Thursday, April 15, 2010

Emma (2009) ~ A Review

Emma is a miniseries made in 2009 by BBC. Featuring a screenplay written by Sandy Welch (screenwriter for North and South, Our Mutual Friend, and Jane Eyre), and a stellar cast including Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, and Michael Gambon, Emma makes for a delightful, 4-hour adaption of Jane Austen's beloved novel.


According to the first line of the famous novel, "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." Emma is the second of two daughters of an simple, elderly widower. She is a young woman of great importance in her social circle, and is very witty, and the problem is... she knows it! She enjoys arranging other people's lives, especially in the area of matrimony. Having successfully married off her sister to a long-time friend, and her governess to a local widower, Emma considers herself a successful matchmaker and becomes determined to carry on her matchmaking career. But whether it is with the sweet, simple, artless Harriet Smith; the handsome and engaging vicar, Mr. Elton; or her former governess' charming stepson, Frank Churchill, her plans all seem to go ridiculously wrong, and she comes to realize that she is not so knowledgeable about the ways of the heart as she thought she was; and her efforts to match up others cause her to nearly mistake and lose her own perfect match.


While there are some who may differ with me on this point, I really do think this is the most accurate version of Emma of the three I have seen (Mirimax, A&E, and this one). While Mirimax leans more towards the Elton storyline, and A&E leans more towards the Churchill storyline, this one gives the whole story equal attention and includes many details that the other film versions left out. It also, I think, captures the spirit of the book very well and presents most of the characters accurately. It also answers questions that the other films didn't answer very well (see two paragraphs below) and acquaints you better with some of the characters such as Mrs. Goddard, John, Isabella, and Mrs. Elton. (Oh!! Mrs. Elton!! Christina Cole tops them all! She is so the best Mrs. Elton...)

That said, the filmmakers for this adaption of Emma did have their own take on some of it. They attempted to make it more "modern" in some of the language, music, manners, etc., to make it more accessible to a modern audience. I know that sounds terrible-- it sounded terrible to me when I heard they were doing that!-- but when you actually sit down and watch it, the modernization is, to me and many others at least, very forgivable. You feel like you know the characters, like they could live in modern days. Those who haven't exercised their language abilities so as to catch on to the period language of Jane Austen's original works will find it perhaps a more enjoyable and understandable watch. True, a Regency girl isn't going to be lounging with her arm up over the back of the couch, but somehow it is forgivable when Emma does it, and makes her seem like a very real person. :-)
A few other changes the filmmakers made were very slight. They began the screenplay with "flashbacks" of Emma's childhood, giving a better understanding of Emma's, Frank's, and Jane's backgrounds. This answers questions some viewers may have, such as "Why is Mr. Woodhouse so overprotective of Emma?" "How is Jane related to the Bates again?" "Who is this Knightly guy who comes back and forth to and from Hartfield all the time?" Mrs. and Miss Bates' personalities were somewhat drawn about in such a way that they are more tragic characters. Instead of just being deaf, Mrs. Bates is withdrawn in herself because of the way her life has been; and Miss Bates has a lot more emotional depth than in the other film versions.


Emma is an absolutely deliciously clean movie. Most of the costumes are modest; there is much less emphasis on cleavage than there is in several of the other Jane Austen adaptions. There is no sexual content (though there is a kiss and some flirting). One of the things that makes me absolutely love this version is the absence of questionable language! You know the absolute annoying superabundance of "Good God!" and "O, Lord!" in those other adaptions? You don't get that in Emma! When a character is expressing surprise, they either exclaim, "Oh my goodness!" or just show the surprise in their faces. Someone told me that one character uses the Lord's name in vain once in frustration, but she knew it only from the subtitles, and when I listened during that scene after she pointed that out to me, I still couldn't detect it. Besides that, one character uses the term "d--n" but it too is not very noticeable.


As when I read or watch Jane Austen's other works, I usually come away from Emma in a mood for spiritual application. Jane Austen really had a way of working in the matters of the heart and the importance of godly living in her stories. This adaption of Emma, developing Emma's bad character and her realization of it and her change, was very good, and made me think: Am I, like Emma, full of myself? Vain? Prideful? Immature? Inconsiderate of other's feelings and needs? Impatient? Or do I allow the Spirit of Christ to control me and influence what I do? Do I truly desire others' good? Am I kind? Do I use what influence I have to help others do right? Am I bold to speak up, like Mr. Knightly? Life isn't about us-- it is about loving God and loving others. Sometimes we must fall hard after a major mistake, like Emma, but God uses those falls to make us dependent on Him and moldable in His hands.

Of course, I have a couple quibbles with Emma. Despite promoting Christian morality in her works, Jane Austen didn't lift up Jesus Christ by name in her works. The one notably "religious" person in the movie is Mr. Elton, who is actually (SPOILER ALERT) a real jerk! and I kind of wish Jane had decided to pick on another occupation besides clergyman (albe
it, I am sure a lot of clergyman were NOT Christians back then, as it is today!) Still, besides that, I do find Emma very challenging and thought-provoking spiritually.


