Austen Movie Throw-Down: Emma

It's time for

Who did it better? Which cast nailed the chemistry? Which director clearly did their Austen homework? Which soundtrack and costume choices were most cringe-worthy? 

I'm breaking down the best-known Jane Austen film adaptations for you, one novel at a time.

Who wants a bit of Mr. Knightley? (mememememe!) It's time for:

Production date: 2009
Type: Mini-series
Runtime: 240 min

Best moment
Emma and Knightley's argument over Harriet Smith's refusal of Robert Martin. While it deviated from the book a bit, it captured the spirit of both characters, as well as Austen's signature commentary on women, wit, and marriage.

Worst moment
All the naked hand grasping and the kissing. Given how mostly-period the costumes, hair, food, etc. is, it was jarring to see very public (non-period) PDAs. Also, there's a somewhat large emphasis on Frank Churchill throughout, and I'd have rather seen more of George Knightley.

I thought Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai did an excellent job with subtext through facial expression and body language. And this is quite possibly the best Harriet Smith I've seen (with the most period hair!). Costume-wise, the ladies and most of the gentlemen are spot on AND the clothes are reused in scenes so they seem less 'endless costume closet' and more 'everyday clothing'. I have costume lust for most of Emma's garments. The notable exception is (distractingly) Miller's baggy pants.
This mini-series also did a great job of establishing the ensemble as more than just support to the title character, but hilarious and developed people in their own right.

Production date: 1996
Type: TV Movie
Runtime: 107 min

Best moment:
Knightley and Emma's argument about Harriet's rejection of Robert Smith. Even without a lot of character building of Knightley by this point, he's very clearly the sensible adult here (and cast as a not-handsome guy, as it should be).

Also, although it doesn't stick to the book faithfully, the scene after Emma and Knightley become engaged ("Oh, damn- Harriet!") is a laugh and the interaction between the two girls translates well.

Worst moment:
Throughout the movie Emma seems a shallow airhead, which was frustrating.
Even in her interactions with Frank Churchill, regarding Jane Fairfax, Emma came across as the sole one being petty and insulting. 

And in her "OMG I love Knightley!" scene, it's a series of her remembering him displaying affection toward her- as I recall, Emma realizes she loved Knightley by realizing his virtue (which she'd taken for granted) not by thinking that maybe HE likes HER. It cheapens her affection, making it reactive instead of giving it a true foundation.

And also, all the dream and daydream sequences that Emma has, which are distracting.

This movie adaptation is quickly-paced, to say the least. Rather than interpret Emma's internal thoughts with external musings or action, it pretty much skips over them. It gallops so quickly, omitting the character-building good stuff, that it's fairly off-putting.

Although (at last!) the costuming seems more on-par with what I'd expect, in terms of color and fabric and fit. And ladies'  gloves!
AND it included music from Lincolnshire Posey (a period piece!).
AND the dance choreography is excellent and truly period, so well done to the crew!

Production date: 1996
Type: Movie
Runtime: 120 min

Best moment:
The entire Christmas party scene!

The hairstyles were fairly period, and the costuming was excellent (especially- huzzah!- for the menfolk).

And, of course, Knightley's profession of love. Which was beautiful, and drawn out, and swoony.

Worst moment:
There was a lot of skipping over side characters, like John Knightley. I'm assuming that's because the format forces a total focus on the titular character. But Emma's reactions to the side characters form a lot of our understanding of her (the good and the bad).

Plus the lighting was dodgy- there were scenes so dark I couldn't see the actors' faces, which was distracting.

But compared with the other two renditions of the Box Hill scene, I thought this adaptations Box Hill scene was the weakest of the movie. The tone just isn't properly set for Emma's meanness, nor the context in which she flirts outlandishly with Frank Churchill.

This rendition has THE BEST Miss Bates I've ever seen. Brilliant.
Emma's folly in this version has been softened as well. Her actions seem less born of pride and more of naivety. While that makes her a more likable character overall, it shortens her character arc.

This one is good, but not great.

Production date: 1972
Type: Mini-series
Runtime: 240 min
Sadly, my library does not have this DVD, so I was unable to see it and compare it. Have you seen it?

Perhaps it's because, with the format length it was able to be more true to the book and have better story arcs. Or maybe it's the caliber of acting, and the costumes. But this one was head and shoulders above the others.

Looking for a modern adaptation?

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