Emma: Part 4 (2009 Adaptation)

I now conclude my Emma adaptation reviews with the most recent adaptation available, which is the BBC version done in 2009. This adaptation was written by Sandy Welch as early as 1995/1996, but was put off due to the film version which came out in 1996 and the Andrew Davies ITV version that same year. Can’t say I blame the BBC for waiting over a decade before doing an updated Emma. Unlike the BBC 1972 version, which was 6 parts, this one is only 4 parts, making it much shorter and a little more abridged, which is not a bad thing for an adaptation to be. There were, at times, I felt the 1972 version seemed to drag because it was overly long (it’s definitely one you don’t want to try and watch all in one sitting). This one, if one chooses to, can easily be watched in one day or weekend.

Romola Garai is Emma Woodhouse

Romola Garai is a fine Emma Woodhouse. She’s young enough that when she makes the mistakes that she eventually does, you do feel bad for her, but also acknowledge that she knows no better due to her age. Michael Gambon is Mr. Woodhouse, and is more subtle in his paranoia than previous versions, which is different but a choice I do not mind. They also show Emma’s mother in the beginning, show her death and thus explain why Mr. Woodhouse is overly concerned with health and his daughters being close to him at all times. It’s never mentioned as to why he behaves the way he does in the novel, so having some kind of explanation does help make him a more sympathetic character. It was a bold decision to make and one that I enjoyed seeing.

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse

I really didn’t see the point to showing little Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax shown being taken away as children from Highbury (and being seen by Emma as a young girl). To me, it was interesting visually, but made no sense in the overall feel of the adaptation. Especially since I do believe Mr. Weston moves to Highbury and then marries Miss Taylor in a few years, so the removal of Frank from his father took place elsewhere. It’s just an odd thing to have added which didn’t need to be added. While I do enjoy the little scene of John and Isabella flirting in the gardens, I do not like seeing both the Woodhouse girls with their hair down. I’m sorry but too many portraits of well-bred young ladies exist showing that little girls did not have their hair down past a certain age. I can see possibly if they were under the age of 12, but once they were old enough to be sent away for schooling, they would have they’re hair up. Children were dressed like little adults at this time. Clothing specific for children really wasn’t’ a thing until the mid-Victorian Era (this includes hair).

Emma with her hair down. Just no.

Mrs & Mr. Woodhouse with baby Emma.

This is the only adaptation to show Mrs. Weston pregnant. While the 1972 version hints at why Mrs. Weston is “indisposed”, they do not show her pregnant, but later on state she’s had a child. She’s not mentioned as being pregnant in either the 1996 film or ITV version, so this is the only accurate depiction of Mrs. Weston we have post marriage. It’s good to see her wearing maternity clothes (basically gowns made to be fuller in front) that are period correct. And yes, she would not be seen much out of doors during her confinement (towards the end of the pregnancy, women basically stayed at home). It’s such a little thing to be excited about, but it makes me happy.

Emma & a pregnant Mrs. Weston (portrayed by Jodhi May)

Mrs. Weston

One criticism is the hats. While lovely and period correct, they don’t always seem to fit on Emma’s head correctly. They seem to be in constant danger of falling off, as if they are placed too far back for the purposes of filming, which may be the case. Then, one would think they would use hat pins to secure said hats in place to make them more secure. Alas, the lack of hat pins is a vexation to me! They do seem to randomly appear, like on Box Hill or on characters such as Miss Bates or Harriet Smith, but not always on all the ladies consistently. Which is a pity, I find.

Emma’s magical hat. How did it stay on?

Emma, Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) and Mrs. Elton (Christina Cole)

Another odd choice that I do not know if I like or not is they made Mrs. Elton resemble Harriet in terms of hairstyle and looks, but Emma in terms of the colors of her clothing. She is the blending of the two and it’s just visually odd to me. Now, this may have been done on purpose, to show that Mr. Elton was attracted to both ladies, but wanted to marry Emma because she was well connected and rich. Harriet, of course, is the natural daughter of nobody (natural daughter is the polite term meaning she is someone’s bastard child). Some people may like the way Mrs. Elton was costumed and her hair and others might not. I have not decided yet.

Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith.

The Portrait Scene

Louise Dylan is very delicate and pretty as Harriet Smith. She and Romola have amazing chemistry together and you truly believe these two have become close friends. She has this incredible ability to have a sense of wonderment and innocence in her eyes throughout the adaptation that when she is hurt, you truly feel for her. You can sense why Emma has become her friend and cares for her .While I have enjoyed the relationship between Harriet and Emma, I confess that I did not like the portrait scene. In the novel, Harriet is described as sitting down. So the 1972 and the 1996 ITV version adhered the the novel. the 1996 film and this version are basically identical in have a Greco-Roman-esque pose which shouldn’t exist. This feels like the BBC is trying to compete with the Paltrow version. If they wanted to do an entirely different pose, then I would have liked to have seen try something wild, like sitting on a swing (which is very Georgian). Or something Arthurian, like she’s the Lady Elaine or a scene from Ivanhoe (which was popular during Austen’s time). There was just so much potential here and they went with copying the film version.

