Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Movie Review: Emma (BBC 1972) with Doran Godwin and John Carson

I was quite curious about this adaptation as it was the only (available) Emma I hadn’t yet seen—and as I was finding it hard to gather much concrete information on it. Imagine my excitement when I found our library did indeed have it!

To begin with, the theme music is sprightly and light-hearted (in fact, my sisters and I agreed it would be fun to add to our piano repertoire). As a whole, the film is very 70’s—but if you’re willing to overlook some things (and know what to expect in that regard), it definitely has its merits.

On the dress, the main item I wasn’t sure about was why Emma—and Harriet—often wore caps (as my understanding has always been that women would don caps after marriage). I was looking at some portraits, however—principally by Joshua Reynolds and Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin (both in the 1700’s/early 1800’s)—and the young girls there are occasionally wearing indoor caps. Emma takes place about 1803 and the pictures I found were also mostly of nursery age children (excepting the married women, of course) and maids (who may or may not have been married)—so I’m not sure my research was conclusive, but it was interesting. 

Simplicity: A Portrait of Miss Theophilia Ghatkin, 1785
by Joshua Reynolds

But back to Emma! Several of the costumes reappear in later films (a number of them in the BBC 1985 P&P) so—along with the dresses—it was fun to see Emma in Jane Bennet’s pelisse and Jane Fairfax wearing Lizzy’s (or rather the other way round).

Emma herself does appear older in this version. But she does also have a dignity, a warm enunciation, and a collected liveliness of manner for an Emma. (In her turns of expression, she actually sometimes reminded us of Gwyneth Paltrow.) Occasionally, I think she does seem a bit more like a governess, a bit schoolmarm-ish (particularly with Harriet and when she’s trying to be especially calm), but she did quite all right with the part.

And Mr. Knightley! Mr. Knightley is Sir Nigel!!!!! (Do pardon my excitement, but we love the b/w Richard Green Robin Hood tv show—and it’s always thrilling to discover a friend from there elsewhere! :-)) 

So yes, (ahem!) Sir Nigel was very good as Mr. Knightley. With dry flashes of humor, he managed his entire role (including his management of Emma) most excellently well. 

Mr. Woodhouse is quite good.

Mr. Weston was open and friendly, and Mrs. Weston certainly gentle and ladylike. (And they have a real baby at the end...well done, indeed!)

Mr. Elton was always eager, smiling, and obliging—if awkward—and I thought it easy to see how Emma could misinterpret his character. 

Mrs. Elton is quite adequately rude, vulgar, and funny.

Harriet is very sweet, pretty, and perfectly naïve.

We get to see Robert Martin in a conversation at the end, which is very nice.

And also a lot of Miss Fairfax! Miss Fairfax I very much liked. Gentle and soft, maddeningly reserved, elegant and fascinating—I think she was just about perfect. 

And Frank Churchill is high-spirited and engaging—playing his part quite well.

The John Knightleys visit for Christmas…

Isabella is fine.

While John Knightley is quite perfectly John Knightley-ish (and has one of my favorite lines in the film). Referring to Elton, “With men he can be quite simple and rational, but with ladies…ha! I confess he makes my boot itch.”

And now some more particulars: at 270 minutes, this is the longest Emma and oddly enough, I felt to be the one with the most alterations. (There will be some spoilers ahead.) A number of scenes—along with some both major and minor details—are changed (rather unaccountably so due to the length of time). For a few instances: Emma sends the apples to Miss Bates (thus weakening the Knightley-Fairfax puzzle a bit), the Dixons become a completely unrelated couple wanting to hire Jane as a governess, and Jane (and Mr. Elton) are not present at the Box Hill picnic. The John Knightley’s are to end up moving into Donwell and Jane breaks off her engagement—not because of Frank’s behavior to Emma—but apparently because of his long absences waiting upon his aunt.

The script was changed quite a fair amount—in general softening or abridging some of the lines (particularly Mr. Knightley’s). I felt those changes did weaken the theme and even some plot connections—creating less tension and a much calmer tone. Looking at it, I’ve decided they were trying to emphasize the danger of flattery. To illustrate, near the beginning Mr. Knightley is concerned about Emma keeping company with Harriet (mostly because she is inadvertently a flatterer), and there is a following emphasis on the lines referring to flattery at both the ball and the end proposal scene. There is also a line change at Box Hill. When confronting Emma about her speech to Miss Bates he says, “Emma! Emma! That you—of all people—should allow the flattery of a moment to cloud your judgment so!” At the same time, Emma is never quite as taken in by Frank and since his influence is less, Mr. Knightley never gets particularly jealous of him.

Overall, I don’t think they twisted the story, but I do think that by emphasizing the flattery lines they missed some much stronger unifying threads. 

As to a few more particulars on certain scenes—and this example is a bit of a side note—but this version has the distinction of having the most forward Mr. E. proposal of any (not the most dramatic, but quite possibly the most mushily romantic—if you can so call the Elton experience). It’s entirely easy to enter into Emma’s feelings on the occasion.

And as I mentioned earlier, you get to see a delightful amount of Jane Fairfax, especially near the end (and including the scene with Emma calling on Miss Bates where Mrs. E. is also present, dutifully awaiting her lord and master)!

