As to Emma herself: I would say that (simply in part because it is shorter), this adaptation does particularly bring out her haughty snobbery—as regards the Martins, etc—while at the beginning she does seem more overbearing and controlling with Harriet and defiant toward Mr. Knightley. (Again, with a shorter version, sometimes the lines are just drawn much stronger.) Yet she can be playful and is always very gentle with her father.
There is a unique-to-this-version emphasis on her fanciful imagination, and I think it’s most interesting to see how they brought out how she really blinds herself with regard to Churchill. He certainly flatters her, but she leads him off to a very good start. Her manners are also well bred and graceful—and she does fit very well with Mr. Knightley.
(And note: I did not use to think this!), but of late I’ve decided Mr. Knightley is actually quite good, very much a Mr. Knightley (though I agree, it does all come across pretty strong). Often brusque and abrupt, his manners are also perfectly concerned, caring, and gentlemanly—especially toward Jane, Harriet, and his estate dependents—while his deep concern for Emma comes out excellently at Box Hill.
Mr. Woodhouse is very good (if you’re interested, he also plays Sir Bertram in the BBC ‘86 version of Mansfield Park). Other than that, and besides Mr. Knightley (who also plays in The Young Victoria), I think the familiar faces in this version are:
Mrs. Weston (Maria Bertram in the same ‘80’s version of Mansfield Park) and shown here with Mr. Weston,
and Mrs. Elton (Mrs. Hurst in the BBC/A&E ’95 P&P).
Mr. Elton is probably the most ill-bred of the Mr. Eltons while Mrs. Elton is quite vulgar (though, I think, not particularly humorous).
Harriet is quite good:
very artless and girlish.
And… Ah yes! Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax!
And she’s sweet and elegant.
And (for any and all of you who may be interested in so highly exciting and fascinating a circumstance) she could almost, almost be Ellen! She looks very slightly different—and her voice is lower—but she’s so almost it hardly matters… Very exciting, indeed!!! (I had a lot of fun putting together a collage with her and Captain Bryant which I may share with you all sometime.)
But back to business!
With this Emma, I always end up immediately wanting to go over and re-watch the film solely for Frank and Jane’s development—and it always makes me want an entire good story about them—both before and after Emma.
They’re both excellent in their parts and very good together. I think (partly due to the length and partly to emphasize Emma’s blindness), it’s much more obvious in this version that there’s something up between them. She gets his teasing—softening and lighting up when he’s present—and he only really smiles when looking at her (which I very much like). And though you see the mutual attachment and attraction between them, it’s all so very well and subtly done.
As to the script: they did play around with the order of scenes quite a bit—combining and inventing a couple scene settings and quite occasionally moving/switching lines from one character to another or adding small talk. It does have a much faster pace overall—and particularly near the beginning where Harriet and the Martins are developed much more quickly. Some of the internal monologues throughout are spoken aloud in company (such as when Emma speaks of her personal interest in Frank while at the Weston’s party…which is a little interesting), but by and large the script is pretty good.
All of that aside, I do have two major issues with this version. The first is that a Certain Exclamation (rather suddenly) starts getting used a lot—as in a lot—all throughout the climax. Secondly, the ending with the chickens being pilfered is a bit disturbing as—to me—it rather negates the message of the entire story. It might have felt different if the door had been locked, the thieves were pushing and shoving at it, and the man with the shotgun appeared again to scare them off. To me, that would seem to wrap the story up more fully. So those two points—along with the way a few lines were handled in the closing scenes—leaves a bit of a disappointing flavor.
However, the dance scene/harvest festival at the end is beautiful…reinforcing at the same time community life and continuity. In fact, when thinking of Emma (and specifically charity in the fabric of community) this is always the version/scene that comes first to mind for me—emphasizing as it does a charity that builds and shares with friends and tenants and transcends different classes of society.
This film also particularly highlights a quality of stability: both politically (though it’s not specifically mentioned, Emma takes place during the Napoleonic Wars) and domestically. Certainly brought out near the end, that stability also figures tremendously throughout as Mr. Knightley rescues both Emma from herself—and Highbury from Emma!