The Weekend's Television: Emma, Sun, BBC1
Monty Python – Almost the Truth: the BBC Lawyers' Cut, Sat, BBC2

Look under the bonnet

Emma Woodhouse, the opening of Jane Austen's novel tells us, is "handsome, clever and rich" and has lived nearly 21 years in the world with "very little to distress or vex her."

Things aren't nearly as easy for Austen purists, who tend to approach each new adaptation with a wary eagerness. Will it please or will it distress and vex, and if, as is more likely, it's the latter, how exactly is it going to do it this time? The answer, on this occasion, is that it begins by treating the novel as if it is a dark fairy tale. Austen's dry, marriage-broker's opening has been replaced with the line: "Emma Woodhouse was born with the sun shining to a father who always expected the worst" and it is delivered not by a female voice but a male one – Mr Knightley himself. The direction, by Jim O'Hanlon, is tartly knowing too, full of those self-consciously artful symmetries that make it clear that this is a modern kind of fable. It would not have been a great leap, gender of the voiceover apart, to imagine that everything that followed was going to take part in Wisteria Lane, not Emma so much as "Desperate Regency Housewives".

None of this need have been a real problem (read the opening sentences of Emma in an arch American accent and you can see that you might almost get away with such an approach). But it puts something of a premium on the transition between knowing voice and unknowing characters – the people in the story who, to quote the title of one of the best ever screen adaptations of Emma, are clueless. Sadly, the primary- colour brightness seems to have carried over into some the performances here, which are just a little too brittle and over-amplified. Michael Gambon is good and funny as Emma's father, absolutely inhabiting his solipsistic fretting about the hazards of life, but Romola Garai doesn't capture (or isn't given the chance to by the script) the sense of frustrated intelligence that makes Emma bearable on the page. What is Emma, after all, but an author manquée, trying to write the plots of other people's romances and naively unaware that a marriage is not necessarily "happy ever after". She needs to be a little thoughtless, but not so snobbishly silly that we dislike her too early, and the minxish self-regard of Garai's characterisation doesn't always make that possible.

There's another problem in the casting of Emma and Mr Knightley too. The difference between a 20-year-old and a 38-year-old in Austen's day was much greater than that distance today, and it isn't remotely acknowledged by the 10-year age gap between Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, who, despite a nicely underplayed performance, still carries too much of the seductive bad boy about him to be convincing as a surprising love object. You feel that Emma here would have spotted him at once as a perfect prospect, rather than wasting all that time in sublimated bickering. And that threatens one of the novel's great achievements, which is to educate us alongside its heroine. We need to be a little shamed with Emma, a little aware that we too have been carried away by fun and flippancy and lost sight of real values. But Mr Knightley is simply too sexy to be dismissed as old-fashioned, quite apart from the fact that Sandy Welch's script provides him with such an explicit early rebuke ("Harriet and Robert are not your playthings, your dolls") that only a complete airhead could miss the point.

Monty Python – Almost the Truth: the BBC Lawyers' Cut began with what we can now call a Pythonesque title sequence. Over an animation of global apocalypse someone sang a Bond-style theme tune: "It's a new documentary... it's not complimentary... but it's better than a hysterectomy". True on the first and last count, but not on the middle one, since this trot through Monty Python history was actually quite flattering to the programme and the people that made it, barring Graham Chapman, perhaps, who isn't around anymore to mind. In rock-band geneology style, it traced the past pedigree of a group that eventually came together with little more than a vague wish to travel in the same direction. "It was the worst interview that anyone or any group has ever done," said Cleese, describing the terrible pitch they made to the BBC. "I'll give you 13 shows, but that's all ," replied the commissioning editor, which was what passed for rigour in those days, and the rest – after the wobbly start that all truly innovative comedies have because they've got to teach the audience a new kind of funny – was history. The best bit was Cleese's curiously barbed attempt at long-distance teasing of Terry Jones. "What Terry's never been able to accept," he said earnestly, "is that the Welsh are a subject people put on earth to carry out menial tasks for the English".

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit