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This four part adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, stars Romola Garai as the titular Emma, a precocious, well-meaning but interfering young woman, for whom matchmaking is a hobby.  Jonny Lee Miller plays her long-time friend, and eventual husband (and brother-in-law) George Knightley, and Michael Gambon is her worrisome father, who is so frightened for the health of those he loves that he is scared to let Emma out of his sight.

I thought this adaptation was WONDERFUL, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.  Romola Garai – an actress who is always watchable – was absolutely a perfect choice for Emma, and captured Emma’s playfulness and personal growth exactly as I imagined it should be.  Mr Knightley, who is probably my favourite Austen hero, because of his very essence of goodness and decency, can nonetheless sometimes come across as stern or unbending, but Jonny Lee Miller made him everything that Knightley should be and more.  He clearly adored Emma – and the romantic love between them seemed far more natural and organic in this series than it has done in other adaptations – but was not afraid to stand up to her.  But Miller also showed a more playful and witty side to Knightley.  I also loved Michael Gambon who made Mr Woodhouse a sympathetic rather than a frustrating character – the affectionate relationship between him and Emma was very sweet to watch; Tamsin Greig as the silly but well-meaning Mrs Bates; and Robert Bathurst as their neighbour and friend Mr Weston.

A four hour mini-series will always be able to develop the characters and storyline at a more gradual pace than a two hour film, and it really worked here, with all the characters getting the screen time they deserved, and relationships being shown in all their stages, especially between Emma and Mr Knightley, with her realisation that she is in love with him seeming a natural development.

The series was moving at times, but also showed the wit in Austen’s writing, with several very funny scenes.  It was colourful and sweet, and for my money, probably my very favourite Austen adaptation.  Just wonderful, and all fans of the book, or good period drama should watch it!

Year of release: 2009

Director: Jim O’Hanlon

Producers: Rebecca Eaton, Phillippa Giles, George Ormond, Michas Kotz

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Sandy Welch

Main cast: Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon, Jodhi May, Robert Bathurst, Louise Dylan, Blake Ritson, Tamsin Greig, Dan Fredenburgh, Poppy Miller, Laura Pyper, Rupert Evans

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1996 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 1972 mini series.

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

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This film is not the first big-screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, but is probably one of the most talked about versions.  Having seen the show on stage years ago, I was eager to see the film, although I did approach with some caution, knowing that it was well over two hours long, and that there is virtually no spoken dialogue in it; this is a musical in the fullest sense of the word.

Briefly, the story, which is set in France in the 1800s, is about a man named Jean Valjean, who gets out of prison after serving a lengthy sentence for stealing bread for his sister’s baby.  He breaks parole and becomes a successful business man (and Mayor).  However, when he agrees to take care of a dying lady’s child, the decision changes his life forever.  He also has to deal with a policeman named Javert, who is obsessed with tracking down his former prisoner Valjean.

The main stars of this film are Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried as the adult Cosette (the young girl who becomes Valjean’s ward), and Eddie Redmayne as Marius, a young man who falls in love with Cosette.  Supporting roles are played by, amongst others, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (the cruel couple who look after the child Cosette until Valjean rescues her from their clutches); despite being unpleasant characters, they also provided a fair amount of comic relief, and Anne Hathaway, in an Oscar nominated (and deserving) performance as Fantine, Cosette’s mother.

The film is a sweeping epic, covering not just the stories of these characters, but the story of the French revolution, with the tragedy and bloodshed that it brought.  The singing, for the most part, is excellent.  Jackman and Hathaway in particular, have beautiful voices, and both brought tears to my eyes.  Jackman has been nominated for an Oscar for this role, and deservedly so.  (As I write this, the Oscars are nearly two months away, and my money is on Daniel Day Lewis winning for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.)

As shocking as it is to me, the weakest link in this film is the usually reliable Russell Crowe.  However, that is not to say that he was not good, or that he did not play the part well – he did, but he is surrounded by people who took my breath away with their performance (In other words, the weakest link is still pretty strong!).  Crowe’s singing voice is not the best, but he holds his tunes well, and acquits himself in the role.

This is not a film for everyone – it’s sad, it requires investment from the viewer (this is not a film to kick back and relax with), and if you don’t like musicals, you should avoid it at all costs!  But I think it’s one of those films that if you like it, you will love it.For my part, I found it moving, glorious and unforgettable.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Tom Hooper

Producers: Nicholas Allott, Liza Chasin, Angela Morrison, F. Richard Pappas, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron MackintoshBernard Bellew, Raphael Benoliel, Francesca Budd, Thomas Schonberg

Writers: Victor Hugo (novel), Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer, William Nicholson

Main cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Smaantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway

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This film was directed by Julian Fellowes, who since making it, has made the hugely successful Downton Abbey tv series.  Like that series, this film stars Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, and they are joined by, amongst others, Dominic West, Pauline Collins and Timothy Spall.

