Masterpiece Review: Emma, Part 2

E: Remember our friend the Presidentrix, whom I mentioned in our commentary on part 1? Well, since we love talking to her about Costume Drama (among other things) and since we felt down one without M to kick around, we’ve asked her to be our first ever guest blogger and chatter with us about week’s sadly short installment of the miniseries Emma.  Why only an hour, PBS scheduling masters? We’re feeling bereft.

C: Well, the miniseries is only 4 hours total. I don’t know why they decided to break it over 3 weeks, but I guess we’ll be getting the same shorter runtime next Sunday.

E: Travesty! So, part 2 covered the introduction of the loathesome Mrs. Elton into Highbury society, the ball, various rescues of Harriet Smith and various trials of Jane Fairfax. And lots and lots of romantic speculation, by many people other than Emma. We find out who mentored Emma’s terrible sense of romantic compatibility. Also, somebody falls in love. Maybe more than one somebody.

I liked the symmetry of this episode; we start with Mrs. Weston imagining Mr. Knightley imagining Jane Fairfax dwelling at Donwell, and end with Mr. Knightley actually dreaming about Emma. Very nice.

C: I’m really charmed by this miniseries so far, and the development of Emma and Mr. Knightley’s relationship in this segment plays a huge part in that. Having him perceive her feelings of inadequacy about never having traveled, and suggesting the trip to Box Hill, was such a brilliant way to spin something from the book into a character-advancing moment.

E: Yes and yes.

P: Despite its all-too-short duration, I warmed to Emma (the character) over this most recent installment. Not that I disliked her previously, but I did wonder during the first two hours whether somehow, however unintentionally, this adaptation had been stolen out from under its eponymous character and become Mr. Knightley’s story, instead. I can’t say exactly how I came to feel this way.

C: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but they’ve certainly brought him into the center of the story – though I think he’s sharing the spotlight with Emma.

E: Most of the newish-BBC Austen films try to flesh out the hero, don’t you think?  Starting, of course, with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and going from there.  I think it’s a nice trend generally (though it shouldn’t be at the expense of the audience liking the heroine!).

P: It’s not inconceivable that the impression traces to my immoderate enjoyment of the crinkles around Johnny Lee Miller’s eyes! Hmm… But whatever my reasons, during the previous episode I connected with Knightley and the interplay of his frustration, earnestness and compassion far better than I did with Emma’s mugging and almost unmodulated enthusiasm. Not having read the book or come to this adaptation with many preconceptions, I was in no way offended by Romola Garai’s performance – in fact, I was not unfrequently charmed by it – but it didn’t draw me in. Thus, I enjoyed the gentler, more reflective Emma we saw gradually disclosed in this episode.

C: She did to have calmed down somewhat – without losing all the giddiness.

P: Right! Emma is becoming more reflective, but she’s still the same Old Bouncy Tigger at heart.

E: Snort. 🙂 I like the Tigger aspect myself, if only for the way it highlights her moments of reflection and actual insight – she’s young, and she’s exuberant, and trying to figure out her world.

P: She endeared herself to me by hesitating over and awakening to innocent but weighty questions about love, by checking herself around poor red-nosed, miserable Harriet, and, above all, by her quiet moments with Knightley.

C: Oh, the scenes with her talking to herself, whether out loud ranting about Mrs. Elton or in her own mind musing about love, were my favorites. Sandy Welch, the screenwriter of family favorites Our Mutual Friend (1998) and North and South (2004) seems to have figured out how to use voiceover tastefully – that’s rare! Anyhoo… you saying about Emma and Mr. Knightley?

P: What lovely chemistry they have! I don’t know if I am waiting breathlessly to see them fling themselves into one another’s arms, but I’d be devastated at the thought of them going without each other’s confidence.

C: I agree, it’s not scintillating sexual chemistry so much as a believable portrayal of deep friendship turning to love.

P: If I had to pick a single favorite moment between the two, it would either be the scene where they apologize to one another for their earlier rush to misjudgment, or the one where Knightley candidly announces that he ‘likes an open disposition.’ The remark was sweeter than mere foreshadowing; I thought it elicited just what one likes about Emma – precisely that she has such a very open heart, open disposition, aaaand open mouth.

C: It probably helps us like Emma more, too, now that there’s someone just as interfering and not well-intentioned in town!

E: I can’t decide if I’m disappointed in Mrs. Elton yet. Witchy as Christina Cole may be, Juliet Stevenson was masterfully nasty, and it’s hard not to hold all subsequent Augusta Elton’s to that standard.

C: Cole’s doing something quite different here than her stiff, snitty antagonist roles in other things – she’s made Mrs. Elton incredibly irritating instead of conniving. Different, but I think it works.

