Friday, October 24, 2014

Movie Review: Emma ‘09 with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller – BBC

Where, oh where to begin??? I actually heard about this movie shortly after it first came out (and read some subsequent reviews), but it wasn’t until this year that I allowed myself to be persuaded to watch it. The first time I viewed it (notice I said first) I wasn’t too struck during the opening episodes—but now (after something like three complete viewings and numerous excerpts!) I feel in a much better position to give my settled opinion.

Which is? That in short, I love it! The music, the handling of the story… It’s alive.

The casting is brilliant. Miss Bates (pictured above),

Mr. Weston… the entire neighborhood is very well done.

My one (of two) exceptions here was probably Mrs. Weston… (It took me two viewings to start “getting” her expressions, but the more I’ve watched it the more I’ve truly come to like her.)

The Eltons are arrogant and underhandedly cutting—very anti-charitable.

And the John Knightley’s are absolutely perfect!

They seem to fit so well together, and it’s simply fun and delightful to see so much of them! 

Frank is very good—with high spirits and puzzlingly moody swings.

And... Jane Fairfax is my other “exception” (she doesn’t exactly have the tall elegance or mystery of the book)—but she is sweet and quiet, and I think overall fits well with everyone else.

I particularly liked how they developed Mr. Woodhouse—why he might have been so nervous and fearful.

Harriet is about exactly as described in the book—both in looks and manners—and as she grows in conceit, I completely identify with Emma’s shocked reactions.

Robert Martin is very good:

an honest, upstanding, wholehearted, serious-minded young man—thoroughly looking up to Mr. Knightley!

And Mr. Knightley. Oh my… Mr. Knightley is… absolutely… positively… (and in all other ways) a-m-a-z-i-n-g!!!

His mannerisms, his wry twists of humor, his wonderful, down-to-earth forthrightness! (Did I already use the word amazing??? :)) Ahem! I know I’ve said this before… ;), but words really do quite fail me.

One thing I noticed (and thoroughly enjoyed) is that we get a bit more of his side throughout the story (particularly as he’s figuring out and deducing the various games and complexities going on).

About Emma herself, I initially had very mixed feelings. Again (as I started my first viewing), I wasn’t at all sure about her, but I was firmly floored by the end. She does carry on a bit (regarding the Bates, Eltons, etc.), but I think it comes across as immaturity.

She simply is not ready at the beginning. Mature in stature, she’s yet a growing young woman—and she has to be softened. And I think Romola Garai does a quite literally incredible job showing Emma’s growth in maturity and womanly tenderness.

Running through the entire story as filmed, is also the challenge of what it means to be rooted in a place—in one locality—while at the same time there is an emphasis on moving and motion, tying in with Emma’s growth. Sharp-tongued (she says some sharper things than Lizzy ever did)—set in her own opinions—often scrambling for rational arguments—Emma’s need for a guide is very apparent. And thankfully, he’s right there the entire time!

This version particularly highlights the brother-sister aspect of their relationship, and through it all Mr. Knightley’s concern for her (for her character development and protection) shines out radiantly. There’s a wonderful, wonderful emphasis on her coming to a fullness and ripeness of womanhood as their relationship subtly changes (or as each becomes aware of what it really is). He wins her to gentleness: through it all underlining what a man really is and should be.

(This part is amazing....)

And also, as my brother says, “Emma’s great because it’s all about ordinary people screwing up.” Ordinary, everyday people messing up in ways we often like to deem trivial in our own case, but which are in fact hugely important—such as uncharitable thoughts and slips of the tongue. In this particular version, there is an emphasis on truth—and also on the charity necessary among family members: brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters and sons (in-law)—and charity between multiple families.

All in all, I’m very impressed by their careful accuracy to the book—with often an attention to even the minutest of details (where someone was sitting, gestures, etc.) while yet worlds away from approaching it woodenly! Also, I particularly liked how they brought together the three threads of Emma, Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax right near the beginning as it really helped cement all the connections.

As a note, I’m generally pretty careful about what “extras” I watch, but the ones on here are well worth viewing (I didn’t find they took you out of the story at all). It was delightful to see how thoughtfully oriented the entire production was (on everyone’s part!) and what a community effort it was—very much in keeping with the spirit of Emma!

