Will the Real Emma Please Stand Up?

Now that we have covered the novel and character of Jane Austen’s Emma, it’s time to take a look at the different Emma Adaptations! In this post I will cover some of the Period Adaptations of Emma and will determine, who is the best Emma?

A&E Emma (1996)

As you may recall from my previous post, First Impressions, the A&E adaptation of Emma was my first exposure to the story. And it was the version which caused me to be left with the imprint of Creeper Knightley.” Well I re-watched it earlier this week over a plate of Thanksgiving Leftovers and here are the conclusions I came to.

What I Liked:

Kate Beckinsale as Emma

Kate Beckinsale was 23 years old when she played 21-year-old Emma Woodhouse, and her youth shows. She comes off as incredibly young, spirited and mischievous, which suits the role of Emma. She is clever and confident yet still naive.

Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax

I love Olivia Williams. So much. Anyone who hasn’t seen her portrayal of Jane Austen in Ms. Austen’s Regrets needs to watch it now. Young Tom Hiddleston is in that movie also if you need more to persuade you.

Olivia Williams is just so young and pretty and proper and perfect in this. You believe that Ms. Bates cannot shut up about how perfect Jane Fairfax is because Olivia Williams is that perfect.

What I Disliked:

Mr. Knightley’s Hair

I like Mark Strong as an actor. I really do. And I actually don’t mind his portrayal of Knightley. I think he does a good job. However, I finally realized what made him so creepy to me when I was fifteen. His hair. 

He has handsome facial features but the fact that he is balding is emphasized with the longer hair and it makes him look a lot older then he actually is making the sixteen year age gap seem creepy even when I pointed out earlier, it’s not.

Also, when he professes his love to Emma at the end he says, I held you in my arms when you were a baby. That’s creepy. It was when I was 15. It still is now. Though I do think if he had better hair it would not be nearly as creepy.

The Final Kiss

It just looked really awkward.

What Surprised Me:

Lucy Robinson as Mrs. Augusta Elton

Lucy Robinson played Mrs. Hurst (one of Mr. Bingley’s sisters) in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 1995. One year later she showed up as Mrs. Elton, the insufferable wife of Mr. Elton.

The Character of Mrs. Elton annoys me in every single version of Emma. She’s supposed to. However, Lucy Robinson’s interpretation is the only time I find myself laughing at the character’s ridiculousness instead of wanting to strangle her.

Final Thoughts:

This version of Emma is fun. Though Knightley is a little on the creepy side, it’s an enjoyable adaptation with some surprisingly delightful minor characters.

Miramax Emma (1996)

I watched Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma for the first time a few weeks ago and I wasn’t really left with too much of an impression. The whole thing was fine. There wasn’t anything stand out amazing, nor was there anything awful. It was simply fine.

What I Liked:

Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton

My first exposure to Alan Cumming was as Floop in the Spy Kids Trilogy (is it still a trilogy?) And he is just so much fun in every role he is in. His Mr. Elton is just as fun.

What I Disliked:

There wasn’t really anything I greatly disliked about this version. There were just a few things that were a little: meh.

Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley

Jeremy Northam was fine. He really was. He was just so generic. There was nothing to like or really dislike about his portrayal of Mr. Knightley. But I also felt he could have been traded in for any actor of similar height and hair color.

The Weird Attempt to Break the Fourth Wall at the End

Throughout the movie there is a narrator. No big deal. Lots of movies have narrators. Then at the end during Emma’s wedding Mrs. Elton turns around and SURPRISE! She was the narrator the whole time. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be really clever or what but I just found it strange.

What Surprised Me: 

Ewan McGregor is Frank Churchill

I had no idea he was in this. And there he was. With awful hair. Obi-Wan Kenobi himself. I was shocked and stunned and am still trying to process this.

Final Thoughts: 

I enjoyed this version of Emma. However, I was kind of left with the feeling that this movie was simply made so Gwyneth Paltrow could wear period gowns and be clever.

When I watched Gwyneth, I never thought, This is Emma, rather This is Gwyneth Paltrow playing Emma. And she did a good job. It just didn’t suspend reality for me.

BBC Emma (2009)

And finally the most recent adaptation of Emma and potentially  my favorite. This one is a BBC mini series consisting of four-hour long episodes.

What I Liked:

Romola Garai as Emma

Romola Garai is fantastic. Some of my favorite things she has been in are the BBC Mini-Series Daniel Deronda which also has Hugh Dancy (The Jane Austen Book Club) in it and I Capture the Castle which is also a great book.

Romola’s Emma is very fun. She doesn’t quite capture the youth of the role like Kate Beckinsale did, but her facial expressions make up for it.

Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley

Why do I like Johnny Lee Miller as Knightley. Well reason number one: Look at him. His hair is not distracting at all.

Also, he’s not as stiff as the other Knightley’s. He smiles more and is just all around more likeable.

What I Disliked:

There really wasn’t anything I disliked about this version. I personally preferred Mrs. Elton and Harriet from the A&E version better than there portrayals in this one, but there was no reasons to dislike them.

What Surprised Me: 

The Westons

I loved the Westons in this adaptation. Their relationship is adorable. They are always making eyes at each other and you can really tell how much they love eachother.

Final Thoughts: 

I really liked this adaptation of Emma. Because it was longer than an average movie it could include more details from the book and I really enjoyed Mr. Knightley and Emma’s interactions.

 The Emma Awards

Best Emma: Romola Garai (followed closely by Kate Beckinsale)

Best Knightley: Johnny Lee Miller (no competition)

Best Adaptation: BBC Miniseries


2 responses to “Will the Real Emma Please Stand Up?

  1. Great review! I like the way you broke them all down, and I tend to agree with your assessment. I would have included a bit more on text-to-script changes, since I think Andrew Davies’ script for the Kate Beckinsale Emma was actually the best at capturing the cadence and lines from the original, even though it’s the briefest of the three.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 1) I just watched the A&E version for the first time about a month ago and I did like certain aspects of it, like the fact that John Knightley got to be more a part of the story than he was in the Miramax version (which is the one I’ve grown up with). But because Mark Strong played Lord Blackwood in the 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” I couldn’t like him as Knightley; it was too weird
    2) Is Mrs. Elton really the narrator in the Miramax version?! I always thought it was Mrs. Weston- mind is blown
    3) Obi Wan Kenobi…nuff said


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