Can I confess that I’ve never seen a version of Emma (except, of course, Clueless; no, I haven’t seen the Gwyneth Paltrow version because I try to save up Jeremy Northam for special occasions). I haven’t read a lot of Jane Austen, but I’m familiar enough with the basic plot: Emma’s a know-it-all who fancies herself a matchmaker and is completely clueless about how she’s destined to marry her best friend.
There was a lot I didn’t necessarily love about the current Masterpiece Theatre production, but I couldn’t stop watching, either. And much of that was due to the utterly charming Romola Garai, who was just so fresh and brought a lack of obnoxiousness to a character (Emma) that could so easily be annoying. Also, it seems that Masterpiece Theatre is doing its part to keep Michael Gambon employed in between Harry Potter movies; three cheers for that!
I would like a word about Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, however. I caught Miller in a production of Byron on Ovation a couple of months ago, and I think that he’s actually a very engaging guy, but I don’t think he’s right for period pieces. He’s a bit too modern, and he tends to feel like the best-dressed guy at a costume party, as opposed to someone who could have actually lived 200 years ago.
(The real reason I watched the Byron miniseries was that Philip Glenister was playing Lord Byron’s manservant. Let me tell you, the main problem with that miniseries is the main problem with every television show ever: not enough Glenister. If PBS is hard up for money, I’ve got a recommendation: create a subscription channel that features everything Philip Glenister was ever in and call it “Pure Animal Magnetism TV.” Half the female population would watch…and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would never need to rely on the fickle ways of the federal government ever again.)
On a related “extremely attractive men I don’t see enough of” note, Rupert Penry-Jones, who I thought was pretty decent in the too-short Masterpiece production of Persuasion, and who is also married (in real life) to an actress whose character was the worst aspect of one of my favorite shows. But we won’t hold any of that against him.
So, Penry-Jones starred in a production of The 39 Steps. (This is the part where I confess that I really don’t like the Hitchcock movie, despite the presence of Robert Donat, who was in one of my favorite movies of all time, and Madeleine Carroll, who was in my absolute favorite movie ever.) So it was touch-and-go whether I’d actually watch this version.
The problem with reviewing this version is that Penry-Jones is so distractingly beautiful that I have no idea whether he’s a good actor. I can tell you that the plot (especially the ending) is different from the Hitchcock version, but I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell you which version is more faithful to the book. I thought it was more watchable and enjoyable than the Hitchcock, but much of that could be due to the leading man.
(For a short time, you can still watch all of The 39 Steps if you missed it.)
On Sunday, Masterpiece will be presenting Sharpe’s Challenge, which I caught on BBC America a while ago, but which I will definitely watch again.
If you’ve watched Sharpe before, you know the routine: Sean Bean’s Sharpe is war-weary, he’s got to find his missing sidekick, Harper, while wearing a jacket with a ridiculous amount of buttons, etc., etc.
This time, though, Toby Stephens, my absolute favorite bad guy, is playing yet another bad guy. (It’s also interesting to note that Stephens and Bean both played bad guys in Bond movies…) I could watch Toby Stephens read the phone book as long as it was done with an evil voice and a maniacal twinkle in the eye.
And everyone knows Daragh O’Malley is extremely easy on the eyes, so just watch it and let me know how you like it.