At the Box Hill picnic in this version of Emma, Mr. Weston poses a conundrum, asking the group which two letters of the alphabet express perfection. His answer was “M” and “A” which together are “Em-ma.” The awkward irony of this is lost on no-one, as the entire group has just witnessed Emma’s stinging set-down of Miss Bates. As I’ve researched the trivia for this post, I’ve come to appreciate the myriad perfections of this adaptation, in spite of the occasional flaws that can be spotted by a critical eye. The challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to test your knowledge of this BBC series.
- During the period when Mr. Elton’s infatuation with Emma was growing, how was this visually represented onscreen?
- Why did the costume designer use rich, saturated colors for Emma’s wardrobe?
- Miss Bates owned two dresses. What differentiated them?
- What non-religious cathedral was on display at the Weston’s wedding breakfast?
- In what year was this adaptation of Emma first conceived by the BBC?
- What visual cues did the director use to reflect Emma’s growing influence on Harriet?
- What behaviors did the director have the actors incorporate into their portrayals to make the characters relatable for modern audiences?
- Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Mr. Knightley in Emma, has portrayed another Austen leading man in an adaptation. Who was it?
- During what era in English History was Loseley Park, the film location representing Donwell Abbey, built?
- There is a Christmas Day scene where the Knightley men and boys engage in a snowball fight. How cold was it the day they filmed this scene?
How many did you know? On the others, did you venture to guess? Read on to check your facts.
10.) A masculine house for a masculine man. – Loseley Park, the setting for Donwell Abbey, was selected to reflect the character and social position of Mr. Knightley. The house was originally built in the 1560’s, the Tudor era, and features the dark wood, harsher light, and cavernous interior spaces. This location was selected to mirror the masculinity of its owner, Mr. Knightly. Would this be what you consider the ultimate Regency country bachelor domicile?
9.) Regency cake hack: The Weston’s wedding cake is another example of a modern twist planted in this production. The cake was made using the Nordicware Cathedral Bundt Cake pan. I need to get me one of those.
8.) The case of the anachronistic gestures. The use of modern body language is a nuanced directorial trick, a behavioral “sleight of hand” if you will. By weaving modern movement and gestures in amongst the curtseys, bows, and stiff postures of the Regency era, the characters seem authentic to the period and yet remain fresh and relatable to contemporary audiences in a way that is subtle enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the story.
7.) Something of a peacock. As Mr. Elton’s designs on Emma become more pronounced, so does his style. His clothing becomes more luxurious and richly colored, and his hair is also made to be larger and fluffier on top. Blake Ritson, the actor who played Mr. Elton, described his look during this part of the series as becoming “something of a peacock” as his infatuation with Emma grows. This metaphor has upped my enjoyment of those scenes, as I observe him strutting and making himself seem more important than he truly is.
6.) Dressing Miss Bates. The costume designer used a deliciously subconscious way to signal the reduced circumstances of Miss Bates to the audience. Miss Bates has two dresses to her name, which are identical in every detail with one notable exception. One dress is badly faded, clearly worn as the everyday outfit while the other is less so, being reserved for church and social occasions. I confess that I had never noticed this when watching the series, only recognizing that Miss Bates’ clothing was always drab and colorless.
5.) Would the real Edmund please stand up? There is a double connection between the cast of Emma (2009) and adaptations of Austen’s Mansfield Park. Jonny Lee Miller, who portrayed Mr. Knightley, and Blake Ritson, who played Mr. Elton, have both acted the role of Edmund Bertrum in different adaptations of Mansfield Park.
4.) Emma’s MIni-me. In order to show Emma’s influence over Harriet, her costumes transition over the course of the series to show that Harriet mimics Emma’s style in a muted variation of Emma’s more vibrant fashions. The image in the upper left corner is of Harriet before she meets Emma.
3.) Christmas in July. The of the Christmas snowfall is a highlighted point in the series, and the film crew did capture images of the landscape around the houses in winter, shown to establish the setting, but the snowball fight among the Knightley men and boys was filmed in the summer, winter coats and all. If you look at the foliage in the two images, you can discern that one is truly winter with bare branches on the deciduous trees and in the other, fake snow was sprayed on the leaves to give the impression of winter.
2.) Dressing Miss Woodhouse. Although the trend for unmarried young ladies of the upper class during this period leaned toward white or pastel colors, the costume designer wanted her wardrobe to reflect her position as lady of the house more than as an eligible girl seeking a husband. To accomplish this, they dressed Emma in vibrant, saturated colors to visually telegraph this status.
1.) Kicking the can down the road. Sandy Welch, the screenwriter for this adaptation, was originally hired by the BBC to write the script for an Emma miniseries in 1995. When the producers ascertained that Miramax was filming an adaptation of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role, Meridian Broadcasting was underway with the Kate Beckinsale version, and Paramount Studios was producing the modern adaptation, Clueless, the BBC determined that the field was a bit crowded at that point. They tabled their project and waited nearly a decade before reviving it. One can only wonder if, with nearly a decade having passed since this one was released, is another in the works?
Quiz Answers: 1.) Mr. Elton’s style was increasingly flamboyant. 2.) To make it clear that Emma was the lady of the house. 3.) One of the dresses was faded, and the other wasn’t. 4.) The wedding cake was baked in the Nordicware Cathedral Bundt cake pan. 5.) 1995 6.) Harriet’s clothing mimicked Emma’s clothing. 7.) They employed the use of modern body language. 8.) Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. 9.) Tudor. 10.) It was not cold at all since the scene was filmed in the summer.
I hope you had fun reading up on this lovely adaptation, and I would be pleased if you learned something new. I know I did. I set the videos to play at the trivia point, but they are interesting throughout, so if you want to know more, watch them from the beginning. We always appreciate your comments, so I invite you to share your thoughts, including if there is an item you’d like to add to our list.