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Posts Tagged ‘Romola Garai’

Thanks very much to everyone for the suggestions about which Shakespeare productions to watch, which should keep me going for ages! This will just be a short posting to say that I’ve watched the Kenneth Branagh production of As You Like It on DVD, and enjoyed it very much. I have also recently seen a much earlier version, the 1936 production with Laurence Olivier as Orlando, which I wrote about over on my old movies blog – Olivier is great as always, but the film seems rather stilted and also cuts out great chunks of the play. This modern version keeps much more of Shakespeare’s text – watching it, I realised that several important characters had been completely cut out of the 30s movie.

The most immediately striking thing about Branagh’s version is the setting, moving the Forest of Arden to 19th-century Japan – where the characters are re-invented as members of a self-governing enclave of British merchants.  However, it was actually filmed in the UK with oriental touches like samurai warriors added in. This makes for beautiful costumes, but I’m not sure the Japanese element adds much apart from that – especially as so much of it takes place in the forest, which somehow looks very English. It does mean that the wrestlers become Sumo wrestlers, which is an intriguing idea.
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This is just to say that I’ve now seen Glorious 39, Stephen Poliakoff’s latest movie, a period drama-cum-thriller  set among the English aristocracy as war is breaking out. However, I’m not going to write a full review as I really didn’t like it at all and was disappointed, and I prefer to spend my time writing about the productions which I admire. The story seems to me to start well in the first half hour or so, but then becomes increasingly ludicrous and starts to turn into a bad horror film. I won’t give away the various plot twists, as they are supposed to come as a shock, but will just say I didn’t find them or the characters at all believable. 

It’s a pity – I’d been looking forward to it as I’ve liked many of Poliakoff’s previous films, especially Close My Eyes (1991) and the mini-series Shooting The Past (1999). It also has a great cast, led by Romola Garai and Bill Nighy, with a good role for Julie Christie as an eccentric aunt. David Tennant and Hugh Bonneville both have fairly small parts – Tennant plays an MP who warns against appeasing Hitler, giving a powerful speech at a dinner party- and their scenes are probably the best in the movie. The costumes, Norfolk scenery, and music are all beautiful, and there are also some gorgeous cats in many of the scenes… but it’s all dragged down by the script.  I just kept thinking of The Remains of the Day (1993), which deals with similar material, looking at fascist sympathisers in high places before the war, but does it immeasurably better.

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I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t sure what I felt about this BBC mini-series, scripted by Sandy Welch. But now, after seeing all four episodes, I am well and truly won over – and looking forward to watching the whole thing again. I’d just like to know whether the region 2 DVD will have any special features, such as a commentary, behind-the-scenes film etc – Amazon doesn’t give any information on this, but does say it is all on one DVD, which makes me fear that perhaps there won’t be room for any extras.

Something I have enjoyed as the series developed is seeing the contrast in acting styles between Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley. Garai’s face and voice are always very expressive, vividly putting across what she is feeling or thinking at any given moment. By contrast, through most of the series there has been something deliberately understated and buttoned up about Miller – his body language and expressions are much quieter than Garai’s, and you often have to watch closely to see a fleeting glimpse of emotion before it is hidden again.

Tamsin Greig and Jonny Lee Miller

Tamsin Greig and Jonny Lee Miller as Miss Bates and Mr Knightley at Box Hill

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Up to now I had slightly mixed feelings about this version of Emma. But something has clicked and I’m finding myself loving it. I don’t in all honesty know whether it is that the adaptation has improved or that my mood has mellowed – or that I’m now rereading the novel alongside my viewing and noticing the similarities and changes.  But, in any case, I’m enjoying it a lot, and just wishing the viewing figures were better. The landscapes, costumes and music all add up to a seductive mixture, and I’m increasingly appreciating how the actors interpret Austen’s characters.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley at the ball

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley at the ball

The definite highlight of this episode is the ball scene, which I think has been created perfectly – I’ve watched the sequence with Emma (Romola Garai) and Mr Knightley dancing several times (while making screencaps for this posting!) and never failed to be enchanted. I now think that Jonny Lee Miller deliberately played Mr Knightley as rather stuffy at the start of the series, so that it would come as more of a revelation when he started to show his real sensitivity later on. In this scene, the glimpses of him standing at the side watching as Emma dances with Frank are the more poignant because it is all so understated – Miller does so much with the slightly wistful expression in his eyes at moments like this, making you know that his character is feeling every year of his age.

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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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After watching the Andrew Davies version of Middlemarch, I was keen to see his other major George Eliot adaptation, Daniel Deronda. Unfortunately, as with so many of the other films I keep writing about, it isn’t available on DVD in region 2 –though  it used to be, and I’m using the sleeve of the deleted DVD as an illustration since I prefer it to the region 1 sleeve. So, once again, I had to buy on import.

DanielDerondasleeve2Watching this not so long after Middlemarch, it struck me just how many similarities there are between the two dramas, and, of course, also between the two source novels. Both have a heroine and a hero who are not romantically destined for one another, but who become friends and whose stories sometimes counterpoint one another.  Both also show the central characters constantly hemmed in and pressured by other people’s expectations.

In Daniel Deronda, Daniel and Gwendolen meet in the series’ opening scene, at the casino in Monte Carlo, and, looking at this beautiful young couple, you might well think they are going to end up together – but, in fact, their stories are about to fork off in very different directions, only occasionally intertwining.

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