Archive | January, 2011

More Mysteries (Agatha Christie)

19 Jan

Let’s take a break from all the Emma stuff and get back to some books. I’ve been trying to space out reading Agatha Christie but her books really are addicting. I’m getting better at trying to guess the murderer and sometimes I get some stuff right, but mostly her twists end up being a surprise.

Poirot Investigates- It’s a series of short stories featuring Poirot and Hastings, so it must be set before The Murder on the Links, seeing as Christie shipped the latter off to Argentina in that one. I liked a couple of the stories, like “The Hunter’s Lodge” and “The Chocolate Box” but this one isn’t all that high on my list. Poirot as a character gets on my nerves a little bit (I can see why Christie apparently hated him) and I’m not really that fond of Hastings either. I think she made the right move in getting rid of him. 7/10

The Thirteen Problems- This is another set of short stories, this time featuring Miss Marple, an old spinster who no one pays attention to but always solves the mystery. A group of friends decides to form the Tuesday Night Club, and meet to tell of mysterious stories they’ve heard about and see who can guess who the culprit was. Everyone ignores Miss Marple at the beginning but, of course, she figures everything out and then they start to notice her. Even living in a small village, she’s really gotten to know human nature. She knows EVERYTHING! Just by listening to the facts, she figures out whodunnit. In one of the Poirot stories, they made a huge deal of him solving a case like this one time. Miss Marple beats Poirot any day! 9/10

The Secret Adversary- Christie’s second novel, and the first to feature husband and wife sleuthing team, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. But this was before they were married. They’re young and poor after the end of the war and longing for adventure. They decide to become adventurers and are soon involved in a missing person’s case. The girl had some secret papers that the government wants to suppress now that the war is over. It was a fun book, and I liked Tommy and Tuppence, but I find it hard to believe that the government would hire them with no experience or references or anything. It takes some suspension of disbelief, but it was amusing. 8/10

The Secret of Chimneys- This was a mix of international spy stuff and the classic country house murder. I tried so hard to guess the killer and while I didn’t quite get it, I was on the right track! This was entertaining, but I’m more drawn to the country house murder side than the political stuff. 8/10

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Emma “Awards”

16 Jan

I really am bored tonight. This is going to be the last one.For clarification purposes, the two 1996 versions will be referred to as 1996 (Gwyneth Paltrow film) and 1997 (Kate Beckinsale TV version), respectively (since I believe the latter didn’t come out in America until 1997.

Emma Woodhouse: BEST: 1996, WORST: 1972

George Knightley: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1997

Mr. Woodhouse: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1972

John Knightley: BEST: 1997, WORST: 1972

Isabella Knightley: BEST: 1997, WORST: 1972

Harriet Smith: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1996

Mr. Elton: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1972

Mrs. Elton: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1997

Frank Churchill: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1996

Jane Fairfax: BEST: 1997, WORST: 1996

Miss Bates: BEST: 1996, WORST: 1972

Mrs. Bates: BEST: 1996, WORST: 1972

Mrs. Weston: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1997

Mr. Weston: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1997

Robert Martin: BEST: 2009, WORST: 1997

Totals:

1972: BEST: 0, WORST: 7

1996: BEST: 3, WORST: 3

1997: BEST: 3, WORST: 5

2009: BEST: 9, WORST: 0

Yay, my favorite version, 2009, wins. I think I need to find something else to do tonight.

Mansfield Park “Awards”

16 Jan

I’m on a roll tonight. Maybe I will post my next review tomorrow. Mansfield Park is a tough one. In some cases, the acting was good, but the characterization was wrong. Or in other cases, the reverse was true. I tried to go for characterization first, and acting second. Or in the few instances where all the characters were written well, I picked the best actor.

