The most recent adaptation of the novel Emma comes courtesy of BBC with its successful 2009 miniseries, starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. Unlike some of the other modern versions of Emma, the time constraints for this version were not as strict because it was filmed and shown as a miniseries, not a two hour movie, allowing for a faithful and relatively complete adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel.
One aspect of this adaptation that sets it apart from other versions is the way the writers and directors present scenes that are told in the novel through a narrative voice or through dialogue between characters. Because of the freedom that comes with shooting a miniseries as opposed to a regular movie, the filmmakers have the opportunity to draw out every scene instead of just allowing character dialogue to tell a story. The audience can fully see what is happening in addition to just hearing it described. An example of this, from the very beginning of the first episode, is when Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax are shown as children and their family situations are made known to the audience right away. The narrator discusses what happened with each of them in their childhood, while the audience can also see Emma with her governess, Miss Taylor, following her mother’s death and Frank Churchill leaving his father, Mr. Weston, to live with his aunt and uncle. This scene serves as a good set-up for the rest of the story and helps eliminate any confusion that the audience may have about each character’s relationship to each other.
Another favorable aspect of this adaptation of Emma is the fact that certain characters, specifically Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton, are given more screen time than in some of the other films. While they are not the most important characters in the book, Michael Gambon and Christina Cole, give great performances, showing audiences the overly cautious Mr. Woodhouse and the incredibly self-centered and annoying Mrs. Elton as Austen portrays them in the novel.
However, without a doubt, one of the greatest parts of the miniseries is the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, thanks to Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. Their relationship is faithful to that within the novel, and although Garai was actually 27, not 21, during the filming, it is still believable that her Emma is 16 years younger than Jonny Lee Miller’s Knightley. Miller, being the correct age of 37, plays the protector of Emma, being concerned about her but never overbearing or controlling. In contrast, Emma is played as very young and naïve, not quite as stubborn as readers of the novel sometimes see her. Despite their different personalities, their union does not seem forced and serves as a welcome and happy ending to the miniseries.