Monday, January 25, 2010


I admit it--I am one of those people. Whenever a new film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel comes out (and they've been thick as fleas these past few years, haven't they?) I'm in the front row with the cheese popcorn, mesmerized. Now, why a person ever needs to watch more than one version of Mansfield Park in her life, I don't know. I offer no rational explanation. Why does my cat punch holes in every paperback cover she can sink her sharp little teeth into? No idea. It's a force of nature. We cannot explain; we can only obey.

So: last night, Emma. The only wealthy Jane Austen heroine, and the most deliciously flawed. BBC. Romola Garai. I'm so there. Sweep me away, Masterpiece Theatre!

Opening credits. Toes tingling with anticipation. And then...a voiceover.

Fight off immediate sense of dread. Because too many times, voiceover = bad movie. (Is it just me, or have other people noticed that, too?) Voiceovers explain things, and this voiceover insisted on explaining stuff that would be perfectly obvious from watching the characters. Yes, Emma's father is a hypochondriac who fears the worst at all times. For Pete's sake, you've got Michael Gambon playing him--Michael Gambon, whose portrayal of Squire Hamley in Wives and Daughters* made me cry (and I do not cry easily--witness a theater production of Les Miserables, sobs and stifled weeping all through the audience, and me? A stone. That's how hard my heart is, people.) Michael Gambon, as I say, who can express a subtlety with an eyelid, and you have to sum his character up for us before the story even starts?

I wish I could say that this new Emma destroyed my voiceover prejudice forever. It's not terrible, but swept away? I felt a few breezes, but otherwise, not so much. The overtelling continued throughout the episode, with dialogue (not Austen's--she knew better) telegraphing what was to come, rather than letting the action play out for the viewer. Austen was the master of delicious scene-building--why not let us enjoy it, and the surprises that come with it?

I'm no Austen purist (here's proof), but alas, I was underwhelmed. However: two more episodes are to come, and I'll be there, front and center. A tepid version of Jane still beats most else, after all. Besides--who am I to deny a force of nature?

*If you're a fellow Austen and/or costume drama fan, and you haven't seen Wives and Daughters yet, GO. Order the DVD from, put it in your Netflix queue. Now. I'll wait. While you're at it, get the book by Elizabeth Gaskell. Big, fat, luscious read. You won't regret it, I promise.



Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Hi Chris! I have NOT seen Wives & Daughters; I will! As for Emma, yeah. I liked it, ish. I'm not sure about Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightly. And funny: didn't he and the guy who played Elton BOTH play Edmund (was that his name?) in different Mansfield Parks? Ah, the world of the costume drama is such an incestuous one. Anyway, re: Emma, I had more fun watching the old biddies of Cranford last week, so that kind of tells you something, but I'm not sure what :-)

See you Wednesday!

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Walter Rowntree said...

I still haven't started on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Will I become an Austen fanatic? Dare I risk it? I do have rather an addictive personality, but I can think of worse things to be a fanatic about...

5:19 PM  
Blogger Melissa Marsh said...

I have to admit a curiosity for why they keep making these Austen movies again and again within the space of a few years (or even months it seems!). Personally, I think I liked the Emma version with Kate Beckinsale the best. I did enjoy the Pride and Prejudice with Matthew Mc. and Keira Knightley, though Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Oh, Laini, you must see W&D. One of my all-time favorites. The miniseries is how I discovered Elizabeth Gaskell, and she's a treasure.

I agree with you about Johnny Lee Miller as Knightley--I'm not quite getting it. And I had such high hopes for Romola Garai--she was fabulous in Daniel Deronda (another fave). BBC is an incestuous little world, isn't it? Like 6 degrees of separation, except you could probably narrow it down to 3. Jodhi May was in Daniel Deronda, too.

Funny about Cranford, I just discovered it and put it on my list. Must bump it up to the top!

9:10 PM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Walter, Mitch survived P&P&Z and has not yet shown an inclination for any other Austen. Pity. But he's always willing to watch an adaptation with me, bless his heart.