Fanny Price: BEST: 1983, WORST: 2007

Edmund Bertram: BEST: 1999, WORST: 1983

Henry Crawford: BEST: 1999, WORST: 2007

Mary Crawford: BEST: 2007, WORST: 1999

Sir Thomas Bertram: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999

Lady Bertram: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999

Tom Bertram: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999

Maria Bertram: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999

Julia Bertram: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999

Mr. Rushworth: BEST: 1983, WORST: 2007

Susan Price: BEST: 1983, WORST: 2007

William Price: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999

Mrs. Norris: BEST: 1983, WORST: 2007

Dr. Grant: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999 and 2007

Mrs. Grant: BEST: 1983, WORST: 1999 and 2007

Mr. Price: BEST: 1983, WORST: 2007

Mrs. Price: BEST: 1999, WORST: 2007

Totals:

1983: BEST: 13, WORST: 1

1999: BEST: 3, WORST: 9

2007: BEST: 1, WORST: 8

Wow, 1983 is ahead by a landslide…what a surprise…NOT!

“Awards”: Pride and Prejudice Edition

16 Jan

Here I am again, counting up my least favorite actors in Jane Austen adaptations, this time for Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth Bennet: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1995

Fitzwilliam Darcy: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1940

Mr. Bennet: BEST: 1980, WORST: 2005

Mrs. Bennet: BEST: 2005, WORST: 1995

Jane Bennet: BEST: 2005, WORST: 1995

Mary Bennet: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1940

Kitty Bennet: BEST: 2005, WORST: 1980

Lydia Bennet: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1995

Charles Bingley: BEST: 1980, WORST: 2005

Caroline Bingley: BEST: 2005, WORST: 1995

Louisa Hurst: BEST: 1995, WORST: 2005

Mr. Hurst: BEST: 1995, WORST: 2005

Mr. Gardiner: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1940

Mrs. Gardiner: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1940

George Wickham: BEST: 1980, WORST: 2005

Colonel Fitzwilliam: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1940

Charlotte Lucas: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1995

Georgianna Darcy: BEST: 1995, WORST: 1940

Lady Catherine DeBourgh: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1995

William Collins: BEST: 1980, WORST: 1995

This one was hard as several were very close. Once again, I counted a portrayal as “worst” if the character was cut.

Totals:

1940: BEST: 0, WORST: 6

1980: BEST: 13, WORST: 1

1995: BEST: 3, WORST: 8

2005: BEST: 4, WORST: 5

So the winner in terms of the cast is 1980! 2005 was a close second in many cases. The loser is 1940 but no one takes that version seriously anyway.

Jane Austen Adaptation Actor Awards- Sense and Sensibility

16 Jan

I recently got a copy of Aisha, a loose Bollywood adaptation of Emma. While I’m debating whether or not to review that and/or Clueless, I thought I’d kill some time by comparing actors in the Jane Austen adaptations I’ve reviewed so far, purely for my own amusement. So, without further delay, here are my favorite versions of all the characters in Sense and Sensibility.

Elinor Dashwood: BEST: 2008, WORST: 1995

Marianne Dashwood: BEST: 1981, WORST: 1971

Edward Ferrars: BEST: 2008, WORST: 1995

Colonel Brandon: BEST: 2008, WORST: 1971

John Willoughby: BEST: 1995, WORST: 2008

Mrs. Dashwood: BEST: 1971, WORST: 1981

Margaret Dashwood: BEST: 1995, WORST: 1971 and 1981

Fanny Dashwood: BEST: 1995, WORST: 1971

John Dashwood: BEST: 2008, WORST:1971

Mrs. Ferrars: BEST: 2008, WORST: 1995

Robert Ferrars: BEST: 1995, WORST: 1981

Mrs. Jennings: BEST: 1971, WORST: 2008

Sir John Middleton: BEST: 2008, WORST: 1995

Lucy Steele: BEST: 1981, WORST: 1971

Anne Steele: BEST: 2008, WORST: 1995

Mr. Palmer: BEST: 1995, WORST: 1981

Charlotte Palmer: BEST: 1981, WORST: 1995

Totals:

1971: BEST: 2, WORST: 6

1981: BEST: 3, WORST: 4

1995: BEST: 5, WORST: 6

2008: BEST: 7, WORST: 2

So, according to these tallies, 2008, my favorite version, comes out on top! I kind of cheated by putting in “worst” for a character if he or she was cut. I’ve got some time to kill, so I think I’m going to do more tonight.

