Welcome to the Risky Regencies JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB!

Here we dish, dissect, debate, deride, and drool over various dramatic adaptations of Jane Austen’s works.

Today: the ITV/A&E version of EMMA from 1996. (You may have noticed there were actually two Emmas in 1996 — this is the Kate Beckinsale version.)

To aid the discussion, here are the major credits (with trivia in green):

DIRECTOR: Diarmuid Lawrence

Lawrence directed the 1987 BBC miniseries of VANITY FAIR.

SCREENPLAY: Andrew Davies

The much-celebrated Davies wrote the screenplays for the 2008 SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, the 2007 NORTHANGER ABBEY, the 1998 miniseries of VANITY FAIR, and (most famously) the 1995 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.


Kate Beckinsale — Emma Woodhouse

Mark Strong — Mr. Knightley

Bernard Hepton — Mr. Woodhouse

Hepton played Sir Thomas Bertram in the 1983 miniseries of MANSFIELD PARK.

Samantha Bond — Mrs. Weston

Bond is another veteran of the 1983 MANSFIELD PARK; she played Maria.

James Hazeldine — Mr. Weston

Samantha Morton — Harriet Smith

Morton played Sara Coleridge in the movie Pandaemonium (2000); Sophie in the 1997 television miniseries of TOM JONES; and Jane in the 1997 JANE EYRE.

Olivia Williams — Jane Fairfax

Williams recently played Jane Austen in the television movie MISS AUSTEN REGRETS.

Prunella Scales — Miss Bates

Here’s one I haven’t seen, but wish I could! Prunella Scales played Lydia in the 1952 BBC miniseries of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. (Has anyone ever seen this version? It starred Peter Cushing as Darcy!)

Sylvia Barter — Mrs. Bates

Raymond Coulthard — Frank Churchill

Dominic Rowan — Mr. Elton

Lucy Robinson — Mrs. Elton

Robinson appeared in another Davies-scripted Austen: she was Mrs. Hurst in the 1995 miniseries of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Guy Henry — John Knightley

Dido Miles — Isabella Knightley

Peter Howell — Mr. Perry

Judith Coke — Mrs. Goddard

Alistair Petrie — Robert Martin

So….what did you think??? How did the script work for you? The casting? Or anything else?

All opinions welcome!

And join us next Tuesday, when we discuss the new adaptation of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY!

Cara King, who rarely scolds puppies, and never talks about her caro sposo in public

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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38 Responses to JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: Emma (1996/TV)

  1. I didn’t like this version when I first saw it probably because I had seen the Gwyneth Paltrow version and adored it, but now having seen this version again it does have a lot to recommend it particularly in the supporting characters. I thought Samantha Morton was much more suited to Harriet than Toni Colette, and Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax. Polly Walker was a little too mature for me in the movie. I adore Mark Strong in everything he does and I thought he was a particularly fine Mr. Knightley. I’m on the fence about her dreams in this version. The only problem I had was that the proposal scene was ruined for me the minute they started talking about how he held her in his arms when she was 3 weeks old. Ick!

  2. Diane Gaston says:

    Elizabeth, I didn’t adore the Gwyneth Paltrow version, but I did adore this one! Kate Beckinsale just has a much wider acting range than Paltrow (of whom I’m not a great fan). I found Beckinsale so appealing as Emma.
    In general, I liked all the casting in this version better. Mark Strong was a great Knightley and I never found Jeremy Northam appealing in the role. I love Toni Collette, but Samantha Morton was more the Harriet of my fantasy. Olivia Williams was a wonderful Jane Fairfax.

    But another thing I loved about this version was its earthiness–showing the haying, the people working in the fields, for example. It just seemed more of a real place in a real time.

    The line about Knightley holding Emma when she was 3 mos old pulled me out, too, Elizabeth. But I did quick math and figured he could have been 5 years old and then it wasn’t so icky. And I think that line is directly from Austen, if I’m recalling correctly.

  3. I loved this verson far more than the GP version. This Gemma was by far more intrguing and closest to Jane Austen’s nuanced character. It wasn’t simply a case of a busybody or a fake one.

    I adore Jeremy Northam, but Mark strong grew on me as M.=r. Knightely.

