by Del Harvey
Premieres January 24th on Masterpiece. Own it on DVD February 9th from Warner Home Video.
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This recent BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale of a perfectly lovely but perfectly dull girl who fancies herself a matchmaker is a magnificent adaptation thanks to a very talented cast and some of the most beautiful cinematography ever to grace an Austen tale. The case is headed by Romola Garai, who portrayed Briony Tallis in last year’s Academy-nominated Atonement. The superb Michael Gambon is her father and Jodhi May her governess. Jonny Lee Miller gives a clever twist to the character of Mr. Knightley.
21-year-old Emma Woodhouse has very little to worry about, being beautiful, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and some of the best blessings of existence. So despite the dry observations of Mr. Knightley, a family friend and surrogate older brother to Emma, she indulges in her one great passion - playing matchmaker to her friends and family.
Emma had already fancied herself having brought two couples together successfully; therefore when young, pretty, naive and socially inferior Harriet arrives in Emma’s social circle, the matchmaker is delighted that she can practice her skills again. She persuades Harriet to reject an advantageous marriage proposal to a local farmer in favor of dashing Mr. Elton.
But Emma is playing with fire as she discovers that Mr. Elton is far more socially ambitious and mercenary than she had ever realized. So begins a story that takes Emma on a journey-challenging her naivety, her social preconceptions, and most of all, her relationship with Knightley.
A proposal is imminent from Mr Elton, and the legendary Frank Churchill finally visits Highbury.
Emma continues her attempts to marry off Harriet and Mr Elton, vicar of Highbury. Although uninterested in marriage herself, she is intrigued by the mysterious and elusive Frank Churchill, whom she hopes to meet for the first time at a village Christmas party. Frank does not arrive, but instead Emma becomes the subject of unwanted and embarrassing attention from Mr Elton. A few weeks later, village gossip and speculation focuses on the arrival of young Jane Fairfax and a large piano that she has been sent by a mystery admirer. Emma refuses to believe that Mr Knightley could be the secret admirer. Surely he couldn’t be, could he?
Emma teases Mr Knightley about Jane, but he remains tight-lipped. Meanwhile, Frank and Emma plan a ball, and Emma wonders whether she might be in love with him. Despite having a wonderful time at a village ball, she decides not. With her matchmaking officially abandoned, Emma feels cooped up and bored. Mr Knightley suggests a day trip to Box Hill for a change of scene and some temporary escape. He also tells Emma that he suspects Frank and Jane are secretly in love. Emma rebuffs the suggestion - she can personally vouch for Frank’s indifference to Jane - which leaves Knightley feeling hurt at Emma’s indifference towards him.
What was intended as a day of fun turns into a day of agony for everyone on the Box Hill excursion. Things come to a head when, egged on by Frank, Emma behaves very badly, insulting Miss Bates. She is berated by Knightley and realises that her behaviour was shameful. She tries to repair things with Jane and Miss Bates, but Jane will not see her - although Miss Bates tells her that Jane has accepted a job as a governess, and cried all night. Meanwhile, Knightley goes to stay with his brother in London - he will be away for a while. When Frank’s controlling Aunt dies, the Westons expect him to propose to Emma - but his actions set in motion a chain of events that both shock Emma and make her realise something that has been in plain sight all along…
The cast and crew include:
Adapted by Sandy Welch
Emma premieres on Masterpiece on January 24th. Check local listings for showtimes.
Emma will be available on 2-disc DVD from Warner Home Video on February 9th.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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