I suppose I have been expressing them throughout as it is! If you haven't been abl
e to tell yet, this is my FAVORITE VERSION OF EMMA EVER MADE!!!!!!!!!!!! I love the casting... perfect Emma, perfect Mr. Woodhouse, perfect Mr. and Mrs. Elton, perfect Mr. and Mrs. Weston, perfect Frank Churchill, perfect Jane Fairfax, 100% PERFECT MR. KNIGHTLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-D And perfect or nearly perfect everyone else. :-) The music is absolutely delicious and the ball scene has got to be the best Jane Austen ball scene ever to be filmed. Wow.
Most of the costumes are very lovely, and, again, most are modest. The sets are beautiful too. I love the whole thing! I do think the beginning is a little too slow, and the ending is a little too fast, Harriet's a little too dense, Miss Bates not quite silly and talkative enough, and I wish they had left in the "Bro
ther and sister? No indeed!" line, but besides that, I love it! :-D Now this is one I do faint in delight over. ;-)

I do highly encourage you to get a copy of this adaption of Emma, or pull it up and watch it on YouTube, if you haven't seen it already. Who knows, you might not like it-- I've known a few who don't, but I know more who do (and believe it or not, I even know a GUY who has it on his iPod and watching it now and then! So your brothers might not pretend to be all grossed out when you pop it in, who knows! :-D) In any case, I highly encourage you to give this adaption a try. 10 to 1, you'll buy it the instant the end credits pull up. Serious. :-)


Jane said...

Wonderful review, I completely agree! It's nice to find someone else who thinks that this is the best adaption ever!

Grace said...

Oh, yes, I absolutely love that movie! I have read some reviews about it, and from the sound of it a lot of people did not like it, but I think it probably my favorite (though I have never seen any of the other versions:).
I love how you also included a Christian perspective in your review too. Wonderful!
And I also really like your blog. It is very lovely.
Feel free to visit my blog at
May the Lord bless your day!
In Christ,

Jecca said...

I really do love this version as well!


momawake said...

Amy & I just watched the first disc earlier this week. We both enjoyed it and are waiting for the second disc from Netflix. We were able to see Emma performed live in Cleveland recently. That was great fun!

Rebekah said...

Very well done indeed! A very good review!

I too really like this version. I do agree that this is the best Mr. Knightly but I recently watched the other two versions of Emma with my sisters, and I could find all sorts of things in them that I liked too. I could probably do a detailed post about which movie I think portrays each character the best! That said, I haven't read the book yet - I did scan bits but haven't read it like I want - so I may be in a bad position to judge. :p

I love the modesty in this film, compared to many other regency films too - I'm thinking about sometime, remaking some of the dresses. :)

To the KING be all the glory!


"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

Teddy said...

I hate it.

Did I make you gasp? Ha! EVERYONE knows I'm nuts over this movie and music and characters!!!! :) Good review girlfriend! ;-)
The Other Knightly Fan,
Teddums ;-)

LadyBug-Laurie said...

Thank you for this lovely review and especially for your Christian perspective on this beautiful film!
Jane Austen is my favorite author (yes I am a "Janeite") and I simply fell in love with this adaptation of Emma the first time I saw it! It is the quintessential adaptation of Miss Austen's novel!

Like you said there are some "modernizations" given especially to Emma herself but the changes aren't really that noticeable. It is an exquisite film in every way!
I'm so glad someone else adores it as much as I do! :)

God Bless,
Miss Laurie

Anonymous said...

Great review, nice to have a godly point of view. I totally agree with you that this is one of the cleanest Austens yet! Love it!

Maggie S.

Ashley Nicole said...

You have been tagged!

the W. family said...

Great review! I like this film a lot too!!

Hana - Marmota said...

I can't wait to get hold of it, reading that it's so good and, particularly, that it focuses on the development of Emma's character. I'm glad for my sister, who really likes the book and, from what I could gather, particularly that part of it. I hope she'll like it!

Liz&Elle said...

Miss Elinor Dashwood,
I enjoyed your review. I've only seen the first two parts and am eagerly awaiting our chance to see the next two, which hopefully will be within the week. Even where the characters were different in ways from what I had expected or hoped for, I found it easy to like Emma, Mr.Knightley, and all the rest! I found out that the actor portraying Mr.Knightley played Edmund in Mansfield Park, and I was satisfied with that. Then, I found out Mr.Elton was played by the actor who played Edmund in a more recent version. Now I really like Mansfield Park, book and movies, and I was absolutely horrified! But what was worse was that Mr. Elton actually did a great job!:)I totally agree about the "brother and sister, no indeed" line. It's one of my favorite parts.I hope you're able to understand my rambling. Sometimes one can't get hardly a word out of me, and other times, everything just blurts out at once!
Your sister in Christ,
Liz Darcy

Melody said...

I love this movie! And on your note about guys watching this movie... My dad and my (guy) cousin watched this movie with me and liked it. My brother hasn't seen this particular version, but he liked the "brown-hair" one. =) I'm sure he'd like this one too.

Yay for guys who recognize a good story. ;-)