    Diane, yes. That holding a three-week-old Emma was an ick line for me, too. Thanks for the math.

    Of Clueless offers heaps of enertainment!! I love the movie!

  4. I enjoy both the GP and the KB versions, but for different reasons! The GP version just seems like frothy fun–a sort of fantasy of life in a Regency neighborhood, with pretty-pretty dresses. I guess it’s kind of like what a Regency Fair would be, if they had those along with Renaissance Fairs (and I wish they did!). The Becksinsale version, though, has grown on me, and strikes me as a much more realistic look at country life in the era. It’s not too sugary, like the GP version–it has much of the tang of the book. Plus I like almost ALL the secondary actors much better in this one. And I really want a dress like the one she wears at the Christmas party, with the lacy elbow sleeves.

    I still do not understand why they couldn’t have given Mark Strong a better hairpiece, though. And why they felt they HAD to include the bit about him holding her when she was a baby. Even if it was in the book–ick.

  5. Kalen Hughes says:

    I vastly prefer this version to the GP one. The costumes are better, the script more clearly captures the flavor of the novel and the essence of the characters, and the casting simply works better, with one exception . . . if I could just pluck Jeremy Northam from the GP version and paste him into this one I’d be entirely satisfied.

    My main problem with the GP version is the way Emma herself is presented. She’s sort of a benign busybody with only the best intentions. In the KB version, she’s more of a spoiled brat who really doesn’t *get* that she’s messing around with people’s lives, and that her choices are not always the best ones, or even reasonable ones, for the people she’s manipulating. She actually has to GROW to achieve her HEA, which is much more akin to the storyline of the novel.

  6. Lois says:

    To me, I like both just about equally, they are both fairly accurate to the book and the like — I might like the GP one a tad bit more because it’s a bit lighter than this one, and I vastly love that Mr Knightly more than this one. But that aside, I really like this one too!

    But yeah, that’s the one thing that makes me not like the story of Emma more than I do because of the whole age thing. I’m fine when there is a age difference between two people, and I’m fine when you have two people similar in age growing up together and falling in love later. But when you have a guy saying I was 15 years old and I held you as a baby. . . ugh.

    Okay, so maybe it’s my 21st century eyes looking at it, but still. LOL That is a good thing about the GP version, it’s easier to forget that little fact. 🙂


  7. “I vastly love that Mr Knightly more than this one”

    Oh yes, I do like Jeremy Northam’s Knightley the best! It seems like life with him would just be more fun and pleasant. But for the other characters, I prefer Samantha Morton as Miss Smith, Olivia Williams as Jane, whoever the guy is who plays Frank (I like Ewan McGregor, but he is terribly miscast), the Eltons, etc from the KB version.

    And I see that the dress I like is actually the one in the post’s pic of KB! I do love those sleeves. 🙂

  8. oh poo, Blogger done ate my comment.

    As I was saying, I thought Beckinsale was fabulous in this but I thought the rest of the cast was blah. My dream team would have Beckinsale and Alan Cumming and Juliet “hardly any lace” Stevenson as Mr. and Mrs. Elton. But I can’t think of any actor who would make Knightley appealing–I thought Mark Strong looked like an Italian tenor on the loose, and Jeremy Northam was just, well, insubstantial.
    As Lois says, he is quite a bit older than Emma in the book, and the implication that he’s been incubating her as future wife material is troubling.

  9. Cara King says:

    I watched this again last night, and I have lots of opinions right now!

    To start out with: I felt no chemistry at all between Knightley and Emma. At the end, in the declaration scene, I thought Beckinsale was doing her best, and I did feel some emotion from her — but still no chemistry. And then he has to go and give the three-week old line! Right then! And then immediately kiss her! Ugh!

    I admit at that point I covered my eyes. I couldn’t bear to see them kissing! And then I noticed Todd was doing the same. So it wasn’t just me.

    Now, I don’t necessarily have trouble watching romances with a big age gap. But I think it was a combination of the lack of chemistry and the “three-week” line and the fact that in this version he really does do very little but scold her in a very parental way… It did gross me out.

    Cara (back later!)

