misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Sandy Welch's 2009 Emma: an indwelling Proustian film

Dear friends and readers,

I'm at night  still slowly making my way through the 2009 Emma by Sandy Welch. The central technique is to depart utterly from the new mode of very brief scenes, epitomizing moments instead of long developed acting nuanced interactions.  This Emma does more than return us to long one-on-one scenes, but develops these with brilliant nuance and feeling. Another is the use of Mr Knightley as our narrator, and he is seen meditation, his dreams produced as momentary flashbacks (and as with Andrew Davies's 1997 Emma, it's not always clear whether what he sees is his dream, Emma's or something that is really happening literally in the film); in typical he gazes at Emma playing the piano.  Finally Emma stays closely aligned to Harriet throughout.

Welch and her crew create a movie which gives the novel an emotional depth which replaces the kind of hard satiric comedy the novel uses, and thus also highlights the "problems" of Emma as a novelistic read.  I've written about the overstructure and themes as a psychologized community.  This blog comes from watchnig the movie shot by shot.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley meditating Emma playing

And she is depicted in deep reverie:

I am really startled how much it focuses on Mr Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller) and how lengthy and developed are his scenes with Emma.  To compare with a 1970s film, it does well beyond the 1972 Emma, which did full justice to the relationship as one backbone of the story (from the 1970s critical perspective). It also does justice to the friendship theme:  Emma and Harriet's friendship is the point of the film more than Emma's blunders over Elton's courtship of her, Emma.  Like the 1972 this one has scenes of Mr Knightley without Emma, but the 1972 kept them short and also made them part of a depiction of characters outside Emma's purview (one actually authorized by the text is between Mr Knightley and Mrs Elton played by the inimitable Fiona Walker, the best Mrs Elton thus far), and none are overlong or out of proportion to their place in the novel.  This film makes the very continuity and point of each crisis in the novel's plot-design in the way of Davies's 2007 NA does to Catherine and Henry. 

More: it brings out a deeply psychologized interpretation of them as a pair, also Mr Knightley and Miss Bates (pure pathos).  It picks out the underlying pathos of Austen’s book in general to make that what it has to show us that matters.

This is not the only scene which dwells at length on every turn of nuance in characters interacting.

Much has to be sacrificed from the actual book in order to do this (as the book is much much harder and satiric in its stance often) as the film is but four hours: Mrs Elton is now a tiny role; Mr Elton si gentle

This is a bit of remembering Emma has after the proposal scene and before she visits Harriet to tell her the truth

and then a hen-picked man now (regrets it before us); Jane is made deeply felt but not given much space -- the alphabet scene is kept and that helps enormously but its purpose as as prelude to another KNightley-Emma contretempts at length..

I went through two long scenes: Mr Knightley's anger at Emma for pressuring, manipulating Harriet into rejecting Mr Martin, and the scene in the carriage coming home from Randalls where Mr Elton proposes.  what's striking each time is how much longer the 2009 Emma film is, how much more we go into a psychological nuanced development. In reading the 2009 seems at first close to the 1972 scenes, but the psychological development makes them much deeper, much more resonant. Welch (2009) uses flashbacks to lengthen out.  She is makes more realistic: and Mr Elton emerges as partly justified, gentle, and after all he had been encouraged, with Emma as (even more than the 1972 character) strongly sexually repressed (rather like Sophie Thompson as Miss Charlotte Bartlett) all buttoned up, prissy, intensely obtuse. 

The 2009 made up for the time by cutting severely all the Mrs Elton parts; they also made her into a termagent so that by the time we finish the film we do indeed feel sorry for Mr Elton.  The least interesting is the McGrath; there Emma is an innocent child in the scene with Mr Knightley; the scene with Elton is played as neutrally and briefly as possible. She rushes to Greta Scacchi as her sister-mother-aunt to be comforted both times -- added scenes I'll add.

So not only is the scene of Emma's remorse by her mirror (with flashbacks) strong remorse, the scene is lengthened between Harriet and Emma when Emma comes to confess that Mr Elton was after her and she, Emma, has led Harriet astray,

the scene where Emma meets Jane at Miss Bates's unexpectedly is very long. The first is preceded by a long pantomime type where very like Mr Martin as he contemplated going into Mr Knightley's house to ask for advice (an add-on) so Emma walks back and forth considering if she can get out of this; then the scene partly exonerates Emma because she is so remorseful, repentant, and sees all she has done to Harriet who is seen alone on Xmas (no family) in a bare attic, not overdone with poverty but real enough.

The scene with Jane emphases the line back to childhood (how she came to be with the Campbells) so deep in this movie as does the scene of the Knightleys outside playing in the snow remembering their childhood and Emma would play in the snow too.  Piper Laurie is dressed to recall a sort of child .And the flashback dream attributed to Emma where we see Miss Dixon genuinely jealous and suspicious of Jane is not out of sight; feels as if this were what was, and again exonerates Emma just a little bit again.  When Emma first meets Frank, the scene is made long by having Frank clearly lying:  in this film Emma and Harriet came upon Frank returning from or seeking Jane a couple of weeks before he told his father he was coming. Now he must lie about this and we watch him watch Emma's face to see how she's reacting to each of his lies and half-truths. The scene is suspicious; far earlier than any of the other Emma films thus far.

Curious too is how much time is spent at the Christmas sequence. Stuff is piled into it outside the Christmas time in the book.  The 1996 McGrath (Paltrow and Northam as the central pair) also centralized Christmas but kept its space the same. I think this is part of the attempt to make the work into deeply felt -- as relatives are intertwined in intense ways.  It brings out John Knightley more as he's there more. Isabella is no longer a moron (she's one of Harding's obvious burlesqued caricatures in the book).

The film is filled with insights into Austen's text as a read and a work of art original and against the grain of this decade too.  Tremendous sympathy for the women characters (Miss Bates is just done much differently than previous Miss Bates's) is a relief against the continual (not so invisible) misogyny of our own.  We watch the others looking at Emma and watch Emma watching herself.

An unforced scene in front of her mirrror (has voice-over, flashbacks)

I'd say too this film goes in a wholly different direction than the latest Jane Eyre Emma's relationship with Miss Taylor and then Mrs Weston, with Harriet, with Miss Bates (whom she cannot avoid) are central features of Emma's growth and experience; the latest Jane Eyre erases women.  The movie which is like the 2009 Emma is the 2006 Jane Eyre whose screenplay writer is also Sandy Welch.

So, I've returned to my movie project. I'm working towards a book on the Austen films, and have written five comparative chapters on the sources, archetypes, and intertextuality of the S&S movies. I'm now working on a sixth to be about the 2008 S&S and Andrew Davies. I think I must do it in two parts because intertextuality here is so complicated, and his achievement and presence in the Austen movies and film adaptation in costume drama form so influential and significant.

Tags: adaptations, costume drama, female archetypes, jane austen criticism, jane austen films, women's art, women's films

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