Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Emma by Jane Austen- Which film adaptation is best?

Gwyneth Paltrow Emma 1996

Kate Beckinsale Emma 1996
Romola Garai Emma 2009

Alicia Silverstone Clueless 1995

Which film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma did you enjoy the most (or, which one would you prefer to have with you if stranded in the wilderness for a year with a TV and DVD player)?

Feel free to leave comments about your favourite version. I found this question harder than I thought it would be. Especially if you could only have one version!

Which Emma version do you like best?
 Emma 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow
 Emma 1996 Kate Beckinsale
 Emma 2009 Romola Garai
 Clueless 1995 Alicia Silverstone free polls 

P.S. In the midst of my "Emma-thon", I just re-watched the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version again and was really struck by the beauty of the cinematography. The colours are amazing! It may be a little Hollywoodized (another made up word, I know) but it is a truly gorgeous film. The other version which is gorgeous to look at is the 2009 Romola Garai version. Also wonderful cinematography and more realistic decor and landscaping. I still love them all, for different reasons!

"Marry me. Marry me, my wonderful, darling friend." Sigh....


  1. I love the Paltrow/Northam version. Why? Jeremy Northam, of course! JK! While I do love him, I just loved everything about this adaptation, I know its probably not the most accurate, but oh well! I love the scenery, especially Box Hill and in the gardens around Hartfield, the music (I own the soundtrack and so does half of my family!), and the actors: Toni Collette, Ewan MacGregor, Jermey Northam, Greta Scacchi, Gwenyth Paltrow (I know I might be in the minority with Gwenyth, but I liked her!)

    1. I agree! Jeremy Northam is amazing, and I totally have a mancrush on him. My one disagreement here is Ewan McGreggor: I just thought he was the milquetoastiest actor ever, - and he publically admitted he regretted his performance in this movie. But everyone else!

  2. I loved Paltrow/Northam version when I saw it but then I saw the latest BBC mini-series and now that's my favourite EMMA. I've voted in the poll. Thanks for this nice post, Jenny!

  3. @Meredith and Maria Grazia- I have a soft spot for both the Gwyneth Paltrow and the Romola Garai versions. I would not want to be without either one of them. Thus the problem if I had to chose just one. It usually boils down to how much time I have. And I'd hate to have to choose between Jeremy Northam and Jonny Lee Miller!

    I just rewatched the Kate Beckinsale version (I have them all of course) and it is probably the truest version of Austen's story but perhaps I like the slightly softened Emma and Mr. Knightly of the aforementioned versions!

    And I can't be the only one who loves the modern take of Clueless. My post on Clueless is one of my most popular posts ever. Paul Rudd makes an adorable "Knightley" too!

  4. For me it's the one with Romola Garai.
    PS. Your blog is amazing. Thanks to you I've watched Lost in Austen last month and really like it :)

  5. Hi Marina!

    You have very good taste in film. Emma 2009 and Lost in Austen are both wonderful. I dream of someday seeing the house that they used for Emma's Hartfield in the Romola version. If I could live at Squerryes Court, I would!

  6. Dear Jenny:

    As you are torn between the Gwyneth Paltrow and the Romola Garai versions, I am torn between Gwyneth's "Emma" and Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless". I think that Juliet Stevenson in the 1995 Emma is the ultimate Mrs. Elton - the one to whom all other Mrs. Eltons are compared and found wanting (I remember our conversation about that, where I got you to reconsider that version of Emma mainly on the strength of that performance!)

    And "Clueless"! (My, but 1995/1996 were key years for Austen-mania - these, plus P&P and S&S.) We pulled this one out again at our house the other evening (great family viewing) and it's amazing how well it has held up over the past 15 years - it's really depressing, however, that the male fashion of baggy-ass pants on teenagers is still around - and the humour was incredibly well-written.

    So, for me, it's a tie between Emma (1996) and Clueless (1995). Great double bill.