Set in 1940s England, 13 year old Tolly (Alex Etel) is sent to stay with his grandmother (Maggie Smith) at her country home, which she fears she will have to sell due to money problems.  Tolly’s father is fighting in WWII, and is missing in action.  As his grandmother tells him about the history of the house, and Tolly’s ancestors, he finds that he is able to travel back in time to 1805 and discover secrets about his family’s past, which still resonate today…

This film is adapted from Lucy M Boston’s book ‘The Chimneys of Green Knowe’.  I have not read the book, so cannot compare the two, but I did really enjoy the film.  Maggie Smith is as brilliant as ever, as the elderly lady who realises that she may have lost her beloved son, and may also have to give up her lifelong home.  Alex Etel does a fine job as Tolly, and credit should also be given to the supporting cast, especially Pauline Collins and Timothy Spall, as two members of the staff at the house.  Dominic West is great (as ever), although here he plays a particularly unpleasant character – I personally prefer to see him in nicer roles!

There is a parallel storyline;  the story from 1805 – which centres around Tolly’s ancestors, the kindly Captain Oldknow (Hugh Bonneville) and his selfish wife Maria (Carice van Houten) and their children Sefton; a spoiled, selfish young man (Douglas Booth) and Susan, a kindly, blind girl (Eliza Bennett).  Into their lives comes Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya), a former slave who escapes from captivity with the help of Captain Oldknow and joins the household as a companion for Susan, much to the chagrin of Sefton.  The second storyline is of course set in 1940s, with Tolly and his grandmother worrying about what has become of Tolly’s father (and we do find out), while at the same time getting to know and understand each other.

I thought the film was incredibly well acted, and both story lines were very touching.  So much so, that I ended up in tears at the end, which is not something that happens very often when I watch a film.  This was just a lovely film, well acted, well told, and very emotive.  Highly recommended to all fans of period drama.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Julian Fellowes

Writers: Lucy M. Boston (book), Julian Fellowes

Main cast: Maggie Smith, Alex Etel, Eliza Bennett, Dominic West, Timothy Spall, Hugh Bonneville, Douglas Booth, Kwayedza Kureya

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This review relates to the 2009 two-part adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, which starred Tom Hardy as Heathcliff, and Charlotte Riley as Cathy.  (Minor spoilers for the storyline may be contained herein.)

It’s taken me a long time to see this, I admit partly because of some of the negative reviews it received when it first aired.  However, I wish I had watched it earlier, because I really enjoyed it very much.  The story is of course very well known, but briefly, it concerns the love between Heathcliff and his step-sister Cathy – a love which was all-consuming, very intense, and affected not just the two characters, but all around them as well, leading to jealousy, revenge and tragedy.

Tom Hardy was excellent as Heathcliff – it was easy to see how someone could fall in love with him as a young man, before loss and ill-treatment by other members of the family caused him to turn bitter and angry.  He was charming and likeable, but he was also entirely believable as an older Heathcliff, determined to make Cathy’s family suffer for the misery they had visited upon him.

Charlotte Riley was lovely as Cathy – a beautiful young girl with a promising future, but who seemed destined for one path in life despite wanting to choose another.  The chemistry between the two main characters was easy to see (and it’s no surprise to learn that after meeting on this production, they became a couple in real life).

Support was provided by Sarah Lancashire, who was excellent as Nelly, Cathy’s maid (and subsequently the maid to Cathy’s daughter Catherine).  Lancashire is a really amazing actress, who always brings her roles to life, and she made a big impact in this show.  Additionally, Andrew Lincoln plays Edgar, who becomes Cathy’s husband, but never the true love of her life.  He is an actor who I sometimes find quite wooden, but he was very good here.  Burn Gorman played Hindley, the brother of Cathy who always resented Heathcliff’s intrusion in their lives, and he was superb.  He totally encapsulated the cruel and spiteful nature of the character, and made me dislike him intensely.

The whole production is very atmospheric – which I think is very important in any telling of this tale – and the Yorkshire moors where the story is set is portrayed beautifully.  There is plenty of emotion – love, happiness, anger, shock, grief – and it all makes for a very moving and enjoyable production.  And it made me cry!

