Emma is my least favourite of the Jane Austen novels because I have very little sympathy for the eponymous heroine. That’s why I only ever watch the Gwyneth Paltrow (and Jeremy Northam) version – she doesn’t make Emma seem quite so spoiled or mean or egotistical. Last time I’d seen the Kate Beckinsale one, I hated it. But that was five years ago. So when I saw the talk on the message boards about BBC’s new Emma with Romola Garai, it compelled me to revisit the 1996 Kate Beckinsale and see if maturity has wrought a different impression.
I still find Kate Beckinsale too petulant and her voice too whiny for personal taste, but she’s definitely not as bad as I remembered, and has some good moments; I particularly like the fantasy sequences, which ring true. I also like Mrs. Elton and Jane Fairfax, whom I find more interesting and well-rounded than their movie counterparts.
Frank Churchill, as portrayed here, is nothing less than a dawg. (Although his hair is better than Ewan McGregor’s.) As this version stands, my respect for Jane goes way down. I haven’t read Emma in a long time so I don’t know how he’s portrayed in the book, but this Frank Churchill is a rat.
Disclaimer: I love love love Jeremy Northam. Any other Mr. Knightley would have to be pretty damn good to even compete. But I don’t find Mark Strong attractive AT ALL (and that’s a large part of it, right? I mean, come on), and his acting is too overwrought for my taste.
So all in all, I’ll still stick with the movie. There is no chance I won’t see the 2009 Emma, but I doubt any version of Emma would receive my whole-hearted approval (because of the titular heroine). However, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam (sigh) come close.
– Jean AAR