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Jonny Lee Miller,
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Emma Woodhouse seems to be perfectly content, a loving father whom she cares for, friends, and a home. But Emma has a terrible habit - matchmaking. She cannot resist finding suitors for her friends, most of all Harriet Smith. Emma is desperate for Harriet to find happiness, but every suitor she finds for her friend ends up attracted to Emma herself. But is Emma so focused on Harriet's happiness that she is not considering her own happiness in love? Written by
Mel from the Untied Kingdom
There is a clichéd version of Period and Regency characters which grew up in the 1920's and 1930's fostered by UK and US film studios with straight backs, ironed crinolines, stiff upper lips and emotionally strangled dialogue from which a number of recent adaptations have dared to depart.
Sometimes, as in the case of 1999 Mansfield Park, adapters and cast have departed for the hills and created something so far off Austen's wavelength that it might be a prequel for the Pirates of The Caribbean franchise. Enjoyable perhaps. But not MP.
That's not what we have here. What we have here is something that is entirely on Austen's wavelength, with characters behaving as her characters would and saying the sorts of things her characters say. Something which is faithful to the purpose and meaning of the book, which aims to get the characters Jane Austen wrote onto the screen where we can see, recognise and enjoy them. This series is triumphantly successful at doing just that, partly owing to the care that has been taken with the script and partly due to the outstanding performances of the leads.
It built on a wonderfully realistic foundation of what love, loss and family all mean. If it did, perhaps, labour the point a bit at the beginning, there were superb contrasts between where Emma's life was full and empty. Her lack of self knowledge, her yearning for companions and challenges worthy of her sense and intelligence clearly illustrated the traps she made for herself.
And whilst we follow the progression of their relationship from Knightley's point of view more than the book warrants, Emma's bursting discovery of her love for him is actually dramatised here just as Austen wrote it, not watered down by injections of artificial chemistry between the lead actors.
I think there are lots of people who could turn out an Emma adaptation like the two films from the 90's. This version set itself the much harder task of adapting the book (as Clueless did) rather than just animating selected bits and stringing them together. And it succeeds. The reason Garai's Emma is different to all the others is that Garai is playing the character Jane Austen wrote and Sandy Welch, as she did with Jane Eyre, got her onto the screen by dramatically recreating her rather than transposing her dialogue into a screenplay.
There are, of course, unnecessary departures from the canon. Perhaps it is highly unlikely that Emma would have allowed Knightley to kiss her within sight of the house, or that Knightley would have forgotten himself that far either. However, were they sure of being unobserved, I think Emma and Frank would have been perfectly capable of shocking even modern dowagers with a passion that is written carefully into the novel but seldom gets up onto the screen. If I was servant at Hartfield, I'd be very careful to make them aware of my presence outside the bedroom door before taking their morning tea in.
I had my reservations about this adaptation at first but having watched it more times than I now care to admit, I cannot now name a better Austen adaptation. I think the unusual start was a gamble designed to illustrate the insecurity of early 19C family life to newcomers and wilfully detach dedicated Austen fans from their comfort zone from the opening seconds, both of which worked triumphantly. It instantly drew parallels between the lives of Emma, Jane and Frank (and, more subtly, Harriet) which are at the core of the book and completely absent from any other adaptation. A very, very clever trick for which some purists have yet to forgive her. Not this one, however. Once you have adjusted your goggles, this adaptation hits new heights for the whole genre and becomes an unalloyed pleasure.
It's beautifully shot, all the characterisations are incredibly detailed, even minor characters like John Knightley and Mrs Goddard are fully realised and Garai and Miller hit their top notes reliably again and again.
I'm sure Austen would love it.
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