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This six part mini-series was an early television adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, starring Doran Godwin as Emma Woodhouse, the young woman who gives herself (too much) credit for her match-making abilities, and whose plans to find a perfect match for her friend Harriet go awry.  John Carson stars as Mr Knightley, her brother-in-law and friend.  The main cast also includes Donald Eccles as Emma’s worrisome, hypochondriac father, Debbie Bowen as Harriet Smith, Robert East as Frank Churchill, Ania Marson as Jane Fairfax, Constance Chapman as Miss Bates, and Raymond Adamson and Ellen Dryden as Mr and Mrs Weston.

Okay…first of all, I’ll admit that my view of this series is probably tainted by my recently watching the 2009 adaptation, starring Romola Garai as Emma, which I adored from the first minute to the last.  Also, I don’t really like to write very negative reviews, but there is a chance that this will turn into one, because unfortunately, this series did not really work for me, for a number of reasons.  The first of these is the acting, which for the most part was overly theatrical.  Also, I did not feel that Godwin really captured the positive aspects of Emma’s character – yes Emma is a snob, and interferes with matters when she should know better; but she is also loving towards her friends and family, well-intentioned and quick witted, and in the book – and other adaptations – she is likeable despite her character flaws (and who amongst us does not have character flaws?!)  However here, she came across as snooty, bossy and cold, and I really did not like her.  She spoke to every other person as though they were her inferior both in social standing and in intelligence.  The Harriet Smith character, who admittedly is supposed to be artless and naive, just seemed stupid and annoying.  Constance Chapman was quite good as Miss Bates – she actually grew on me as the episodes progressed, but her acting was somewhat over the top.  This is more than can be said for Ania Marson, who was physically a good choice for Jane Fairfax, but delivered most of her lines with as much emotion as if she was reading her shopping list.  However, I did quite enjoy Adamson and Dryden as the Westons, and Fiona Walker was good as Mrs Elton.  John Carson played Mr Knightley well.  He was maybe a little too old for the part, but that was not a huge problem.  Unfortunately, he was not Jonny Lee Miller, for which he can hardly be held responsible!  (I fully admit that since recently watching Miller as my ideal Knightley, I struggle to see anyone else in the part.)

This series was more or less faithful to the book, with just a few changes – and it’s hard to find any adaptation of any series that does not feature a few changes.  However, while it stayed true to the story, it did not stay true to the spirit of the book, and did not – for me anyway, capture the wit and and warmth of the story.  It was hard to root for any of the characters.

Additionally, the sets looked like cheap stage sets, and I could never shake the feeling that I was watching a televised stage performance (which I wasn’t, but that’s how it seemed, especially with the acting which seemed more fitting to a stage than a screen).

A lot of my problems with the series are subjective, and may be due to it being made in a different era with lower budgets, for which it cannot fairly be criticised.  In the interests of fairness, I should point out that there are many very positive reviews of this series online, and it is popular with a lot of viewers.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me, but it was worth watching for comparison purposes, and because I always like to see how different producers, directors and actors interpret the same works of fiction.

Year of release: 1972

Director: John Glenister

Producer: Martin Lisemore

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Denis Constanduros

Main cast: Doran Godwin, John Carson, Donald Eccles, Constance Chapman, Ellen Dryden, Raymond Adamson, Debbie Bowen, Timothy Peters, Robert East, Ania Marson, Fiona Walker


Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film adaptation, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1995 film Clueless (adaptation of Emma).


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