It’s delightful to see Jane’s gracious warmth and civility, and to see her and Emma laying the foundation for a friendship. Quite satisfying!


  1. Wow. Hem. This version looks - um - special.

    Let me say what I think by looking at the pictures. Oh, and I do beg your pardon if I sound prejudiced and judgemental. :)

    The costumes aren't very flattering - but that's interesting about the head-caps. Oh, and Mr Knightley - I'm sure he was good and all that, but he looks FAR too old for Mr Knightley. He has GREY HAIR. Nothing bad with grey hair, of course, but Mr Knightley just looks too old. I think.

    Now Harriet looks sweet. I think Harriet's should be blonde. :-)

    Oooh those bonnets. *bursts into laughter* The colours of all these costumes are very special. :-)

    This looks like a fun Emma, although I don't think I'd like it much. :-) Thanks for the great review! I love your reviews- you always bring out all the positive aspects. :-) I have hardly ever read something negative in your reviews, you know. :)

    1. Naomi!
      Yes, it is quite...special. :)

      Emma's definitely not my favorite, but she's all right--and she does have some funny moments. I'd say the biggest thing was that both Mr. Knightley and Emma (well, Emma mostly) do seem older most of the time. So it's almost more like a "later blooming love story" in some respects--which didn't always sit quite well with the particular story I think (as some things that might be--not excusable--but reasonable in a younger heroine seem a bit out of place). There's hope for a younger heroine--that she'll grow out of certain behavior/her character will improve--but you kind of expect an older woman to have already matured (or Mr. Knightley's advice to have already taken effect)....if that makes sense. But anyhow...he is very good--and I think I would have liked him even if I hadn't seen him as Sir Nigel. :)

      And thank you!! In the reviews I work really hard to try to be fair and think about what they might have been trying to do big picture-wise (occasionally reserving some of my strong opinions for comments ;)). It's so encouraging to hear the hard work's appreciated! :)

      P.S. (And granted on point #3: the bonnets are extraordinary. That blue one of Harriet's with the mustard colored ribbon?? ;))

    2. Oh- I see. They made both Emma and Mr Knightley older -Hmm, that's interesting, actually. A bit Persuasion-ish. :-)

      Yep, Harriets blue and mustard ribbon is rather ridiculous - I was also talking about Mrs Eltons one. Oh, and another thing I don't like about the look of these costumes is the modern fluffy fur. I just doesn't look right, I think. :-)

      Again, thanks for the great review and always writing back on my comments! :-)

    3. You're right, it is a bit.... Hmmm.

      And Mrs. Elton is just--um--hilarious? Her ball hair-do is actually... yes...well, I'll leave it to your imagination. :) But quite funny. On the bonnet end, I actually avoided putting on any of the worst one in my opinion, but you've probably seen it in other places. It's kind of a big scoop with grey satin or something and (ruching?) inside. The scene I can particularly think of with it is when Emma goes to visit Harriet when she has the cold. Anyhow...yes I agree about the fur, too! :) A couple of the dresses are quite pretty though (minus some of the 'ruffs' at the neck). :)

      And oh, you're most welcome!! Entirely my pleasure! ;)

  2. Haha, I was reading the comments above and Naomi's made me smile.
    "Wow. Hem. This version looks - um - special."
    Heehee. My mom and I started to watch this version once but it drove us crazy so we turned it off. The actors for the characters just seemed so wrong ( and as you said, too old) and we didn't like how "stage like" it was. Of course, we only saw like the first scene so perhaps it gets better but it seems in the same group as the BBC 1980s Pride and Prejudice which I made myself watch through entirely and ...well.. I won't be watching it again anytime soon. :)
    And as Naomi said, I noticed too how you try not to bash anything you're reviewing. While I think a good-natured bashing can be enjoyable, it is nice how you try to be fair and not totally degrade a movie (based on your personal feelings about it) that someone may actually enjoy!

    1. Natalie,
      It does certainly have a different--"special"--flavor. ;) (And particularly with Emma herself, I think.) This is a rather funny story, but we've actually watched the '80's P&P over and over and over and over..... Somehow (when I was about ten), we'd watched the '95 up till the point where Mr. Collins decamps from the Bennet's -- and then stopped. So the 80's was the version for a long time until we *re-discovered* the '95 about a year and a half-ago -- which is now the favorite P&P -- and probably my favorite Austen film entirely. :) Ah well...we realized how wonderful it was when we saw it.... A quite perfect balance! :) It's funny, though.... Because I've seen the 80's one so much, I'm only just now (after several viewings) starting to be able to "hear" the '95 rendition more in my head. ;) (So yes, very funny.)

      And thank you! I'm so glad you enjoy them. :) I do have strong opinions about certain things (so, personally, it takes me quite a bit of thought sometimes), but I work really hard to try and always give balanced overviews. I really appreciate the encouragement! :)

    2. Oh, haha, that's funny that the 80s was "the" version for your family. :)
      Sorry if I bashed it a bit! :)

    3. Natalie!
      Yes, it is funny. ;) And no, you're quite all right! We still own it (and watch it sometimes), but it most definitely has its issues. We now consider the '95 as pretty complete perfection (both as P&P and as period drama entire.... ;))

    4. Okay, good. :) Yes, I agree, there is no Pride and Prejudice like the 1995 version. Except for the book of course!


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