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Series / Emma

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The BBC returned to Emma in 2009 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.

The series is laid out in four episodes, and starts with the childhood fates of Emma Woodhouse, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax after they suffer losses in their families.


One day, you will bitterly regret your tropewriting.

  • Adaptational Early Appearance: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • Change the Uncomfortable Subject: When John Knightley starts losing his temper over Mr. Woodhouse's health advice, Emma shoots Mr. Knightley a look and he abruptly begins talking about the new roadway.
  • Dance of Romance: After Emma thanks Knightley for dancing with Harriet, she asks 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.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The theme from the opening titles is played as the song for the dance Emma and Knightley share in the third episode.
  • 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.
  • Elective Mute: Mrs. Bates hasn't spoken since she lost her home and had to give up her granddaughter Jane to the care of Colonel Campbell. She finally pipes up in the fourth episode.
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Early in the series, 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 very cheerful and 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 a marvellous 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 Mr Knightley gently press their heads together, after all the mutual misunderstandings are cleared up and she accepts his declaration of love.
  • 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. More comically, she imagines what Mr. Knightley's life might be like if he marries Jane Fairfax and has Miss Bates living with him.
  • Indifferent 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.
  • Lap Pillow: During the Box Hill picnic, Frank puts his head on Emma's lap. It's a great sign of intimacy (and actually very inaccurate to the period; people wouldn't have behaved like that, not even as a joke, especially lady and gentleman who are neither engaged nor married — Frank wouldn't have done that and Emma certainly wouldn't have let him). Probably done to emphasise how embarrassing Emma and Frank were and how improper their flirting was.
  • 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.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Emma, Frank, and Jane are introduced in the prologue as children before a timeskip to Emma's adulthood.
  • Mirror Character: 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.
  • Paper Destruction of Anger: Frank Churchill angrily crumples a letter from his aunt which cuts short his visit in Highbury just before the ball.
  • 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 her wardrobe is.
  • Serious Business: A snow shower starting while everyone is at Randalls is treated as a major crisis—at least by John Knightley, who is already pretty cranky, and Mr. Woodhouse, who is riddled with anxiety.
  • Silent Treatment: Mrs Bates stops talking to her daughter after the former has decided to send her beloved orphaned granddaughter Jane from their impoverished home to Colonel Campbell who can provide for her education. And Mrs Bates apparently hasn't talked to anyone ever since. She doesn't break her silence, not even when Jane is visiting. She starts talking after years when Jane is grown up and engaged.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Mr. Weston shares his umbrella with Miss Taylor (the 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 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.

"...and I bitterly regret my tropewriting."