Saturday, February 20, 2010

Emma, part 3

Bet you thought this write-up was never coming, right? :) Goodness knows I am completely incapable of leaving a series on British film unfinished, never mind the blogs are weeks off schedule. Oh well. *wink*

I'm actually glad I left off writing about the final episode of Emma until I could watch it on DVD. To start with, here's the episode summary from the Masterpiece website:

What was intended as a day of fun turns into a day of agony for everyone on the Box Hill excursion. Things come to a head when, egged on by Frank, Emma behaves very badly, insulting Miss Bates. Emma is berated by Knightley and realizes that her behavior was shameful. She tries to repair things with Jane and Miss Bates, but Jane will not see her. Miss Bates tells her that Jane has cried all night and decided to accept a job as a governess. Meanwhile, Knightley goes to stay with his brother in London — he will be away for a while. When Frank's aunt dies, the Westons expect him to propose to Emma — but his actions set in motion a chain of events that both shock Emma and make her realize something that has been in plain sight all along.

This is the "payoff" episode of the Emma story, when Emma begins to realize that her machinations may have cost her the love of her life. Don't you love it? :) The episode opens with the strawberry picking expedition at Donwell Abbey. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller) has pulled out all of the stops to ensure Mr. Woodhouse's (Michael Gambon) comfort, since he is always so loathe to leave his own home. It was a sweet moment, as you can see that Knightley's practically begging Emma to see that he's doing this all for her, and Emma, while appreciative, is happily oblivious to that fact. This portion of the program also has a very funny scene with Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) leading his new bride (Christina Cole) to Donwell on the back of a donkey. The look on Ritson's face is comic gold. :)

I think this production of Emma does the best job, that I've seen anyway, of showing real growth and transformation in Emma's character. Romola Garai has completely exceeded my expectations with her performance. She starts off so sure of herself, so superficial in so many, many ways, and by the conclusion of this film version we see her become kinder, more understanding, more considerate. The scenes between Garai and Gambon and father and daughter do an excellent job of highlighting the kind, patient side of Emma's character. Garai's Emma expresses such a love and patience for her father that's wonderful to see. And I love Gambon's take on Mr. Woodhouse - the way he plays the character really seems to indicate that he really struggles with - well, I'm not sure - senility? social anxiety disorder? Sandy Welch's screenplay and Gambon's acting make Mr. Woodhouse much more than a high-maintenence presence on the pages of Austen's novel.

This episode covers the Box Hill excursion, which has to be one of the most painful episodes to read or see enacted on-screen, thanks to Emma's thoughtless set-down of Miss Bates (Tamsin Greig). I really appreciated the way this scene played out, showing Emma as she realizes she's gone too far, and how she graduall becomes fed up with Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans). Garai plays the scene by having Emma realize that she doesn't like the woman she's become when she's with Frank - but, since he's the type of gentleman she's always dreamed of, it's a hard realization to come to terms with. Speaking of Churchill, this adaptation left me feeling more than ever that poor Jane Fairfax, played with an almost elfin-like quality by Laura Pyper, is DOOMED. I always marvel at Jane's ability to put up with Frank's little games, but Pyper's take on Jane makes the character seem more vulnerable, somehow, than what's been shown in previous Emma films.

After the Box Hill debacle, Emma clearly has endured, perhaps for the first time, a painful dose of cold, hard reality. The following day her costumes even undergo a transformation, as she wears black and gray to visit Miss Bates in an attempt to make amends. She handles the revelation of Frank and Jane's secret engagement with a lot of maturity - balanced, of course, by a humorous moment when she berates Frank for daring to lead her on. Emma's changed a lot over the course of this series, but it's moments like that which remind you that some things never change. :)

The BEST part of this installment is, of course, getting to see Emma and Mr. Knightley finally, finally declare their love for each other. This moment is made even sweeter by all of the emotional turmoil Emma must endure first; one, by worrying that her propensity for thoughtlessness has cost her Knightley's esteem and two, that he may actually prefer her friend Harriet (Louise Dylan). By this point Emma actually considers Harriet a friend, so the possibility that she could lose Knightley to her is even more painful. I loved the way Miller played Knightley during these scenes. The combination of uncertainty, hope, and nerves is really quite adorable. :) And I loved the way Garai expressed Emma's joy and relief at realizing her love for Mr. Knightley will not go unrequited. This brings me to an important point - if you only watched the broadcast version of Emma, for goodness' sake track down the DVD. PBS inexplicably made the call to cut a short but wonderful scene between Emma and Mr. Knightley, where they discuss when each first realized they were in love with the other. The moment when Emma confesses that when she looked into her heart, she found Mr. Knightley - well, it's a sweet little moment to savor. :) I also absolutely LOVED Emma's freak-out scene when reality has set in and she fears that she can't marry because that would require her to leave her father. Seeing a rattled Emma juxtaposed with a very calm Knightley is quite funny (and I loved the shot of them going in to tell Mr. Woodhouse their plans, and Knightley reaches behind Emma to grasp her hand - so sweet!).

This adaptation of Emma has proven to be a superb addition to the long list of Jane Austen-related films. The pacing and acting are superb across the board, as are the costumes and sets. Welch's script hits all of the necessary story beats (to my mind, anyway) while providing a fresh perspective and look at the story that's so familiar to fans of Gwyneth Paltrow or Kate Beckinsale versions. Of course a major highlight of this production for me was getting to see Jonny Lee Miller play another Austen hero, and he did not disappoint. :) I also have a greater appreciation for Romola Garai as an actress. She balances Emma's self-centeredness with her growing compassion and, dare I say it, a touch of humility as well. I also must comment on Samuel Sim's gorgeous score, it was absolutely beautiful. Very, very well done all around BBC. :)

*Oh, I almost forgot - I LOVED the mention of Mr. Woodhouse's chickens at the end of this show - too funny!


Anonymous said...

Your post is perfect Ruth! You could describe it so well! This is my favourite Emma adaptation and JLM MY Mr K!

Unknown said...

@mrsthorntondarcy - Aww, thank you so much! And I agree with your take on JLM 100%!

Heidenkind said...

The final installment was my favorite, as well. I loved the development of the characters, especially Emma's realization that Frank Churchill is kind of a prick and doesn't measure up to Mr. Knightly at all.

But the absolute best part was that everyone lived happily ever after. :)

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - The way this series handled Emma's character is probably the best I've seen it portrayed, completely agree. And the end - awesome. Love that Knightley took her to the seaside for their honeymoon trip.

Anonymous said...

Good review! You actually pointed out some things I hadn't thought about. Sandy Welch is the best thing to happen to me since I first discovered Jane Austen and the like. :)

Unknown said...

@elle - Thank you so much for visiting the blog and commenting! I agree, I am a big fan of Sandy Welch's scripts - LOVED her work on the last version of Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens. Have you seen that one?