Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Does Spooks (MI-5) have in Common with Pride and Prejudice?

What does Spooks have in common with Pride and Prejudice? On the surface very little. OK, there's that Firth thing. Which actually sounds like more of a connection than it is, considering the two actors (Peter Firth of Spooks and Colin Firth of Pride and Prejudice) are not related.

Besides that and the fact that both take place in England, as a matter of plot and purpose, they are very different indeed.


Having always been more of a Pride & Prejudice kind of gal, I find myself constantly fascinated with the fact that I am head over heels with the TV show Spooks. It seems so strange, but when I am not watching it, I am often thinking of it.

What hold it has, is the same one that other excellent TV drama has -- a fully realized "other world". A world where I can step inside and live for a while. This world is complete, comfortable, peopled with individuals that are flawed and real, interesting and incredibly alive - despite being fictional. In both Spooks and in good period drama, I am transported.

There is nothing wrong with my regular life. I am a happy person who lives squarely in reality. In fact, so squarely in reality, that most film and TV bores me. I do not readily give up the time it takes to watch screens. Still, put something supremely transporting on the screen and I am a willing participant.

I hand over responsibility for what fills my mind during the hours I am with a show like Spooks. And the beautiful thing is, that when it's over I am not ashamed for having done so. Really good drama is like reading a really good book. When you shut the cover, the contents stay with you. When I flip off the show at the end of Spooks, it is the same.  I can readily picture the "Grid". I can remember the faces and conversations of my fictional companions there. I can remember how I feel while watching it and can almost think of it as another place I live. Just as, while watching Pride and Prejudice, can see myself as that 6th Bennett sister.

When drama is superb, its effect on my mind, my thoughts, my memory, my life can be profound. Even though it is just TV.

And, oh yeah, there's something else --- they both have Matthew MacFadyen. And, wait, now that I'm thinking of it, each features one of the best couples of all time! (Elizabeth & Darcy and Harry & Ruth). Wow, I guess there is a lot.

"What Does Spooks (MI-5) have in Common with Pride and Prejudice?" LostinBritishTV

Friday, July 29, 2011

Emma Cubed. Four Emma Adaptations -- all Acting Performances Graded

I have had so much fun with Emma lately, I wasn't quite ready to give her up. Having now formed opinions on the performances of most of the actors and actresses in most of the key roles in all four adaptations, I've decided to go ahead and rank 'em!

For my review and comparison of the overall quality of the adaptations see  "So Many Emmas, So Little Time."


Emma Woodhouse
A four way tie. All the actresses are good in this role and I enjoy various things about each, but none truly satisfies what I want to see in the title role of Emma. Each has some flaw in her performance that is too distracting to overlook. 

Gwyneth Paltrow (1996 Movie) is too languid and aristocratic for my taste and I find her voice to be a distraction. Kate Beckinsale (1996 TV) is excellent in many ways, but snooty and not very likeable. I don't find Doran Godwin (1972) as problematic as many others do, but she is too theatrical and overblown. And, although Romola Garai (2009) is very appealing in general, I find her eye rolling, scowling and insecurity too modern a take on this character that makes her seem not so much young, as juvenile. They all rate a B+

 Too aristocratic                         Too snooty/unlikable        Too many odd facial tics        Too modern&juvenile


 Mr. Knightley

 
1. Jonny Lee Miller (2009). He is simply excellent. I can hardly picture anyone else in the role after seeing him. He completely inhabits Mr. Knightley and brings every characteristic I want to see: strength, care, gentlemanliness, importance, friendly openness, but just a touch of stress that comes from great responsibility. Everything. A+

2. Jeremy Northam (1996 Movie). Clearly a beautiful man, maybe a touch too much for this part. He brings a very relaxed quality to Knightley and is kind and accessible. Very gentlemanlike, no doubt. But, there is no romantic tension in this version because it is inconceivable that someone wouldn't notice and fancy him.  A



3. John Carson (1972). Carson's performance is wonderful in this role, though he gets overlooked. He has a wonderfully caring, slightly paternalistic, very grown-up charm that I appreciate. However, he really is too old (relative to his leading lady) to pull off this role.     A-



