Category Archives: Regency England

Emma (1996) – the one with Kate Beckinsale

The same year Gwyneth Paltrow was tricking us all with her fake English accent in Emma, the wonderful people who make British television tapped Andrew Davies to adapt the novel for TV and put Kate Beckinsale in the title role. Although it’s made for the small screen this Emma is a feature-length production, not a multi-hour miniseries like the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice. But never fear, the BBC has a new miniseries-length Emma — it premieres tonight in the U.S. on PBS! It’s like Christmas all over again here at Petticoat Junction.

While it might not be fair to review a movie by comparing it to another…too bad. Comparisons between the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and the Kate Beckinsale Emma are inevitable.

One of the critical differences between the two films is the Mr. Knightley- Emma connection, which we alluded to in our review of the Gwyneth Paltrow film. In the British film Mr. Knightley feels much older than Emma —  his treatment of her is more stiff, and his condemnation of her behavior is much more severe. There’s less friendly, playful banter between the two. He’s a stern creature in general — almost brooding. He has quite the angry temper, too. When he hears Frank Churchill is going to ride all the way to London just for a haircut he looks like he’s going to punch a hole through the wall.

So who’s the better Mr. Knightley? Jeremy Northam, the friendly, gentle critic, or Mark Strong, the stern, stiff moralist with the furrowed brow?

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Emma (1996) – the one with Gwyneth Paltrow

We at Petticoat Junction have been waiting, all squirmy and excited, for the new BBC-produced Emma, premiering on PBS in less than a week. We’re working through our jealousy for our British neighbors, whose networks seem to love costume dramas to bits, while we here in the States can go for years with nary a bonnet or petticoat on any of the major channels. Le sigh.

Anyway, since this is Major Television Event, I’m reviewing other Emmasthe made-for-TV film the BBC did in 1996 and the feature film that came out the same year. Three adaptations in fifteen years (four if you count Clueless) might sound like overkill, but it’s great fun to compare the different treatments of the source material. And, duh — we blog about costume dramas. This is our thing.

The 1996 Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the heroine and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley, is one of those comfort movies I’ve returned to over and over again. Light and airy in tone and feel, featuring gorgeous scenery and costumes, this Emma is a pleasure from start to finish.

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Mansfield Park (1999)

Edmund: Oh, don’t be an imbecile.
Fanny: Oh, but imbecility in women is a great enhancement to their personal charms.
Edmund: Fanny, you’re being irrational.
Fanny: Yet another adornment. I must be ravishing.

— Mansfield Park

Watch all of it (yes, the whole movie) on Youtube.

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel has been met with criticism as it significantly alters major elements of the novel — so much so that the movie is more an interpretation than an adaptation. In the book the heroine Fanny Price is meek, shy, and modest, with an infallible moral compass. The movie makes her more of a modern woman. She is quiet around strangers and has the same strong sense of right and wrong, but also a strong sense of self. She’s assertive, with a biting wit and a stubborn personality, given to feisty quotes like the one above. She’s also a budding author. In short, she is Rozema’s version of Austen herself — indeed, many of her more sarcastic lines are verbatim quotes from Austen’s juvenilia and correspondence.

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