Emma & Harriet

Costumes are not bad in this version. Emma’s clothes tend to have a quiet elegance about them which is quiet nice. I like the addition of having sheer sleeves added to gowns, which can be seen as an under layer added for protection under the sun but also for warmth on chilly spring days. I do enjoy seeing the use of layers because that is how people dressed. Women would have under shirts and wear sleeveless gowns on top, then have a shawl, Spencer jacket, or pelisse when going outside. Men would wear scarves, vests, outdoor jackets and hats. Fob watches were worn by both sexes, so I do applaud showing Emma wearing one as well as Mr. Knightly. And I did like seeing buttons and lacing for the back of the gowns instead of lacing, which seems to have become the industry standard of late (while lacing was done, buttons were also used and both should be shown). There was a point were Emma was shown wearing wide sashes around her waist. When she was younger, that was a look (Robe a la Reine) made famous by Marie Antoinette shortly before she was removed from the throne and beheaded. It hails form her Petit Trinon days. Think Aristocracy does Peasant look. It’s actually a very sweet look. But sometimes, they show a more grown up Emma still wearing a wide sash, which confuses me. Not sure what the purpose was.

Marie Antoinette in a Robe a la Reine

Young Emma in what looks like a take on the Robe a la Reine

Hairstyles, for the most part, were fairly good. I have no issues withe the hairstyles gearing more towards the 1820s considering Emma was published in 1815, so setting around 1815-1820 gives the designers 5 years to play around in. I do think Johnny Lee Miller’s hair as Knightley was too short. Even if it was meant to be a la Titus, it was too modern and short for that particular hairstyle. It needed to be longer in order to be layered correctly. Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton has a much better a la Titus. Some of the older gentlemen are shown wearing a wig at times, which would still occur. You would expect the older generation to still hold onto their fashions like wigs for years past the time it was even fashionable. I’ve read accounts were people were complaining the local physician was wearing a Georgian wig in the 1830s! Granted he lived in the rural part of the US, but it was a fashion item no longer in use.

Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton. This is a good a la Titus.

Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. This is a bad a la Titus.

Portrait from around 1800-1810 showing the a la Titus hairstyle. Notice the layers.

Now, I am not all doom and gloom. The dancing scenes I thought were lively and accurate to the period. Some adaptations like having them stately and dull, but these dances were lively, fun and loud! I love it when the dance scenes show them full of vigor and movement. These are meant to be fun gatherings, not boring mind numbing affairs. Why else would Lydia and Kitty Bennett be begging for a ball to be held at Netherfield if they were so dull?

Balls are meant to be loud and fun.


1972 BBC Version

1972 BBC Version: Absolutely faithful to the novel. This version is long and can get tedious at times because it’s so long. However, the costumes are lovely (especially the pleated hat Emma wears), the sets are gorgeous, and the acting is sublime. This is the first adaptation of the novel and it was very well done. Be warned that because it’s in six parts, you may want to watch it over a period of a few days.  You can watch it over a weekend, but I recommend watching an episode a day and stretching it out over the span of a week because it is so long and dense. Advice I should have taken myself. It is part of the Classic Jane Austen  Collection, so if you purchase that collection, you get the first adaptations of all the Jane Austen novels (which is worth it).

1996 Film Version

1996 Film Version: I don’t mind this version, but it’s not one that I would personally purchase and own. Too many issues with the costumes makes it hard for me to enjoy besides some of the odd casting choices. That’s not to say it’s a bad adaptation. It’s fairly decent and it’s our only film version so far (our second film version is set to come out in 2020). It’s short and an easy watch. If you haven’t seen it, most local libraries have a copy or can get one through inter library loan.

1996 ITV Version

1996 ITV Version: I highly recommend this version and I own it. It’s wonderfully adapted and has a great cast and crew involved. It’s a better version than the film that was released the same year. My only complaint is that it’s shorter than the film and I wish it were at least 10-15 minutes longer so it could have included possibly the Coles party scene. It’s also the only time we see a non-blonde as Emma. No where in the novel does it state Emma is blonde. The only reason they have cast a blonde as Emma is because the first person to portray Emma (back in 1972) was a blonde.

2009 BBC Version

2009 BBC Version: I actually really like this version. I think it was really well done and even though there are some issues that I have with it, they are minor things that don’t affect my enjoyment. I do believe that when I have the funds, I will consider purchasing this version to add to my collection and I have not considered purchasing any of the more recent adaptations at all. But this one was truly well done and I wouldn’t mind owning it, which is considerably high praise coming from me.

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