Emma 2009 Review

12 Jan

At last I get to review my favorite adaptation of Emma, the 2009 BBC miniseries. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed the first time I watched it. I thought the little prologue was cheesy (and they fudged with the timeline), Emma was too over-the-top, Jane Fairfax was too mousey, and that it just wasn’t all that special. But when I got to the third episode, everything changed-I started to love it! And when I got the DVD and rewatched it all, I appreciated the first two episodes more as well.

Being four hours long, this version has enough time to flesh out all the characters and storylines. Both the 1996 versions, being so short, had to obviously cut some stuff out. Either the Frank/Jane or the Harriet/Mr. Elton stuff got the shaft. This one does justice to both, plus more! We get to see a lot more of Robert Martin as well, and we even get to see him go ask Mr. Knightley’s advice as to whether to propose to Harriet. It follows pretty closely to the book, but it does make some changes and a lot of the dialogue is different.

The parallels between Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, and Emma are stressed more than in any adaptation or the book. Mr. Knightley narrates the introduction with the three as children- when they all lose parent(s) and their lives are changed forever. Miss Bates decides to let Jane go live with the Campbells so she can have a better life, albeit Mrs. Bates was reluctant. Frank goes to live with his aunt and uncle, the Churchills. But Emma (and also Isabella though she’s not highlighted), being rich and privileged, gets to stay home with her loving governess, Miss Taylor. I found this narration a bit weird the first time I saw it. Both Jane and Frank happen to leave Highbury on the same day. In the book, IIRC, Frank left when he was two (so Jane and Emma would have only been babies if they were born at all!), and Jane stayed until she was nine. The age difference between Emma and Isabella also seems to be less than in the book, as the former is a teenager when her sister marries and actually claims this as her first match, before even the Westons. Also, Miss Campbell in this version is still only engaged to Mr. Dixon, not yet married. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was. Perhaps they thought it would be too scandalous to suggest he and Jane had a thing if he was already married? These are only nitpicks and I don’t mind these changes now. I thought it was a clever introduction, really. The only reason it bothered me was because it was different from the book, really!

Most of the cast is very good- some of my favorites of all the adaptations. The interplay between the various characters was excellent (in most cases). The Crown Ball scene was particularly well-done. The dances (all originals to this production) were really lively and fun. Emma and Knightley’s dance just oozed chemistry. I think I played back this scene three times on my latest rewatch. I could almost go so far as to say the miniseries is worth watching for this scene alone! I also think they got the Box Hill scene right (with the exception of Frank lounging on Emma’s lap!). Emma was clearly laughing and joking around and didn’t realize how hurtful her comment to Miss Bates was until it was too late.

The Characters

Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse

She took some getting used to. Her deportment and mannerisms were not very ladylike. Her posture was pretty bad-constantly slouching. I thought her acting was a bit over the top at first, as well, always bugging her eyes out. But I think they did this to highlight her growth and maturity-she toned it down as the series went on. She was particularly excellent in her understated scenes. She did have the snobbiness and vanity as in the book, but she was loving and caring to her family and friends and you could tell she was well-meaning in all her meddling and matchmaking.

Jonny Lee Miller as George Knightley

He is, without a doubt, my favorite Mr. Knightley. John Carson was too fatherly, Jeremy Northam was too suave, Mark Strong was too harsh. Jonny Lee Miller achieved a perfectly balanced Knightley! He was attractive in a boyish way but still a bit on the rugged side- you could believe him as a gentleman farmer. He had great chemistry with Emma- they were clearly close, intimate friends but throughout the series it becomes obvious that his feelings for her are becoming something more and he’s struggling with it. He can be stern with her but you could tell he cared and they were both often stubborn in their arguments. And of course, they always made up afterwards.

Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith

Well, none of the Harriets have been brilliant but she wasn’t bad. She was young and cute and full of bloom. She was just a bit too dim. I know Harriet is quite naive and not all that intelligent in the book, but she’s really not as stupid as this miniseries makes her out to be! One thing that I really liked was having her clothing resemble Emma’s more and more throughout the series.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill

This Frank Churchill is a more rounded character than in the other versions or even in the book (where I don’t find him all that sympathetic). He doesn’t do anything but look stupid in a bad wig in the Paltrow version, and act creepy in the Beckinsale version. I don’t even remember what the actor looked like in the 1972 version! Frank is still a cad in this. His whole storyline with Jane is intact- he flirts with Emma, they fight, he teases about Mr. Dixon, etc. And, as in the book, he believes Emma to be as perceptive as she claims to be and almost confesses about his engagement to Jane. This version makes him seem troubled due to leaving home at a young age and while he’s not exactly “good,” he’s not evil either.

Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax

She was one of the weak points in the casting for me, sadly. Her acting was fine and all, but there was just one problem- she wasn’t good-looking enough. She wasn’t ugly by any means, but really, next to Romola Garai there’s no competition. How could Emma feel overshadowed by this mousey little thing? I think the unflattering hairstyle really did her no favors either. Olivia Williams is still my favorite Jane-while dressed more plainly than Emma, she had an elegance the latter did not and their “rivalry” made more sense. Here, she and Emma show signs that they are starting to get along well, until Box Hill, that is.

Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton

Two Edmund Bertrams in the cast! He was pretty good in that part, but he was better here, like Jonny Lee Miller. He’s my favorite Elton. He had the looks, the vanity, and the pomposity. His hair grew with his ego! One of the weak points for me was actually the carriage proposal here. It just fell flat-but I don’t think that was the fault of his acting.

Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton

Does this woman ever play any role besides “rich bitch?” She does it well and I do have to admit, I’ve only seen her in a handful of things. She was a great Mrs. Elton- the most annoying one yet, that’s for sure. I was surprised Emma didn’t slap Mr. Weston for inviting her to outings they clearly didn’t want her at! And she really went to Donwell on a donkey.

Valerie Lilley and Tamsin Greig as Mrs. and Miss Bates

This series really stressed the tragedy of the Bates’ situation. The above picture is from the introduction when they’re saying goodbye to Jane. In the series they’re both much more worn out. Miss Bates usually wears the same dress which has gotten very faded over the years. Mrs. Bates is in a wheel chair and refuses to talk. She’s not demented-she seems to be depressed about their situation and resentful of her daughter for giving up Jane. She speaks again at the end, after they learn Jane is engaged to Frank (and will be rich!) and she sees Mrs. Weston’s new baby. Miss Bates tries her best but her cheerful, overly chatty nature is a front for her own sadness.

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse

He was pretty hilarious as he looked so physically fit yet acted the invalid so well. This version made him more sympathetic as well. He was always worrisome, but his hypochondria seems to be due in large part to his wife’s death. He clearly cares about his daughters but, like in the book, he doesn’t like change and doesn’t want to be left alone.

Jodhi May as Anne Weston

She was younger than in the other versions, in her mid-thirties, but it’s highly likely the book character was close to this age as well. Her close relationship to Emma was clear. The two were very much like sisters. (Miss Taylor in the book never could really control Emma either!)

Robert Bathurst as Mr. Weston

He did well as the friendly and kind Mr. Weston who also had a slightly darker side- he loved company so much he would invite everybody to everything, even if his friends were not fond of these people.

