Final Thoughts ~ Emma Part III

OK, I confess, I watched it again [remember our PBS here in Vermont showed the last episode LAST week right after Part II; this week our PBS re-ran Miss Austen Regrets] – but I did watch it again, just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything – they do take us on a rather quick ride from Box Hill to three marriages and Mr. Woodhouse’s fear of turkie robberies…

My major and final thought is “Thank you Jonny Lee Miller” – he redeemed this show in almost every way. And also with thanks to Sandy Welch who whacked the dialogue throughout to fit her own take on a 21st century Emma – but at least she left the proposal scene relatively intact, and despite THE KISS, it finished off quite nicely.

As mentioned above, this third part starts with Emma sitting with her father at Donwell Abbey – so nice to see the fine Donwell interior, and Emma’s unfaltering consideration of her father’s comfort. Mr. Knightley proud to bring Emma to his home, “the first time in eighteen months,” he tellingly points out. And there is a moment when he suggests to Emma that she looks almost the mistress of Donwell in her tender assistance to an “exhausted” Jane Fairfax. […more of those now obvious hints, but what is a screenwriter to do?].  Mr. Elton is seen dragging his darling wife to the Donwell strawberry picking on a donkey – seems a bit much for the local pastor but conveys all of their high-browed-ness in a few short minutes, Mrs. E. as per usual, “overly trimmed.”

We witness yet another spoiled-brat fit of Frank Churchill’s – the heat, the company, “sick of England,” all setting him off – but charmingly brought out of his bad humor by Emma, seen draping yet again all over the sofa. And then on to their scene at Box Hill – well done indeed! – [but really, would even the childish Emma and the anti-propriety Frank be so very bold in their display of affection at the picnic?! – I was embarrassed sitting in my own living room for this breach of 19th-century etiquette! – his head in her lap?! Yikes!- lavender water please…]

From here on, everything moves very quickly: Miss Bates of course is soundly insulted by Emma, and though a bit more morose than in other productions, the effects of this is well presented as all scatter to their separate corners of the hill, preferring solitude over such a gathering of mis-matched spirits. And here again, Mr. Knightley, all-seeing, performs his “badly done” absolutely perfectly – Emma seeing herself as others might see her for the first time, “anger against herself, mortification and deep concern,” the pivotal scene in the book, and here shown with Emma having what might be her first-ever sleepless night [lovely music here]… A visit the following day to Miss Bates, the farewell of Mr. Knightley with the attempted kiss to her hand [nicely done – an important scene…and glad this was not left out]; Mr. Woodhouse’s lament of “wanderlust” [I loved this!]; and then the news of Frank and Jane Fairfax, acquiring another “badly done indeed” from Emma, this scene also well done with Mr. Weston looking on, concern for Emma; a sort of bizarre set-piece with Frank and Jane kissing and dancing in the street; a few scenes with the perfectly cast John Knightleys worried about George’s bad humor; then the Harriet chat where Emma discovers to her horror that it is not Frank Churchill but MR. KNIGHTLEY that Harriet has been obsessing over, after which Emma really kicks her out of the house; and finally Emma’s wrenching monologue that it is “too late, too late” as she discovers her own heart after all….

All the above with the same wonderful decorations, gardens, fashions and food we have come to expect – and we are not disappointed – I am all forgiveness of nearly everything you see, because of all this loveliness – and also because they got the ending right, a very nice surprise, and with only a few caveats….

You all know [and I am almost sick of saying this myself] that Richard Armitage was born for this role of Mr. Knightley – so it took awhile for me to get over it [as well as Romola Garai’s eye-popping emotionals, but enough of that – she grows on you…] But Jonny Lee Miller pulled it off after all – nearly perfectly really – and this scene was given the time it needed [though why Emma had to be hiding behind a tree just added to her childishness – I thought she had perhaps grown up at this point?…] – my only real quibble with this whole proposal being so: in the book, Mr. Knightley, thinking that Emma is suffering the pangs of lost love over Frank Churchill, takes her arm [no contact in the movie and why not, I ask?]

