Gorgeously modernised version of Jane Austen's 'Emma'...
There will be those, inevitably, that have never read Jane Austen; for whom the story of ‘Emma’ holds no special meaning. For those of us, however, who have expended many an hour engrossed in Austen’s merry dances; The Importance of being Emma has a lot to live up to.
Emma Woodhouse is a misnomer. Daughter of a wealthy established family; living in comparative luxury in a grand old house in Surry; educated to a high standard; intelligent and stunningly beautiful – one could be forgiven for expecting her to be an overindulged, self-absorbed, snobbish brat. She is, in fact, a starkly normal human being; replete with neurosis, vulnerability, humour, compassion and an obsession with other people’s love lives. At twenty-three, she is entirely capable... more or less. With the return of Mark Knightley, Emma is thrown into disarray; she hasn’t quite forgotten the humiliation of that teenage crush and now she has to contend with orchestrating the love life of her new PA, Harriet, as well as managing the sudden arrival of the elusive and rather gorgeous Flynn Churchill.
Mark Knightley is the proverbial hunk. Handsome, intelligent, witty, benefitting from raw sex appeal – and 12 years Emma’s senior. Mark stumbled across Emma’s teenage crush years ago but has since been spending time in India for the family business. ‘Mouse’, as he fondly calls Emma, is not exactly the same girl he remembers when he sojourns briefly back in England. As Mark tries to come to terms with his mounting feelings for Emma, others are fighting battles of their own.
It was always going to be an ambitious task taking on a Jane Austen novel and dragging it into the 21st century; the implicit problem being that as much as the dress, mannerisms and dialogue may have changed, the character devices, situations and the characters themselves are timeless.
Archer does succeed in recreating the same thrill of the chase, the bewildering criss-crossing of emotions and misunderstandings. Emma is inimitable, wonderful and hopeless. Mark is passionate, trenchant and frustratingly dense (at times!). Instead of massacring a joyous romp of a story, Archer manages to reinvigorate it. Churchill himself was perhaps a little disappointing, particularly the Spartan detail of the awful relationship with his impressively wealthy Australian aunt; and the ending did dissolve somewhat into almost incoherent babblings of ‘darling’ this and ‘my love’ that, which seemed to defeat the object of bringing the story into the modern age. However, for those wishing to immerse themselves in some self indulgent, harmless romantic bliss for a few hours – you could do far, far worse than The Importance of Emma.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012