  10. I think that Mr. Knightley dandling baby Emma is the shocking point of a rather shocking novel — if we didn’t need more reminding what a baby she is through much of this book — only growing up enough to call him MY Mr. Knightley (at what age do children start calling everything “mine”? Two?)

  11. I agree with Pam that she does sort of think of Mr. Knightley as her possession in both versions. However, I still found it horribly unromantic after that line. I kept expecting him to continue along the lines of something embarassing like she pooped on him or something. I know that he thinks its romantic that he’s watched her grow up and has been able to guide her into her womanhood but I agree with Amanda that he just seemed entirely too disapproving most of the time. The great thing about Jeremy Northam was even though he scolded her, I also thought he was somewhat amused by her.

  12. Cara King says:

    Okay, my second point: I really didn’t like Mark Strong in the role of Knightley.

    The first time I saw it, my main reaction was that she deserved someone with hair! Yes, I know, rather childish. And I was disturbed by my reaction, both because (1) I don’t see why characters who are ordinary-looking in books or real life must always be played in film & TV by gorgeous folks, so my reaction felt dangerously like hypocrisy, and (2) one might also conclude I was viewing Emma not as a great piece of literature, but as an escapist romance. (Not that I have any objection to the latter, but IMHO it would be equally silly to read Macbeth as a murder mystery or The Vampire Viscount as a spy novel.)

    My feeling now on Strong, after a second careful viewing, is this: the Knightley in the book is attractive. He may not be handsome, but he is manly, and powerful, and intelligent, and sometimes even a bit swoony. He’s the only real adult male in the whole book (among the major characters, anyway), and we’re very happy that Emma ends up with him rather than the boyish Churchill…

    However, I feel no swooniness over Strong’s Knightley. He rarely strikes me as manly (and his frequent temper tantrums probably contribute to that feeling). He’s certainly not foppish and fake the way this production’s Churchill and Elton are, but that’s pretty much the only distinction he can claim in my eyes.

    I want a Knightley who’s desirable. He doesn’t have to be handsome — after seeing Christopher Eccleston play Doctor Who I am well aware that an ugly man can be extremely charismatic and sexy as hell.

    For me, Knightley has to be a real man, and a leader with some charisma.

    IMHO, if Knightley can’t have a full head of hair, at least make him tall. And if he’s short and balding both, at least dump the temper tantrums. 🙂

    (sighing for Jeremy Northam’s wit and self-possession)

  13. “I kept expecting him to continue along the lines of something embarassing like she pooped on him or something.”


    Cara, you’re quite right–I forgot about the very un-Knightleyesque poutiness.

  14. Diane Gaston says:

    I liked Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightley. He was a steady, solid sort of man. I never presumed from Austen that Knightley was handsome. I thought he was just “always there” and so much so, Emma could not really “see” him until she grew up.

    And I think we make too much of the holding her as a baby. One line in the whole show.

  15. Santa says:

    I really liked this version of Emma. I loved Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly. Those eyes are just dreamy! Not crazy about the dream sequences. So if he held her in his arms at 3 weeks how old does that make him? 103, lol? And I have to say that I really enjoyed ‘Clueless’….really!

  16. Diane Gaston says:

    Yay, Santa! I was beginning to think I was the only one!

  17. Cara King says:


    Doglady, do you have something to tell us? 🙂


  18. doglady says:

    Yes, actually, Cara, I do! I have been losing my mind since around 9:30 this morning. LOST IN LOVE is a Golden Heart finalist!

    I still cannot believe it! I did manage to send the Divine One an e-mail (hope you got it Diane) thanking her for her fabulous critique of my pages before I sent it off. I know her suggestions, wisdom and support are the reason I got that call this morning. I stood there in my pajamas and made gasping fish noised into the phone when poor Cindy Rutledge called and said “I’m with the RWA National Board.”
    Thanks to the Riskies too for all of your encouragement and the great information you provide about writing, research, and the Regency period.

    Wonder how long I will be walking around like a dithering idiot? I ran out into the back yard and scared my neighbor’s cows I screamed so loud!

  19. Cara King says:

    LOST IN LOVE is a Golden Heart finalist!

    YAY!!!! I’m so happy for you, Pam! And so happy that your ms finaled — I loved the first chapter (all I’ve read) and I’m sure I’d love the rest!