So—with a perfectly marvelous casting, thrilling musical score, and beautiful locations and filming—this is an absolutely gorgeous production I’m now utterly thrilled to number among my particular favorites!!


  1. I've also heard about this version of the story and since you're the second person to give it a good review, I'll have to check it out!

    1. Heidi,
      Oh, I hope you can soon! I love it ;) and do hope you enjoy it!

  2. I completely agree. I so love this version!
    As you said, I really like the way they brought threads together and made connections only hinted at in the book obvious, and also the way they made us look deeper into the characters and their motivations.
    And the castings are great as well (though it also took me a few episodes to grow to love Emma).
    It is one of my favourite period dramas ever made (if that wasn't already made clear in the ramblings above)

    1. Rose,
      I'm so glad you love it, too! It's just absolutely beautiful, isn't it?? Our experience with it really seems to be quite similar.... :) And I'm so glad you liked the review! ;)


    Wow, you've watched it three times? That's a lot! I've only watched it once - but I've re-watched my favourite scenes more times than I can say. :-) The proposal scene, for instance. Love that one! :-)

    Oh, I loved Mrs Weston from the start... she's such a sweet, caring, quiet but wise person. And Mr Weston makes an adorable husband for her... they are just wayyy to cute together!

    Isn't Mrs Elton the most elegant, but annoying Mrs Elton ever?! I think Christina Cole captured her perfectly! Her yells, chatter, everything - Just THE one and only Mrs Elton. And she perfectly domineered over her husband. :-) Making him carry all the packages and all that. :-P

    You're right, this Jane is kinda timid and more shy - but I like her - although I think she should have been more elegant and poised. I actually feel quite sorry for this Jane at some times.

    Isabella and John Knightley and their family! I'm so glad they gave them some screentime! I loved seeing Emma and Knightley's sisters and nieces and nephews. :-)

    AND JONNY LEE MILLER AS MR KNIGHTLEY. You know my views. :-)

    Oohhh, I absolutely loved Romola Garai as Emma! She wasn't a very proud Emma - she was sweet, bouncy (a little *too* bouncy, maybe) and so nonsensical and-- Oh, so Emma-ish.

    Oh I love that part where they both look at Isabella and John's baby - I was thinking the whole time what might be going on in *their* minds. I can imagine them thinking, 'Maybe we will have babies one day and look at it like this...' - Because at that moment in the movie I have the feeling their romantic attatchment begins to grow... really slowly and vacantly. It was SUCH a sweet scene!

    I'm glad you love this movie as much as I do!!!

    AHHH such a gorgeous movie. Thanks for the review! :-)

    1. Naomi,
      (Sorry about the comment confusion.... ;P)

      And YAY!!!! (I know....all week....but you waited most patiently. ;)) I'm so very glad you love it, too!! :) I think that was almost one of the first comments I left on your blog....right after I'd watched it and I just had to tell someone and you immediately came to mind....and the rest, as they say, is history. :)

      Hem! But, yes, anyhow.... The proposal scene is--yes--quite perfection. :)

      And I've really come to start liking Mrs. Weston; (I think initially I wasn't sure, as I couldn't always tell what she was actually thinking). But she and Emma are very good together. And she and Mr. Weston.... That scene at the Christmas party when he's inviting everyone to stay? I love their little interchange there! ;) And then Mr. Knightley going outside....and Emma with him in the hall....and then their second (or really third) carriage did I get off the Westons? :) Okay, back on track. :)

      Yes, Mrs. Elton is quite and entirely and gorgeously *overdone*. :) She's pretty perfect. In this version particularly (maybe because she seems like the youngest Mrs. Elton) I could really see how/why Mr. Elton chose her.

