The new BBC1 miniseries of Emma will shortly become reality when it begins airing in the UK on October 4. This four-part costume drama is being adapted from Jane Austen’s novel by Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend) and stars Romola Garai (Atonement) as the "handsome, clever and rich" but misguided Miss Emma Woodhouse and Jonny Lee Miller (Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park 1999) as her reproachful neighbor Mr. Knightley.
Two weeks away from air date, and very little press so far. Since the BBC announced that it was “moving away from traditional 19th century-set "bonnet" dramas in favor of a grittier look at the period and a new focus on other historical eras,” I am not surprised at the revamping of Emma toward more emotion and drama. A recent headline of an article in the Telegraph proclaimed “BBC banishes stuffy period characters from new Emma drama” and that the new story has been updated to give it a modern romance. Kate Harwood, controller of BBC serials explains their reasons for the changes.
We didn't want stuffy period characters. This is not a high Austen comedy, it's modern. Maybe we are in a period where we are a little bit more relaxed with Austen. We are taking her off the literary shelf and making her seem part of our lives again.
This approach is quite bold and may surprise and irritate Jane Austen’s fans. Honestly, it appears quite condescending to me, implying that our Jane needs a make-over to be accessible to a new generation of viewers. Well fine. But do they have to be so superior about it calling her characters snooty and all? In Austen’s defense Judith Hawley, a professor of English at Royal Holloway University responded that this modern take on Austen’s Emma sounded like as a "strange kind of hybrid Austen".
This business of changing the sensibility seems like a mistake…If you modernise it too far and modernise the social relations that pertained to Austen's day, then some of the behaviour and the plot will not make sense.
My point exactly. This Byronization of the relationships may change the subtle and delicate balance that Austen is known and appreciate for. The producers may be attempting to forestall reproof to soften the shock – but the changes may still be a disappointment to many. We shall see what the miniseries bears. The jury is still out on this one.
'Values of Jane Austen novels are as important as the characters'
Jane Austen’s recent adaptations
Watch a preview of Emma 2009
Cheers, Laurel Ann