THE PAIRING: Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) and Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller)
THE FILM: BBC’s miniseries Emma (2009)
THE MOMENT: Mr. Knightley shares with Emma his “secret.”
The Lead In: Emma and Mr. Knightley
Emma and Mr. Knightley are one of those iconic romantic couples in literature, and there probably aren’t many of us who’ve not seen some adaptation of the Jane Austen classic of Emma. Even if, like me, you’ve never read the novel, chances are you’ve at least met Austen’s iconic Emma Woodhouse at the cinema. Whether the universal favorite is Miramax’s 1996 romantic-comedy interpretation or the more recent miniseries, and subject of today’s article, the primary fact remains; most of us adore its lead pairing.
Much as I adore Mr. Darcy, I’d be lying if I said my real Austen favorite leans towards the incomparable Mr. Knightley. There’s something about the way he pushes Emma to be better, urges her to become the person he knows she really is yet through it all, loves (first in a protective manner before later a deep abiding kind of love) her from afar that’s endearing.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the romance between these two, Emma is some 16 years Mr. Knightley’s junior. They grew up together as neighbors before they become distantly related through the marriage of their siblings (his brother marries Emma’s elder sister, Isabella). Throughout Emma’s formative years, she thinks of Mr. Knightley as a kind of elder brother. The following scene takes place after many events take place, but immediately preceding it is the news that a man Emma fancied herself a perfect match for announced his engagement. Being unable to watch as Emma found herself the ideal match not to mention following a falling out with them, Mr. Knightley returns from visiting his brother and sister in London upon hearing the news.
RELATED | Emma – BBC’s Whimsical Miniseries
Beware, there are SPOILERS ahead.
The Romantic Moment: Emma and Mr. Knightley
With an affinity for walking (and despite the sizable distance between his and the Woodhouse estate), Mr. Knightley immediately walks to Heartfield upon his return.
Having finally realized she is in love with Mr. Knightley earlier that week, and feeling nervous to see him again after their disagreement, when Emma spots Mr. Knightley, she attempts to conceal herself amid the shrubbery. Only her ruse is caught when, while walking down the path, the observant Knightley spots her.
Pleasantries with some degree of nervousness are exchanged. Attempting to ease their awkwardness, Emma tries to relay the unexpected news of Frank Churchill’s engagement.
Assuming Emma is mourning the bittersweet loss of making a match with Frank, Mr. Knightley immediately sets about trying to console her. Without preamble, he tells her, “Time, Emma, will heal the wound.” He further admits to not being sure how far Emma was “entangled” with the man, admonishes the man by calling him a “scoundrel” in a most animated tone.
Feeling badly he might mistake her former attentiveness towards Frank, Emma admits the truth to him: she was never in love with him. Instead, she explains what she does feel. “I was blind to their attachment, and I blush when I think of some of the things that I said and did but please believe me when I say that I have no other reason to regret I did not know their secret earlier.” She continues admitting that she’s ashamed of allowing her vanity to be flattered.
She continues with her confession, “When he first came back, I …I thought I was attracted to him, but I have been examining the workings of my heart and I can, truly, say this. He has taken advantage of me but he has not injured me.”
In a somewhat agitated manner, Mr. Knightley responds. “Frank Churchill is a fortunate man… He has used everybody badly, yet they are all desperate to forgive him.”
Knowing him well, Emma curiously observes, “You speak as though you envied him.”
Looking into her eyes, he replies. “I do envy him, Emma. His secret is out at least.”
When Emma keeps quiet, he persists, “You will not ask me my secret?” Still there’s no reaction from his friend. “Yes, you are wise, but I cannot be, – so I must tell you.”
Fearing the man she now so surely loves, Emma makes a hasty decision. Without thought, she begs him to leave his secret unsaid. “For once said, it cannot be unsaid!”
With great disappointment, he politely turns back down the path, making to leave.
Giving in to her misery, Emma attempts to keep in check her tears. Running after him, she realizes she’s again made a grave error, begging him to wait. “Please, stop! I am sorry. We are old friends.” Resignation edging her voice, on she continues. “I will hear anything you want about anyone. And I will tell you exactly what I think, as your friend.”
Again facing Emma, Mr. Knightley reacts. “I don’t –” With a kind of nervous anticipation, he remarks, “Friends indeed! I do want you to be honest. So, tell me…”
With affection and genuine hope, he asks the question he’s long since wished to ask of her. “Have I no chance of succeeding?” Having been downcast and unable to meet his gaze, these words snap Emma’s eyes to Mr. Knightley’s. “My dearest Emma for that is what you always have been, and you always will be. My most beloved Emma.”
Glancing down to the ground, he gazes into an awestruck Emma’s face, bolstered and determined to finish what he began. To Emma’s quiet, tear-filled face of joy, quietly he tells her, “I cannot make speeches. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. I have lectured you and scolded you and you have borne it as no other woman would have.”
In awe with tears in her eyes, Emma asks, “Can this be true?”
“You’ll get nothing but the truth from me. So tell me what you think.”
Stepping closer and gently but with purpose she places her hands on either side of his face, leaning her forehead into his. “I find I do not know what to think” is her only reply.
With Heartfield behind them, Emma and Mr. Knightley come together for a perfect and unblemished first kiss.
They go on to remember when they first knew they were in love (for him it was the moment Frank Churchill entered Emma’s life and he knew after a picnic event at Box Hill).
Some time later, as Emma and Mr. Knightley are sitting on a garden bench, hands intertwined, she completes their words of love with by confessing something she realized after discussing matters of the heart with her friend, Harriet when she found her own in need of examining, finishing with: “…I examined my own heart and there you were. Never, I fear to be removed.”
What’s your favorite romantic moment in Emma between Emma and Mr. Knightley? Have a favorite version or casting for this iconic romantic couple? Sound off below! I’d love to read your comments.
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2 thoughts on “Classic Romantic Moment: Emma and Mr. Knightley”
Lovely way of reliving this moment. I’ve decided that this is my favourite version of Emma. I always really love the tension in this when Emma tells Mr. Knightley not to say anything. (Wow! What if they really stopped there, and he kept his feelings to himself forever after that? Horrifying thought!) I like that you can tell Emma loves Mr. Knightley so much that she decides to let him speak after all even though she knows she might feel devastated by what he says. It’s her unselfish act which brings them perfect happiness. I love that.
Thanks for reading/commenting, Dixie-Ann. 🙂
Fortunately for Emma (and Mr. Knightley), she had grown up a lot and realized nearly as soon as she told him to stop, what a mistake that was. That was the old Emma. New Emma had come to value the importance of friendship, and listening rather than trying to manipulate things to suit her (even though they were kindly meant). Well said. I love how you put that: Emma realizes how much she loves him, and sacrifices HER feelings in favor of listening to his secret. We needed to see Emma make this choice first, before we could hear Mr. Knightley confess his feelings. Makes the declaration all the sweeter. 🙂