      And yes, Jane isn't exactly as described....but I think she does fit well with everyone. I love that scene with her and Emma and Mr. John Knightley discussing the rain/letters. :)

      And it's sooo tremendously delightful to see the John Knightley's! And all their interactions with Mr. Knightley. "George is getting snappish.... He didn't want to go frogging with the boys in the park....or out to dinner...?" And then jumping to Mr. Woodhouse and Emma at Hartfield discussing Mr. Knightley's chair.... I just love that scene! :)

      And yes....Mr. Knightley! (Hem!) I do know. :) ....And you know about mine. ;) *clears throat* Okay, we'd best move on to Emma or I will likely be trebling the length of this comment. ;) *restraining myself*

      Ah, yes. Emma. And I'm so glad you agree! (Being bound to honesty), I was a little nervous writing my first I'm so glad to hear your sentiments are similar! :) I think the first episode particularly does take some getting used to.... But honestly, she brings such a wonderful spontaneity and immediacy to Emma which (along with other things ;)) has totally deepened my appreciation for the story.

      And yes...that scene with the baby! Another perfection. This is a little thing, but I really like how they did this. Have you noticed how when Frank comes to take leave, he takes her hand and she's all flustered and moves--(it was a sign of a close relationship)--and then in the baby scene Mr. Knightley does practically the same and it's all just so perfectly natural?? So neat and beautiful... And then, of course, later there's the bit after she goes to Miss Bates when he comes up to her while taking leave before going to London--and then also when they go to speak to Mr. Woodhouse about the engagement. And speaking of when they go to Mr. Woodhouse....there's that short interchange in the hall....and then there's also....all right....I'll stop. :)

      But anyhow, I'm so glad we both love it! And I'm so glad you enjoyed the review! ;)

  4. did an excellent job of writing a succinct review of this one. Mine would have been about 16 pages long. :D

    I think that's the advantage of having 4 hours to tell the story. They were able to catch all the important details. I also love how they tied together Emma, Frank, and Jane at the beginning. It helped me understand the story a little bit better after I watched that.

    1. Joanna,
      Thank you!! And I quite agree.... ;) I love settling into long, well-told stories! :) And yes, tying Frank and Jane and Emma together at the beginning really helped me, too.

  5. I saw Emma '09 a few months ago, and it has edged out the '96 version as my favourite. I love the expanded role given to John Knightley- he's so amusing! And Jonny Lee Miller is great as Mr. Knightley, so I even forgive him for Elementary. I think you're right about Romola Garai's Emma: her character is younger, more coltish, less poised and put together than Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma. It gives her more room to grow and mature as a person.

    1. Lynn,
      I agree! I think my experience is quite similar.... While still loving the '96, this version is just....yes, wow. :) ....Thank you for commenting!!

      (And oh, yes! Aren't the John Knightleys delightful??) I love how they brought out the character and penetration of "those brothers" (as Emma thinks of them after the Elton episode).... ;) I just love that line in the book!

  6. Hi! I am new to your blog. I heard about it from my sister, "jessica prescott", and I wanted to tell you that I really like it.

    I know that it is kind of late to be commenting on this post, but when I saw that you had done a review of Emma 2009 I just couldn't resist. I LOVE THAT MOVIE! Seriously, it was really well done.

    I thought that Romola Garai was just perfect as Emma. And Jane Fairfax wasn't like the Jane in the novel, exactly, but I liked her a lot. She was really sweet and dignified in a shy sort of way. I was really mad at Frank Churchill all the way through the movie, because of the way he treats Jane, but I have to say he was good, too.

    You know, when I read the book, I couldn't really picture Mr. Knightley, but after seeing the movie, I really liked him. I was able to SEE him.

    And did I see him! Oh my GOODNESS . . . Jonny Lee Miller WAS Mr. Knightley. PERFECT. Mmmm. Just amazing :-)

    1. Rosie,
      Oh, I'm so glad you commented and welcome! And I'm so happy to "meet" you, too, as jessica's sister! ;)

      And I'm SOOO happy to find another fellow Emma '09 lover!!! Isn't it just too scrumptiously gorgeous? I was actually watching tidbits of it about a week ago with my sisters and we were all agreeing it's high time we scheduled another afternoon for the entire thing.

      Same here! Knightley was always hard for me to "see" in the book, too, and while Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley first made him start coming alive for me, after the '09..... eeesh. It's just TOO PERFECT! ;) I'm actually reading the book again right now and definitely picturing a certain person in the role. :) Honestly, the '09 was a huge factor in giving me a much different and deeper appreciation for the story than I had the first time I ever read it.

