Shiny Shelf


By Mags L Halliday on 21 October 2009

Emma Woodhouse is a bit spoilt, a bit idle and quite a bit thoughtless. She believes, despite her innocence in both romance and the financial reality of Regency marriage, that she is the perfect matchmaker. In her attempts to set up her friends, she causes heartbroken dreams and unrealistic expectations. She is, in short, clueless.

The new BBC adaptation of ‘Emma’ plays up the comedy. Yes, Emma (Romola Garai) is rich and indulged with the airs and presumptions of the landed gentry. But she is also graceless: she galumphs across drawing rooms and never hides her emotions. There is no art to her. That helps, when the heroine is a girl who makes a mess of nearly everyone’s lives. You need to believe that her mistakes are genuinely unconsidered. Garai’s Emma reminds me, oddly, of Daisy in ‘Spaced’. No-one has knocked the edges off her.

Mr Knightley, often played as straight-laced and stern, is – when played by Jonny Lee Miller – an indulgent older-brother figure. He initially lets Emma have her own way, and only censures her by withdrawing his companionship from her. Other characters are cut from the stereotypical BBC period adaptation: Michael Gambon as the fussy and somewhat embarrassing father; Tamsin Greig as the gossiping spinster; Christina Cole as the uppity society bride; and Blake Ritson as the unctuous vicar.

It works very well as a light adaptation, perfect fare for autumn, but for one odd thing: inconsistent point-of-view. Episode one opens with a prologue voiced over by Mr Knightley in the usual Austen privileged narrator style. Episode two has no voice over at all. Episode three has an internal monologue by Emma as she wonders if she loves Frank Churchill, but also in-vision flashbacks from the point-of-view of Mr Knightley. Who, exactly, is telling us this story?

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