The 1996 made-for-television version of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale as the title character and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly, was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence. I found this version to be similar to the 1996 one in its traditional interpretation of the novel. Many of the scenes were nearly identical to the original plot- from Emma’s walk through the field, to the happening upon Mr. Churchill in the woods, to the actual script.
The Beckinsale version of Emma is much less glamorous than the other film adaptions; it focuses not only upon Emma’s high society lifestyle, but also upon the direct and indirect interactions with the poor. The adaption also has newly devised scenes, making it an artistic interpretation of the original, and differentiating it from the previously made version. An aspect unique to this version is Emma’s matchmaking, much of which is interpreted through imaginative dreams that she has. These scenes appropriately stay in line with Emma’s bold imagination and her faith in herself to match people together. While some are outright strange, each offers a personal insight as seen directly through Emma’s daydreaming.
Beckinsale’s characterization of Emma is not immediately dislikable. Her imperviousness and boldness are akin to Austen’s original Emma, without being too obnoxious for the majority of the film. The sense of charm Beckinsale instills in her Emma makes her slightly more likeable than in different adaptions, however, it does not redeem her so much as to make her stray too far from her true characterization. Beckinsale’s chemistry with Strong’s Knightley is believable; the two work well together in creating the complicated relationship that exists between the two. The film itself is captured in muted, calm tones, which matches the acting. Furthermore, the emphasis on music is an integral aspect of the film, as evidenced in the numerous dance scenes, the pianoforte scene, and throughout the travel scenes. While not as popular as the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow adaption, the Kate Beckinsale version offers many unique insights into the characters and story of Emma.