 …till she found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his heart and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low, ‘Time my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound…’

And they continue to talk, until Knightley begins to say what in the movie is “his secret is out at least” in the book is “you will not ask me what is the point of envy” – Emma silences him and he says “I will obey you” and walks away [not so in the book – He is silenced “in deep mortification” – they walk to the house together and then take another turn when she wishes him to continue] – but here thankfully they keep most of the language. Either direct or in spirit:

          “As a friend!” repeated Mr. Knightley. “Emma, that I fear is a word — No, I have no wish — Stay, yes, why should I hesitate? I have gone too far already for concealment. Emma, I accept your offer, extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend. Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?”
           He stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered her.
          “My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma — tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.” She could really say nothing. “You are silent,” he cried, with great animation; “absolutely silent! at present I ask no more.”
           Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.
          “I cannot make speeches, Emma,” he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing. “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. But you understand me. Yes, you see, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.”
[Emma, vol. III, ch.XIII]

Austen of course, gives her usual narrated proposal scene –

-What did she say? – Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.-

We do get a little more here – a gentle, tender avowal of love and sealed with a kiss. Very nicely done, of course…and from here on in they only hold hands… And all ends with the news being broken to Mr. Woodhouse [Emma’s crying-jag scene, so much shown in the trailer, was blessedly short-lived and Mr. Knightley’s generosity of moving to Hartfield lovingly accepted]; Harriet and Robert Martin are united under the eye of Mr. Elton’s withering gaze; the turkies are thankfully “pilfered” and Emma and her Mr. Knightley ride off in a lovely carriage [holding hands] to their “ fortnight’s absence in a tour to the seaside”, ending thus gazing out to the sea, rather than with a wedding and the uninvited Mrs. Elton’s pronouncement on the “shabbiness” of the proceedings…

So the real test is will I buy the movie? – aah yes, I will, but then an Austen fan always does…

All the episodes of Emma will be available online through March 9, 2010 at the Masterpiece Classic website [lots of other great things there also!]

[Posted by Deb]

More Random Thoughts ~ Emma Part II

Well, not sure what happened here Sunday night in the North Country, but my PBS-HD station played not only Episode II, but also Episode III! – This was not on the online schedule, but I went in to DVR the 9pm program and saw that the 10-11 slot also said “Masterpiece Classic” – I assumed it was a re-run, but the “info” button suggested the final episode – did anyone else have this delightful gift from PBS??  So that said, I am only going to share a few thoughts about the second show, those certainly being colored by the final chapter … especially by the filming of the pivotal scene at Box Hill.

 I agree with most everything that I said above:

The Good: the fabulous clothing, museum-like houses and their decorative accessories, the gardens, the ornate flower arrangements, the finely-done cinematography, the music, and most of the characters with noted caveats [see more below]…

The Bad, but not so bad really: the language is still off, so forgetting largely that this is set in the early 19th century, we have 21st century teenagers who like to dress up – sort of a Regency House Party rather than authentic Austen with people who couldn’t remember their lines… … but enjoyable anyway. I am, you may have noticed, not a purist in the sense of everything must be Austen or relegated to the trash bin – the spirit of Austen is here in so many ways, and coupled with great views, and a liveliness that cannot help but draw you in…

So the Good, the Bad, and thankfully nothing ugly… but some new scenes, new characters, and new suggested plot lines to be explored:


Mrs. Elton and Mr. Elton – Christina Cole brings the right amount of snobbishness, status-obsession, and manipulative machinations as Austen created her – she is sufficiently overdone in manner and clothing [though she “dislikes being overtrimmed”, this said while verily dripping in ribbons and yellow feathers], and seems the perfect match for Mr. Elton, who appears more foppish than ever… what a pair! I am glad they found each other and spared others such a match.  And nice to see Mr. Elton actually preaching a sermon, the serious and obviously-needed-in-Highbury “let deceitful lips be dumb” … [I did however find Mrs. Elton’s ridiculous curls more appropriate for her rather than Harriet, whose hair continues to be all wrong for the character, despite liking this Harriet in every other sense…]

We see more of Frank Churchill [not quite right for the part and I am not sure why – should he have been more dashing and elegant? rather than so hyper-active and immature, one minute dancing around, the next sulking like a spoiled brat – is this maybe more true to what Austen wrote? [I need to re-read the book yet again on this one!]- I do wonder though why he felt the need to fling himself off his horse on each dismount – quite funny really!

Jane Fairfax is all wrong – she looks and acts like a waif about to fall into a swoon and drift away – she IS supposed to be more lovely than Emma, strikingly handsome, albeit a little pale, accomplished in all things; I could see Mr. Knightley more interested in Harriet Smith than this Jane…so this key part of the plot seems to fall flat…

Miss Bates just doesn’t get enough screen time to give us more of her comedic babbling… Tamsin Greig is currently the star in the London play, The Little Dog Laughed, where evidently she is stealing the show with her humor – more of that needed here perhaps?