    Big Sister

  7. Hey Big Sis!

    Yes, I thought about you when I was writing this post as we have discussed the many versions of Emma before. I have to lend you the Romola Garai version because you have only watched that one on YouTube. You cannot appreciate it in 10 minute chunks on your lunch hour dearie! When Jonny Lee Miller and Squerryes Court fill your high def screen you may feel differently. I'm just sayin'....

    Actually, I really do love them all. Even the Kate Beckinsale version written by my idol Andrew Davies is well worth an evening to cuddle up with.

    But, yes, there is something wonderful about Clueless. It does hold up after 16 years doesn't it? These wonderful 1990's adaptations (and you forgot Persuasion 1995!) got me through the Mommy years with my sanity!

    Looking forward to our girl's weekend in TO and the Grace Kelly exhibit. Woohoo!

  8. If I was stuck on a desert island, I would take the 2009 adaptation of Emma as it is my favourite! I think Johnny Lee Miller & Romola Garai are perfect as Emma & Mr. Knightley! Johnny is very handsome & Romola is very pretty. Some of my favourite scenes are;
    The Dance
    The Proposal
    The conversation on the bench
    When Emma says she cannot marry Mr. Knightly and he comforts her in a tender & loving way. Awww!

    I also love the costumes in this adaptation. Everything about Emma is lovely & I enjoyed this version so much I read the novel too which is great too. I also love the part where Mr. Knightly holds Emma's hand when they go talk to her father it is nice because Emma is very worried and Mr. Knightly is comforting her again. Why can't all men be like an Jane Austen hero? Sigh....

    The 2009 adaptation is gorgeous! I love it!

    Kate x

    Leeds, England

    Leeds, England

  9. I love all three however as soon as i saw the most modern one, 2009, it immediatly took first place for me :) i love it. I think Johnny Lee Miller portrays Knightly really well <3
    Dedicated Austen fan :) xx

  10. Emma 2009 definitely. That's as much because of the subtleties as the obviously good acting in the main parts. For example, I've come to really appreciate the nuances given in certain scenes especially by Louise Dylan as Harriet. Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse is perfect, as for example in expressing his love for Emma and the inner turmoil when she must leave at times. And the way Isabella reacts with surprise and joy to the letter telling of Emma's engagement is compelling - no words needed to be spoken, that 10 second scene was perfect. And many more things like that.

    1. And also how could I forget, the music!

    2. Hello Anon, Glad you are also a fan of the 2009 version. I agree that the attention to detail such as in Isabella's scene is marvelous. Facial expressions throughout the miniseries really use the medium of film to tell the story. I loved Isabella's last scene as the newlyweds are pulling away in the carriage. Brings me to tears every time!

  11. Not mentioned on here is the Doran Godwin version (BBC 1972), but not easily found now, maybe.

    1. What I didn't like about the Doran Godwin version was that instead of being 21 and 38, Emma and Mr Knightley appear to be about 35 and 55. And silly as it sounds, that really reduces the appeal for me...

      I liked 1996 Emma, but they went out of their way to remove most of her bad behavior. By the end she feels contrite but it is unclear why.

      The 2009 version I adore completely. I wish Emma wasn't taller than JLM though. But the music is incredible. The scenes between them are electric.

  12. I will have to say that I don't like American versions of Shakespeare compared to the British ones, I suppose I feel the same way about Austen (although "Clueless" is a really great movie! Simply superb!). The best Emma adaptation for me has to be the Kate Beckinsale version. It is perfect, just as the novel is.