      (And don't worry..... I LOVE getting comments on older posts! ;)) I hope you're having a lovely evening!

  7. Thanks so much!
    Yes, Emma 2009 is definitly one of my favorite movies. Everything just fits together sooo well. I watched it for the first time with my sister earlier in the summer and since then, whenever I read the book, I "see" Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. I think it is so cool when you find actors that are just the PERFECT version of someone, don't you?

    The first time I read Emma, I didn't really enjoy it. I was frustrated with Emma's immaturity and couldn't picture Mr. Knightley (horrors! to think what I was missing ;-))It's good to know that I wasn't the only one who didn't "get" him right off the bat. But later, I reread it, and then when I watched the movie, the characters really came to life for me.

    I've only seen Emma 2009. Could you tell me which version Jeremy Northam is in? I had no idea that there was any other Mr. Knightley who could even begin to approach Jonny Lee Miller's amazing interpretation :-)

    1. Rosie,
      Yes, I agree, it's so tremendously fun when that happens, isn't it?!? I think I must have read Emma about twice before seeing the movies and then.... exactly. Everything went flashing into new colors -- it's incredible. :)

      And oh yes, certainly! Jeremy Northam's in the '96 film version with Gwyneth Paltrow. (I'm sure you might have already found this by now), but if you'd like to check it out, I did a review for it here:

      Do enjoy! (And now all this talk here is really wanting to make me rewatch the '09 again -- definitely going to have to go on the fall schedule! ;))

  8. I just came across this blog as I have only just recently watched the 2009 Emma, and was searching for more discussion about it. When I first started watching it, Emma and Mr. Knightley didn’t “look” as I pictured (Emma was supposed to be a brunette and not quite so tall, and Mr. Knightley was supposed to look older and just be more “authoritative” looking!), but as it went on, they really won me over with their interpretation of the roles. Emma (and Mr. Knightley) are just so likeable, and I love how clear it is throughout the movie the affection (as a “brother”, friend and then suitor) that Mr. Knightley has for Emma, despite their spars. They both seem to genuinely “like” each other, as they should, having known each other all their lives.

    I have many favorite scenes, but the ball at the crown inn is a highlight (sigh, so much is felt without a word being said!). I also especially love the proposal scene, as Mr Knightley looks so dejected when he finally asks her if he ever has a chance (and why wouldn’t he, when she just told him to stop talking!). I really felt for him, and was so happy for him that he finally got all that he deserved 

    Did you know there are 2 well reviewed companion books from Mr. Knightley’s perspective? I just ordered them, and can’t wait to read them!

    1. Jeanette Q,
      I love finding a fellow Emma '09 lover and I'm so glad you commented! :) I agree. The very first time I ever watched it, it took like the entire first episode for me to start getting into the characters.... and then I was hooked. I LOVE it!!!! And you're right. The relationship between Mr. Knightley and Emma is sooooo perfect.

      Ah yes, the ball scene..... so beautiful and understated! Every small thing means so much. It's SO romantic. *happy sigh* And the ending.... oh, the ending!!! Simply gorgeous. :D

      I've heard of one of the Mr. Knightley books, but I haven't read it. I'd love to hear if you enjoy them.

      (And btw, I'm so very happy your found my blog and would love to have you visit anytime! :))

  9. Emma is by far my favorite Austen book and, this is the BEST movie version!

    1. Emma,
      (First, my apologies for taking so long to reply to your comment here... :/) And YES! I'm so glad to hear you love them so much too!! :)

  10. I really like this version! But my heart will belong to the 1996 version with Jeremy Northam

    1. Evangeline,
      I'm so happy you enjoy it too! (Also, I happen to really love the '96 as well. ;) I don't know if you already ran across it, but I wrote a review for it here if you'd like to see it:

      I'd love to hear what you think! :))


I'd love to hear your thoughts and look forward to further confabulation. Please just be courteous to one and all. (Oh, and I love thoughts on old posts, so comment away!)

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