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Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Welch’

Screenwriter Sandy Welch’s version of  Elizabeth Gaskell’s industrial novel has to be one of the best BBC classic adaptations. It’s a series which was an immediate hit on first screening – partly because of Richard Armitage’s brooding portrayal of Thornton, but also I think because of the story itself, since I remember a previous BBC adaptation in 1975 being very popular, though sadly I never had the opportunity to see it at the time. I’d love the chance to compare the 2004 mini-series with the earlier version, which starred Patrick Stewart and Rosalie Shanks. 

The series has stunning cinematography by Peter Greenhalgh and set design by Simon Elliot, together with a haunting musical score by Martin Phipps.  The director, Brian Percival, is also directing some episodes of the eagerly-awaited BBC costume series Downton Abbey. I’m going to discuss the whole plot in this review, so if you haven’t seen it I’d definitely advise doing so before you read on – and, if you are watching it for the first time, what a treat you have in store!

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After watching the Sandy Welch BBC adaptation of Emma, I’ve been meaning to re-watch the older versions I own to see how they compare – and have now got round to seeing the short TV movie scripted by Andrew Davies and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence, which stars Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr Knightley. Here are just a few slightly rambling comments before I get on to the other versions!

After the more leisurely pace of a four-episode version (though even that was much faster than the older adaptations), this dramatisation does feel very short at just 107 minutes. It almost seems as if Harriet is introduced one minute and turning down Robert Martin the next, with Mr Knightley bitterly upbraiding Emma a minute after that. However, despite this fast pace, I felt as if Davies manages to pack in all the key scenes from the novel – it would be fascinating to see how he would have treated the story if he had adapted it at greater length.

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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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Sorry again not to have been around much – I’ve  just had a couple of days away from home and am still behind with reviews I want to write! But, anyway, here is a bit of costume drama news.

This week’s Radio Times in the UK carries the news that Andrew Davies’ new adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s great series of novels The Pallisers has been axed. Davies says the BBC is going downmarket and now only commissioning adaptations of big-name works – he has also been asked to adapt David Copperfield instead of Dombey and Son, which I’m a bit disappointed about as DC has been done so many times already.

I haven’t found the Radio Times article online, but here is a link to another
report quoting the same comments:
I’m mystified by the quote saying that Davies is now adapting Arnold Bennett’s South Riding Just editing (October 6) to say that today’s Radio Times has a correction pointing out that this novel is in fact by Winifred Holtby – and that it was the magazine’s mistake, not his!  This one has been adapted before, but not for a long time, and I will be interested to see it.

On a happier note, the BBC starts showing the new Sandy Welch adaptation of
Jane Austen’s Emma this weekend – I’m really looking forward to it and also hoping it gets brilliant ratings to give TV costume drama a badly-needed shot in the arm.

ITV’s recent mini-series of Wuthering Heights, which I thought was powerful
although flawed in places, did fairly well in terms of ratings (the Radio Times
claims 4.28 million was disappointing, but I would have thought it was pretty
good during the main summer holiday period) and has also sold to networks all over the world. Possibly on the back of that, ITV has now commissioned Downton Abbey, a major nine-part series scripted by Julian Fellowes about a country house in the Edwardian era and around the First World War, which will be about both the family and the servants, as with Upstairs Downstairs – so maybe costume drama is already starting to bounce back.

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