Monday, January 25, 2010

Reflections on Emma: Frank Chruchill

Just a quick post. Episode one is behind us and I have spent the morning reading feedback. I am sorry to learn that Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill is not to the majority's liking. The most consistent criticism I've read regards his appearance - short, pug-nosed, not dashing enough. I must come to the man's defense.

I think Mr. Evans is absolutely adorable. As Frank Churchill he is playful and charming, in my opinion. In fact, I find him far more handsome then Johnny Lee Miller (I imagine I'll get some feedback on that comment). The problem with the role in this new adaptation isn't the actor but the screenplay. In particular, this completely contrived scene in which he first meets Emma and Harriet. In this one moment, Frank Churchill becomes a far more despicable character than he ever appears in Austen, for the implication is that he has been to Highbury in order to see Jane Fairfax without paying the long overdue visit to the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Weston.

Frank Churchill is often classified amongst the rogues in Austen, a characterization I totally disagree with. He's immature and foolish, like Emma herself, but he doesn't set out to hurt anyone and certainly doesn't have the sinister nature of Wickham, Willoughby, or Henry Crawford. He may disseminate (and even enjoy it) but he is not a scoundrel. Emma forgives him and so must we all. If Austen did not like Frank Churchill, she never would have provided him with such a felicitous ending. Like Emma, he acknowledges his faults, is pardoned, and moves on. It would behoove readers to do the same.

"I have to thank you, Miss Woodhouse, for a very kind forgiving message in one of Mrs. Weston's letters. I hope time has not made you less willing to pardon. I hope you do not retract what you then said."

"No, indeed," cried Emma, most happy to begin, "not in the least. I am particularly glad to see and shake hands with you--and to give you joy in person."

He thanked her with all his heart, and continued some time to speak with serious feeling of his gratitude and happiness.

"Is not she looking well?" said he, turning his eyes towards Jane. "Better than she ever used to do?--You see how my father and Mrs. Weston doat upon her."

But his spirits were soon rising again, and with laughing eyes, after mentioning the expected return of the Campbells, he named the name of Dixon.--Emma blushed, and forbade its being pronounced in her hearing.

"I can never think of it," she cried, "without extreme shame."

"The shame," he answered, "is all mine, or ought to be. But is it possible that you had no suspicion?--I mean of late. Early, I know, you had none."

"I never had the smallest, I assure you."

"That appears quite wonderful. I was once very near--and I wish I had--it would have been better. But though I was always doing wrong things, they were very bad wrong things, and such as did me no service.--It would have been a much better transgression had I broken the bond of secrecy and told you every thing."

"It is not now worth a regret," said Emma.


  1. Frank Churchill must be more charming and playful than Mr Knightley.Jane Austen wanted them like that. Rupert Evans is in my heart as Frederick Hale in North and South. He was so young and charming there too. But I think he is also a great Mr Churchill . So it is easier to fall for Frank and just bear the other one, poor George Knightley, for his ... generosity and helpfulness... when he doesn't "preach". But, please Alexa, wait till episode 3 ... then 4 ... and you 'll have a different opinion.Just be patient.

  2. I think Rupert Evans is cute. The poor guy. I guess actors have to deal with criticism just like us authors do.

    Isn't it amazing how the writer of a screenplay can tweak a character enough so that the audience will get a different perception of him? I'm always amazed at how an author's vision can affect how others view characters.

  3. Maria - I did not mean to denigrate Johnny Lee Miller at all - I think he's an excellent Knightley. Mr. Evan is just more my type. I would take Mr. Knightley any day over Frank Churchill, but I do think he gets a bum rap. And I confess - this is actually my fifth viewing of the series. The chemistry definitely takes off between Emma and Knightley as it progresses. Each time I see it, I like this version more, though the Hollywood adaptation is still my favorite.

    Ruth - It doesn't take much for the screen version of character to come off totally different than the original. This is why literary adaptations are such touchy ventures. Especially when it comes to a story that people feel so personally about as Emma, it is hard for actors to live up to everyone's expectations. I myself have been very guilty of this type of criticism, but I'm trying to be less judgmental these days.