I’m currently watching the latest production of Emma, staring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller (as an aside, did you know he was married for like five minutes to Angelina Jolie?). I’ve seen this version of Emma a few years back. When I first heard of it, I wondered how many times producers can re-create Emma. After all, there was the A&E mini-series, then the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, and of course, Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless.
But I think this may be my favorite Emma, regardless of how well Paltrow did a British accent or how well Jeremy Northam filled his Regency appropriate tights. Romola brought in equal measures of annoying and lovable Emma. Jonny Lee Miller was easy on the eyes, despite him being severe with Emma. Northam’s portrayal was softer compared to Miller’s.
So in the spirit of my re-watching Emma, I’m sharing the movie/series versions of classics I like (in random order):
1. Pride and Prejudice – with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Even over two decades later, nothing comes close to this definitive rendition of Jane Austen’s most popular work. I know people who prefer the 1980’s version but I can’t get pass the “set” that screams soap operatic level of performance to me. The Firth and Ehle version was richly done with the wonderful sets and costumes; not to mention the gratuitous swimming/wet shirt scene of Colin Firth. No one can blame the director of wasting the perfect human specimen that is Firth’s.
2. Sense and Sensibility – Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Hugh Grant was the weak link in this movie. But with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman in the major roles, it was easy to forget Grant. All three were, as usual, excellent. Rickman’s voice, man! It makes you wonder why Marianne didn’t fall in love with him sooner. And of course, Thompson as the sensible but sensitive Elinor was perfect.
3. Jane Eyre – Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. I’m going to anger some people here because there’s great love to the 1980’s version with Timothy Dalton (yes, the guy who was James Bond for five minutes) but the direction of Cary Fukunaga moved this movie along with enough passion from Mr. Rochester, and a Jane who was strong and defiant till the end. This along with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens is my favorite versions of Jane Eyre, because, well Ruth Wilson can do no wrong. Also, worth noting is that William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg took wonderful turns to this work twenty years ago.
4. North and South – Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. This ranks here by default, true, but it was a superior production, even with the liberties they took with the story. I mean a fist-fight and kissing in public between an unmarried couple no less (insert the pearl clutchers here)! Can you imagine the scandal? Not that I’m complaining about Armitage kissing Denby-Ashe. I can probably watch two hour of that scene alone on loop. Denby-Ashe’s casting is a bit jarring because of the very particular way Gaskell described her in the book but she and Armitage nailed their parts, and they had great chemistry.
5. Frankenstein’s Monster – Robert de Niro and Kenneth Branagh. I know, random but this is one of my favorite books. Only one movie comes very close to the book and that’s this version. It captures the morality of the story, and the pain suffered both by creator and creature. Most of the Frankenstein movies made are run of the mill horror movies, when in fact, Frankenstein’s Monster was more than that. It shows the path that took Frankenstein to creating his “monster”, and truly shows who the “monster” is. Hint: it’s not Frankenstein’s creation.
6. Nicholas Nickelby – Charlie Hunnam and Anne Hathaway. Before either actors were famous, there was this; a rather palatable version of the gritty book. There was just enough darkness into it, with a hopeful, happy ending thrown in as to not make the movie depressing because man, the book is a downer. Major editing was done to the book to make this into a two-hour movie but it didn’t lose its way. I also particularly like Jamie Bell here.
If you haven’t read any or some of these books, watch the movie version, and hopefully you’ll want to pick up and read these classics. They don’t disappoint.