Alas! My Jane Austen weekend has come to an end. It was a wonderful way to cap the weekend by watching the movie, Emma (1996); BBC’s Emma (2009) and another movie, Becoming Jane (2007).
Emma (1996) stars Gwyneth Paltrow as the young, pretty and rich Emma Woodhouse and Jeremy Northam as the charming, reticent but kind Mr. George Knightley. It was really surprising to see Ms. Paltrow, an American actress, portray an Englishwoman. I found her English accent a bit weird but as the movie progressed, I became quite used to it. Paltrow, an actress blessed with classical features, had so much poise and gracefulness which just made it work. On the other hand, Jeremy Northam was splendid as Mr. Knightley. He is hot!!! I love how his facial expressions conveyed his feelings and how he delivered his lines. I particularly liked when he spars with Emma and when he scolds her. The film was entertaining and funny indeed. My only gripe with film is that events were much too compressed that there’s not much room for character development.
In the recent BBC production of Emma (2009), I was really happy to find a familiar face. Jonny Lee Miller, who earlier portrayed Edmund Bertram in the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, is back as the quick-witted and charming George Knightley. I adored him in Mansfield Park even though his character there took a long time to realize his feelings for the heroine. But I believe that he was a great choice as Mr. Knightley because he absolutely nailed it. He was exceptional with his scenes with Emma, particularly when he is arguing with her, scolding her, goading her, or when they are just having a good time. Such a consummate actor! On the other hand, it is my first time to see Romola Garai but I liked her as Emma Woodhouse. Her Emma is youthful, clever and witty. Garai and Miller are great together. I loved how their argument scenes (there were several) were really played out, with both sides arguing their cases well. Another delightful surprise was the presence of Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse. I was taken aback and I had to take a second look when he first appeared because I could only think of one thing: That’s Dumbledore!! He was such a dear old man, Mr. Woodhouse er, Mr. Gambon.
The advantage of a mini-series is that events are not rushed and forced unlike in the movies. Furthermore, there is much room for character development and event build-up. I liked how Mr. Knightley’s realization of his true feelings for Emma was depicted. It’s not rushed and forced. I think, this is the best adaptation of Emma I have seen.
Becoming Jane (2007) explores the untold story of Jane Austen, one of the greatest writers in English Literature. Jane is being pressured by the family to marry. But being a woman far ahead of her time, she refuses unless it is for love. She meets Tom Lefroy, a lawyer who is dependent on his uncle and his fortune. They both started on the wrong footing but eventually fell in love. However, the couple is faced by numerous obstacles – family, friends and fortune. Anne Hathaway, an American actress, plays the feisty, opinionated Jane. Anne was alright but I think a better actress might have been able to portray Ms. Austen. On the other hand, James McAvoy portrays Tom Lefroy who breathed life into his character brilliantly, so much so, that I wanted to love and hate him at the same time. The film left me with a bittersweet feeling, no matter how I am used to see such kind of endings.
The film gives an inside look of what might have been the secret life of Ms. Austen. I have read that Ms. Austen never married and I surmised that for a writer who created wonderful stories with happy endings – heroines marrying the men they love, she must have had loved deeply. That in her short life, she must have had, as poets and writers gush about, “that one great love.”