  20. Diane Gaston says:

    Oh, Yay yay yay!!!!!
    O Doggie One, doglady, PAM!!!!!
    I could not be happier. I’m absolutely thrilled that you are a finalist.

    You’ll float for days. Honest. Feet will remain 6 inches off the floor.


  21. Diane Gaston says:

    I haven’t received a message from you yet, Pam. What email address did you use?

  22. Oh big congrats, doglady! Excellent news.

  23. doglady says:

    Thank you all so much!! Cara, you gave one of the most detailed and most encouraging critiques when you judged Lost in Love! That’s the kind of critique you enter contests for.

    I resent your e-mail O Divine One. hope it goes through this time.

    Thanks, so much, Janet!

    I am still walking around in a daze. Of course after I called my Mom, my “sister” and then one of my CPs who was at the beauty shop I still had to go out and feed the dogs and scoop the dog runs. Then I had to clean out the litter boxes. Glamorous, huh??

    I am just blown away!

  24. Diane Gaston says:

    Kitty litter boxes keep you humble, doglady…..

    Just read on a blog that Anna Campbell is a double RITA finalist for Claiming the Courtesan and Untouched! (Regency Historical category)

  25. Cara King says:

    I know I ranted on about Knightley twice already — so here are some of my other opinions about this Emma:

    — I really, really love Lucy Robinson as Mrs. Elton. I think she is just SO funny and yet so real…and I love her slightly weird and awkward accent…

    — I’m very picky about Emmas, so Beckinsale didn’t quite work for me (though I actually liked her better this time than last.) Based on the book — and keeping in mind that Austen always does tons of telling as well as showing, and she often tells one bit and shows another — I conclude that Emma is pretty cheerful.

    Part of my reasoning: everyone loves her. Yes, everyone. Now why would they love her if she were just a very rich and pretty, yet selfish, discontented, and whiny creature? I don’t really buy that.

    But if she’s overall a very warm, sunny creature, yet given to laziness and selfishness, I can buy people still loving her. (It is a disturbing yet true fact that it’s easier to like happy people than unhappy people…)

    Anyway, for me, Emma must be relatively sunny and happy, if a bit lonely once Mrs Weston leaves.

    In that respect, the performance that for me most captured Emma was Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in CLUELESS. You can totally buy everyone loving her even though she’s lazy and selfish — because she’s just this delightful, joyful creature.

    For me, Paltrow was not quite as right as Silverstone, and Beckinsale not as right as Paltrow.

    (Okay, guess this is long enough… More later!)


  26. janegeorge says:

    I liked Mark Strong as one of the “princely” brothers in Stardust.

    The age difference probably doesn’t weird me out as much as most because my husband is 12 years older than I.

    The older we get, the less it matters. But in the beginning we did a fair amount of jesting about me being in kindergarten when he graduated high school.

    I prefer the Beckinsale version mostly because the art direction is more realistic. Not a great reason, but there it is.

    OOh, and I congratulated you on another loop, but I’ll add it here:
    Woot, Pam!

  27. Diane Gaston says:

    Yay, Janegeorge. Another on the Beckinsale side.

  28. Delle Jacobs says:

    I’ve loved this version more than any other Jane Austen movies except the mini-series of P&P (which cannot be surpassed in my opinion).

    –Although yes, I agree, that little statement about holding the baby, especially with the other scenes stuck in with him holding babies, made my lips pucker in an “eww” sort of way.

    While I loved the GP version, I had such a odd feeling that perhaps I had failed to grasp Emma all this time. This version fits with perception of the book I read so long ago. Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong are exactly how I picture Emma and Mr. Knightley. (But imagine for a minute Mark Strong laying Mr. Darcy. Or Colin Firth being Mr. Knightley. Casting does make a lot of difference, doesn’t it?)

    Most of the secondary characters showed much more depth and unique qualities, I thought. This latest Frank Churchill played by Raymond Coulthard impressed me as a perfect portrayal because he played his manners so they could not be faulted, yet there was that subtle edge that was perhaps the tiniest bit over the top, letting us know, if we were observant, that something was not quite as it was portrayed. Yet how could one say he was anything but a perfect, never mind if a bit foppish, gentleman? Marvelous. But I still wish Jane could have taken a little trip to the 21st century and learned how to give him a kick in a painful place.

