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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The isolation and loneliness of the social relations are well brought out in episode one, 5 Oct 2009
This review is from: Emma [DVD] (DVD)
- but in later episodes there is so much more as well.
I didn't really want to watch another Emma unless I was going to find the heroine irresistably attractive, as indeed I found my first Emma as portrayed by Doran Godwin many years ago. That was shortly after reading the novel as a result of an essay in Lionel Trilling's 'Beyond Culture'. I found the book disappointing and uninvolving, but not the TV series thanks largely to Doran Godwin who made it easy to be totally involved in the character. Watching it again recently on DVD on a big LCD screen however I was less taken with her although her performance was a perfectly valid and historically informed one. It was also interesting to compare the old more intimate yet theatrical style of TV drama at that time which calls for a degree of concentration on the part of the viewer which is no longer called for because of the film style editing and art direction which is used now for TV drama.
Well this time I am not in love with Emma but nevertheless to my surprise I am completely hooked, and that is because I have become totally fascinated by what Marxists call the 'social relations' of Emma's world - in other words fascinated by the class consciousness based on money and respectability, but ultimately of course determined by property, that is to say land. This was Jane Austen's world too and it is present in all her anti-romantic 'classical realist' novels. But in this dramatisation the distinctions and separations dictated by the social relations of the period are particularly well brought out by the visual space surrounding the characters whether in their rooms or the grounds of their property. It is also brought out by the spacing and pacing of the scenes. One senses an isolation and a loneliness that affects all the characters except in marriage where if they were wise, or lucky, social relations could be left behind for a while. But before marriage and outside marriage the reality of social relations was everything and the crucial importance of negotiating this territory by making the right decisions is well brought out by the screenplay and the acting. At the same time it is clearer than in the other versions how potentially disastrous Emma's interventions could be.
There is nothing charming or sentimental about this Emma or this 'Emma'. This is Mr Knightley's 'real world' and we see it entirely through his eyes: we see how selfish and willful Emma is and we don't feel inclined to make excuses for her. We know Knightly is right from the start and so the whole thing is much more painful to watch even when we know the story.
I feel that the Miss Bates in this dramatisation are given more significance than I have seen before and their circumstances are underlined by the suffocating LACK of space and darkness in which they live as contrasted with the characters higher up the social scale. The light and space of Emma's surroundings seems Olympian in comparison.
I also find myself more concerned for Harriet than in previous versions where she is made to appear excessively shallow and silly.

The above was written after the first episode. In the second episode, and unlike the first, I can report there is considerable charm and some sentiment as the whole mood changes as the story picks up speed and becomes much more eventful. The direction is animated and the humour is much more acceptable than when it makes an occasional uncomfortable appearance in episode one.

The third episode has achieved a greater degree of intimacy between the characters and between us the viewers and the characters.
As with the first episodes the director has stamped it with a unique visual style which is completely involving.

The last episode was wonderful social comedy and moving by turns. The visually stunning Box Hill episode in particular was pure Alan Ayckbourne - in other words cringingly embarrassing and socially gruesome.
Emma's realisation that she loves Knightley was genuinely moving but in exchange for this we don't get the famous scene that Lionel Trilling, like others after him, have put at the centre of 'Emma' namely the climax of this story of 'social relations' in which Knightley shows Emma the vast extent of his estate before proposing. There were also some other interesting insertions at the beginning and at the very end when again in exchange for the panorama of the estate we see the two main characters after their marriage looking at the sea which Emma is seeing for the first time.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Oct 2009 22:47:05 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 Oct 2009 18:28:54 GMT
Basilides says:
I have added some corrections to some additions after the last episode, but they will probably not appear until tomorrow.

The later episodes had a considerable amount of charm and sentiment largely lacking, by deliberate intention, in the first episode. Of course one can always quible about Romola Garai's performance especially in the first episode and not everyone will be satisfied but it is an impossibly difficult part to get right in every part of the story especially when done in such revealing close up. I think she did very well overall.

It really was very good indeed and if it weren't for the ommision of the scene in which Knightley shows Emma his estate I would have had to rewrite it as a 5 star review.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2009 23:16:40 BDT
sam hrt says:
Thank you so much for such a superb review! I thought that I was the only JA fanatic that loved this adaptation. I think people are taking this too much at face value. Emma was never prim and proper type of character like what most Austenites are claiming. She was a BRAT, pure and simple esp. to Knightley. I love how that is portrayed - and I find Romola hilarious as Emma, she has great comedy timimg. PLus, she feels real bcz she acts differently around different ppl - very multilayered and 'human' as you said :) I just wish they'd given Garai a better script *sigh*
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