"Read it first!" we so often cry. "The book is always better than the movie!" Yet there have been times in encountering adaptations in which I'm equally impressed with this new form of a story and love it in its own way for different reasons. One such example is the Emmy award winning The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And that's a big compliment from me considering that Austen is one of my favorite authors and P&P is one of my favorite novels.
And now the team at Pemberley Digital is at it again, this time trying their hand at another Austen novel, Emma. The series Emma Approved is now five episodes in, and so I feel like I've had enough time to form an initial opinion.
Emma Woodhouse's story is a tricky one in that she's not always very likable. In fact, Austen herself didn't even particularly care for her that much. She's rich, she has influence, and while her intentions are good and it's awesome to see a young woman in an admired position, she can also be pushy, ambitious, and doesn't always realize the effect she has on others, be it positive or negative. Basically, Emma meddles and you don't always like her, but you don't want to see her fail. You just want her to learn a lesson and grow.
So far in Emma Approved, I find myself wondering what it is this Emma really cares about. In the 2009 BBC miniseries - one of my favorite adaptations - it was clear to viewers that Emma did genuinely care about others, even if she got wrapped up in drama of her own creation from time to time. Same with Cher in the 1990s reimagining of the story, Clueless. But so far in Emma Approved, this Emma seems to care more about credit. After all, she's recording these videos to document her greatness for when she someday wins a lifetime achievement award. It will be interesting to see how this goes.
Lead actress Joanna Sotomura has captured the bolder aspects of the character perfectly. She has a flair for the dramatic. She knows what she wants and believes that she absolutely knows what's best. She's poised and polished, and I must say that Sotomura is charming and quick-witted. She comes into this project completely confident and owns all that is Emma: the good, the bad, and all the potential for messy in between. I'm very interested in seeing how she continues to breathe life into this quirky and complicated character.
Other casting has been equally fantastic. Mr. George Knightly is now Alex Knightley, Emma's business partner portrayed by Brent Bailey. Let me just say, this was a fantastic choice. Mr. Knightley is an Austen man I particularly love and so far I adore Bailey's portrayal of a man who is smart, level-headed, and serious but also has a great sense of humor. (Again, I shouldn't compare, but it's reminiscent of Paul Rudd's take on Knightley in Clueless.) I'm also a big fan of making Harriet Smith Emma's personal assistant, as portrayed by Dayenne Hutton - she's exactly how I imagined her, and they made her character a library science student to boot!
It's hard not to compare Emma Approved to The LBD. Lizzie's was a perfect kind of magic and I think one of the biggest reasons for its success is that she felt like an every girl, sitting in her childhood bedroom, hounded by parents and sisters, talking to a camera. If she could do it, so can we. Emma's position is less common - she wears $200 blouses, for instance - so we look for other ways to connect. All in all, I have nothing but faith in this new series and I think it's off to a good start. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how exactly this all plays out.
Link to Emma Approved, Episode 1