I admit it--I am one of those people. Whenever a new film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel comes out (and they've been thick as fleas these past few years, haven't they?) I'm in the front row with the cheese popcorn, mesmerized. Now, why a person ever needs to watch more than one version of Mansfield Park in her life, I don't know. I offer no rational explanation. Why does my cat punch holes in every paperback cover she can sink her sharp little teeth into? No idea. It's a force of nature. We cannot explain; we can only obey.
So: last night, Emma. The only wealthy Jane Austen heroine, and the most deliciously flawed. BBC. Romola Garai. I'm so there. Sweep me away, Masterpiece Theatre!
Opening credits. Toes tingling with anticipation. And then...a voiceover.
Fight off immediate sense of dread. Because too many times, voiceover = bad movie. (Is it just me, or have other people noticed that, too?) Voiceovers explain things, and this voiceover insisted on explaining stuff that would be perfectly obvious from watching the characters. Yes, Emma's father is a hypochondriac who fears the worst at all times. For Pete's sake, you've got Michael Gambon playing him--Michael Gambon, whose portrayal of Squire Hamley in Wives and Daughters* made me cry (and I do not cry easily--witness a theater production of Les Miserables, sobs and stifled weeping all through the audience, and me? A stone. That's how hard my heart is, people.) Michael Gambon, as I say, who can express a subtlety with an eyelid, and you have to sum his character up for us before the story even starts?
I wish I could say that this new Emma destroyed my voiceover prejudice forever. Alas...no. It's not terrible, but swept away? I felt a few breezes, but otherwise, not so much. The overtelling continued throughout the episode, with dialogue (not Austen's--she knew better) telegraphing what was to come, rather than letting the action play out for the viewer. Austen was the master of delicious scene-building--why not let us enjoy it, and the surprises that come with it?
I'm no Austen purist (here's proof), but alas, I was underwhelmed. However: two more episodes are to come, and I'll be there, front and center. A tepid version of Jane still beats most else, after all. Besides--who am I to deny a force of nature?
*If you're a fellow Austen and/or costume drama fan, and you haven't seen Wives and Daughters yet, GO. Order the DVD from Amazon.com, put it in your Netflix queue. Now. I'll wait. While you're at it, get the book by Elizabeth Gaskell. Big, fat, luscious read. You won't regret it, I promise.
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