And cue two young women in front of a TV. (Miss Osborne would have joined them had her health permitted it.) Due to technical difficulties (curse you, Comcast!), Miss Ball and Mrs. Fitzpatrick arrive on the scene ten minutes in. Please supply your own witty dialog for that period.
[Jane Fairfax leaves Donwell secretly.]
Miss Ball: I think Emma’s been running around Salzberg in nothing but some old drapes . . . from 1988. That dress is appalling.
[Mr. Knightley says that Emma might be mistress of Donwell, ha ha ha.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Hint, hint.
[Emma rants about Miss Bates.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: A bit of foreshadowing, is it?
Miss Ball: For the awkwardness that is to come. Sure.
[Mr. Knightley makes a rude comment about Frank Churchill, but it falls flat.]
Miss Ball: I love how Switzerland is the ends of the earth, instead of . . . the middle of Europe. I feel like, instead, he should backpack through Nepal with like six sherpas (because it’s not like he’s going to carry his own stuff) and listen to a lot of Dave Matthews Band.
Miss Ball: I know beer and cold meats do wonders for my constitution. Especially . . . together?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse just isn’t right. He doesn’t strike the sort of kindly silliness of Mr. Woodhouse.
Miss Osborne, there in spirit: The real Mr. Woodhouse wouldn’t have pterodactyl arms.
[A green blob—continued technical difficulties, we hope—appears on Mrs. Fitzpatrick's TV just as the party arrives at Boxhill.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s THE BLOB!! From original Star Trek! It’s going to EAT THEM!!
[Frank Churchill inadvertently and singlehandedly chases the entire party away (therefore saving them from a green and blobby death, v. difficult to explain to the pre-NASA set).]
Miss Ball: Frank Churchill, Captain of Awkward Conversation.
[Mr. Knightley yells at Emma.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He just seems like a blustering schoolboy to me. No dignity. No style!
Miss Ball: I think he sounds like he’s yelling at a pet. Like she’s been scratching on the couch again.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: FAIL, Jonny Lee. FAIL.
[Emma converts to thoughtfulness and grace.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Look, she’s stepping into the light! I can’t stand it!
[Emma goes to the Bates's.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I swear Mrs. Bates is a zombie.
Miss Ball: I believe you could write a book about that and make some serious money.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That is SO five minutes ago, Miss Ball!
[Mr. Knightley thinks about kissing Emma's hand, but doesn't. Miss Ball thinks he was shaking it.]
Miss Ball: The 2005 P&P did that so much better.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They didn’t do that very well. Especially since you didn’t even get it!
Both: Clearly, we have moved past the time when a man taking a woman’s hand = HE’S GOING TO KISS HER HAND!!! [spontaneous flaily jazz-hands duet]
[Emma wants to reupholster Mr. Knightley's chair (or whatever the kids are calling it these days).]
Miss Ball: …with angels and unicorns, perhaps?
[Mrs. Churchill dies; everybody pretends to be sad while actually forming an emotional conga line.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That was actually pretty well done—that pretty much sums it up.
[Baby Frank Churchill rides away in his carriage in the past. Again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Flashback attack!
[Frank and Jane Fairfax are reunited.]
Miss Ball: I’m sort of disappointed in Jane now. He’s such a douchebag. You can do better, Jane Fairfax! (Governess-hood notwithstanding.)
Frank Churchill: Now for the first time in our lives we can do anything we want!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That isn’t a Regency thought in the least—or at least not a Jane Austen thought.
Miss Ball: That’s a relief. Ugh.
[Emma hides behind a shrub, poorly, when Mr. Knightley arrives in the garden.]
Miss Ball: Don’t worry, Emma. . . we’ve all been there.
[Emma and Mr. Knightley walk and chat.]
Miss Ball: Are her long sleeves attached to anything, or are they just. . . sleeves? Because that’s sort of brilliant.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I actually don’t know. I do know Mrs. Bennet liked them! Kind of a punk look, you think?
Miss Ball: Just add safety pins. I like it.
[Mr. Knightley tries to propose.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He’s squinting. Why is he squinting?
Miss Ball: No room in those tight pants for his sunglasses.
[Emma bursts into Donwell crying, says she can't marry Mr. Knightley because of her father, and then bursts out again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What is this, a French farce? She’s not Lucille Ball, for goodness’ sake!
