It seems the BBC has made an editorial decision to do away with the bonnets and breeches for a few years. The adaptation of Emma, which has just finished on BBC1, will be the last for the time being.
I think that may be a wise decision (although there will be a Christmas special of Cranford) because Jane Austen especially has had more than her fair share of attention. Emma was adapted by the BBC back in 1972 and there were two portrayals of the famous match-maker in 1996 by Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow. The current Emma Woodhouse is played by Ramola Garai (who was excellent as Bryony in Atonement and as Cassandra in I Capture The Castle) and although she is a marvellous actress, I don’t know if she brings anything new to this role – or indeed if anyone could.
The basic premise is that Emma Woodhouse is so busy making romantic matches between others, she cannot see the needs of her own heart. She is initially a rather unsympathetic character. Austen herself said, ‘I am going to make a heroine that no one but myself will much like.’ After playing the anti-heroine in Atonement, perhaps that is why Garai was chosen for the part.
Michael Gambon plays Emma’s pernickety father and admitted he had never read the book. In fact he seems to be just going through the motions without any particular love for the part at all. Jonny Lee Miller blandly plays Mr Knightley and even the handsome Blake Ritson (Mr Elton) is not enough to tempt the viewer. Miss Bates, whose portrayal by Sophie Thompson in the Paltrow version cannot be surpassed, is played with no verve at all by Tamsin Greig.
The clothes and houses are lovely and the screenplay is adequate but there is nothing new here. Most of us know the story, the Paltrow version was excellent and we have had plenty of fantastic Austen adaptations from Colin Firth’s Pride and Prejudice to Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility.
This series has not been a ratings winner. It would seem the BBC isright that audiences are now sated with costume drama in general and Jane Austen in particular. Come on – give us something new!