Years ago, I purchased a collection of Austen adaptations produced by the BBC in the 1970’s and 80’s. I watched all of them at least once, but some collected dust after their initial viewing, including this version of Emma. I came to this particular series “cold,” having not watched it clear through in nearly a decade. In some ways, it’s more challenging to discover goofs when the material is less familiar because I’m engaging with the story at the same time as I’m looking for goofs. I watched it with a critical eye, and in several cases referred back to the novel itself to make sure I wasn’t imagining things that were simply handled differently in later adaptations since this is the fourth version of Emma I’ve blogged about this year. I did manage to discover a collection of anachronisms, continuity errors, inexplicable deviations from the novel and historical inaccuracies.
10.) The case of the tell-tale candles. Evidence of long filming sessions, multiple takes, scenes filmed back to back, ect., can often be spotted in the height of the candles in the background of the set. The first example of this is found in a conversation that cuts back and forth. If you use the top of the picture frame as a guide, you can see that the candle flames are the height of the frame when the camera is on Emma and Mrs. Weston, much shorter when looking at John Knightley, and have grown back to full size a moment later. The second example below is at the Crown Ball. The ball is just beginning, and the action takes us from people greeting one another to Mr. Weston engaging Mrs. Elton to open the ball, to Mr. Elton’s snub of Harriet. This screen capture is of Mr. Knightley’s kind gesture in approaching Harriet. If you look at the candles on the mantle behind her, they are nearly spent, which would be expected at the end of a ball, not the beginning. A third example that I spotted was the candle by the Christmas Tree in the Entry Hall at Hartfield on Christmas Eve. It was precisely the same height when the household departed for Randalls as when they arrived home some hours later. It makes sense to me that they filmed the leave-taking and the homecoming back-to-back.
9.) Jane Fairfax’s invisible ink. In this scene, we have Miss Bates waving a letter from Jane Fairfax around. She talks at length about how Jane writes in both directions, a common practice in an era when economies were practiced to make the most of the space on the paper. The “back” of the letter was often written on in the areas that would be concealed once the paper was folded. (See illustration image below.) The address would be written on the back side of the paper on the area that was outside the folds, along with the wax seal. We never see the front of the letter here, but the page Mrs. Bates is holding is entirely blank on the back, with no evidence of it even having been addressed or sealed for the post.
8.) The not entirely natural look. The makeup on this production was admirably restrained for being a product of the seventies. During this era, gentle-bred, single young ladies eschewed most cosmetics with some exception made for special occasions like a ball. In most scenes, the makeup is done with such a light touch that it seems that Emma, Harriet, Jane Fairfax, and the other young ladies are simply blessed with dark lashes and a natural bloom in their cheeks. There are a few scenes, however, where the eyeshadow, mascara, and rouge are discernable enough to be a distraction and spoil the effect of the natural glow of a country maiden.
7.) The cards that are ahead of their time. This easily missed anachronism comes courtesy of the single “goofs” entry in the IMDB page for this series. In one of the final scenes of the last episode, the Elton’s are playing cards with Mrs. and Miss Bates and gossiping about Mr. Knightley moving to Hartfield. The deck of cards they are playing with has rounded edges with numbers in the corners. Playing cards of that era did not have these features.
6.) Wait, just who is this Mr. Dixon? In the novel, Jane Fairfax was a ward of Colonel Campbell. His daughter was Jane’s friend who was engaged to and married Mr. Dixon. When the pianoforte is mysteriously delivered to Jane, Emma speculates that Jane and Mr. Dixon were romantically involved, and Frank encourages the belief. This is a solid plot point that was weirdly altered in this adaptation. When Emma calls on Miss Bates, Jane has just arrived, and Miss Bates spills the beans that Jane met a young couple in Weymouth who offered her a position as a governess. Jane hedges a bit, declaring that her plans are not set, but she doesn’t deny that the position is one of her options. This dramatically changes the dynamic of the relationships and would technically eliminate the need for Jane to find a position, which is a mission that Mrs. Elton takes up when she arrives in Highbury. This change in the storyline simply doesn’t make sense.
5.) Emma, the matronly maiden. The character of Emma is supposed to be 20 years-old. Doran Godwin, the actress in the title role, was twenty-two when she acted the role. This surprised me. She seems much older. I think some of this can be attributed to the costume department putting her in mob caps in most of the indoor scenes. They did the same to Harriet. Mob caps were not typically worn by single ladies of a marriageable age in the Regency era, so placing this accessory on her head unnecessarily ages her.
4.) Elton gaslights Harriet. The whole incident of Mr. Elton’s “courtship” Charade is based on the fact that he gave it to Emma who misinterprets it to be intended for Harriet. Elton even points that out in the disastrous carriage proposal to Emma. In this scene, however, Mr. Elton does actually hand the Charade to Harriet. Oops.
3.) She did what? Emma, presumably the leading young lady in Highbury, who is the example of decorum to her peers, breaks one of the hard and fast rules of civil society. A lady may not decline to dance with one gentleman and then accept the offer of a dance with another afterward. Which is exactly what she does here at the Cole’s dinner party, with barely 30 seconds between her rejection and delighted acceptance. At least the observers on the sidelines are suitably shocked.
2.) More invisible ink? Actually, no. This is a fairly obvious goof. Harriet leaves her gloves on when penning her response letter to Robert Martin’s letter of proposal. Gloves were expensive and ink was notoriously hard to clean. The job of writing was subject to blots and splatters making a mess. Anyone of that era would remove their gloves before writing a letter with quill and ink.
1.) Making an honest woman of herself. When Emma contrives to get Mr. Elton and Harriet to walk alone, she claims that her bootlace has broken, urging the couple to go on ahead. In this scene, rather than just fumbling with the lace for a minute, she reaches down and yanks on the lace to break it. The first problem is that it broke a little too easily for a lace that wasn’t even damaged. The second problem is that there was absolutely no reason to break the lace. The boots would not even be seen under her skirt. Emma was not that stupid.
There you have it. Have you watched this adaptation of Emma? All six episodes–about 4-1/2 hours–are available on YouTube if you’re curious. If you’ve seen it, did you catch any of the goofs listed? Are you aware of others that I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts and comments below.