21 August 2010

timeless Emma

People don't seem to have any trouble liking Jane Austen.

What she writes about is so universal, you get it immediately. Never mind if the language can be dull and suffocating sometimes. Once you plow past the stiff formalities in her characters' conversations, you find yourself, rather grudgingly, liking Austen after all.

To be honest, I've always enjoyed the movie adaptations more than her novels--which is saying a lot, because I'm more of a "the-book-is-always-better-than-the-movie" person.

Now, over the years, I've read and watched different versions of Emma more than I care to admit. Well, okay, I admit to the painful struggle of teaching my younger sister to read a Young Adults Classic edition of Emma while I was 12 and she was 10 (and I failed miserably in that attempt, because now she refuses to read any classics).

So I wasn't really an Emma 'virgin' when I decided to watch BBC One's 2009 four-part TV series on this Austen classic one lazy Saturday afternoon.

I think it's amazing that fans are given the opportunity to enjoy Emma for four hours, rather than the more constraining 2-hour movie format. The characters then become more fleshed out, and there's plenty of opportunity to put in more detail to the plot without being long-winding. And four hours seriously give you more time to fall in love with the characters.

I've read Emma several times, but screenwriter Sandy Welch's whipsmart script provides a fresh approach. At first I felt a bit troubled with the way the arguments between Emma and Mr. Knightley were so lively at times (I mean weren't we all used to the exchange of veiled barbs while they were sitting stiffly on couches or something?), but I eventually got used to this new approach by BBC.

Romola Garai, who plays Emma Woodhouse, is just so LUMINOUS in this role; the girl seriously does not have any bad angles. Jonny Lee Miller (whom I first loved when he played Sick Boy in Trainspotting) is the best Mr. Knightley I've ever come across. There's something so satisfying about seeing him act in a period piece because I'm not used to it (although he was fair enough in Plunkett and Macleane). And Michael Gambon as Emma's extremely nervous, hypochondriac of a father, Mr. Woodhouse--well, you really can't go wrong with having Michael Gambon in a movie, right?

P.S. Eighteen years after my 12-year-old self failed to convince my sister that Emma is worth spending time on, I finally got her to watch this 4-hour BBC special. Success at last!


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