Emma 4 – Episodes 3 and 4 Recap

I first published this review in October of 2009 when Emma aired on the BBC, so some of the links and broadcast references will be out of date.

I apologize for lagging on the latest updates, but I’m pretty sure I’m only inconveniencing maybe three people, all of whom have actually watched the adaptation already.  Industry, patience, blah blah blah. ANYWAY.

My initial enthusiasm for this adaptation has not only returned, it has been surpassed.  Episode one showed promise, episode two was a teense off-putting, episode three brought the excitement back, and episode four hit the ball out of the park!

Let me preface this entire review with the fact that I have NEVER cried during an Emma proposal scene – not through three adaptations and Clueless (which featured an un-proposal, but whatEVER – and no, that “whatever” was not intended to be apropos; I ACTUALLY SPEAK LIKE THAT).  Well, I cried during this one.  There was actual book proposal dialog in the mix, namely the “if I loved you less” bit, which made me happy, but not so much that the lines sounded like a recitation.  Emma responded with something reasonably in-character; I can’t recall exactly what Sandy Welch had written for her, but it was delivered genuinely enough to qualify as “just what she ought” to say, for “a lady always does.” I was also quite fond of the surprise honeymoon trip to the seaside, which was a perfect capper to the plot thread about Emma’s shelteredness. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Part three was exciting!  Frank’s arrival, Mrs. Elton’s elitism, the excitement of the ball, the revelation of Mr. Knightley’s feelings for Emma – it all created a propellant energy that made the episode go by WAY too quickly.  There was quite a bit of the literary Mrs. E in Christina Cole’s performance, and a certain very bitchy, slightly frightening quality that was lacking in earlier Mrs. Eltons.  One can certainly understand why Emma actively sought to avoid this woman, as she was not merely boring or annoying, but vicious.  Mrs. Elton’s fashions were quite in line with what we’d expect from a stylish girl whose family earned their money in trade (in her case, it’s inferred, the slave trade); the pretension to finery is appropriately overcompensatory.  The frilly, triangulated gowns and high headpieces, in particular.  I liked one spencer from episode three especially, although I can’t remember if it was indeed a spencer or perhaps a pelisse bodice.  At any rate, it had a long, dense row of covered buttons and what appeared to be some rather Greco-Turkish soutache braid on the front, which reminded me of early 19th century ethnic costume from the Balkans or Greece.

Part four was even better.  The portrayal of Frank as a sad child works – his obnoxiousness at the strawberry and Box Hill outings is considerable, but you can entirely understand why, given his family history and his frustration with his aunt, his engagement, and his life in general. One can also understand why Jane was ready to throw in the towel with him, given how he flatters Emma, takes Emma into his arms during the Crown Inn reconnaissance mission (closed-hold dancing positions weren’t exactly commonplace yet, let alone considered entirely decent), and rests his head in her lap at Box Hill.

Even though it’s not exactly book-correct, I thought the happy Frank/Jane reunification scene at the end was rather sweet.  It punctuated the idea that Frank Churchill is not a selfish cad (although I suppose quite a few people really do feel that he IS a selfish cad…lol).

Of the dances, I don’t really have much to say other than holy crap, lots of window- and closed-holds. The three or four dances used in the ball scene looked like they were very heavily choreographed (especially the last).  I didn’t recognize a single one.  Further, may I just say that Frank is awfully fond of getting girls in his arms, which is kinda presumptuous given the etiquette – even the dance etiquette – of the period.

I loved repentent Emma at the Bateses.  Heck, I love Romola Garai as sensitive, kind, olive-branchy-mode Emma.  Further, the grace and charity with which Tamsin Greig’s Miss Bates accepts Emma’s penitential overtures was particularly touching.

So, I think I have discovered my threshold, or my happy medium if you will, as to what constitutes the right balance of  literary correctness and new interpretation.  I want important scenes and choice bits of dialog to remain intact, but I don’t want so much that the actors sound like they’re reading the novel aloud.  I think the only really jarring dialog in the entire second half of this adaptation was Emma’s post-proposal outburst at Donwell.  This snippet made the teaser, and as such, it was one of the first glimpses that I saw of this adaptation.  As such, it put me off for quite awhile.  I’m glad I decided to watch without letting my first impressions cloud my enjoyment of the piece.

Overall, I like this adaptation.  It covered all the major bases as far as scenes go, and there was enough book dialog in it to keep me happy.  I didn’t always like crazy-outburst Emma, but there was enough diversity within the portrayal to redeem some of the overly modern lines and mannerisms.  I thought Mr. Woodhouse’s crazy sheltered parent thing might get a bit old after awhile, but the episode four scenes in which our loving, kind Mr. Woodhouse reminds Emma that he really and truly is terrified of losing her makes the character less ridiculous than sweet and sympathetic.  Perhaps not exactly book-correct, but it makes for a more compelling character.  Oops, did I just SAY that?

And Jonny Lee Miller….damn.  Jeremy who?

