43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Best of Jane Austen [Pride & Prejudice / Sense & Sensibility / Emma / Persuasion] [DVD]  (DVD)
I am one of the handful of people who managed to miss Pride and Prejudice when it was on TV - it must have been the year I spent in a Mongolian cave - so it has been both a pleasure and a relief to finally see what all the fuss was about. It is, of course, as superb as most say it is, with particularly subtle performances by the always brilliant Colin Firth, nicely oleaginous David Bamber as Mr Collins, and a quiet scene-stealer of a Mr Bennet from the versatile Benjamin Whitrow, all benign patience and serene sarcasm.
Unlike some viewers, I loved this version of Emma. Romola Garai is just right, with her unselfconsciously broad smiles, ready laughter, and terrible lack of both tact and self-awareness. Jonny Lee Miller convinces as a stolid, upright Knightley, and Michael Gambon is simply glorious as Emma`s fussing but loving father. Their very touching scenes together punctuate the story. Robert Bathurst and Rupert Evans are excellent in their roles, and there are two standout performances: by Louise Dylan as Emma`s `protegee` Harriet, who manages to flesh out a role which could have been somewhat two-dimensional into a funny and credible, if daffy, young woman itching to find Mr Right; and the gifted Tamsin Greig, who embodies the fluttery, talkative Miss Bates with exactly the right blend of qualities to move the viewer each time she appears. It`s a sublime piece of acting from this unique actress. Her flustered embarrassment at the picnic as the import of Emma`s insensitive remark dawns on her is a painful joy to behold.
If Persuasion is flawed, it is flawed for the best reasons. Some rail against Anne`s final run through the streets of Bath, for example, but to me it exemplifies her desperation and her last-ditch determination to escape her repressive family and claim the man she adores. It`s both cathartic and emotionally real. Sally Hawkins has the `jolie laide` appearance to a tee, and Rupert Penry-Jones is a shy, misty-eyed Wentworth. Great to see Alice Krige - in anything - and Anthony Head has a high old time as Anne`s father Sir Walter, in a role he obviously relishes.
The gem here is Sense and Sensibility. Andrew Davies has written a penetrating adaptation, and he is lucky to have two faultless performances by two young actresses as Elinor and Marianne. (As an interview in the Extras tells us, they saw many women before they cast these roles.) Hattie Morahan is soulful, heartrending and perfect as the cautious but likeable Elinor, and Charity Wakefield is a real find as her younger, flightier sister Marianne. Both are so good you want to stand up and cheer. They are utterly believable as sisters, too. Both have incredibly expressive eyes...indeed, so expressive is this whole production that one forgets the earlier Emma Thompson film - excellent though that was.
Janet McTeer is lovely as their mother, a pre-Downton Dan Stevens modestly dashing as diffident Edward, David Morrissey just right as Colonel Brandon, and Dominic Cooper (an actor I usually find all too resistible) is admirable as the romantic but duplicitous Willoughby. There`s also a wonderful turn by the Fast Show`s Mark Williams as Sir John Middleton, his ebullient good nature beautifully conveyed by this always watchable actor.
But it`s the sisters who are at the heart of this story, and the two actresses play them with, if anything, even more subtlety than Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet a few years before.
This is a most welcome box-set which I shall return to often, as much for certain moments and performances as for the stories being told.
Rewarding and warmly recommended.