E: Speaking of disappointments: Frank is a turd. And, fine, that is not new to this production, but as I observed last time, without Ewan McGregor’s charm, I just want to smack him upside the head.  He’s horrid unpleasant to Jane. Why ever would Emma suspect him of being involved with Jane? My own Mr. E, who watches with us but is less familiar with the story, puzzles over why Mr. Knightley thinks there’s an understanding between Jane and Frank. Were I in Emma’s shoes, I wouldn’t believe it either.

C: He does go out of his way to be a jerk to Jane in front of Emma.

P: You’re right, E, Frank sucks! It’s hard to tell what Emma sees in him. Though I suppose he does share some of her worst habits and subtly encourage her to make free with them, so perhaps she is drawn to his permissiveness. (Hoho! The exact opposite of righteous Knightley, who won’t let her get away with anything! Smooth move, Jane Austen. Smooth move.)

E: Oh, very nice.  She IS drawn to his permissiveness, in contrast to her father’s fussiness and Mr. Knightley’s uprightness.  Good one, Jane Austen.  Still, Frank sucks.  I really want him called on it.   Speaking of Frank and the ladies, though, what could be more suggestive than the hilariously fatuous looks Harriet lavishes upon Frank after the episode with the gypsies?

P: Indeed.  What I’m wondering, though, is: am I supposed to dislike Jane Fairfax so badly? I fear that my opinion reflects badly on my taste and moral character, but I do. It’s not her many feminine perfections – at least, I think not – but she has this way of smiling in an insipid kind of way that very nearly frightens me. There are no secret sociopaths in Jane Austen, though, are there? Please assure me that she will not turn out to axe murder anyone! And, if you can, assure me that I will like her better by the end of the story?

C: I can assure you that she’s not really a psychokiller, at any rate! I feel sympathy for her, for reasons revealed in the final episode. One thing I’ve always wondered, though, is why every adaptation leaves in the parts where Jane is talked about as “sickly,” but the role is never played that way.

E: Polly Walker in the ’96 was certainly too robust.  But this Jane is kind of tiny, isn’t she?  Maybe that’s their way of making her look sickly or frail?  I forget about that, but that’s why everyone freaks out when she goes for a walk down the street, huh?

C: Exactly.

E: The trouble with that is that she’s such a poor little creature, and so sweet and so put upon by everyone (from Mrs. Elton, never more unappealing, but also the well-meaning aunt who never lets her speak) it’s hard to see why Emma doesn’t warm to her.

C: I can understand it.  Emma might get over the fact that Jane does everything better than her if Jane were friendly, but she’s not.

P: Shall I be the first to object that there was NOT NEARLY ENOUGH PAPA WOODHOUSE this time?

E: The first, but not the last.  All he did this week was meander, sleep and wave! That leaves a big gap, because he was quite possibly the best part of part 1.

P: Hartfield must suffer at his scarcity. I suspect there was cake at that ball, consumed without interruption!

C: Dear me, that sounds serious! Basins of gruel for everybody!

E: Indeed.  Before we finish, though, we really ought to be paying more attention to the clothes.  I adored Emma’s gown for the ball.  And the hair!  Maybe it’s a weird thing to notice, but the hair styling is glorious. The actress who plays Harriet, Louise Dylan, has to be the only person I’ve ever seen truly flattered by those side curls.  Often that looks fussy and freaky, but on her it just looks soft and natural and it makes me smile.

P: Always expect me to be distracted by the costume part of any costume drama. And so far I’ve generally enjoyed the frocks made for this production. (With exceptions; what is *up* with poor Miss Taylor’s clothes? Everyone else has such lovely things! Was fashionable maternity wear equally hard to come by back then?) I lust after Emma’s delicate yellow floral gown especially. Would we call it ‘sprigged’? I believe we would! But I am perhaps equally – and embarrassingly – covetous of horrid Mrs’ Elton’s Tudor-inspired yellow and pink velvet Spencer jacket, no matter how notably ‘over-trimmed’ it may be. I have not her horror of finery!

C: Finery is fine with me 🙂  Thanks so much for joining us, Presidentrix, it’s been a pleasure.  We’ll see everybody next week for the finale!

Emma, Part 3

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7 comments on “Masterpiece Review: Emma, Part 2

  1. Jessica Sison says:

    I already saw Part III, it aired right after Part II here on my PBS station. Did something happen to yours?

    • E says:

      Lucky! I’m jealous. The rest airs here Feb. 7th. It’s odd – I can see it listed as a two part miniseries, but it’s definitely airing in three parts. 😦 I want more! Now!

    • E says:

      It just occurred to me that perhaps your station aired the whole thing this past Sunday so as not to compete with the Superbowl? It’s interesting counter programming, that’s for sure.

  2. Gina says:

    That was a delightful review! Thanks, all!

  3. Pam says:

    Mmmmm,I love those crinkles around the eyes too…..

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