Emma’s eyes continue to pop and bulge at every possible moment of surprise, awe, sadness, anger, concern, fear – but Romala Garai is growing on me – the further I move away from the Emma “as she was wrote,” I begin to find this almost child-like Emma endearing – but I do hope she grows up some in Episode III…or Knightley just might rightly decide to stay in London…  One plus, the male narrator who speaks in the first part seems to have been fired after all, and we do hear Emma’s thoughts as she begins to doubt her own long-held belief that she knows EVERYTHING – her reasoning that this lethargy and listlessness MUST be the love of Frank Churchill begins her much-needed introspection – she IS hopefully growing up… [her absolute hissy-fit when she walks home from Mrs. Elton’s, raging about her calling him “Knightley” is spot-on:

“Insufferable woman!” was her immediate exclamation. “Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Knightley! I could not have believed it. Knightley! never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley! and discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and under-bred finery. Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady. I could not have believed it!

[Emma, vol. II, ch 32]  – this is Emma in teenage mode – and funny – the first time I think she sees Knightley as someone other than her father’s daily visitor, someone who other people relate to, have thoughts about… and Emma does not like it. Well done in the movie!

Mr. Knightley also continues to improve for me – Miller’s furrowed brow, his vigilant observation of everything going on around him, his good sense and steady presence serves to act as a foil to this Emma who is in such need of his good guidance. And this is countered with Knightley’s apparent change in feelings toward Emma – a shift in his own world that unnerves him, he often looking quite grave – this of course not so clearly shown in the book [but there if you are looking for the clues!] – so though some of the “mystery” of Emma is lost in these glimpses into Mr. Knightley’s feelings – it does make it so clear that they must and will end up together…

 Emma [Garai] & Mr. Knightley [Miller]

The Dance is fabulous! – the extravagant fashions [Emma’s dress is so lovely!] – the bouncing jaunty hand-clapping country dances are just great fun; the Harriet as wallflower / Mr. Elton snub, with Mr. Knightley to the rescue rightly sets Emma on the path to seeing him in a different light – and their dance together is, as in all the Austen adaptations, such a turning point in the story [recall the 1995 P&P Elizabeth and Darcy dance; the 2005 same scene where all disappears as Elizabeth and Darcy focus only on each other] – the dance in the 18th-19th century was the only way men and women could flirt, touch, and get to know each other – and here it seems is the first time that Knightley and Emma actually do connect in this way – the feelings of both undergoing some fundamental change. But major complaint here! – one of the most telling lines in the book is when Emma suggests Mr. Knightley dance with her:

Emma was extremely gratified. – They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr. Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.
“Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing? -Come Emma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body is asleep!”
“I am ready,” said Emma, “whenever I am wanted.”
“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley.
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”
“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.
“Indeed I will. You have shown that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”
“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

[Emma, vol. III, ch, 38, p. 332] – a prime piece of dialogue and should have been included…

I am feeling like Mr. Woodhouse is not in the movie enough, so does not show this very generous and compassionate side of Emma [but just as I was thinking this – Part III starts with such a scene – so ok after all…I will say no more].  Also I did check about the John Knightleys – they indeed do have FIVE children: Henry, John, Bella, George, and Emma.

One other scene that is changed from the book is at the beginning of Part II – [vol. II, ch. 10, 244 ff] Mr. Knightley is called in from the street by Miss Bates to visit them – he is ready to do so until Miss Bates tells him Frank Churchill is there as well – he immediately changes his mind and raises his voice for all to hear his comments about Jane Fairfax – in the movie he comes in – a fine difference, but a telling point in this change of Knightley’s feelings toward Emma.

Laura Linney begins this second episode suggesting that Jane Austen’s works might be considered “too ordinary and narrow” for today’s world of super-human action stories the likes of Spiderman and the extremes of techno-thrillers and special effects – what can Austen give us in this non-magical world of Emma Woodhouse? She concludes that we are given a view into the world of people who are really just like you and me – the steady ones, the loving, the amusing, the annoying, the manipulating and greedy, all the believable characters that make up our daily lives – Emma is an “authentic human being” says Linney, who with an over-developed sense of her own importance has created quite the mess. We see her grow and become aware and realize that she does live in a very closed world and that perhaps her ideas are limited – I am enjoying seeing her come to these realizations, her blinders slowing slipping away, extravagant eye-popping or not! – and there are still those lovely costumes and decorating ideas to ponder…

The Masterpiece website for all things Emma; you can also watch the first two episodes online until March 9th here.

Stay tuned for Part III…

[photo from Costume Drama Reviews]

[Posted by Deb]