4. Mark Strong (1996 TV). He brings a more passionate and intense style of Knightley than the others. I like him, but am troubled that he doesn't seem to like Emma for most of the picture. By the end, he becomes more appealing. B+


 
Mr. Woodhouse

1. Michael Gambon (2009). His performance is unbelievably touching and heartrending. He brings the sweet silly earnest adorability of Mr. Woodhouse, adding so much to the story. I would watch it again and again just to see him. Perfect acting. A+


2. Bernard Hepton (1996 TV). I enjoyed his performance in this role too. He is very enjoyable and gets the role entirely. He is allowed to be funny and poignant and some of his moments with Miss Bates are the best in the film.   A

 
3. Donald Eccles (1972). I definitely like his dottering-old-man-ness. He is funny, but almost more pathetic than loveable. You can see his frailness, but very little charm. His performance is good, but not a very likeable one. Its easy to see why his Emma (Doran Godwin) gets fed up with him sometimes. B+


4. Denys Hawthorne (1996 Movie). This characterization is entirely forgettable. It is a shame, because Mr. Woodhouse can be the backbone of the Emma story - her relationship to her father is one of the things that makes her likable in spite of her faults. This Mr. Woodhouse is given almost nothing to work with.   C.


Miss Bates
This is a tough one! Wow, we have some wonderful performances. The tiniest slightest edge goes to . . .

1. Sophie Thompson (1996 Movie). She is incredible in this role. So touching, that simply thinking about her performance can bring me to tears. Her performance is quintessential Miss Bates and it would take a lot to dislodge it from my brain. Amazing acting.  A+


2. Tamsin Greig (2009). She is also outstanding. If anyone could come close to dislodging Sophie Thompson, it is Tamsin Greig. She is touching and heart rending as well. I care about her and like her. Wonderful acting. A+

[It is interesting that the two actresses above are in their early/mid 30s in this role and the two actresses below are in their 60s. Its a funny split. I like them all, but think the younger age suits the character better.]


3. Prunella Scales (1996 TV) turns in a wonderful performance as Miss Bates. She is funny and touching. This is a tough field, because all the actresses do a fantastic job in the role. She lacks that extra something powerful that Tamsin and Sophie bring. But she is a wonderful Miss Bates too.   A

4. Constance Chapman (1972) seems old enough to be Mrs. Bates, rather than Miss, and feels unsuited for this role -- though I'm not sure Jane Austen ever says anything about the age of Miss Bates, so I guess she could be 60ish. In any case, I think she gives a fine and touching performance as well.   A-


Harriet Smith
 
1. Louise Dylan (2009). She is excellent; great look and performance. She brings out the prettiness, sweetness, pliability and slight stubbornness, but allows us to like Harriet and not really worry about her or think about her all that much. You can see why Emma would go out of her way to pay attention to this Harriet, but you can also see that Harriet would better be left alone to live a simple life. Great job. A

2. Debbie Bowen (1972). This Harriet is a fine one, though not superb. She is a bit interesting, a bit annoying. At times she seems quite pretty and appealing. She shows  huge amount of deference to Emma, which is a good thing and makes for a nice little sidekick.  B+


3. Samantha Morton (1996 TV). Also a nice performance, though a bit irritating. I like how she looks, though she gets too cloying and pushy. She is sweet enough, but I honestly don't know why Emma gives a crap what this Harriet is doing.   B



4. Toni Collette (1996 Movie). This is my least favorite Harriet. I don't know why exactly, she just irritates me. I don't like it when she is on screen. She seems big and horsey, which may seem like a mean thing to say, and I am not usually mean, but I don't think she is suited to this role. I just want to slap her. I think Harriet should be simple, sweet, likeable, but not worthy of too much consideration. I truly can't fathom why Gwyneth Paltrow is hanging out with her.     B-


