Approx. 155,000 words
Emma (Romola Garai) misjudges the attentions of Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) in the 2009 serial.
The story brought to life
Emma (2006): Television serial; director Jim O'Hanlon; writer Sandy Welch; featuring Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon, Rupert Evans, Rupert Evans, Louise Dylan, Blake Ritson
With its greater length, the 2006 BBC television adaptation of Emma can fill in the holes left by previous films, notably the 1996 international production.
Most vitally, Emma Woodhouse herself has room to develop beyond those maddeningly narrow-minded characteristics baked into her from the beginning of Jane Austen's novel. As winningly played by Romola Garai (Nicholas Nickleby, 2002), Emma still starts as a spoilt, rich young woman who thinks she has a gift for understanding romantic relationships and must interfere in others' lives as a matchmaker, which results in disasters. But we also experience her moments of doubt and we see her grow past her earlier self-delusions and come to know her own heart.
She does not come to her realizations easily. Garai's is a feisty Emma, dragged kicking and screaming to maturity by her friend and brother-in-law, the eminently sensible, George Knightly. As Knightly, the eminently versatile Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Mansfield Park, Elementary) also has room to develop. The fond but bickering relationship between the two become the drama's centre, perhaps more so than in the book.
The kissing scene is an emotional highlight in the 2009 serial adaptation of Emma.
The supporting actors also have more to do as their characters' stories have not been cut as drastically as in the movies. The whole subplot of the secret connection between the seemingly unrelated Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans) and Jane Fairfax (Laura Pyper) is played out as it should be.
Blake Ritson is an appropriately attractive and repulsive vicar Mr. Elton alongside his eventual wife, the rich and snooty Augusta (Christina Cole).
And who could forget the always marvelous Michael Gambon who somehow breathes larger life into Emma's aging, hypochondriacal father, Mr. Woodhouse, as part of the story's comic relief.
Similarly, comic actor Tamsin Greig makes the most of the character of poor but cheerfully chatty Miss Bates, a spinsterish object of fun to the well-to-do younger characters.
All in all, this is the production to find if you want to see Austen's novel on the big or small screen. Its script is comprehensive but accessible, a near-perfect effort by writer Sandy Welch who has specialized in adapting classic British novels for television. (See Jane Eyre, 2006.)
Of course, no faithful adaptation can get around the biggest question—at least to my mind—that arises with this and other Austen works. Why should we care about the stories of these country gentry twits who are never seen doing a lick of productive activity but spend their days seeking pleasure, gossiping about each other, scheming to maintain their wealth and looking down on everyone else?
The fact that for a few hours at least we do care about them may or may not be a credit to the skills of those who repeatedly bring their stories to life.