So we have yet another remake of Emma. Yet another adaptation with yet another writer’s stamp on it, and yet more actors making the famous roles their own.
But the yardstick by which I measure the worthiness of a TV adaptation is how faithfully it rendered the original written work to screen, and whilst Sandy Welch’s version last night held on to the skeleton, it was fleshed it out with unfamiliar nuance, unsubtle character traits and it fiddled with the roles of certain characters.
However, I can’t fault the acting from the main protagonists… well, not much anyway; Romola Garai as Emma was wide-eyed and overtly but innocently meddling, although she was perhaps rather less broodingly intelligent than the original Emma. Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse was commanding and fun to watch, while Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley set my old ticker racing. Tamsin Greig made an exasperating and asinine Miss Bates, and as such, was one of the characters who remained true to the original.
And I must – grudgingly – admit that I rather liked the darkness in Welch’s adaptation. But there, Welch is no newbie at adapting great novels for the screen and was at the writing helm for the adaptation of Jane Eyre too. But the almost fairytale feel to last night’s Emma evoked something of the Brothers Grimm, and it was all a tad Pandora’s Boxish, which, to be fair, was a surprisingly welcome element and one that many comparable adaptations have missed the opportunity to portray.
The combination of the writing and direction – by Jim O’Hanlon – did a good job of letting us know that this version was reworking Emma with more than a nod to a present day ambience, even though of course the settings were breathtakingly beautiful in their olde-worldliness.
And for me, irrespective of the origins of the piece, it’s those settings that often make a period drama really watchable. I love the carriages, the elegant horses, the crunch of wooden wheels against gravel on sweeping driveways. I love the old stone and mullioned windows, the brocade, the bustle frocks and velvet gaiters… I just love it. And last night’s Emma didn’t fail in that regard. From the wallpaper to the gardens, it simply screamed of a long gone and sumptuous decadence.
So all in all, while I still can’t help but feel there were some liberties taken with Emma in order to put a territorial marking on it, overall, it was watchable, compelling and, if you’ve never read the book, entirely convincing. And given that it’s being played out over four parts, there was blessedly little culling of the story to accommodate scheduling. I really, really hate when that happens!