Frank Churchill
1. Rupert Evans (2009). Perfect Frank. He really sells the role. He is  charming and superficial but there is also a depth to him that is interesting enough to want to get to know him better. It is hard to play the role because Frank, himself, has to be a good actor; the actor who plays him has to be doubly good and manage to suggest that Frank is in fact acting, without giving anything away. Rupert does just that. A+

2. Raymond Coulhard (1996 TV) has a different take on Frank, but a very nice one. He is very sparky and seductive - a real dandy on the surface. But he is also played with depth and interest that I like. He and Emma (Kate Beckinsale) have great chemistry; unfortunately, far better than hers with Mr. Knightley in this one.   A

 
3. Ewan McGregor (1996 Movie). Its crazy to say this, because Ewan McGregor is a hotty and a good actor, but he is a boring Frank Churchill. He just doesn't bring anything special to the role and is fairly forgettable. I'm not sure that's his fault or the screenwriters, but its a disappointment. There is little chemistry between Emma (Gwyneth) and Frank and that makes their relationship boring.  B


4. Robert East (1972). I like the way he plays Frank: warm and sophisticated. His manners are wonderful, but he has exaggerated expressions that are somewhat irritating. This Frank is very capable but not quite desirable enough. Still he and Doran have a nice easy chemistry that I like.  B


Jane Fairfax
1. Olivia Williams (1996 TV). She is perfect as Jane Fairfax! She has a calm understated elegance. She is all about perfect propriety and gentleness. But there is a deeper intelligence about this character that makes you know there is more than meets the eye. Olivia really brings it to the role.   A+ 

[I think its interesting that the rest of these Janes are played with a bit of an accent. Is this an intentional choice to make Jane seem more cosmopolitan? Also, my 2nd and 3rd choice Janes have a very similar look with their heart shaped little faces and huge round eyes.]

2. Laura Piper (2009).  She is good. One of my favorite scenes in any Emma is where she is talking to Emma about being wearied in spirit; Laura's performance is touching and always plays through my mind when I think of Jane.  A-
 
3. Ania Marson (1972). I think she is a bit too short tempered and harsh. She certainly gets across the worry and angst of the character, but not so much of the delicacy and sweetness.  B

4. Polly Walker (1996 Movie). Other than the fact she is gorgeous, she brings little to the role. She just sits there trying not to look too insanely sexy- which is hard to do, so I should give her credit for it. I can't remember anything about her performance, other than her physical presence.  B-


Mr. Elton

 
1. Blake Ritson (2009) does it all! He makes Elton funny, but still sexy. Understandable with a nice depth to his character, but someone you don't really like. Although he is comic relief, he isn't superficial. This is a fabulous performance. Absolutely fabulous.   A+


 
2. Timothy Peters (1972). He brings a good understanding of what drives Elton -- playing him in a serious way, rather than for laughs. He's not totally repulsive, just misguided and self-interested. I think he adds a lot to the production.  He's almost likeable if he weren't so smarmy.  A- 



 
3. Alan Cumming (1996 Movie) plays Elton to great comic effect. Unfortunately, you don't get a deeper feel for him as a character. He is great and enjoyable, and in that way adds a lot to the production, but I feel like he is given short-shrift in this production.   A-



4. Dominic Rowan (1996 TV). He plays the character as if he has a mouthful of marbles. Yes, smarmy is good for Elton, but not so much that we can't figure out why anyone would see him as a good catch.  Still, he makes a really good partner to Mrs. Elton and he comes alive in those scenes.  Overall, B+


Mrs. Elton

Mrs. Elton is another character, like Miss Bates, that must be so fun for actresses to play; there is a lot to work with and all of these actresses turn in performances that are funny and fun.


