I lay before you the purpose of my Jane Austen column: to focus on reviews of select adaptations of her novels. On a five-point scale, I hope to justify my thoughts with the use of quotes, therefore, there will be inevitable spoilers. Beware. That said, each review will score the following: character development, additional/edited scenes/speeches (anything not in the original book), and production quality.
For my first review, let me commence with the opening line of Emma:
“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” (1).
With such a humorous opening line, it is fairly obvious that Emma will be both vexed and distressed on many occasions, and that my first review will cover an Emma adaptation, specifically the 2009 BBC television series, starring Romola Garai in the titular role. I will now begin with an analysis of the development of the relationship between Mr Kightley and Emma, followed by the incorporation of Emma’s internal thoughts, and some of the additional scenes throughout.
With a 16-year age gap between the two, Mr Knightley, both in the book and adaptation, serves as a mentor for Emma and eventual love interest. As with most Jane Austen novels, there are other potential love interests before “the one” is chosen toward the end, hence, the change from friendship to love is one that I was particularly keen to observe. Obviously, any drastic change in Emma’s feelings from one point to the next would be unrealistic, so the success of a historic adaptation in the Austen canon lies in the characters’ acting ability. The cast did not disappoint. With longing looks on Knightley’s part and the brief touching of hands, the tension constantly builds between the characters in each scene, culminating in the declaration of love towards the end of the last episode. My absolute favorite scene is undoubtedly when they dance together at a ball and the evident joy on both faces alike will warm any viewers’ heart.
Next, I wish to examine the use of internal thoughts in the television series. Trust me, do not take the opening line of the novel at face value... Emma is both vexed and distressed at certain points, hence the necessity of these “internal thoughts.” Particularly in the development of the relationship between her and Mr Knightley, Emma’s ponderings act as excitement-building mechanisms. In the fourth episode, she says, “for I have been so busy managing everyone else’s hearts I do not know my own,” signifying both maturity in her character and an opening for someone to enter. Or perhaps, he was there all along? In other instances, Emma recalls happy moments from her childhood, highlighting the friendship between her and Mrs Weston and the mother-like role the latter character portrays.
For those seeking an authentic, 100 percent accurate adaptation, I warn you, this is not the cinematic production for you. There are quite a few additional scenes and speeches in this particular adaptation; however, I will only focus on a select few. The very first example comes in the first five minutes of the show, in the form of a scene depicting the departure of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill from Highbury. As any Emma enthusiast knows, the two characters play a large role in the story, and this additional scene adds yet another layer of connection between them, as is evident later on. Also, in the beginning, I appreciated the scene where Emma’s mother gets sick and dies, thus, providing an understanding for Mr Woodhouse’s character, who is a notorious worrier. Unexpectedly, I sympathized with the otherwise exceedingly burdensome character, as the scene provides a basis for his ever-present fear of Emma leaving him or of illness. The last “additional part” I wish to analyze is the incorporation of scenes with Isabella Knightley in her home in London. In the book, her role is very minor, providing more comedic relief in a nature similar to that of Mr Woodhouse than anything of real substance. That said, in the context of the production, Isabella and her marriage to Mr Knightley’s brother foreshadows Emma’s future. From the progression of the relationship between husband and wife (at the beginning) to their life with their kids in London (in the middle), every interaction between the two provides a glimpse into Emma’s future beyond that which is written in the text. For any fan like myself, such instances make me happy in their acknowledgement of life beyond the text.
Overall, Emma (2009) is a five-star rated adaptation. With a four-hour running time, it is definitely a time commitment, but a worthwhile one. Reread your favorite sections of the book, block out your Sunday afternoon, get some snacks ready, and, most importantly, be ready to invest 100 percent of your time and energy on the roller-coaster ride of the life of the mistress of Hartfield, Emma.