BBC Miniseries, 240 minutes (4 one-hour episodes)
based on the novel by Jane Austen
Every few years, someone in the movie industry decides it’s time to remake an Austen film. Hollywood did it in 2005 with the Kiera Knightly version of Pride & Prejudice—or, as my friend Katie calls it, “Emily Brontë’s Pride & Prejudice.” Naturally, filmmakers want to try their hand at the biggest women’s franchise ever (try to argue Twilight has eclipsed Austen, I dare you).
Sometimes, I wish they’d do something other than P&P or Emma. There isn’t a decent Northanger Abbey, and though I adore the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion, there’s ample room for another entry there, too. But did I say any of this when Katie invited me to a “new Emma” viewing party? Of course not. It’s a new Austen film, yay!
For the uninitiated, Emma is about a smart, wealthy young lady in 1810’s England who decides she’s a brilliant matchmaker and proceeds to meddle in the lives of her friends and neighbors—with funny and sometimes disastrous results. Her behavior puts a strain on her friendship with Mr. Knightly, who is her only intellectual equal. Emma may think she’s a great matchmaker, but she knows nothing about her own heart.
Most women my age picture Jeremy Northam (from 1996’s Emma) as Mr. Knightley, so Jonny Lee Miller (aka Edmund Bertram in 1999’s Mansfield Park) takes some getting used to in the Mr. Knightley role. The Brontëan darkness shoehorned into parts of the miniseries stand at odds with Austen’s usual social satire. Lastly, Emma’s occasional anachronistic behavior will be jarring to anyone familiar with the mores of the period.
As Emma, actress Romola Garai is an elegant imp who has so much fun with the story that I almost forgave her those anachronisms. As Emma’s father, Michael Gambon is fabulous, and even Jonny Lee Miller comes through on the romance.