Apparently I Watched the 1972 Emma?

17

Waaaaaay back when quarantine began, I thought that I should start binge-watching something to pass the time. Optimistically, I remembered how often Jane Austen adaptations have been my comfort object, and having just seen the new feature film Emma, decided to fire up the 1972 BBC TV version of Emma. Welp, I made it halfway through (only by multi-tasking) before giving up, and have now realized that binge-watching post-apocalyptic sci-fi is what’s getting me through this adventure.

The 1972 one is actually a strong production minus the videography typical of its day: it sticks close to the novel (okay, as much as I remember — I’ve only read it once); the costumes are appropriate to the 1815 publication date; the acting is good. It’s just waaaay too nicey-nice (and slowly paced) for me these days!

I did get ambitious and take a bunch of screencaps, which have languished on my computer as I’ve mentally thought “Someday you’ll finish watching that!” Reader, I will not finish watching that. Let’s accept fate, shall we? And the odds of Trystan or Sarah ever reviewing this are about a billion to one, so I figured I should put those screencaps to use by writing a sadly vague review such as I have. For posterity!

FYI, the costumes were designed by Joan Ellacott, who also designed The Forsyte Saga (1967), Vanity Fair (1967), The First Churchills (1969), Madame Bovary (1975), Anna Karenina (1977), Pride and Prejudice (1980), and The Lady and the Highwayman (1988).

1972 Emma

Mrs. Goddard (Mollie Sugden, aka Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served) and Harriet Smith.

1972 Emma

Emma (Doran Godwin) is always nicely dressed.

1972 Emma

Miss Bates pretty much always shows up in this dumpy brown velvet dress.

1972 Emma

Her cap is actually quite beautiful, even if it adds to the dumpy effect (as it should).

1972 Emma

Mrs. Weston; again with a nice cap.

1972 Emma 1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Emma is VERY GAWKY. She also has a pretty lavender dress for the party at the Coles’.

1972 Emma

This photo still shows that the dress is less intensely purple, has a sheer dotted overlay — and lets you see the headdress thingie.

1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Crappy screenshot, but that’s the swag on Emma’s skirt.

1972 Emma

Harriet’s party dress. What do we think, zipper yea or nay?

1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Emma in a pelisse with beautiful piping, and the trim on that bonnet is gorgeous!

1972 Emma 1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Hanging with Harriet, both wearing unflattering caps.

1972 Emma

Perfectly of the period, but perfectly NOT my taste.

1972 Emma

Sorry, Emma, Harriet looks better in her black and white print! Also, Emma, that hairstyle isn’t doing you any favors.

1972 Emma

Mr. Elton.

1972 Emma

Mrs. Cole Emma’s sister, Mrs. Knightley — I think with Mr. Woodhouse? She’s got some nice fur bits.

1972 Emma

Mrs. Cole Knightley rocking the purple and black!

1972 Emma

Emma in pale blue, Mrs. Weston in darker blue.

1972 Emma

Do Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates share a wardrobe? Or wait, is that Miss Bates??

1972 Emma

People, Mrs. Cole Knightley is quite nicely dressed!

1972 Emma

Cute fur, great bonnet shape. Those curled bangs are perfect for the era and they look SO STUPID.

1972 Emma

Jane Fairfax is appropriately lovely and simply dressed.

1972 Emma

Jane in some outdoor wear.

1972 Emma

Mr. Churchill with Mrs. Weston.

1972 Emma

More winter outerwear for Emma – not my favorite look.

1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Another evening party — I think this might be a rando whose dress I shockingly liked?

1972 Emma

Emma’s blue dress has some kind of applique or embroidery.

1972 Emma

Jane Fairfax again.

1972 Emma

I do think it’s the hair that’s making Emma look dorky.

1972 Emma

Finally! Mrs. Weston Elton is appropriately fabulous and annoying!

1972 Emma

Great sleeves, great bonnet.

1972 Emma

Repeat on Emma.

1972 Emma

Repeat on Jane!

1972 Emma

Those multi-puffed faux-medieval/Renaissance sleeves are very much of the period, and I very much hate them. Who wants giant lumpy puffy arms??

1972 Emma

Let’s crowdfund some RIT dye for Jane?

1972 Emma

In this photo still, you can see Emma’s dress has metallic embroidery, and Jane’s may be a print?

1972 Emma

Best dress of the series (in the half that I watched) on Mrs. Elton!

1972 Emma

I only question the color of the hem ruche. But the black overlay!! With all the pointy bits!!

1972 Emma

Harriet at the Westons’ ball.

1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Emma has a nice sheer shawl (sari alert?), but WHO LET HER WEAR THAT PLASTIC PEARL MONSTROSITY IN HER HAIR

1972 Emma

SHE’S A BRIDAL NIGHTMARE.

1972 Emma
1972 Emma

Mrs. Elton Weston brings us back to attractive-land with her turban.

1972 Emma

Mrs. Elton’s side part is distracting.

1972 Emma

Jane gets Actual Color!!

1972 Emma
1972 Emma

That’s where I gave up. This dress must be from later in the series.

1972 Emma

Ditto this cape.

1972 Emma

And this shot of Frank Churchill.

 

Are you a secret (or not so secret!) fan of the 1972 Emma? Feel free to tell people why they should watch this in the comments, since I’m clearly never going to finish it!

