Film / Emma

"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

Despite not having Pride and Prejudice-level popularity, Emma has inspired not one or two, but four straight adaptations currently available, and quite a few slant ones. These adaptations tend to provoke rather violent flamewars, though it seems to have calmed down a bit since the 2009 miniseries was made.

These films find their match in these tropes:

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     1972 miniseries

The BBC adapted Emma as part of their general habit of doing Jane Austen novels every ten to twenty years. Starred Doran Godwin as Emma and John Carson as Mr. Knightley.

  • Adaptation Expansion: Though ostensibly faithful to the novel, the writer actually expanded many things - from Emma's early prattle making her seem almost like a Miss Bates wannabe, to Mr. Elton's reading to Emma and Harriet during the portrait painting (mentioned but not shown in the novel). Interestingly, the strawberry picking at Donwell and the outing to Box Hill are combined into one day, though each is again stretched by the writer.

     1996 film

Written and directed by Douglas McGrath for Miramax Films, the film starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the novel, Emma, in a rare physical description by Jane Austen, has "the true hazel eye." Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, has definitely blue eyes, which were highlighted in promotional materials (such as the CD score cover).
  • Gaussian Girl: Emma frequently appears as such, especially when writing in her diary, thinking about Mr. Knightley.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Several devices are used to make the film more cinematic, such as the beautiful opening with the spinning model globe. Additionally, the Harriet plot is emphasized to the near-exclusion of the Frank Churchill sections. Various elements such as the archery scene, the diaries, and the conversations with Mrs. Weston also indicate the choices deemed necessary to translate the story.
  • Pun:
    Emma: Oh dear!
    Mr. Knightley: What's that?
    Emma: Oh, ah, something about the ah, deer... we need... for the venison stew.
  • Relationship Compression: Because of the expansion of the Harriet sections, the Frank/Jane relationship is almost relegated to an afterthought - most of it happens completely offscreen, and some of Jane's actions are even given to other characters such as Miss Bates.
  • Younger and Hipper: Jeremy Northam was only a few years younger than Mr. Knightley, but partly due to Gwyneth Paltrow's height, he was often perceived as "exactly the same age as Emma" (to quote Anthony Lane of The New Yorker).

     1996 telefilm

ITV's telefilm starring Kate Beckinsale as Emma, Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley, and Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax. The brainchild of the landmark 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice team of writer Andrew Davies and producer Sue Birtwistle.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Though not directly spelled out in the telefilm, Andrew Davies gave a version of this to Frank Churchill. Instead of the somewhat careless charmer of the novel, Davies believes that Frank is a sociopath who hates women as a result of his mother's death (viewed as abandonment) and his aunt's controlling personality.
  • Adaptational Villainy: As a result of the above, Churchill's treatment of Jane is shown as more callous than it was in the book, and it's implied that he's going to keep on flirting after he's married in the complete confidence that his wife will always forgive him, making poor Jane's life miserable.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Though Emma is the second longest Austen novel and this telefilm is only an hour and 47 minutes long, Andrew Davies does a great job at keeping nearly all the relevant dialogue, scenes, and events. The resultant film is very faithful in event and general tone, but much, much faster paced. A few integrations of filmic techniques are seen in the use of Emma's imaginations being visualized, and the ending shades into Pragmatic Adaptation with the combination of events into a Harvest Festival.
  • Author Appeal: Screenwriter Andrew Davies tends to alter or adapt one older male character in his screeplays to a recognizable type of friendly, sociable, homebody fellow - in Emma, it's Mr. Weston, who in the novel is something of a clueless social butterfly, but here pipes in with a few words on the joys of marriage and home life.
  • Book-Ends: Chicken thieves make a raid in the first and last scenes.
  • Dream Sequence: Emma's daydreams and matchmaking scenarios often appear via this device - usually with hilariously over-the-top dream music, flower petals, slow motion, and first person point of view.
  • Empathic Environment: As in the novel, Emma's Lost Love Montage occurs during a very appropriate rainstorm, which leads to a powerful scene of Emma looking out a window, the light falling through the windows showing how the rain paralells Emma's tears.
  • Genki Girl: Though not as pronounced as Romola Garai's 2009 Emma, Kate Beckinsale's Emma is described in the screenplay as possessing bouncing arrogance and energy. Additionally, when she thinks her scheme between Harriet and Mr. Elton is succeeding, she gives a very cheerful bounce as she walks towards her house.
  • Nightmare Sequence: In a counterpart to her dreams, Emma's worst fears also play out in her dreams when Mr. Knightley marries first Jane Fairfax, then Harriet Smith, demonstrating Emma's growing awareness of her own feelings.
  • Lost Love Montage: When Emma realizes she's been in love with Mr. Knightley for a long time, she experiences this during an appropriate rainstorm.
  • Smug Snake:
    • Frank Churchill. Per the changes noted above, his character has some significant lines in this vein.
    • Mrs. Elton has her moments as well.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Emma's insult to Miss Bates, which shocks the entire outing party to speechlessness. Mr. Knightley rebukes her for this, saying severely, "That was badly done, Emma. Badly done!", reducing her to tears.