    Ooh, that was not nice, was it? And there was one other thing– although I thought the dialogue made the story much clearer and truer to the story, it did bother me that it seemed so strident in places. Threw me right out of the 19th century at times.


  29. doglady says:

    Thank you again, ladies. Oh and put me in the Beckinsale court. I was slightly underwhelmed by Ms. Paltrow’s portrayal. I tend to feel that way about most of the films she does and I have no real tangible reason why. She just never lives up to her hype for me. I think Kate is often underrated. She has a real depth of range.

    Oh and Cara? Owning cats period keeps you humble!

  30. Delle Jacobs says:

    Oooh ooops. Proofreading is good. I meant if he PLAYED Mr Darcy.

    (But imagine for a minute Mark Strong laying Mr. Darcy.


  31. PAM!! w00t! w00t! w00t!

    Delle, that was such a laugh-worthy Freudian typo there.

  32. Delle Jacobs says:

    Yah, I probably gave our Jane Lockwood an idea for her next book.


  33. Cara King says:

    Oh, and a couple more things:

    — I really liked Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax — of the three I’ve seen (this, the Paltrow, and the earlier BBC version) she’s definitely my favorite. I do, though, think it would have been nice to find an Emma and a Jane who couldn’t be mistaken for each other even for a moment, even from behind…

    — Mr. Elton was fine, but I admit I prefer Alan Cumming’s Elton.

    — The way this Churchill just kept grinning and preening and making faces got to be a bit much for me. I see Churchill as a bit more natural, with the appearance of being straightforward (rather than foppish.)

    — I liked Prunella Scales very much as Miss Bates. She seemed very real in her chatter (I know folks like that). However, I doubt I’ll ever seen any Miss Bates equal Sophie Thompson in the Box Hill scene…

    — I liked this Harriet fine (though her hair color seemed to me to be too obviously unnatural), yet I thought Toni Collette was a more interesting choice.


  34. Todd says:

    While I adore Kate Beckinsale in general, especially as a vampire, I actually like the Paltrow Emma better. The main reason, I think, is that the Beckinsale version makes Emma quite unlikable for the first half of the movie–so much so that her later growth and softening doesn’t quite make up for it. While Emma is unquestionably a bit spoiled, lazy, and selfish, the book makes very clear that everyone loves her anyway, so she has to have some appealing qualities (beyond beauty and money). The book also describes her as happy, not sulky. Even when she gets angry with Mr. Knightley for criticizing her, she can’t keep it up for long.

    It’s a common pattern for a film to have a character be highly flawed at the beginning, but then to “redeem” them to the point where you’ve forgotten it all by the end. But for me, this one didn’t quite find the right balance–I still remembered what a snob she’d been earlier on.

    I also liked Jeremy Northam better than Mark Strong as Knightley–Strong seemed a bit too humorless to me. For the other characters, I think some were better in this version, others in the Paltrow version.


  35. Todd says:

    I went back to check in the book on a couple of points:

    1. At the beginning of the book, Emma “had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world,” and Mr. Knightley was “a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty.” So taking the smallest possible gap, he is at least sixteen years old than her.

    2. In the book, Mr. Knightley does not talk about holding her when she was three weeks old. Apparently that line was a brainstorm of Andrew Davies–what on earth was he thinking?! But alas, Knightley does in the book say that he’s been in love with her ever since she was “thirteen at least.” Major ick!

    And while this is not quite on the subject:

    3. Congratulations on the Golden Heart, Doglady!


  36. Yes, congratulations Doglady on being a GH finalist.

  37. Elena Greene says:

    Coming in late again… Easter has put me so far behind!

    Anyway I have little to contribute to the Emma discussion because I couldn’t get away from the relatives to watch it again. From what I recall, neither of the leads clicked for me as well as in the Paltrow/Northam version but at least I forgot the 3 week old line!

    And last of all, huge congrats to Pam for the GH final!!!!!!

  38. Kalen Hughes says:

    Oooooooo, doglady!!! Enjoy the ride. You’re in for a treat. Major congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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