  13. If one can but choose the actors from different versions my ideal casting would be:

    Emma - Gwyneth Paltrow
    Mr. Knightley - Johnny Lee Miller
    Ms. Taylor - Gretta Schachi
    Mr. Woodhouse - Michael Gambon
    Mrs Elton - Juliet Stevenson
    Mr. Elton -
    Ms Bates - Sophie Thomson
    Jane Fairfax - Olivia Williams
    Mr. Churchill - Ewan McGregor (minus wig)

  14. I do like the casting of Emma and Mr. Knightley in 2009 bbc version the most, even though Emma and Mr. Knightley don't seem to have so much age difference. Mr. Knightley is supposed to look older and have more depth in his character, but the actor did a good job. All the 'Elton' scenes were very properly done, the casting and the characters of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax didn't match the book's perfectly well as the 1996 Kate's one, but were OK. I do not like the casting of Emma and Knightley in Kate Beckinsale's version, though I am a huge fan of Mark Strong. His Knightley was too cold and serious, almost suitable for Mr. Darcy. Plus, I got an impression that he has some quality of a darker character in him. The 1972 version contains perfect interpretations and acting of characters but for some reason, I couldn't really attach myself to the film - too slow, boring and unattractive for my modern taste. Mr. Elton was perfect in that version by the way.
    The only huge thing that I disliked in the bbc adaptation was perhaps the inconsistency of characters in the last episode. It was overall rather hastily done comparing to the other episodes. The tender scene between Emma and Knightley was a little too cheesy. And why does Emma have to cry and be so much in panic when Knightley confesses his love and when they talk about the possibility of leaving her father? I thought that was an unnecessary, inappropriate alternation.
    If I were to be greedy, I would add one more criticism: the ending was somewhat unsatisfactory to my taste as well - in fact, just as the novel itself. That means, I thought the TV adaptation could add something more fictional like in Pride and Prejudice. Although I have to confess that its addition of Elton being a little bit ashamed of his wife unlike the novel, was actually nice, since I could never stand the woman and wanted some kind of evil on her.
    I need to watch Gwyneth's version again though! Can't recall the detail of that movie.

  15. I liked all of the actresses who portrayed Emma Woodhouse. But my favorite performance came from Gwyneth Paltrow. Garai almost made it to the top of the list, but she had a penchant for mugging sometimes. Doran Godwin was fine, but there were moments when I found her a bit too chilly for my tastes. Kate Beckinsale was solid in portraying Emma's snobbery, but that is about it. She didn't seemed to have much of a comic timing in the 1996-97 A&E version.

  16. I've been on a search for the perfect Emma adaptation. I love Clueless, but obviously it's not attempting to be a faithful adaptation, so I'll exclude it from my list. It turns out I like features of all three adaptations.

    In terms of casting I like the Gwyneth Paltrow version. Gwyneth's Emma is very likeable- she is clever, gorgeous and childish. Knightley is dashing, Harriet's superb, and Ewan McGregor is fun as Frank. This version breezes through the plot- the Frank/Jane plot is minimised, as is Mr Woodhouse's worrying. It's pretty much all about people hopelessly misjudging the feelings of others, and the ending is so very Hollywood, which is not what I come to Austen for.

    On the other hand the Kate Beckinsale version put too much focus on Frank and Jane in my opinion, but at least the relationship between Frank and Emma was properly developed. The moment when Emma is daydreaming after Knightley has proposed and the romantic music swells and then she remembers... CRAP...HARRIET! made me crack up. I thought Kate's acting was great, though I don't like this version's Knightley. He's too harsh and I'm sorry, but he's just not dreamy enough. And the proposal scene where he mentions holding her as a baby is just freaking creepy- and it's not in the book, why would you add something like that!!!! Final nitpick, I know the book doesn't specify, but Emma should be blonde, OK? It just fits.

    The 2009 version is long enough to develop all the plot! The costumes and music are just beautiful. Jonny Lee Miller is another great Knightley and Michael Gambon is fantastic. But Romola Garai's Emma drives me mad. She pulls such over-the-top faces, half the film her eyes look like they're popping out her head. I love love love the proposal scene in this one though- "If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more" Kill Me.

    So I guess on the balance I'd give it to the 09 version, but surprisingly, Gywneth's is my favourite portrayal of Emma. There's a lot of good to be said about these versions, but I don't love any of them as much as 05 and 95 P&P- they just nailed it.

  17. I am love with Emma of 2009. I watch the series again and again. Great acting. Music is also great.




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