     2009 miniseries

The BBC returned to Emma after nearly four decades, scripted by Sandy Welch (though they had planned a follow-up to Pride And Prejudice in 1996, cancelled when the other two versions were announced - a project which was also supposed to be scripted by Sandy Welch). Starred Romola Garai as Emma, Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, and Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The series takes several elements from the novel which are mostly understated, such as Emma's teenage years, the connections between Emma, Frank, and Jane's childhoods, Emma's never having seen the sea, and Mr. Woodhouse's fears for his daughters, and expands them into subplots.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Emma gets her first taste of this after her governess' wedding and realizes that she might one day end up like Miss Bates, tied to caring for her elderly parent and otherwise quite alone.
    • Mr. Woodhouse is constantly afraid that something terrible will happen to his daughters and bluntly explains his unhappiness with Mrs. Weston's marriage with "mothers die, Emma."
  • Author Appeal: Screenwriter Sandy Welch follows a similar pattern to her previous literary adaptations in many ways. She keeps the four-episode structure from Our Mutual Friend, North and South, and Jane Eyre. Additionally, like Jane Eyre, she approaches Emma's story through her childhood.
  • Birds of a Feather: Played with between Frank and Emma. Both are lively, active, and witty, but they also bring out the worst in each other when their wit overrides kindness.
  • Bridal Carry:
    • Mr Elton carries his new bride from their carriage through the threshold.
    • When Frank Churchill rescues Harriet from the gypsies, she's too weak and he has to carry her in his arms. The novel text says she was leaning on him.
  • Careless Beauty: Emma is beautiful but doesn't preen about it. Knightley points this out as a virtue of hers to Mrs. Weston before going on to say that Emma is too vain over being clever.
  • Dance of Romance: After Emma thanks Knightley for dancing with Harriet, she him to dance the third with her. (Or rather, she asks him to ask her.) This dance happens to be much slower tempoed and intimate than the first two songs.
  • Foreshadowing: The first episode is packed with hints of what's to come. There's Miss Bates' fretting over Emma possibly running into gypsies while walking, Emma joking that Harriet might make a good match for Knightley, and Knightley saying that Emma will bitterly regret her meddling. All are paid off, though not always in the way you'd expect.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill appear in the prologue as children, emphasizing their importance in the story much earlier than most adaptations do. Perhaps justified since the material adapted does appear quite early in the novel, but Jane and Frank do not appear in person in the novel until the second volume, and both appear first as adults in the second episode of the miniseries.
  • Elective Mute: Mrs. Bates hasn't spoken since she lost her home and had to give up her grandniece Jane to the care of Colonel Campbell. She finally pipes up in the fourth episode.
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Early on, Emma jokes about Frank Churchill never managing to reach Hartfield, which upsets Mrs. Weston and provokes Mr. Weston to complain that he wishes people would stop accusing his son of carelessness. Emma manages to quickly smooth it over by saying she's only joking because she's eager to meet Frank.
  • Genki Girl: Garai's Emma is prone to do everything very energetically.
  • Gilligan Cut: Several. Most notably the following:
    Emma: (discussing the Box Hill party) "It shall be an intimate gathering and we shall only invite people we like!"
    Cut to:
    Mrs. Elton: "Box Hill! What marvelous idea!"
  • Holding Hands: Quite a bit of this after the proposal in episode four. Emma and Mr. Knightley hold hands while sitting on a bench discussing their paths to each other. Later, they share Intertwined Fingers behind Emma's back when breaking the news to her father.
  • Headbutt of Love: Emma and Knightley, after all the mutual misunderstandings are cleared up and she accepts his proposal.
  • Imagine Spot: Emma's rather overwrought picture of the scene when Miss Bates explains how Mr. Dixon saved Jane from falling off a cliff. She does the same thing later after Frank rescues Harriet.
  • Lens Flare: In the 2009 BBC series, after Emma insults Miss Bates, the camera tracks down her face after a sleepless night, and the rising sun flares. Also, in the third episode, as Mr. Knightley walks across the field.
  • Not So Different: The series draws a line between Miss Bates being her mother's caregiver to Emma and her father after they visit Hartfield—Emma is clearly a little disturbed at the parallel when she sees it.
  • Overprotective Dad: Michael Gambon plays an extremely gentle version of this character. While Mr. Woodhouse is something of this trope in the novel and all adaptations, Gambon's Mr. Woodhouse explicitly speaks of his special concern for his daughters as a result of losing his wife when they were very young.
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Quite a lot of ladies have their parasols while walking.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Mrs. Elton is always in brighter, more trimmed-out dresses than the ladies around her, and she's quite keen for everyone to see how expensive it is.
  • Romantic Rain: A downpour accompanies the news of Mrs. Churchill's passing, and Frank rushes into the street to tell his fiancee Jane Fairfax that they can get married now.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: The theme from the opening titles is played as the song for the dance Emma and Knightley share in the third episode.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Mr Weston shares his umbrella with Miss Taylor (future Mrs Weston) when it starts raining after the Sunday service. In the novel, he met Emma and Miss Taylor when they were walking and he gallantly borrowed two umbrellas for them from Farmer Mitchell's because it was drizzling.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Although Emma jokes about Knightley visiting Hartfield to deliver his "daily scolding of Emma," there are a couple of instances where he dresses her down with real anger: when she persuades Harriet to refuse Robert Martin, and when she insults Miss Bates.
  • Younger and Hipper: Partly due to Emma's being cast at a more mature age, but Jonny Lee Miller was 34 at the time he played Mr. Knightley, and is young-looking.