Thursday, February 4, 2010

BBC Emma 1972

Doran Godwin as Emma Woodhouse

My dear blogging friend Elise asked about this adaptation of Emma the other day so because I've also been planning to review it I decided it was the perfect time to do just that!
This version of Emma was first aired on the BBC in 1972 consisting of six 45 minute episodes. The script was written by screenplay writer Denis Constanduros who at the time had already written three major miniseries for the BBC (The Railway Children, Little Women and Sense & Sensibility 1971) and would go on to collaborate on one more (Sense & Sensiblity 1981). It is a very full and complete script which follows Jane Austen's novel not omitting the slightest detail. That said this adaptation is really just like reading the book and can sometimes be a bit dry. But I find the more I watch it the more I appreciate the time and care put into the characters and dialog.

Emma with Debbie Bowen as a very silly Harriet Smith

This adaptation often can be looked at more like you're watching the story unfold as a play with actors on a stage. Few props, little music, simple costumes and hair styles, and slow and deliberate acting give this effect. This may seem strange to some viewers who are used to the more modern adaptations where they seek to show the characters in their everyday lives and try to keep with the history and styles of the period.

Perfectly cast Donald Eccles as Mr. Woodhouse

That said there are some lovely actors in this adaptation which I feel really embody the characters Jane Austen paints in her novel. One of my favorites is Donald Eccles as Mr. Woodhouse who being thin and a bit frail and truly old but still gallant and concerned for others. Other characters I enjoyed are Mr. Elton (handsome clergyman who you can tell is really trying to please the ladies) and Mrs. Elton (her tongue is really very sharp).

Ania Marson as Jane Fairfax and Constance Chapman as Miss Bates

Another favorite is Constance Chapman as Miss Bates who does an excellent job of "rattling on". I enjoy listening to her voice because she would reprise the same character in a BBC Radio Drama a few years later (this Radio Drama was my first experience with Emma).
But there are other characters in this adaptation (such as super silly Harriet Smith) who can get a bit tedious or boring at times. Actors are also often seem to cast older than they should. For example Doran Godwin who play Emma Woodhouse looks like she's nearing 35 but she was at the time only 22 years old. While John Carson who played Mr. Knightley was at the time nearing 45 years old (10 years older than Mr. Knightley's real 35-36 years).

Doran Godwinn and John Carson as Emma and Mr. Knightley

One of the things I really appreciate about the romance of Emma and Mr. Knightley is that their romantic love develops far after their deep and abiding friendship. They truly have time to learn each others characters (the good and the bad) and really love each other because this friendship. They also understand each other so well they don't need physical touch to express their love, sometimes they don't even need words! Their love story is very gently played out in this adaptation - I'm not sure if the actors even ever hold hands (and their is certainly no kissing). There is one very sweet scene towards the end that is included from the book. The scene shows Emma trying to use Mr. Knightley's first name but finding that "George" just doesn't fit her idea of him.

I would definitely recommend this adaptation to all period drama fans, but unless you are a die hard Austen fan (like me, I own all the films) then I wouldn't recommend purchasing it just yet. Instead you can pre-view Emma 1972 on YouTube. I've also created the above video with music from the Opening and End Credits and photos from the adaptation. Enjoy!


The Editrix said...

Excellent review! Thank you so much, Laurie!! :-)

LadyBug-Laurie said...

You're welcome Elise! I hope it helps. If you see this film let me know what you think. :)

Katherine said...

Mr. Woodhouse indeed looks very frail and I thought Debbie Bowen did a good job of playing Harriet Smith (although my favorite is Samantha Morton followed by Louise Dylan).
It's not my favorite adaptation of Emma but as you mentioned it's strength is how close it is to the novel.

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