In any case, if you did become addicted to Austen, the only downside is that she only wrote six novels. Which is probably why all us fanatics glom onto every production that comes down the pike!

9:12 PM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, I agree 100%--the Beckinsale Emma is the best! Although I discovered a miniseries from 1972, which of course now I have to watch. :)

Keira was okay, but for me, Jennifer Ehle will always be the definitive Elizabeth. As Mr. Firth is Darcy, of course.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous sally nemeth said...

Pesonally, not an Austen fanatic. Love her, but not in that kinda way. But I'll watch Michael Gambon read the phone book. The Singing Detective remains one of the great, fearless performances of all time. Too bad about the overdone V.O. In rare cases, it works, but often it's just lazy screenwriting.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Nowak said...

Sigh. I just don't get the Austen thing. I'm such an uncultured hick. I'm hopelessly weird. You know what I'm listening to right now? The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang soundtrack. No joke. Go ahead and laugh.

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless claims that the only reason anyone is reading Austen right now is because Meyer hyped her in the Twilight books. Somehow, I think it's not that simplistic. Maybe that's why Austen's popular with tweens, but I hardly think folks like you and Cheryl Klein are so easily influenced.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Walter Rowntree said...

"she only wrote six novels. Which is probably why all us fanatics glom onto every production that comes down the pike!"
Ha! Very perceptive, Chris. Only 6 novels, huh? Well, here's a really good idea: Write another Austen Novel. Wrap some fluff around it discussing it as a "Recently discovered and suspected Austen manuscript", you know, with heavy footnotes and Ed. notes and stuff. If it takes off, you could do a whole 'lost manuscript' series, writing one novel in the style of each of your several favs. Wouldn't that be fun! You can have that idea for free. You have my permission to keep it on the back burner until your own style is firmly established. I wouldn't want any latent schizophrenia to be triggered by premature pursuit of this necessarily 'in another's head' opus.
Lisa - Do what I do! Don't ever actually read any fine literature, thus leaving open the possibility that you would adore it if you ever did. (See my previous post)

5:29 PM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Sally, the V.O. here struck me as just that--lazy screenwriting. I've seen 2 other versions of Emma that didn't need any such crutch.

And Michael Gambon--yes. An amazing actor. After Wives & Daughters, I'm now a lifelong fan. I'll have to get the Singing Detective!

8:22 AM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Lisa, I don't agree with your friend. I've been an Austen junkie since I was 14 or thereabouts and first read P&P. What hooked me was her sarcastic wit, and the fact that she was writing people 200 years ago whom I could recognize today--all the same faults and foibles.

That said, she's an acquired taste--I've talked with lots of folks who just can't get past her writing style. I'm the same with Faulkner. Tried it--can't do it.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Walter--Actually, there's a flourishing business in Austen sequels. I've been meaning to write a blog post about this for months--I'll try to get to it soon.

8:26 AM  
Blogger ann foxlee said...

ugh... I too am a total sucker for anything Austen, but this sounds like my worst fear of what it could be. I think I won't spend time on it.
Thanks for saving me the disappointment!!

And thanks again for the great talk last night!

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Devon Ellington said...

I haven't seen that adaptation again. Sounds intriguing. Sometimes I learn more from what doesn't work than what does . . .

1:51 PM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Ann, thanks again for coming to the event! We had a blast. And who knows, other people might love this version of Emma. Just didn't sit right with me. I do want to watch the whole thing, though.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Devon, I agree--I've learned tons from analyzing why something (book or movie) isn't working for me. In fact, if I find myself detached enough to start analyzing, it's a safe bet that the story hasn't succeeded in sweeping me up.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Walter Rowntree said...

Yeah, and when you've been swept up you feel slightly disoriented and out of place when you leave the theater. Like the real world isn't quite right for you anymore. Fortunately that passes in a few minutes. The Lord of the Rings movies had that effect on me (3 hours long, how could they not?), and more recently Avatar (interestingly, not so much because it was so enthralling, but it was so visually striking. I wonder if the 3D effect is responsible).

5:58 PM  

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