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

17 Responses

    • Monica Kelpe

      Yes! Quite a few of those are in the 1980 Pride and Prejudice including the beautiful maroon pelisse.

      Reply
  1. Jillian

    Mrs Elton is listed as Mrs Weston in her first photos, in the yellow dress. And I agree about Emma’s hair. The actress is very lean and angular, it wasn’t a very flattering hairstyle for her.

    Reply
  2. Shashwat

    The costumes are amazingly detailed,and coloured,otherwise Regency historical suffer a white nightgown syndrome.They seem committed to the flat on top,curls in front,long bun in back aesthetic.
    There is a sort of insta blog of Cristina Lancaster,who collects Regency clothing,and her accessorising work is amazing.Too many things that we see in Regency clothes on film seem to be a result of bad construction,like a tube of cloth gathered a couple of inches from the top.While extant examples burst with lace,bodice draping,shoulder layering,exquisite muslin that moves like smoke,lace insets,stripes running diagonally across the skirt.Maybeactual regency people carried themselves with the flair of a Roman royal?Somewhat like actors who look really childish in 50s clothing without accurate body language.Or Keira who manages to make 18th century look homely but sparkles in 1920-40 stuff.

    Reply
    • Saraquill

      Someone once complimented me on the nightgown I made. This prompted me to take apart the dress and embroider it to give it a stronger regency look.

      Reply
  3. ctrent29

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about the miniseries’ costumes. Some of them are gorgeous and some of them look as if they came from some old theater warehouse. As for the miniseries itself, it’s my second favorite adaptation of “Emma” after the 2009 miniseries.

    Reply
  4. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, Kendra! I totally feel you on this one. No, I haven’t watched this version of Emma and I haven’t even tried, but I can just tell from the “feel” of your screencaps that I can’t even! It doesn’t look bad it just screams “stilted 70s British TV” and that’s really not my mood right now. Plus, I’m a loyalist for the 96 movie starring Gwenyth Paltrow (which I know doesn’t get much love around here). That version was filled with so much life while the stills from this one just look so dull.

    Costume-wise, it looks like they did a really good job of differentiating the financial status of Emma and Jane Fairfax. The purple outdoor wear on Jane Fairfax looks like it was definitely inspiration for Mariah Gale’s character of Mrs. Younge in the 2013 series Death Comes to Pemberley. I think the prettiest dresses are Jane Fairfax’s in the screencap you have at the top of the post and the cream-colored dress Emma wears with the “plastic pearl monstrosity.” Also, Frank Churchill looks like a dish, albeit one who just left a re-enactment of the Disney version of Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

    Reply
    • Amanda J Shirk

      I started to watch this one too. From the look of it we both made it to about the same cut-off point. I started it because I had heard good things but Doran Goodwin was what made me feel like I couldn’t go on. She’s really just…. just creepy. The crazy eyes! What the hell.

      Reply
  5. M.E. Lawrence

    Excellent points, Shashwat. Accuracy in clothing details, body language (and how one researches that I do not know), manners, self-presentation, etc., matter so much in period films, and are so often sacrificed for the damned relatability factor–or plain laziness or lack of time/funds. I never believe Keira in anything pre-1920, even though she was trying her best as Colette, and got to wear those beautiful costumes.

    Reply
  6. Orian Hutton

    This was my favourite Emma for a very long time (it was the first I ever watched) until the 2009 Romola Garai version. Still think the characterisations in this one are generally among the best, if not the best. Superb Miss Bates and Mrs Elton. Harriet is suitably pretty and featherbrained. Jane Fairfax is lovely, gentle and troubled. Mr. Knightley (whom you barely show) is definitely older than Emma (perhaps a tad too old; he looks more like 45 than 36) and the near perfect gentleman he should be.

    Yes, it is nicey-nice and slow, but that was what Jane Austen was about. Her stories are all in the detail, which is why I have read ‘Emma’ more than thirty times and will continue to read it because I discover something new every time. It isn’t the plot, but the nuances of human nature and interactions that are so awe inspiring. This version captures all of that detail better than any other yet made. The film versions certainly don’t have the time to do much more than plot and in Jane Austen plot is very much secondary to character.

    Reply
  7. Andy

    Jeez… who thought it would be a good idea to cast that actress for the part of Emma? She’s like a blond Olive Oil…Which, sorry, is not a good choice for that character.

    Reply
    • Andy

      Watched the mini series (or rather had it run in the background) and on film the actress isn’t quite as gawky as she looks in the screen-shots, I sill wouldn’t have cast her as Emma but she’s not nearly as bad as I imagined.

      Reply
  8. Angharad

    I remember watching this in high school when I was at home with the worst flu I’ve ever had. I think I was on drugs/asleep/delirious for most of it–I have only vague recollections of random scenes but I do remember the pace and tone being very soothing and easy when I was feeling so miserable. Funny to see it featured here today!

    Reply
  9. Gill O

    I remember loving this as a schoolgirl, when it was first on the BBC. They clearly went to a lot of trouble to get the costumes right – even those you don’t like are pretty much fine for the period. Bearing in mind we were about to dive into the full-on long skirts and Laura Ashley era of the 70s it’s not so surprising they made some of those choices.

    It’s a bit slow by modern standards, but so much better than that Paltrow effort, which felt like a bucket of treacle had been tipped over the story, removing all the spikiness that makes Austen worth reading and watching.

    Reply

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