book (he thought Becoming Jane was quite bad, because Austen would never base her life on such boring events as seen in that film). He's quite snarky, but also has moments of true sensitivity. He reminds me a lot of Anthony Lane, who has some absolutely excellent reviews of Jane Austen films in The New Yorker.
Dec. 10th, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
From Judy:

"I have read your blog . . . I also just watched the McGrath 'Emma', which I don't think is nearly as good as the Davies or the Sandy Welch, but I do like Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates and Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley . . . Still hoping to re-watch the 1970s version for a full set. It will be interesting to see what is cut from the Welch version when it is shown on US TV, if anything - let's hope they don't get too busy with the scissors!"

Edited at 2010-06-29 06:53 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the comment, Ian. I hope all is going well now that we are down to the last mile of the semester. You can see we do get cold in Virginia now.

On the Harriet roles, Samantha Morton is still the outstanding best of the 5 (is it?), but Louise Dylan has some good moments. Probably the least appropriate is Toni Collette who was miscast in order to make Gweneth Paltrow seem right for Emma.

Narration in Light is the book and it is really one of these books after which you look at whatever you're studying more complexly, with more understanding and can find more to write about as your mind has been made aware of new ways of talking and seeing.

I watched Davies' Daniel Deronda last night and was so moved I wept. Not quite as much as when I finished The Remains of the Day, but coming close. It was the line given Garai as Gwendolen that put me "over the top:" "You must live out the life that is in you, and I must live out mine." It was a semi-joyous grief instead of ravaging in the way of The Remains of the Day. I don't know if the line is in Eliot -- it sounds more like Henry James, but it spoke home to me as validating self-acceptance and living with what we became and can do. Davies has a real feel for Eliot. Perhaps it is a bit for the lucky and the final scene with Gwendolen is in a meadow with that quivering smile of hers -- it certainly showed me why Romola Garai was chosen for Emma.

You didn't say the man's name. I can't bear any snarkiness really. Depending on my mood I find it dismaying, irritating, or distressing.

Dec. 10th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
Working on finishing papers...

Daniel Deronda: I can't find the line anywhere in the book or online, in any classic text. The closest is some fragments in The Portrait of Dorian Gray. But there are a lot of references to living at the end of Danield Deronda, so I'm guessing that Davies sort of wove them together (unless, as he does like to do, he pinched the quote from somewhere - I just can't find from where).

But the final scene of Gwendolyn on the meadow is wonderful.

Question: In Sandy Welch's Our Mutual Friend, do you like Bella Wilfer?

The critic's name is Mark Kermode - he has a BBC video blog, but it's not available for viewing in the US, so I listened to him on YouTube and on his mp3 blog. I think snarkiness is a mixed bag - there are some things, like Becoming Jane, that I am so outraged by I don't feel bad about them being mocked. And there are some things it really bothers me with.
Dec. 12th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
What happened to the 1996 McGrath Emma?
Two people have asked me why I only brought up the 1996 McGrath Emma tangentially. This probably shows my somewhat distanced feel for that film: it probably uses more of the language of the book than the other transpositions, but yet the characterizations of Emma are so changed (she is so sweet) and Mr Knightley so vulnerable, that I don't see it as quite a transposition.

It too is interesting: consider all the voice-over. Emma is the powerful figure retelling what has gone before (Harriet's losses) in the second half, and her own dreams for what's to come. She is the center of the film, Gweneth Paltrow. Woman lovely woman reigns almost alone -- for Gretta Scacchi as Mrs Weston is given extra scenes as her advisor.

All the Emmas are interesting for voice-over or narrator (i.e., point of view), probably especially Clueless. It may be this is a shared reaction to Austen's ironic distance from her character and the peculiarities of Emma's character which make people uncomfortable or want to make her more powerful than she is.


Edited at 2010-06-29 06:55 pm (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
LA Review of Welch's Emma, 2009
January 2010, the American PBS showing of Emma:

Edith Lank commented: "The first paragraph is delightful: "So, they have taken that Alicia Silverstone movie "Clueless" and turned it into a miniseries called "Emma," set in England in the early 1800s,and,what's more, they've issued a novelization by someone named Jane Austen. There is a lot more talking in the book, but it is really quite well done and covers all the major points of the miniseries, which is also excellent. They really capture that original "Clueless" spirit."

To which I replied:Edith, I think it makes a big difference that women wrote Clueless and this new 2009 Emma. It is a team of women who did both new Cranfords. This spirit and mood and also the emphases are women-centered -- especially in bringing out the developmental aspects of the characters, Miss Bates and Jane, the isolation of Harriet in her attic, and the valuing of community above all.


Edited at 2010-06-29 06:57 pm (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
New not very insightful review
Dear Friends,

I attach the New York Times review of the new Masterpiece production of Emma that is scheduled to appear in the U.S. this Sunday evening. An intriguing review - it does seem to presage influence of the backstory(ies) of characters that some here have found anathema, others fascinating - so I am certain it will make for rollicking discussion next Monday. Either way, the casting of Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse promises to be a stroke of genius.


