We continue our Emma series with the 1996 TV movie starring Kate Beckinsale. (It was made by ITV; I thought this was shown by Masterpiece Theatre in the States but I guess it was actually A&E! Huh.) This is, by the way, a fun movie for British Actor Bingo, which is basically my favorite game. Knightley is Jim Prideaux from the recent Tinker, Tailor! Frank Churchill is young Scrooge from A Muppet Christmas Carol! Mr. Elton is Jacob Thorne from Law & Order: UK! Everybody’s been on at least three British mystery shows!
This version clocked in at only an hour and 47 minutes, so obviously things had to be compressed a bit to fit all the important parts in. And honestly? I think that helped it. As I wrote, the 1972 version felt like it dragged a bit, and the pace of this one worked much better. It may not be as literally faithful to the novel, but the book is lively and funny and there’s something to be said for preserving that tone. This version has a bit more “action” (in a very mild sense of the term) in general, including church scenes (complete with singing!), two different scenes of chicken theft, and lots of establishing shots of the village and its people. But, somewhat weirdly, a whole extra scene is added at the end, with Knightley hosting a harvest gathering for his friends and tenants. It was a fine scene, but seemed like an odd and unnecessary addition given that parts of the actual book had to be cut out.
Throughout the movie, we saw Emma’s daydreams (and nightmares) play out literally as scenes on the screen – she’d decide Harriet should marry someone and then we’d see their wedding, say – and while I found this a bit disconcerting at first, I wound up really liking it as a strategy for dealing with how much of the narrative really just takes place in Emma’s head. And this set things up really well for Emma’s big revelation that she was in love with Knightley. It was much more effective than simply shots of her in contemplation, but less jarring than the random voiceover that might otherwise be necessary.
The one thing I really didn’t like about this adaptation was its focus on the creepier elements of the age difference between Emma and Knightley. Now, Knightley is, of course, older; that’s well-established in the book and a necessary element to make their story make sense. But in this version, they make Knightley reminisce about holding Emma as an infant. And then he brings it up again while he’s proposing. I am 99% sure that this was not in the book; I was so horrified by it in the movie that I think I would have noticed it in the book. The fact of it isn’t surprising, as we know that Knightley knew Emma from birth, but bringing it up in the middle of a proposal is NOT ROMANTIC and kind of creepy, sir.
Did that jump out at anyone else? Any other thoughts?