1. Lucy Robinson (1996 TV) is perfect. She personifies this role. She makes it funny and you feel just the tiniest bit sorry for her. She reaches deep and grabs that bit of humanity -- and then pulls it out and throws sarcasm on top. It is a treat to hate her.  A+

2. Fiona Walker (1972) has to be one of the best parts of the 1972 adaptation. She has such a great expression of distaste and such wonderful bossiness toward Jane.  Really livens things up when she's around.  A

3. Juliet Stevenson (1996 Movie). Another wonderful take on Mrs. Elton.  She is unfortunately married to the most ridiculous of all the Elton's making it harder to fully develop her own humor and character. And she's also got the worst Jane to work with, so I think she suffers a bit.  A-

4. Christina Cole (2009). She gets to play so many of these unpleasant foils! (She's also gotten to be Caroline Bingley and Blanche Ingram.) She is wonderful here as well, using basic acid as her weapon of choice.  A-



 

That's enough! If pressed (right) I could probably continue this discussion with thoughts on John Knightly, Mrs and Mr Weston and Robert Martin, but I think it's time to close. So... here are the tallys:

The 2009 adaptation has most of my first place ratings - with 5. The 1996 TV adaptation has two first place rankings, the 1996 Movie has one and 1972 has none. But, lets not leave it there. With a bit more analysis, we can find out exactly how these 4 adaptations rank in terms of overall casting depth! (At least as far as these 9 main starring and supporting roles are concerned). 

So, I've given these actors grades' the standard point values on a gpa scale and tallied it all up.

Points  For the grade:
4.3       A+
4.0       A
3.7       A-
3.3       B+
3.0       B
2.7       B-
2.0       C

• The 2009 Adaptation (staring Romola Garai) wins the All Around Best-Casted Production Award with a CPA* of 4.067. Well done!
• In second place, with a CPA of 3.767 is the 1996 Television adaptation starring Kate Beckinsale. 
• Third place goes to our sleeper adaptation, the 1972 BBC television production starring Doran Godwin. Wow. Its CPA is a strong 3.267.
• Even the last place, 1996 feature film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, gets a respectable 3.20 CPA, which is equivalent to about a B+. Not bad at all.

*Casting Points Average ! ha

Well, Emma, it has been a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Good night for now; see all you adaptations again in a year or so.


"Emma Cubed. Four Emma Adaptations -- all Acting Performances Graded" LostinBritishTV

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So Many Emmas, So Little Time -- Adaptations from 1972, 1996, 1996 and 2009

There is a wealth of Emmas out there. I've seen them all before (the 1972 version with Doran Godwin, the 1996 feature film with Gwyneth Paltrow, the 1996 television adaptation with Kate Beckinsale, and the 2009 version with Romola Garai) but never all in a row.  I thought this might make a good project for our 16 day road trip recently but I never even got started.

The other night was a good one to pop some dvds into the laptop, so I dug in -- and have since learned a number of things, most importantly: this is not a task for the faint of heart! We're talking four versions, totaling about 12 hours of Emma. I also learned that it probably would have been best to work my way forward from the 1972 version on, so to not be prejudiced by the stunning production values of the most recent, but mundane considerations prevailed and I had to start with the 2009 version, because it needed to go back to the library.  In any case, after arduous hours of viewing, here they are, in the order I watched them, . . . the Emmas!

Emma (2009, 4 hours) Romola Garai & Jonny Lee Miller
This one stars the gorgeous actress Romola Garai, who was actually 27 or so as Emma, making her the oldest of these Emmas, but funnily enough, she comes across as the youngest.

I think this might be because her take on the character includes a lot of scowling and eye rolling and other more modern/juvenile behaviors. She allows her feelings to show on her face in a very non-Regency attitude and is just a slight disappointment. I want Emma to have more dignity and elegance.  And, this is probably unfair, but she is almost too sexy. . . I mean, I want Emma to be really lovely and really refined. Romola just screams sex appeal instead - which is not exactly the same thing. Still I liked her, and I liked her in combination with Harriet, and in combination with her father, and with Mr. Elton, and most importantly, with Mr. Knightley. And by the end of the movie I really came around to her (or did she come around to the character?).

However, Jonny Lee Miller is another story. He is amazing amd gets awarded the crown as my perfect Mr. Knightley. He is the embodiment of Knightley. He is attractive, strong, and charming but slightly distant. He looks old enough, in control enough, kind enough. He has just that touch of the harried, primary land owner running everything, about him. Although he is very attractive, he looks like a real man and definitely comes across as a grown up. Which is definitely a sexy thing for Mr. Knightley to be.


