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Emma (2009) – BBC’s Whimsical Miniseries

Emma (2009) – BBC’s Whimsical Miniseries


Emma DVD

Emma (2009) Review

It’s been six years since I first sat down to watch BBC’s most recent adaptation of Emma. Ironically, that inaugural viewing was I believe, around the same time of year I sat down to watch it again this month. (In those six years since watching this adaptation, this is only my second viewing.) While a second viewing didn’t damper my appreciation or take away from the charm that is Jane Austen, there was a certain commentary of criticism running through my mind as everything unfolded.

Emma BBC 2009 (3)

Romola Garai as Emma.

Though everyone is sure to be familiar with the story of Emma, let’s go through the players regardless. There is the wealthy and young protagonist, Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) whose sole purpose in life seems to be playing cupid to her circle of country friends. As is widely known, Emma intends to never marry. She needs no fortune and her position in society cannot very well exceed what she has now. Instead, she prefers caring for her father (Michael Gambon) and meddling in the lives of her closest neighbors. Entangled in the lives of the Woodhouse’s is Emma’s beloved governess, Mrs. Weston (Johdi May); the newly returned Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans) and Jane Fairfax (Laura Pyper); Emma’s new friend Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan); Mr. Elton (Blake Riston), the proud minister; and neighbor Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller).

Emma and Mr. Knightley.

Emma and Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller).

As wonderfully romantic as this is, there are some faults I wish had been polished. The cast is sure to read like a who’s who list of talented British talent, but I have to confess I wasn’t terribly fond of how Romola played the iconic character of Emma. In comparison to her predecessors, she plays her with almost a… daft wit that’s so unlike the Emma I anticipated. I don’t mind her softening Emma (in comparison to Kate Beckinsale’s stiff upper lip or Gwyneth Paltrow’s coy elegance), but Romola also plays her with too much childish enthusiasm. Fortunately, as the miniseries progresses, she does improve on this as is indicative of her character maturing. Which is perhaps the intent of the writer and for that, I do have to admire the progression. My final complaint would be some of the styling or mannerisms. Some of the clucky manners just don’t fit with the period or my ideal vision of it. That being said, I have plenty of rave remarks to share.

Emma BBC 2009 (5)
For exploration and depth, this miniseries has the edge. Because it tells the story in four hours versus two or under, it has the extra benefit of thoroughly examining the characters’ motives and people in Emma’s world. We see more of Miss Bates’ difficult and lonely life, for example, and there is a more sympathetic view of an innocent Jane Fairfax. The script also digs into Knightley’s head for a more personal touch on what makes him tick. Jonny Lee Miller is perhaps not everyone’s ideal and yet he’s quite brilliant as Knightley. The interplay between he and Emma isn’t as witty, but there is something special about the chemistry between Miller and Garai. And the ending of this series? It’s positively darling.

Emma BBC 2009 (7)Though I do often compare Austen adaptations, I really don’t like judging this adaptation in a side-by-side kind of comparison to the feature films. More fairly would be to compare it to the ’80s adaptation from the BBC, which this far surpasses. I enjoyed the gorgeous settings and the smaller (in scale) atmosphere of the parties or estates. There is a wonderful, innocent kind of whimsy to this script, which despite my petty complaints, enchants. The cast is largely well put together and simply because this runs longer I felt more satisfied with the story it had to tell. Everything gets the time it deserves and the story is able to ensure it gives every detail that extra attention. But of course, the biggest reason I hold this adaptation in such high esteem is simply for the fact of seeing Mr. Knightley, who is, in my opinion, Austen’s best.

Emma is available to purchase on a 2-disc DVD set or to stream on Amazon’s Instant Video service and rent on Netflix.

Have you seen this, the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma? Comment down below with your impressions; I would love to read them.


Photos: BBC 

Overall Rating

Four and a half corset rating

“You had me at hello.”

Romance Rating
Five heart rating

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

About The Author

Rissi JC

Rissi is a self-diagnosed Bookaholic and TV fandom addict. She’s currently an avid blogger and reader who enjoys interacting with readers, and often dreams about finishing her first novel. When not writing or reading, she can be found working as an INSPYs advisory board member or contributing to e-zines. Her scribbles are housed on her blog Finding Wonderland (http://www.rissiwrites.com).

