The classic book Emma is one of Jane Austen‘s most beloved classics, by book readers and movie goers alike. It’s second only to Pride & Prejudice in it’s popularity. Emma and P & P are both remade by Hollywood or the British BBC every 10 to 20 years. A brand new version of Emma was recently released to the movie going public, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, so I thought it might be a good time to give some pointers on which of the Emma adaptations is the best of the best. They’re all good entertaining movies which makes it a difficult task to choose one that rises above the others. How could they not be good with such rich source material as the wonderful novel by Jane Austen. But, in my mind and in the mind of the ladies in my home, there is one that is the obvious favorite.
I live in a house dominated by females including my wife and three daughters (ages 30, 17, and 15). They are all big Jane Austen movie fans. So, you can see why I had no choice but to become a Jane Austen fan too. Every Jane Austen movie or TV series has played multiple times in my house over the years. Before I got married I would have laughed in anyone’s face if they suggested that I sit down and watch a Jane Austen movie with them. But, time changes us all. Now, after 23 years of marriage, I can honestly say I have become a true Jane Austen fan. The writing is brilliant, they’re fun, romantic, artistic, historic, and even suspenseful as you try to figure how how in the world the leading lady and her leading man will end up together. The best thing about Jane Austen movies is that they are all family friendly, so far. Although, I was surprised to see the naked bottom of Mr. Knightley in the newest Emma movie. It was completely unnecessary, and just goes to show, you never know what each modern adaptation will add to the story that has nothing to do with the original book. Other than that, the newest version was just as clean as the rest of them, so I’ll say no more about that.
The 3 versions that I will be comparing in this article are the 3 most recent ones:
1. The 1996 Emma movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow
2. The 2009 Emma TV mini-series starring Romola Garai
3. The 2020 Emma movie starring Anya Taylor-Joy
With no further ado, here are the best of the best according to my family and myself.
The Best Overall EMMA movie or mini/series is . . .
The 2009 Mini-Series wins this one with 4 our of 5 votes. Maybe this isn’t fair since it’s a 4-hour mini-series verses two 2-hour movies. The mini-series has the time it needs to tell the full story without having to cut out key scenes, but this mini-series is practically flawless, so it’s hard to not vote for it. There is not a dull moment in it. It’s colorful, elegant, funny, and really highlights the brilliance of the original story. The 5th vote in my family went to the 1996 movie with Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Best Actress playing EMMA is . . .
Romola Garai easily wins this one too. She steals every scene she’s in, even though all of the other actors also do a great job. Her face is very expressive and she pulls off everything from joy to sadness, and goofy to scheming with a natural quality that makes her a pleasure to watch. A thought I’ve had many times while watching her is this; if anyone ever decided to make a bio-pic about Lucille Ball in her younger heyday, Romola Garai would be a natural to play her. Watch the Emma series and you’ll see what I mean. Gwyneth Paltrow was sort of the honorable mention in my house with almost everyone saying they liked her too but not as much as Romola Garai.
The Best Actor playing Mr. Knightley is . . .
This one was more of a race than the other categories. 3 of the 5 votes went to Jeremy Northam from the 1996 movie version. The other 2 votes went to Johnny Flynn from the 2020 version. We all also agreed that Jonny Lee Miller, from the mini-series did a fine job as well playing Mr. Knightley, but he was just a bit too short to play the leading man next to Romola Garai.
So, that’s the results of my unofficial competition for the best movie/mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Do you agree? I’d love to see your comments below.