Masterpiece Classic: Emma (Part 2 of 3)

Masterpiece Classic: Emma (Part 2 of 3)

Sun, 01/31/2010 - 9:00pm

Romola Garai as the “handsome, clever and rich” heroine, Emma Woodhouse.

Credit:Davis Venni BBC

Episode two of three of this fiercely funny four-hour adaptation of Jane Austen’s delightful love story.

– Love Has No Boundaries — and Neither Does She –

Is confirmed bachelor Mr. Knightley secretly courting demure Jane Fairfax (Laura Pyper), recipient of a piano from a mysterious benefactor? Meanwhile, Emma, too, feels the unfamiliar tug of romance — in the direction of dashing Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans).

Romola Garai (Atonement) stars as Jane Austen’s most enterprising and exasperating heroine, a passionate matchmaker concerned about everyone’s marital prospects but her own, in the most complete-ever film adaptation of Emma. The three-part MASTERPIECE CLASSIC “Emmaairs Sundays, January 24, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET and January 31-February 7, 2010, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11). Laura Linney hosts.

Considered by many critics to be the most perfect of Jane Austen’s blissfully romantic plots, this Emmafound favor with reviewers during the UK broadcast of this fiercely funny adaptation. The London Times enthused, “What’s not to love? Delicious interiors, ravishing dresses, gutsy acting … Jane Austen is simply made for television!”
 
Following in the elegant footsteps of previous film Emmas, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale and Alicia Silverstone (in the comic parody Clueless), Garai makes the role her own with an unbridled, joyful interpretation of this well-meaning meddler. “Garai brings a delicious spark which makes all her matchmaking delusions endearing,” applauded the Edinburgh Scotsman.
 
Joining Garai is Jonny Lee Miller (“Endgame,” “Eli Stone”) as Mr. Knightley, Emma’s best friend and stern moral taskmaster. Both are rich, energetic — and resolved to stay single. Michael Gambon (“Cranford,” Harry Potter) stars as Emma’s hypochondriacal father, a widower and fear-monger on the subjects of diet, weather, travel, matrimony and all of life’s other perils.
 
Also appearing are Tamsin Greig (“The Diary of Anne Frank,” airing on MASTERPIECE CLASSIC in April) as Miss Bates, a talkative but lovable busybody; Laura Pyper as Miss Bates’ spectacularly accomplished niece, Jane Fairfax, whom Emma resents as a rival; and Rupert Evans as the Byronic mystery man, Frank Churchill.
 
Emma’s game of playing Cupid seems to succeed with her former governess, Anne Taylor (Jodhi May, “The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard”), but backfires when Emma tries to arrange the future happiness of her new friend, the pretty orphan Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan, “Lewis”).
 
And therein lies the central plot: How badly can Emma muddle the romantic order of her little world, a world of subtle and not-so-subtle courtship signals that she disastrously misreads? Before matters straighten themselves out, she will have been proven mistaken about practically all of her nuptial intuitions — including one about a possible suitor for herself!
 
Jane Austen was at the height of her powers when she wrote this gloriously comic novel in 1814-15. Yet she fretted that she had created a heroine “whom no one but myself will much like.”
 
She needn’t have worried. Austen’s genius was to create real-life people and throw them into a situation that reflects the everyday mix-ups of the human condition — and to make it all entertaining. Almost 200 years later, Emma is as fresh as Mr. Knightley’s celebrated strawberry beds, the scene of an excursion that proves one of the turning points of this satisfying story.
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