8 Comments

  1. Amber Topping

    Thanks for the great review Rissi! And I could talk all day about my impressions of this lovely period drama. I personally loved everything about this adaptation. I admit Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai are two of my favorite actors! For me, there was something inherently closer to Austen’s work with this adaptation and all the performances. I was particularly happy to see Emma’s father (played by the always fabulous Michael Gambon) more fleshed out and interesting. Also, while many of the adaptations I’ve seen (and still love) are great, they do end up feeling more like romantic comedies – which technically they are – while not exploring as much of the dramatic aspects of the characters painted by Austen. For that reason (and the perfect cast and awesome writer Sandy Welch – who also adapted the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre), this is by far my favorite adaptation. Though I do have a special place in my heart for Jeremy Northam’s wit. 🙂

    Reply
    • Rissi

      It was such fun to review and see this again (and the A&E ‘Emma’), Amber! I’ve really enjoyed revisiting all of the adaptations and am looking forward to watching the last one (Miramax) yet. You know, after I finished this review I remembered two or three additional things I’d have liked to gush or talk about. Alas, I forgot and given how long-winded I can be, perhaps that was best. 😉 You say it all so well in your comment. Mr. Woodhouse is fantastic and much better represented/understood; Jonny and Romola are darling; and of course, I appreciate that we get four hours vs. two. Like you, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still hold a fondness for Northam. There’s just something about the way he plays Knightley that I love. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Brittaney Borman

    This is my favorite movie version of Emma. I much prefer Romola Garai’s Emma to Gwyneth Paltrow’s. Also, I think the actress who plays Harriet Smith is a better fit for the character than the 1997 movie. I enjoyed seeing the small everyday special moments between the characters, Emma and her father, Emma’s sister and brother-in-law interacting with Emma and Knightley, Emma and Mrs. Weston. I feel like these moments had a more intimate feeling in this version. Overall, I have really enjoyed seeing the more recent BBC remakes of Jane Austen’s stories.

    Reply
    • Rissi

      This version is lovely, Brittaney. I have a few quibbles with it, but then, I generally walk away with some of those for any adaptation. 🙂 Probably what I love best about this adaptation is also the everyday moments. The length gives us SO much more than the standard films. Like you, I enjoyed all of the more recent Austen adaptations and applaud the wonderful writers, filmmakers and cast who took part. These period dramas are my “one weakness” when it comes to film or miniseries. I could watch so many over and over again without getting bored. Thanks a bunch for sharing your thoughts on this one. 🙂

      Reply
      • Brittaney Borman

        Your “one weakness” comment has me wanting to watch Lark Rise to Candleford again!

        Reply
        • Rissi

          I did so enjoy “Lark Rise to Candleford.” That phrase was super popular at my house when we were watching it. 😉

          Reply
  3. Dixie-Ann

    I really like this adaptation as well. I think it may be my favourite Emma. I have seen people critique Romola Garai’s rather goofy, playful representation, and I admit I imagine Emma as a more elegant and sedate character. So I completely understand people who have a problem with this but at the same time, I found her so endearing, I can’t bring myself to dislike these touches. I agree that this adaptation adds depth to the characters. This film made me notice for the first time that there were strong similarities between Frank Churchill’s and Jane Fairfax’s early childhood experiences. It showed a greater connection between them which I really appreciated. I also loved the exploration of Emma wanting to travel and how Knightley supported her wish. I agree that Jonny Lee Miller is very good in this and he and Romola Garai have wonderful chemistry.

    Reply
    • Rissi

      I’m glad, Dixie-Ann. I enjoy this for the length and depth of the character! It wasn’t exactly what I thought (the photos made it look so elegant) in comparison to the other adaptations, but despite my petty complaints, I DO enjoy this version best. I’m wondering if part of Romola’s characterization stems from Emma’s youth (i.e., when the series starts she’s still quite young and therefore, immature, perhaps?). I don’t know in comparison to the book but either way, it’s not enough to bother. Like you, I loved the thread about Emma having never travelled. It upped the sweet romance. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Reply

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