Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Apologies and a Review

The Apologies

First off, I would like to say I am sorry for my lack of blogging the past few weeks. I've been sick and busy, but now I will attempt to shrug off this laziness (some person I am to be blogging about it!) and get back to work.

My second apology is that I did not read my novel for this month. This is the direct result of a mistake I made. I thought I had the book, but when I went to the shelf where I'm sure I've seen it before, it wasn't there. So I remedied this by picking up Northanger Abbey. I am now within ten or fifteen pages of finishing it. I had tried to read Northanger before, but it was the only Austen I found difficult to read and I tossed it aside last fall. On a second perusal, I am really enjoying it. Funny how time changes those things. I am also reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. It is not as Gothic as Jane Eyre, for which I am thankful. You can really examine the characters so much better when you don't have to worry about madwomen the whole way through. It also bucks the trend of the hero marrying his first love, and admits that his second choice was better. The book is written from a man's point of view, which is an intriguing way to write a romance.

The Review

A few weekends ago, I got to see the new Masterpiece Theater mini-series of Emma. Jane Austen's novel always had a difficult heroine for me to come to grips with, but by the end of my reading, I was on her side. And I think that's the way she intended it. Not all heroines can be unprivileged and poor waifs, and not all of them should be in an uncomfortable place during the course of the novel. Jane clearly states this in the first chapter:

"The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments."

Several adaptations of Austen's work stress the man's role in the story (1995 P&P, I'm looking at you). This adaptation is one of these, and the audience is given several scenes of Mr. Knightley walking places--to Hartfield mostly. Emma is right, he never does seem to use his carriage!

Ah, Emma. The very core of the novel. A great part of this adaptation's reception by Janeites depends on how the main character is portrayed. This Emma was prone to greatly exaggerated expressions. It seemed like Emma, under a magnifying glass. Every little emotion was shown in a large form, either a boisterous laugh, or an impatient popping eye-roll. Or so it seemed in the first and second episodes. By the third, Emma seemed to have relaxed, and her emotions were shown more subtly. Whether this change is meant to reflect the change in Emma after the Box Hill picnic or not, I do not know, but I enjoyed the third episode especially. Physically, Emma is matched perfectly to what I always expected when I read the novel: taller than Harriet, blond, and youthful-looking.

Harriet was one of my favorite of the supporting characters. She seemed very human, and not quite so ignorant as in the 1996 Miramax version. Frank Churchill seemed too respectable to be the semi-rogue that he is in the novel, and Jane Fairfax was prim and prober, though I still enjoy Olivia Williams' portrayal of the character more. Mr. Woodhouse was played as a big, lovable teddy bear rather than the more controlling and less foggy one in the book. I was pleased with Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Mr. Elton looks like vampire (making his "carriage" scene alone with Emma more intense!) Mrs. Elton was the self-obsessed social climber we all love to hate; I enjoyed the scene where she came to the Donwell picnic on a donkey.

The costuming was excellent: beautiful if a bit bold florals and bonnets galore. The sets were also nice, I enjoyed Hartfield and Donwell Abbey to my Janeite heart's delight.

The defining part in every Austen adaptaion is the script. This one failed to stay as close to the book as I would like, which was sad, but it stayed fairly true to the spirit of the book. There were some lines, such as the one where Emma tells Harriet "There are plenty of more suitable suitors around," which annoyed me as being too obvious and feeling pasted in.

All in all, I thought this version was admirable. The leads were good, the production values were brilliant, and the script was adequate. As a finishing note, what is it with new JA adaptations and wedding scenes? Neither this Emma nor the 2008 Sense and Sensibility nor the 2007 Persuasion had one? Come on, just show us the wedding! It's what the whole plot builds towards. Oh well. I guess it's just a secret of the screenwriters.