Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Emma" on PBS tonight, Jan 24

Starting tonight is Part 1 of 3 of a new BBC version of Jane Austen's novel Emma on Masterpiece Theater Classic on PBS.

Long ago, when I got my first “real” job in the book industry at the “other” book wholesaler, my entire job interview consisted of me and my future boss discussing which Jane Austen movie adaptation we liked the best (me: "Clueless". This was just pre-Colin Firth P&P.) Which made sense as I heard about the job when future boss met my Mom at a JASNA meeting. I too am a Janite. Currently, there’s no JASNA chapter in my city though I am a remote member of one a few hours away.

When I lived in New York I once had a mini JASNA at my house – a tea party complete with cucumber sandwiches, and we screened 3 versions of Emma - the Gwyneth Paltrow, the Kate Beckinsale, and "Clueless". Most people don’t know the Kate Beckinsale "Jane Austen's Emma" was done by the same Brits who did the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth P&P (it was the year prior). While the Gwyneth version was hugely popular, shot the name Emma into the top ten and drove Jane Austen back into the forefront of pop culture, we all hated it in my mini group. She seemed to have a split personality – really nice one minute and a super bitch the next. While I really liked some of the secondary characters, in the end it was a pale comparison to the Kate Beckinsale version. I loved her Mrs. Bates (Prunella Scales! You may remember her as Mrs. Fawlty from Fawtly Towers) and her Harriet (Samantha Morton) was much better. It’s hard to imagine the robust Toni Colette ever being so malleable. Kate’s Emma was always a tad bit bitchy, so her super-bitchy moments seemed authentic and honest, not disjointed and welded on. Kate trumped Gwyneth. But Alicia Silverstone’s Cher beat them both. Every time I watch it, I find more tiny details that are right from Austen. Sharp and hilarious and spot-on, I am skeptical any Jane movie will ever trump "Clueless" for me. Of course there is no Mrs. Bates in this version, but everything else is completely perfect. Being a HUGE pop culture fanatic as well as a literary snob, it is very rare that I find anything that hits the target from both angles.
So, I come to watching the new version of Emma with no small amount of trepidation. Expectations are high, but so is skepticism.


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Booksnyc said...

I dvr'd this last night but haven't watched yet. What did you think?

Carin Siegfried said...

I TiVo'ed it as well Booksnyc and haven't watched it yet. I'm tempted to wait until I have all 6 hours and then watch it in a marathon all at once.

Carin said...

I watched a little bit of it late last night when I couldn't sleep. I really like Romola Garai, but I am just not a fan of Emma. It was sort of like Madame Bovary for me...a total lack of likeable characters. I might try to watch this new series to give it another chance though.