If you’re a fan of the book (or even if you’re not), and haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend that you watch it.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Coky Giedroyc

Writers: Emily Bronte (book), Peter Bowker

Main cast: Ton Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire, Burn Gorman

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This is one of the most famous films of all time, and probably needs no introduction!  It is the lavish and ambitious adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s epic, telling the story of the manipulative Scarlett O’Hara and the roguish Rhett Butler, during and after the war.

Some adaptations are disastrous, but I felt that this certainly did the novel justice; having recently read the book I wanted to see the film while the story was fresh in my mind.  There are some slight changes (for instance Scarlett’s first two children Wade and Ella are not in the film at all), but overall the film remains faithful to the original story.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh are perfect in the two main roles (maybe I think this because they are forever associated with the characters and even when reading the book – having not seen the film at that time – I pictured them as Rhett and Scarlett).  It is certainly difficult to imagine Basil Rathbone – Mitchell’s original choice for the role – as Rhett.  Over 1400 actresses read for the part of Scarlett and 400 of those were given screen tests – but it’s hard to imagine that they could have picked a better actress for the part than Leigh.  However, the best performances in the film came from Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, one of the house servants at Scarlett’s home; and Olivia de Havilland as Ashley’s wife Melanie (McDaniel and Leigh received Oscars for their roles, while de Havilland and Gable were nominated for their parts).

I did lose myself in the movie – it’s very long at almost 4 hours, but it didn’t feel like it – but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a a movie with a lot of sadness and tragedy – my emotions were certainly put through the wringer!  As when reading the book, I veered from dislike of Scarlett to a begrudging respect for her, and I found myself liking Rhett despite myself – but the real heroine of this story is surely Melanie – who was full of grace, kindness and forgiveness.

The cinematography is lush and vivid, considering that the film was made in 1939 – it simply looks fantastic and certainly immerses the viewer right into the story.

Well worth watching – but you need to put a whole evening aside for it, and it may be as well to keep something cheerful put by for afterwards!

Year of release: 1939

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor (uncredited), Sam Wood (uncredited)

Writers: Margaret Mitchell (book), Sidney Howard, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling, John Van Druten

Main cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the film ‘Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War’.

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This is a BBC adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel of the same name, set in the 1930s.  I haven’t read the novel (although I would now like to), but that did mean that I had the advantage of enjoying the tv adaptation on it’s own merits, rather than comparing; and of course I didn’t know how it was going to end.

Anna Maxwell Martin is Sarah Burton, originally from the Yorkshire town of South Riding, who returns there to become headmistress of a girls’ school, after 20 years teaching in London and South Africa.  Sarah’s feminist beliefs raise a few eyebrows, especially when she announces that she wants the girls she teaches to realise that they can have a career and be whoever they want to be, rather than becoming a wife and mother as would expected.  Councillor Robert Carne (David Morrissey) is opposed to Sarah’s views, and initially the two don’t get on at all.  Relations between them do thaw, but there is tragedy in Robert’s past, which threatens to obstruct their budding relationship.

We also see the stories of Robert’s daughter Midge, who blames herself for her mother’s tragic fate; and Lydia, a young girl from a poor family, who is very intelligent, but her family need her to work rather than go to school.

John Henshaw is Councillor Huggins, an outwardly very religious and pious man, but his dalliance with a pert young girl from the village will have repercussions…

I really liked this period drama – it is darker than a lot of dramas from the same period, showing the difficulties of life for many of the villagers.  The central story between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne has shadows of Jane Eyre, but this does not necessarily mean that the characters in this story will have the same happy ending as Jane and Edward did.

The cast were terrific, with Penelope Wilton as reliable as ever as the kind and intelligent Mrs Beddowes, the district’s first female Alderman.  David Morrissey is also great as the dour and tortured Carne.  However, this is really Anna Maxwell Martin’s show, and she really is terrific in the role of Sarah.  This actress has such a fabulous range, and it was a pleasure to watch the character display such turns of emotion and deal with the problems which she met in her life and job.

This is an entirely different sort of period drama to shows such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs (both fantastic), which concentrate on the upper classes and their households.  This show centres on the working classes, the everyday villagers, and the youth of the village.

I’m reluctant to give away any more of the storyline, but I would certainly recommend this drama.  I’m off now to hunt out my copy of the book…

Year of release: 2011

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Winifred Holtby (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, John Henshall, Penelope Wilton, Charlie Clark, Douglass Henshall, Katherine McGolphin

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Anne Lister (1791 – 1840) was a Yorkshire woman, who inherited Shibden Hall (the family estate) in 1826, the income from which allowed her to live a life of modest luxury.  She was a noted diarist who wrote about her financial concerns, her life in industry (coal mining) and her lesbian relationships.  When writing about her relationships, she often used a code, which she created using Greek letters and algebra symbols.  She also loved to climb mountains.

This television film, adadpted from Anne Lister’s diaries (which were only published over a century after her death) concentrates on her love life, which is perhaps a shame, as there were other interesting aspects of her life which could have been featured – the death of all four of her brothers for example.

Anne Lister lives with her aunt and uncle at Shibden Hall, and is in love with Mariana Belcombe, but due to the conventions of the day their romance is a secret to all but Anne’s close friend and former lover Isabella ‘Tib’ Norcliffe.  When Mariana marries a wealthy older widower, Anne is devastated but seeks solace elsewhere.  Her relationship with Mariana continues in fits and starts with them meeting up whenever possible, but while Anne wants to ‘marry’ Mariana and live together, Mariana fears that the nature of their relationship will be discovered and refuses to leave her husband, although the marriage is not a happy one.

Eventually, when Anne realises that Mariana is never going to commit to a relationship, she starts a relationship with a neighbour Ann Walker, with whom she remained for the rest of her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation.  It looks sumptuous, showing off Yorkshire’s natural beauty, and really creating a sense of what life must have been like in the early 1800s.  Anne’s sexual orientation is guessed at in the village where she lives and is generally disapproved of.

Maxine Peake plays the title role, and she is superb, conveying sometimes in just one look, the pain, heartbreak or love which Anne feels.  She is a fiercely intelligent woman, sometimes calculating, sometimes incredibly vulnerable, and Peake plays every aspect of the character beautifully.  Anna Madeley and Susan Lynch are also excellent in their respective roles as Mariana and Tib, and I should mention Christine Bottomley, as Ann Walker.  Her role might not have been huge, but she embodied it totally.

My attention was held throughout this wonderful piece of period drama.  However as mentioned earlier I did think it a slight shame that more aspects of Anne Lister’s fascinating life were left out, apparently to centre on her relationships.  Nonetheless, the excellent acting and scenery made it a joy to watch, and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Year of release: 2010

Director: James Kent

Writer: Jane English

Main cast: Maxine Peake, Anna Madeley, Susan Lynch, Gemma Jones, Alan David

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There have been so many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels that it can be a bit confusing knowing where to start if you want to watch one.  This version of Emma is not the most well known, but I certainly think it’s worth a watch.

Kate Beckinsale plays Emma Woodhouse – a well meaning, but impetuous girl who likes to meddle in other people’s lives a little bit too much.  She thinks she’s doing them a favour, but she is about to learn that sometimes it’s best to leave well alone.  Her brother in law, George Knightley (the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband) is fond of Emma but is exasperated when she interferes in the affairs of her young friend Harriet Smith, and disastrously tries to set Harriet up with the local minister, Mr Elton.

Emma looks like she may be in for a romance herself when the handsome Franklin Churchill shows up, but it may be that Churchill has his own secrets…and what is the secret that young Jane Fairfax, recently returned to Highbury, is hiding?  Emma thinks she knows, but when the truth is revealed she might be in for a shock.

As far as adaptations go, this one is pretty faithful to the book.  I thought Kate Beckinsale (almost unrecognisable from how she looks today after being ‘Hollywoodised’) played the part of Emma very well, and delivered the right amount of mischievousness and haughtiness (it should be remembered that Jane Austen thought that Emma was someone who no reader would like, but I feel that she was a bit harsh on the character).  However, I did think that the character came across as slightly more ‘bitchy’ or cutting than the Emma Woodhouse of the novel (particularly in her scenes with Franklin).  Mark Strong plays George Knightley – a character I adored when I read the book.  Strong plays the part fairly well, but tended to make Knightley always so intense and angry.  I’m afraid that I was also somewhat distracted by his awful hair style!!  However, the best actors in the whole piece were Prunella Scales as Miss Bates – a character who could have been played purely for laughs, but who here is imbued with a sense of poignancy and wistfulness; and Samantha Morton, who played Harriet Smith to perfection and was exactly as I imagined Harriet would be when I read the book.  Raymond Coulthard is also great as Franklin Churchill, with just the right amount of handsome arrogance and good humour.

The period is brought to life very well, and the fact that I knew the ending did not spoil my enjoyment of the film (in fact, it probably enhanced it).  This film, made for ITV television, is not as famous as the version starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, but I think it’s well worth a look, especially for anybody who is a fan of the book.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Jane Austen (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Raymond Coulthard, Olivia Williams, Dominic Rowan, Prunella Scales

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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 film adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series.

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

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