Dan Fredenburgh as John Knightley

He and Isabella get a lot more screen-time in this. You get to see a bit of their courtship and their wedding, plus a bunch of scenes at their house in London in addition to their visits to Highbury. I liked his portrayal except for one scene- after the Christmas party he deliberately leaves Emma to go home alone in the carriage with Mr. Elton. While in the book, John told Emma that Mr. Elton liked her, he went into the other carriage just out of habit in all the “chaos” caused by the snow. Here he thought it would be amusing, I guess. John Knightley could get grumpy, but I don’t think he would ever do that!

Poppy Miller as Isabella Knightley

I found this bit of casting pretty confusing. For one thing, she looked older than Miss Taylor! I haven’t been able to find her age online, so perhaps they just did that to show how the stress of five (and quite rowdy in this version) children ages you? She was also not the cheery woman she was in the book. She was much more sensible.

The Costumes

Have I mentioned how gorgeous this production was? The locations were beautiful, especially Hartfield. And of course, I must talk about the costumes! I liked how everyone’s wardrobe was indicative of their status and personality. Emma had some gowns that were to die for! But my favorites were actually her outerwear:

Tan Spencer

Striped Spencer

Red Pelisse

I wouldn’t mind owning any of these for myself!

Final Thoughts

This was a very well-done series, but not without its flaws. One part I still am not fond of is the end. I thought the editing of the scenes after Emma and Knightley confess their love was a bit choppy. That scene itself was great, but then all of a sudden we jump to Emma going to Donwell and crying that she couldn’t marry him because she couldn’t leave her father. Then we find out Harriet is marrying Robert Martin after all, and see the wedding, even though there was no build up to it like there was in the book. Then the characters gather and talk at the wedding and Emma jokes to Jane that she will still be engaged at 70 because her father does not want her to get married. Then all of a sudden, the wedding has taken place offscreen and Emma says good-bye to her father and they go off on their honeymoon. I thought these individual scenes were well-done, but there were really no transitions between them and I had no sense of how much time had passed or anything. Like I said, just too choppy.

Still, all the negatives are pretty minor. I feel that this a must-see for any Jane Austen or period drama fans.

My Rating: 9/10

Emma 1996 (TV) Review

9 Jan

This version of Emma weirdly came out in the same year as the Gwyneth Paltrow film. But other than being based on the same book, the two adaptations really have nothing in common. While the film version was all comedy and lightness, this TV version is really quite dark. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Maybe it’s because of the poor video quality, but the picture is usually quite dark. This makes sense, I suppose, to have realistic candle light at night-time scenes. But the scenes in the day-time aren’t that bright either.

Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, chose to do something very different with this Emma. He focuses a lot on the class system, which was always there in the context of the book, but I thought it was a bit heavy-handed in this adaptation. All the underclass workers-servants, farmers, etc.- are clearly present in every scene, making the way of life for the privileged possible. They’re even moving pillows for them to kneel on in the strawberry picking scene. Emma makes sure to tell Harriet that Mr. Knightley owns EVERYTHING in Donwell, and all the other people who live there are merely his tenants or servants. Robert Martin seems very resentful of Emma, like he knows she advised Harriet to refuse him. He glares at her when she drops Harriet off at the farm. It’s a big deal at the end when Emma shakes hands with him. This class system was in the background in the book and I’m not fond of Davies’ idea to play it up (but I did think Emma and Robert Martin shaking hands was a nice touch). It’s just not what I want to see when I watch a Jane Austen adaptation.

This is far from my favorite Emma adaptation. Aside from all the darkness, I wasn’t fond of most of the cast. It was also very short and while I know things need to be condensed, it felt very rushed and the Crown Ball scene was poorly done, IMO. Harriet is dancing in the beginning, then Elton snubs her, then Mr. Knightley dances with her for less than a minute before walking away! Blink and you’ll miss it. The ending scene was also rather weak- a harvest ball with Mr. Knightley making a speech to all his tenants (stressing again how many people depend on him) that he will still keep everything running smoothly even after he moves to Hartfield. Well, at least I can say that at least Andrew Davies didn’t add any sexed up scenes.

