Picoreview: Emma (Kate Beckinsale tv movie version, 1997): flawed, but not quite in the right ways.
I just re-read EMMA last year, so the narrative is fairly fresh in my mind. The real problem with Kate Beckinsale’s Emma is that with one painful exception, Emma doesn’t come across as nearly as awful as she is in the book. Too much of her meddling and the emotional turmoil thereof is left off the screen for brevity’s sake, so I was left feeling she was more…misguided, rather than downright dreadful, which she honestly is in the book.
Really, the only reason the book is bearable is that Emma is *so* awful but *so* well realized that it’s impossible to not recognize what a tremendously talented writer Jane Austen was. Everybody knows somebody like Emma (not necessarily in the matchmaking aspect, but the rest of her awfulness), and there can be no doubt that yes, people really do behave like that. Just not usually the heroines of books.
The somewhat skeevy-to-a-modern-reader relationship between Knightley and Emma is mitigated enormously by two things in this film: one, Knightley is played by Mark Strong. This in and of itself is sufficient to mitigate nearly any skeevy factor, because Mark Strong. However, he’s also only ten years older than Kate Beckinsale, which means when his Knightley held her as a 3 week old, he was also a child himself. This is a significant difference to the impression in the book that he’s twenty or twenty-five years her senior. If they’d met as adults and he was that much older, eh, okay, but watching her grow up from his own position of adulthood and still falling in love with her always struck me as igh. So that bit was good.
The supporting cast was very good, particularly Mr Wodehouse, who played his fussiness with a sweet charm that made him loveable, if exasperating. Really, it’s a perfectly fine film, but more than the P&P versions I’ve seen recently, it just felt like *so much* had to get left out that I found it a little disappointing.
Now I’ve got to re-watch Emma Thompson’s Emma, and I am informed by Reliable Sources that I’d better watch the Ciaran Hinds Persuasion. Which I’m not sure I’ve even read, so I should do that too. :)