As a couple, these two may just be my favorite as well. They have a very nice chemistry. You see just the right amounts of friendship, attraction, clashing and familial care-taking from them. Together they get it just right.

There are so many things to value in this production, it is hard to name them all. The cast is uniformly wonderful, but a special shout out to Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse who is simply outstanding. In fact, this is the role that made me like him. I hated him as Dumbledore. I never felt that he understood that role, doing too much shouting and giving off intensity, rather than the cool light intellectualism Dumbledore needed. So I had to work past that. But it was very easy to work past in the first minutes of seeing him as Mr. Woodhouse. He is simply brilliant - funny, sad, sweet, poignant.

Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates is another one whose acting is just stunning.  She is wonderful, also adds comedy, sadness and sweetness just as Mr Woodhouse does. Louise Dylan as Harriet, is also perfectly cast. She has a sweet, light, empty compliance that I really like. She is pretty but doesn't outshine Emma. In fact, I think this adaptation also gets my award for the most parts that are perfectly cast.

One of my favorite things about this production is the way Mr. Knightley's brother (John Knightley) gets to be fleshed out. He, along with Mr. Palmer from Sense and Sensibility are two of my favorite unsung Jane Austen characters. They are both strange and antisocial but have deeper, better characteristics than they are usually given a chance to show. In this adaptation, Dan Fredenburgh, gets a lot to work with as John Knightley and he makes the most of this ambiguous, introverted, kind but rather biting character.

There is very little to fault in this adaptation, unless you are an Austen purist. A lot of little details have been added to the story. But, personally, I like how they layered on the theme of the three children who'd lost parents and how their stories were parallel in some ways yet their lives so different. The theme was skillfully woven throughout the show. Well done. Also, action is added that takes place before the Jane Austen book opens. Again, I not only don't mind this departure, I thought it added to the production. They knew what they were about and orchestrated the adaptation brilliantly.

The cinematography, locations, dresses, hairstyles are all stunning and very Regency appropriate as far as I can tell. In fact, I would go out on a little limb here and say this is a visually perfect production.

Emma (1996, 2 hours) Gwyneth Paltrow & Jeremy Northam
This is another really beautiful production. The locations, costumes, hairstyles, cinematography are very visually appealing.

Gwyneth has such an appropriate aristocratic beauty - her long neck, posture, and slim figure look exactly like what I picture a Regency era heiress should display. She acts this role with the elegance and decorum that Romola didn't, which should make me happy, but I think she has a different problem. She comes across as almost too aristocratic. Part of that may be her accent which slips in and out of something I associate with an east coast American haughtiness rather than Regency country refined. She is the opposite of Romola in that, at 24, Gwyneth comes across as older than her years. Gwyneth's Emma seems too grown up, too in control, and resultantly, a little too evenly matched with this very gorgeous young Mr. Knightley.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-mQ3FA22NzpU/TccPpGuwa8I/AAAAAAAAAIo/AIP7VB-WXDI/s1600/Emma+and+Mr+Knightley+1996+%2528Mirimax%2529.jpg
So, Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley. He is a beautiful man and extremely attractive and elegant himself. But given this, and Gwyneth's slightly "older" portrayal of Emma, I always spend this movie thinking why aren't they noticing each other sooner!? It doesn't make sense that Emma wouldn't have thought of him in that way until the end. I think of him in that way the minute he walks on screen. Especially, because he and Gwyneth have a very companionable chemistry.

I like his portrayal of Knightley, but he comes off as a little too kind and gentle. He has a very relaxed, gentleman of leisure attitude which is nice, but doesn't perfectly suit my idea of what Knightley needs to be. However,  I really love his performance, especially as his interest in Emma becomes more and more apparent.

This film is full of comedy. Mr. Elton (Alan Cumming) is there for comedic effect and is great at it; though it is hard to picture him as an attractive beau of the neighborhood kind of guy; he's a bit more of the neighborhood creep. Miss Bates is one of the high points of this adaptation. She is very amusing ("pork! mother") and also heartbreaking. Sophie Thompson's version of this character makes my heart break. It is wonderful.