The Characters

Kate Beckinsale as Emma

I thought it was nice to finally see a brunette Emma (especially since she resembles Jane Fairfax this way), but I’m not a fan of Kate Beckinsale’s portrayal. She looked the part, but she didn’t seem to connect with anyone else in the cast and she seemed bordering on being deliberately malicious in some of her manipulations. She emphasized the snob aspect in Emma’s personality more than anything else. She also constantly has daydreams and nightmares about the objects of her matchmaking which I wasn’t crazy about. I didn’t think they were all that funny and they felt out of place.

Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley

I deliberately capped him with such a stern expression to emphasize how I felt about him the first time I saw this version. Well, he wasn’t the obvious romantic lead, that’s for certain. I found him way too harsh, especially at first. Over the years, I’ve grown less afraid of his portrayal but I still don’t like it. He didn’t seem like he really loved Emma at all. If someone told me he only married her to get Hartfield and her money I wouldn’t have a hard time believing it. I also found it really squicky that he keeps referring to holding Emma as a baby-VOMIT! He first mentions it when they are holding their niece, baby Emma. Then he just has to bring it up again right before they kiss. “To think, I held you in my arms when you were three weeks old.” Andrew Davies, what were you thinking? That’s not romantic, that’s disgusting!

Dominic Rowan as Mr. Elton

He wasn’t bad and he was handsome enough, but I didn’t think he was very memorable either. One scene I did feel was well-done was the disastrous carriage proposal. It really came out of nowhere and I liked Emma’s shocked reaction.

Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I thought she looked almost sickly in this. Was it the makeup? Was it the lighting? Was it my imagination? I thought she looked the right age for the part and would have been cute if she didn’t seem to be ill. Also, maybe it was because of the short time, but her attachments to men were downplayed. She got over Elton really quickly and then ended up becoming engaged to Robert Martin before she even knew that Emma and Knightley got together.

Lucy Robinson as Mrs. Elton

She tried to do a Bristol accent, which I appreciated. Her attachment to Jane Fairfax and trying to find the latter a post as a government was really downplayed.

Raymond Coulthard as Frank Churchill

He definitely looked the part, unlike Ewan McGregor, with his perfect curls. His portrayal really stressed Frank’s evil side. He was really creepy in the last scene telling Emma about Jane and her beautiful skin and how good she would look in his aunt’s jewels…can you say psychopath?

Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax

She was undoubtedly my favorite thing about this version. She’s the top actress to have played Jane Fairfax for me. She was always dressed a bit on the plain side, yet had an inherent elegance and beauty. She was definitely reserved and you could tell something was troubling her. I feel bad that she had to end up with that creepster, Frank.

Prunella Scales as Miss Bates

One of the other pluses for me. She was on the older side, but I’ve actually liked all the actresses to play Miss Bates in some way.

Samantha Bond as Mrs. Weston

I usually like Samantha Bond, but I didn’t feel the close bond between her and Emma in this one. (no pun intended…) I don’t know if this was the fault of the acting (and if so, on whose part? Hers or Beckinsale’s? Both?) or the directing or what. She seemed more like just a casual friend than anything.

Others

Bernard Hepton was pretty funny as Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Weston wasn’t bad either. I also quite liked the portrayal of John Knightley. He seemed to be a fun, loving father, but could get quite frustrated in some situations like when Mr. Woodhouse would give his lectures.

Conclusion

If I haven’t made it obvious above, I’m not very fond of this version of Emma. I do like it better than the 1972 miniseries, but really, that’s not saying much. It does have its fans though, and I can understand their point of view, even if I don’t share it. If you hate the Gwyneth Paltrow version, in particular, you’ll probably love this one.

My Rating: 6/10