Jan. 23rd, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
Back stories
I've been reading some other novels just of Austen's era -- in French and German: Riccoboni's Juliette Catesby (enormously popular in mid-century England and France -- it was translated by Frances Brooke in lucid limp English) and Kleist's Marquise of O. In both the back story contains the tabooed matter: a rape in both cases, but more than this. E.M.

Edited at 2010-06-29 06:58 pm (UTC)
Feb. 1st, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
From Linda Ribas on WWTTA:

"I'm sorry--I have to admit I enjoyed the second episode of Emma tonight.. I'm not a purist.

Later, I browsed throough the book, focusing on the scenes from this episode, and did not find the dialogue that far removed.

My main complaint--as someone else already said--is that it was clear from the beginning that Emma and Knightly were meant for each other. Austen was never that obvious.


To which I replied:

Well, Linda you are not alone. I thought Welch's film intelligent, a very woman's film, and more moving (emotionally moving) than any of the Emma films thus far -- except the little known partial analogous adaptation by Whit Stillman, Last Days of Disco. Kate Beckinsale was garnered for the part (to let us know this is Emma again) and the insult scene transposed peculiarly powerful. In this one Emma does really apologize, is harrowed; she doesn't change very much as in life people don't, but the others around her (the Jane character especially) register their sense of her difference. The Last Days of Disco is the one really genuinely feminist one as one of the way it differs or breaks away is at the end Emma does not succumb to become dependent on and forever taught by the Mr Knightley character.

It's partial because it's other subplot is a parallel to Sense and Sensibility.

I'm all set to watch Welch's Turn of the Screw. Her work is becoming as central to these adaptations as Andrew Davies.

P.S. Some of these analogous adaptations -- especially when they are not made by studios and commercial products do not become well known. I saw a biting brilliant version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses the other night: _Cruel Intentions_, a Roger Kumble film (Reese Witherspoon just getting known, Ryan Phillips as Valmont character).

Feb. 2nd, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
Emma 2009 compared to Constanduros and Glenister's Emma 1971
I should also have said (I forgot) Linda (and others) seem to me right that the dialogue is as much taken from Austens' book as it is by Davies. I too went back and looked and compared.

McGrath uses more of the lines, but since the very late 1990s turning the language into popular modern idioms is the rule, not exception for such films. You have to go back to the 1970s to hear Austen's language. Not that I'm against the 1972, I still think it's a fine, remarkable achievement, but its hard satire would not do. A shame for there we do see the selfishness and unconscious tyranny of Mr Woodhouse: in the final scene there no dissolving away in shared loss (as in this 2009 film) rather the old man (John Eccles) shakes his head no determinedly, won't hear, won't listen for apparentely quite a while. He thinks he is filled with pity and he is -- in comparison to most. The film makes that clear too.

But film adaptations don't go that road today in quite this stark clear way.

I do think different lines are chosen that do remain as in the 2005 P&P by Joe Wright.


Edited at 2010-02-02 01:20 pm (UTC)
Feb. 8th, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC)
Someone on Janeites defended the film against the dull elves and carping voices (loving to berate): they had been enjoying themselves stigmatizing Garai's looks. Elissa suggested Garai was right for a dark _Emma_ by her previous roles.

So I wrote:

Elissa mentions the darker side of _Emma_. Along with the other analogies for Garai that have been mentioned, we ought to cite the actual roles she's played in admired movies: Gwendolen Harleth in Andrew Davies' Daniel Deronda and the grownup Briony in Joe Wright's Atonement.

What are the psychological types here? Harleth very like Emma: we are indeed supposed not merely to like, but love her by the end even though throughout she has been hard often, mean, arrogant, hurt others. She is performative and until her mother loses all their annuity in the stock market, spoiled. She could say with Emma she forces people to behave well to her by taking a high valuation of herself. Eliot was much influenced by Austen.

Atonement, the book, opens with a long quotation from Northanger Abbey; it's partly a rewrite of Richardson's Clarissa and has many allusions to 18th century figures. Briony is the child who falsely accuses Robbie of rape. The accusation destroys Robbie's life -- it is believed because he's lower class and the real rapist a powerful businessman making money on the war. Brionyh is deeply imaginative, a novelist, and the novel about the dangers of the imagination. In character Briony is also dislikable -- partly for what she does at the opening, partly for her ambivalent character. But she by the end is the tragic heroines of the piece.

She is, like Doran Goodwin, perfect for the role -- Goodwin had a similar but much smaller background and played roles which showed her likeness to Anna Massey (the earlier Emma is seen as neurotic in the 1972 movie).

Look at Laurie Pyper's back ground and you'll see care was taken with the types the actress had played before too.


Edited at 2010-06-29 07:00 pm (UTC)
Feb. 9th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
Modern body language; an interview
From Derrick on Janeites:

"There's a BBC video clip of interviews with the producer George Ormond, and director Jim O'Hanlon, in which they describe their decision to use modern body language in the new Emma. The clip can be found at:


I like this production, especially the cinemaphotography and its use of light. I do find the body language a distraction, but I freely admit that this is largely a result of my age. Every generation must adapt and create its own interpretation of Jane Austen, and this happens to be a production for the "oh my gawd" generation.

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