Miss Ball: A little abrupt, sure, but I think it’s okay. We’re running out of time.
[Mr. Knightley volunteers to move to Hartfield.]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley, you’ll never make it with the ladies if you keep telling them your heart is at your house.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: No, no, he means his heart is with Emma! He’s pointing at her!
Miss Ball: Ah, his heart—her—is at his house. Currently. But not forever. Riiiiight.
[Frank Churchill apologizes to Emma.]
Miss Ball: I do not forgive you, Frank Churchill.
[Mrs. Bates speaks.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: GASP! The zombie speaks!
Miss Bates: Mother has recovered her voice!
[Emma says goodbye to her father pre-honeymoon.]
Miss Ball: That is one yellow dress. Lucky for her she’s a summer.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Wait—they’re going on a honeymoon? So they must be married? These quick cuts are making me dizzy!
Miss Ball: I had the same question. Harriet and Robert Martin get married, and Emma and Mr. Knightley take a honeymoon? That’s some set-up.
[Emma rests her head on Mr. Knightley's shoulder.]
Miss Ball: That looks really uncomfortable. Much better after the carriage era.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They must be going to the seaside.
Emma: Oh! It’s the seaside!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I’m freakin’ prescient!
The Curmudgeonly Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Well, it had its moments. When they just let the actors speak and feel what Jane Austen wrote, it was fine—though really none of the main parts were convincing to me. But the additions were SO cheesy (Slow-motion flashbacks? Children torn asunder in the rain?) and the transitions were SO film-school (Look, there’s flowers now, it must be spring!), that I couldn’t really believe I was in the story. It’s a hard novel to adapt, but . . . they should have tried harder. Or less hard? It was too forced, and too sloppy for this purist.
The Happy-Go-Lucky Miss Ball: I agree with Mrs. F’s assessment of the hilariously melodramatic editing, but in general, I liked the whole product pretty well—it was certainly modern in feel, but not in a way that generally offended my not-very-strict sensibilities. I especially liked Romola Garai: she makes some fabulous faces, and her ability to both play and acknowledge awkward moments served her well in this particular instance. So, they certainly played fast and loose with the text, but I didn’t mind too much. Also, I sort of like Jonny Lee Miller in hero mode. (Less so in scoldish pet-owner mode.)
Miss Osborne: I ended up watching the rest of Emma this morning, and it almost made up for the earlier installments. With the exception of the sun rising over Emma and the unnecessary flashback of Frank Churchill leaving as a child, this installment was more thoughtful. I finally found myself rooting for Emma—for her emotional growth and the love between her and Mr. Knightley. Knightley, of course, is wonderful (though I think Jonny Lee Miller looks like a muppet when he’s not smiling). Unlike Mrs. F, I didn’t find him blustery in the Box Hill scene. He has every right to scold Emma, and I felt her pain. Hasn’t everyone been scolded at one point or another for doing something they knew was stupid? It hurts when someone you love is rightfully giving you the smack down. Overall, this mini-series was uneven, but the last hour was enjoyable.
We open on three girls, a couch, and Laura Linney looking oddly solemn.
[Frank Churchill proposes a ball]
Miss Osborne: Oh, I do love a ball! (TM Lydia Bennet)
Miss Osborne: Does she not have a ballroom or a dining room in her house?
[Frank sweeps Emma up for an impromptu dance]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They would not have been doing that.
Miss Ball: “I would much better be married than right”: words to live by?
[Frank acts like he's going to propose and then doesn't]
Miss Osborne: Why can’t people tell the truth? This is annoying.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Like you tell the truth all the time?
Miss Osborne: Well, he’s acting like he loves her.
Miss Osborne: And he has a man-ring.
[Harriet bawls her eyes out]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Harriet’s such a modern teenage girl. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the internet or TV to distract her with a massive gallery of males.
[Mrs. Elton arrives]
Miss Osborne: Ohhhhh, it’s THAT girl. She plays the bitch in everything!
Miss Ball: Like?
Miss Osborne: Like What a Girl Wants, which I only saw because of Colin Firth. And, um, Amanda Bynes.
Miss Ball: No, I saw that, too! With the leather pants! Amanda Bynes is my hero(ine), and I don’t care who knows it.
[Mr. Knightley brought Emma a library book]
Miss Osborne: It’s Twilight.
