Everyone in my family has read the book, so we have had lively debates concerning our favorite film adaptations. None of us like the 1972 miniseries; everyone seems too old for their parts and the film quality is poor. We like different characters in the 1996 Hollywood and ITV versions, though we all prefer Kate Beckinsale to Gwyneth Paltrow (too nasal and too old for the part). Because the handsomest guys win with me, I like Jeremy Northam best of all the Mr. Knightleys and Raymond Coulthard for Frank Churchill. My husband thinks that Mark Strong does a better job with the Mr. Knightley part, and I do see his point. I will also agree that Strong is quite handsome when he wears his hat. My husband, influenced mainly by her pretty face, gives Kate Beckinsale the nod for the part of Emma. My daughter prefers Beckinsale as well. For the part of Harriet, Toni Collette is a wonderful actress, but she doesn’t look the part. We all agree that Samantha Morton deserves the nod there.
We also are unanimous that the 1996 Kate Beckinsale version deserves kudos for beginning and ending with the chicken thieves, and we like the inclusion of the harvest ball during which Emma lets go of her pride and extends her hand to Robert Martin. That’s all true to the book.The 2009 BBC miniseries stands alone. At first, I thought it was too much of a departure from the real character of Emma Woodhouse, but when I watched it a second time, I became a fan – so much so that my husband bought me the DVD set for our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary. I like all the characters, though Louise Dylan should never be filmed lying down. That angle does dreadful things to her neck and face. Jonny Lee Miller is not devastatingly handsome, but he nails the part, though no one else will ever match Mark Strong’s rant after everyone learns of the engagement between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. What we particularly liked was the fresh angle on the story.
It opens with Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill being sent away from Highbury as children, contrasting their lives with Emma’s sheltered childhood at Hartfield. All three of them lost their mothers, but Emma’s father was the only one who kept his children with him. That explains why he is so loath to let Emma go, and it gives a plausible excuse for the actions of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. They were, in Anne Shirley’s words, “kindred spirits,” having shared similar backgrounds.
In other words, I have no clear favorite. I watch my three favorites, choosing according to my mood. Whom do you prefer?