I don't care for this Harriet (Toni Collette) who appears so big next to Emma - I don't mean fat, just tall, well grown, broad shouldered. Nothing against that type of body (I have one myself), it just doesn't suit my idea of Harriet nor her unequal relationship with Emma to have this physical disparity.  She has a horse-ishness about her I don't like in this role. I had a similar problem with Brittany Murphy in Clueless; they just bring coarseness to the role that I don't like. I want to see total simplicity and sweetness.

This adaptation has the disadvantage of being a feature length movie which, at roughly 2 hours, makes it so hard to please Austen fans and allow things to unfold naturally. There is a lot of back story that has to be explained in character dialog, but I think the pace and dialog are well done.  The adaptation has, unfortunately cut corners on many of the supporting characters in order to focus on Emma and Knightley -- but unfortunately Emma and Knightley already seem like a foregone conclusion.

Overall this is an excellent, light, fun Emma that is very entertaining. As long as you enjoy it on superficial terms and just don't dig in too deeply.

Emma (1996, 2 hours) Kate Beckinsale & Mark Strong
I really like this screenplay! It may be the best one. And I actually had that thought before I looked it up and found that Andrew Davies was the screenwriter. He seriously is good at adapting Jane Austen.

The dialog sparkles. He picks all the best lines from the book to include and writes some of the best himself. Even though this version, at 1hr 47 minutes is the shortest of the Emmas, it gets all the most memorable Emma moments, such as Mr. Knightley's: "badly done, Emma. Badly done indeed." And, also from Mr. Knightley: "Brother & sister!? No indeed." Plus, of course the ending where Mr. Woodhouse, dismayed by the attachment of his daughter to Knightley, asks why things can't just stay the way they are, since Mr. Knightley is here with us every day? "But, we are alone at night," replies Emma, followed by a nice meaningful glance between she and Knightley. Good stuff from Davies.

Kate Beckinsale as Emma is interesting. She absolutely "gets" the age of the role just right. She is youthful, gracious and lovely. She has a lot of decorum but is still a flighty young girl too. There is a nice mix of refinements and country girl to be believable. Problem is, I'm not sure I like her Emma all that much. Because, along side all these wonderful qualities, Kate, as Emma projects a lot of dismay for everything, with her nose perpetually wrinkled. I know some people think Emma is not supposed to be a likeable character -- Jane Austen herself thought so -- but I like Emma. I know she is faulted, but she is a good, well-intentioned person who is devoted to her dottering old father, and I, like her father, am indulgent. But Kate seems to think Emma is a snooty face...


... shesh! Emma must be a really hard role to play! Come on people, I'm not an expert at this, but surely someone could get this role on all fours....

Still, I do like how Kate's Emma treats her father - she is a sweet loving deferential and caring daughter, just as in the book. Speaking of Mr. Woodhouse, this is another excellent portrayal, here from Bernard Hepton, with that sad, sweet, worried quality. A treat for me was seeing his scenes with Samantha Bond as Miss Taylor/Mrs. Weston. Bond played Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park, while Hepton played her father, Thomas Bertram. Cool.

And, again, another excellent portrayal of Miss Bates, this time from Prunella Scales. Jane Fairfax here, played by Olivia Williams, is my very favorite of all the Janes! She is exactly what Jane needs to be - lovely, elegant, shy, perfect. She projects an intelligence and subtlety that allows you to read more into her face, though she is reserved.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-PxGxx8k642s/TccPTXa_H1I/AAAAAAAAAIk/lqCNkFNKtLQ/s1600/Emma+and+Knightley+A%2526E.jpgMark Strong is an interesting Knightly. He approaches the role with a lot of passion, showing anger and intensity but also a smoldering kind of attraction to Emma. I like him in the role, but I'm not sure I like them as a couple all that well. For one, he seems so critical and displeased with her for much of the film, its hard to get the idea that he even likes her. They don't have that relaxed easy chemistry in their friendship, that I think they need to from the beginning. By the end, they seem very much in love and I am beginning to be won over. But, alas, this is a short production, and with just 2 hours to get there, their relationship doesn't get the chance to flow a natural course, but rather, takes a jarring path.