[Misses Osborne and Ball and Mrs.Fitzpatrick pause to discuss crooked ears, including but not limited to Stephen Colbert and Victor Garber. Mrs. Fitzpatrick has perfect, delicate ears. She's the only one.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think I’ll start calling Mr. Fitzpatrick “Mr. F”, like Mrs. Elton does.
Miss Ball: Like he’s a substitute teacher with a difficult name?
[Misses Osborne and Ball and Mrs.Fitzpatrick pause to discuss the technical term for Emma's face-framing curls, which Mrs. Fitzpatrick calls "scare curls" but thinks she made that up. Google tells us this.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Now, this is weird, because in the book, Mrs. Elton suggests the whole Box Hill expedition, and Emma doesn’t seem particularly sad about being stuck in Highbury.
Miss Ball: It’s a modern take on the situation, certainly.
[Mrs. Elton has quite a horror of finery.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Too matchy-matchy?
Miss Ball: Bridesmaid quality, definitely.
Miss Osborne: The voice-over is worse than Superman.
Miss Ball: I do miss the choreographed group dancing.
[Frank disses Mrs. Elton's hairstyle]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He is a little…dickish.
Miss Ball: Catty.
Miss Osborne: A douchebag.
[Mr. Knightley asks Harriet to dance]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley! You’re the dreamiest man the world right now! Such a mensch!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Isn’t he?
Miss Osborne: I like the idea of wearing gloves. That way you don’t get sweaty hands.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Plus, it’s more sexy.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think they’re doing the Congress of Vienna waltz.
Miss Osborne: I can do the polka!
Miss Ball: Me, too!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I wonder how authentic the dancing in this really is?
Miss Ball: We’re totally ruining the mood of this very romantic dance.
[Harriet gushes about Frank's rescue of her from the scary scary gypsies]
Miss Osborne: Harriet’s so pale, she could be a vampire.
Miss Ball: Don’t say that out loud.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: There’s already going to be Emma and werewolves.
Miss Osborne: Um, did she just faint?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think Jane had a thing against fainting—it never really works out in her books.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: If this were a murder mystery, Harriet would be shot dead now.
[The camera cuts, inexplicably, behind Mr. Knightley's coat as he reminisces about Emma's hotness]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: SIGH.
[Mr. Knightley walks away from Emma and the too-hot fire]
Mrs. F: Well, I definitely liked this chapter better—now that she’s not so incredibly bouncy.
Miss Ball: And now that the story’s picking up, minus Exposition City.
Miss Osborne: Augh, when he yells at her, he’s so right, and it’s so horrible, because we’ve all been yelled at by somebody we care at like that. So terrible.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: And they’re…following the book. Such a concept!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s weird how little Mr. Woodhouse is in this version. Usually, he’s in the background of everything.
Miss Osborne: Maybe Michael Gambon’s pterodactyl arms wouldn’t fit in the picture.
Time for a Very Special Announcement from Austenacious: the newest BBC Austen adaptation, 2009′s Emma, starts its American run this Sunday, January 24, on PBS.
To the ethically minded and/or BBC-less among us—i.e., those who neither got the chance to watch this new adaptation legally nor seized the chance to watch it illegally—let this be a reminder! Sundays, PBS, 9 p.m. Be there.
For those without such geographical or moral barriers—so, those who have already seen it—we have here the San Francisco Chronicle’s review, which seems more positive than most, or at least more positive than many. Critic David Wiegand claims that this Emma is good because it’s subtle: he compares it to the Paltrow version, with Alan Cumming bouncing off the walls and spitting the scenery out afterwards, and compliments this new adaptation on characters acting like…oh, right: actual people. Interestingly, Wiegand mostly addresses the supporting characters, and then skirts around the perpetual dilemma of Emma herself—that is, her inherent, if well-meant, obnoxiousness—by bringing her up and then failing to comment on Romola Garai‘s performance at all. This also begs the question of what makes a successful portrayal of Miss Woodhouse in the first place: how much are we really supposed to like Emma, how much leeway do her portrayers have in the role, and to what degree is Emma’s studied lack of complexity the key to her ultimate appeal?
So, all you torrent heathens (and legitimate Brits), what do you think? Who’s the best Emma of them all, is Jonny Lee Miller have Knightley’s dreamy-yet-stern thing down, and is this adaptation simply finely shaded, or is “subtle” a grand euphemism for “dead boring”?
Just remember, kids: Knowing is half the battle.