Screenshots later, and eventually, a fashion analysis.  I’m also adding a ton of links to the Emma 4 page at the Emma Adaptations Pages.

9 Replies to “Emma 4 – Episodes 3 and 4 Recap”

  1. I felt the most at this Emma. What we didn’t get from the condensed, 2-hour Emmas (while nonetheless good) or the stagy 80s Emma, we got here in spades. The tone (esp. of the novel) is so precious it’s incredibly easy to gloss over the depth of what’s really going on. This brought it out. I immediately ‘got’ so many things I had never really noticed before – how much of a slight Frank’s not coming really is, esp. to Mrs. Weston, or how Miss Bates might really be overcompensating for her guilt by overpraising Jane Fairfax. (Perhaps only their interpretation, but it was plausible.) And it’s so, so gorgeous.

    Hi Kali! Glad you liked it.

    1. Jen! Good to hear from you! I agree – despite any roughness in tone, we did at least get a “complete” and three-dimensional view of the story. Overall, I’d say it’s the most successful adaptation because of that. The polite language of Austen’s characters and narrative voice understates so much that modern readers tend to blank out on much of the nuance; it’s nice to see characters interacting with real emotion.

  2. I’m glad you liked this adaptation of Emma because I really loved it. I thought Jonny Lee Miller was perfect as Mr. Knightley. Romola Garai took me a little longer to warm up to as Emma just because her overexaggerated facial expressions really irked me at the beginning. She grew on me gradually and towards the end, I think she did a great job at bringing a different energy to Emma than what we have seen before. The proposal scene was sweet but I have to say Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the ball was the highlight of the whole adaptation for me. The way Mr. Knightley looked at Emma when they were dancing literally melted me into a pile of goo. It was just so romantic. Thank you for blogging the series.

  3. I enjoyed reading your review! This made me laugh—> ‘And Jonny Lee Miller….damn. Jeremy who?’ SOOO true!!

    Initially I thought episode 1&2 were very slow and almost boring but after viewing the entire series and then viewing those episodes again I found really enjoyed it all. I thought Garai overplayed Emma a bit and some of her facial expressions are a little silly but overall I really liked her as Emma. The whole adaption was so full life and energy it was hard not to love it!! Basically I can’t stop watching it over and over… and over. : )

  4. While I liked two of the previous three adaptations of Emma, I fell in love with this one from the beginning. (I also fell in love with Jonny Lee Miller!) I didn’t have any problems with Romola Garai’s Emma. I think this is the only Emma where she slowly matures from a flighty 20-year-old (p. 1 “nearly twenty-one years”) to the lovely mature young woman we see in the final scenes. I have watched and rewatched this countless times, and I still find new things, and enjoy special moments over and over again. My favorite scene is the ball with Jonny Lee Miller’s emotion expressed so beautifully with a single downward glance, the dialog between Emma and Mr. Knightley, and their dance. Later after his proposal, he says he knew “after Boxhill,” but I think it’s clear he knew by the end of their dance. And the all-too-short scene at Donwell when he is remembering Emma at the dance shows his poignant longing. I’ve read some criticism of this Emma, that there’s no chemistry between Emma and Mr. Knightley. I think they must have been watching something different than what I watched!

    I have to disagree with your take on Tamsin Grieg’s Miss Bates, although I’m not sure I saw the depth the first time I watched this production. She is not muttering to herself as she leaves Hartfield after the wedding–if you listen to her, she is having a one-sided conversation with her mother. She is very lonely, with no one to talk to at home since her mother is withdrawn and silent (a departure from the book, I think, but it added depth to this production). After she calls to Harriet and Emma to come and listen to the letter from Jane, and they say they can’t because they’re going to visit the poor, we see her alone with her mother and the letter, but no one to really share it with. This portrayal of Miss Bates makes Emma’s treatment of her at Boxhill seem even more cruel and shows us what Mr. Knightly tries to tell Emma, what it means that Miss Bates has come down in the world.

    Finally, I thought this Emma adds a poignant twist, and if it’s not in the original, perhaps it should have been. Throughout most of four episodes, I’m convinced, as everyone else is, that this is a love story about Emma and Mr. Knightley. But when Emma goes to say goodbye to her father before leaving on her honeymoon trip, I suddenly found myself crying, and realizing that this has also been a story about the love between a daughter and her father. The opening way back at the beginning of episode one explained why her father wanted her so close–“he always expected the worst, and one day the worst did happen.” Already an over anxious man, he now lives in fear of losing his daughters as he did his wife. This is really the only version that, to me, explains why Emma can’t leave him and why Mr. Knightley will move to Hartfield “for as long as necessary.” The scene between Mr. Woodhouse and Emma at the Donwell strawberry party is very moving, too.

    So this is really two love stories–the love between a man and woman, Mr. Knightley and Emma, and the love between a father and a daughter. And I cry every time she has to say good bye to him (“two weeks–it’s an eternity!”. Oh, and by the way, he reminds me so much of my own father who was almost fifty when I was born and who loved me very much.

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