Though not as sparkling as the two adaptations above, this one is very visually appealing as well. The colors are more muted and subtle. But the locations, costumes, hairstyles all seem excellent to me and very appropriate to the era. All in all this seems like a generally tighter cast, better screen play and truer adaptation than the other 1996 one, but not so uniformly wonderful as the most recent.

Emma (1972, 4 1/2 hours) Doran Godwin & John Carson
It seems slightly unfair to compare this one with the much more modern productions above. Still, I think (even under the high standard set by those others) this adaptation has much to recommend it. It is probably the truest to the book. It has a pacing and feel that is slow to unwind and comfortable. It is not an exciting adaptation, but at 270 minutes in length, it is nice to have time to just sink in and relax with it.

This cast is uniformly very solid. Yes, the acting style is very different, more formal and stiffer. They have perfect manners, but exaggerated expressions that seem odd to the modern viewer.  I would bet that almost all the actors in this production were skilled performers with theater background.

Too, I think the style of filming was much more like televising a play. It seems to me as if they just turned the cameras on and started filming. These performances are all the more impressive if you think about them being given on a first take. There is very little film editing, no real art shots or effects, and no score. Again, it makes you appreciate the performances more when you realize there is nothing else going on in the background to take up the slack. It may take a while to do it, but once you tune your brain to the right frequency, circa 1972, you can settle in and really enjoy this one.

First of all, John Carson as Mr. Knightley is actually quite excellent. He has just the air of a wealthy gentleman and primary landlord. He is charming, interested in everything around him, threatened by nothing. He comes across as caring but manly and very much in control. Trouble is, Carson is just too old to play this role believably at the age of 45. I find him attractive enough, but then again, as far as I'm concerned, 45 is the prime of life. 

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-aXLLr9gWAz0/TccPz44cqxI/AAAAAAAAAIs/ZkE_E2yHcPU/s1600/Emma+and+Knightley+1972.jpgAnd the relationship between our leads in some ways is one of the best and comes closest to the one written in the book. You can really see the almost paternal interest and care Knightley gives to Emma. You can see how Emma looks up to him and cares for him, though her world is her own and she doesn't really give him that much thought. This is the only one of these four productions that allows our leads to have a large enough age difference where you can really see that these characters are supposed to be at two different stages of life.

The actress playing Emma, Doran Godwin, is another slight disappointment. She is generally quite good, but seems to be channeling Scarlett O'Hara. Though actually quite pretty, her looks are not well suited to the high lace collars and pin curls on her fringed bangs, nor those hideous matron caps they put her and Harriet in. When she wears the more low-cut empire style gowns she looks significantly better and has a Gwyneth Paltrow kind of regality without appearing to look down her nose at everything. Overall, aspects of her performance are very good. I like her youth, coupled with dignity and gentility. She can be better appreciated if you imagine her being on a stage. She exaggerates her facial movements in a way that doesn't suit today's enormous screens and very high resolutions, but I try to forgive this.

The production values here are nothing like the modern adaptations, but its unfair to expect that of them. The sets are pretty and colorful. And it is a wonderful breath of fresh air when they do a little bit of shooting outdoors. I don't think they get the Regency era women's costumes correct at all, but the men's are good and a few of them actually quite gorgeous. And the gowns worn at the Cole's party are lovely.  Even where the cut of the gowns seem off, the fabrics look rich and luxurious. I bet this was a pretty snazzy production for the era. The closing credits make a point of letting us know this was a "BBC Color" production, reminding me that color was still just coming to TV in our homes at this time.

It took me a couple of episodes to get into this one (after seeing those flashy other ones), but once I did, I found I enjoyed it just as much. Truly, the acting throughout from the supporting players is wonderful, with very few exceptions. Don't watch it unless you are prepared to take it on its own terms and give it some time, but be ready to enjoy it if you are!

"So Many Emmas, So Little Time. Emma from 1972, 1996, 1996 and 2009" LostinBritishTV