The 1972 version of Emma I admit I did not particularly like upon first viewing. Doran Godwin seems to be too old for her part, as does John Carson. I will admit that Debbie Bowen, who portrays Harriet, does have the annoying tendency to overact. However the character is almost written as such in Jane Austen's novel, so it's not completely her fault. Also the obviousness of being confined to the studio tended to irritate as well at times (like when a wall accidentally shakes when a door closes). However a look at the year of it's production brings many explanations. It after all was the style of filming, especially for television, in the 1970s. If you doubt me take a look at "The Six Wives of Henry the VIII" with Keith Mitchell that was made for television (not the film version). In that one for all the different palaces they use only one plain set, and only on a handful of occasions show outdoor scenes. Yet the brilliant writing and acting counterbalances these deficiencies quite well. I also would like to blame that we as modern audiences have become spoiled on "life-like" movies, like some posters obviously have, that this style of filming has become under appreciated.
However upon a second or third viewing this version grows on you. I like the way Doran explores the complications, paradoxes and perplexities of Emma's character much more than Gwenyth Paltrow's quick shallow one faced version. Although I will say that Gwenyth has much more of Emma's charm than Doran ever does.
The nice slow pace reminds me quite well of the style of Jane Austen's novels. They are slow paced, like a country stroll, but still they have their many entertainingly wry jewels along the course of the movie as it explores the less hectic and more relaxing early 19th century life. This style of filming also allows for character development and exploration to occur much better than modern attempts to adapt the novel have accomplished.
Modern films are more concerned about either action, romance, or special effects so much that proper character development seems to end up on the cutting room floor. So in modern films we are given stereotypical characters that everyone can relate to in substitution to proper character development and exploration. This gives the film makers more time to give you long sweeping kisses, sexual tension, explosions, CGI effects, and unnecessarily long action sequences featuring the gun slinging hero. However we as a people have grown to have such short attention spans that these changes in film making seem almost a necessary thing. For proper character development to occur, one almost has to sit through watching actual real life occur, which no one wants to do anymore, because there isn't enough "time in the day" to have the patience for it. But enough rambling.
Jane Austen's books are not so much about romance (as modern film interpretations seem to think) as they are about the self-discoveries and journeys each heroine and hero undergoes into learning more about life, the person they come to love, themselves, and the world/community around them. With Emma it is learning to not put her nose where it doesn't belong (for it causes more grief than joy), and that marrying a man she can truly respect is more like growing up instead of her childish proclamations of staying a single rich matchmaker for the rest of her life. The Doran Godwin version especially explores this, and after you get used to the style of
|A dinner party scene at Mrs. Weston's.|
Robert East who portrays Frank Churchill is the best of the versions I have seen as well, capturing his similar sly Emma-like nature as well as his gentlemanly manners quite well. Of his portrayal you actually get that he's a well-intentioned overgrown kid who just can't help himself at times, while still remaining quite gentlemanly--it's an odd combination, but East manages to pull it off excessively well.
So if you have nothing to do for a night or an afternoon, this version is a nice way to appreciate Jane Austen's best written book.
I leave you with a small clip to whet your appetite.
Until next time,