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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Gambon’

I’ve now watched this Andrew Davies adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s last novel at least three times over the years (it might even be four), and my admiration grows each time. I think it must be one of his very greatest TV adaptations, up there with his takes on Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice and Vanity Fair – and it is yet another one from the late 1990s, a period which saw an extraordinary flowering of classic adaptations. All the cast are superb, with my very favourite performances coming from Francesca Annis and Michael Gambon. For me, Wives and Daughters is Gaskell’s masterpiece, and this is a version which does it justice. Sadly she didn’t live to write the last few pages of her novel, but I rather like the ending this mini-series supplies – though I’ll discuss that at the end!

This mini-series looks beautiful, set in the countryside throughout (apart from brief glimpses of Cynthia in London and Roger in Africa), with endless shots of sweeping green landscapes and country houses. Director Nicholas Renton also made the fine 1998 version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, which has a similar feeling for country scenery. However, like his FFTMC, this isn’t just an idyllic picture of country life – it is made clear how characters are hemmed in and how difficult it is for anyone to escape the atmosphere of gossip and all the little rules governing village society. Wives and Daughters doesn’t deal with changing times as overtly as North and South, but the theme is still there, as is class conflict. The Squire in particular is clinging to the past while everything changes around him.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the mini-series, the story centres on a doctor’s daughter, Molly Gibson, who gains a new step-mother and step-sister, Hyacinth and Cynthia, when her father remarries – and on the tensions within this ill-assorted instant family. However, if you haven’t read/seen it, you’d be best not to read on until you have, as I’ll be discussing aspects of the whole plot – and also, as with North and South, you have a great double treat in store from the book and film.:)

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Dame Judi Dench, Lisa Dillon and Dame Eileen Atkins as Miss Matty, Mary Smith and Miss Jenkyns.

First of all, sorry to have been silent – I’ve been busy again, but have been watching costume dramas even though I haven’t been writing about them! Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favourite 19th-century authors and I’m now planning to have a season on my blog about adaptations of her work, starting with Cranford and its sequel and then going on to North and South and Wives and Daughters.

There were also 1970s adaptations of all these books, which I would love to compare with the more recent versions, as well as a 1964 Mary Barton and a 1982 version of her novella Cousin Phillis – but sadly none of these are ever repeated or available on video/DVD, so it seems unlikely I’ll get the chance to see them unless the BBC starts delving into its archives.

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I’m sorry to be so late in saying anything about the second episode of the new BBC Emma, but I’ve had a frantically busy week at work and haven’t had time to string two words together! However, I have now managed to see the episode twice and, to be honest, have slightly mixed feelings about it. This will really just be a few disjointed thoughts rather than a proper review, as the time I have available is still quite short – I feel a bit like Miss Bates going over her latest letter from Jane, and will have to bring my thoughts into some sort of order at the end of the  series.

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller

I am still enjoying the series and impressed by the beauty of the scenery and the whole world which has been created. I’m also impressed by the actors’ performances – especially Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse and Jodhi May and Robert Bathurst as the Westons – yet I feel increasingly that perhaps too much of Austen’s satiric bite has been lost, that the story has been softened too much round the edges. And yes, I do still miss the language of the novel. However, while feeling slightly disappointed at the moment, I remember having doubts about previous Sandy Welch adaptations and being won over in the end – her version of Jane Eyre is one of my favourite costume dramas of recent years, for all its departures from the book – so it may well be that her Emma will grow on me just as much.

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I’ve now seen the first episode of the eagerly-awaited new BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, slightly belatedly since I was working on Sunday evening.

Michael Gambon, Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller

Michael Gambon, Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller

I’ve actually watched it twice now –  initially I was impressed by the gorgeous costumes, sunlit green landscapes and chocolate-box houses, but disappointed that there seems to be little of Austen’s own language and above all her wit. However, I liked it better the second time, which I find is how I often react to adaptations of favourite novels. Screenwriter Sandy Welch’s previous adaptations include  Our Mutual Friend (1998) and Jane Eyre (2006) – I came to love both of these, but they took a time to grow on me, and I think the same might be true of her version of Emma. (The director of this version, Jim O’Hanlon, has directed many contemporary series for British TV, but I think this is his first historical drama, so I don’t recognise his style as yet. )

So far, I do like Garai as Emma – she gives the character a sort of mischievous, luminous quality, making her seem younger and more naive than I’d imagined her, but also making it believable that she can get so many people to do her bidding. I’m not so sure, yet, about Miller as Mr Knightley – he seems a little stuffy so far, and his remonstrating with Emma too often comes across as one-upmanship and nagging rather than the desire to bring out what is best in her.  Though maybe that is intentional, I suppose, and he will be shown changing later.

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I’m a little late in picking up on this, as I’ve had pretty well zero time for surfing, posting or anything else much lately. But, anyway, I have just caught up with the news that the BBC has finally announced its cast for the new production of Austen’s Emma, scripted by Sandy Welch.

Or, at least, they have announced most of the lead actors – as yet there is no news on who will play two of the key roles, Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith, though they must have been cast, as filming starts next week in Kent. Here’s a link to the BBC press release. 

Romola Garai, who starred in Atonement and the BBC Daniel Deronda, takes the title role, with Jonny Lee Miller, who played Edmund in the 1999 Mansfield Park, as Mr Knightley, and Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse – he was so brilliant in Wives and Daughters and a host of other dramas that I just can’t wait to see him in this part! There is only a ten-year age gap between Garai and Miller, but I don’t suppose that will matter too much. Jodhi May, who played alongside Garai in Deronda, plays Miss Taylor. 

Thought I’d add links to a couple of newspaper reports – here’s one from the Daily Telegraph , mainly focusing on Romola Garai, and another from a Kent local news website, Your Canterbury, mainly about the location and how the period look is being recreated there.

Just updating this posting  (April 18) to say that more cast members are now known – many thanks to Charley from the Enchanted Serenity blog for alerting me to this. The BBC still hasn’t confirmed any of the new names as far as I’m aware, but the imdb page for this production has now been updated to add the extra names – Blake Ritson as Mr Elton, Christina Cole as Mrs Elton, Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill, Dan Fredenburgh as John Knightley, Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith and Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax. The best-known to me out of these is Blake Ritson, who I thought was excellent as Edmund in the recent ITV Mansfield Park. Rupert Evans had a small part as Frederick Hale in the BBC’s North and South  and Christina Cole played Blanche in Sandy Welch’s adaptation of Jane Eyre as well as Caroline Bingley in Lost in Austen.

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