I am a Jane Austen fanatic. Her books have given me much pleasure over the years, and I re-read the major works once a year for inspiration, joy, and just plain fun. Is there anyone more odious in fiction than Mrs. Norris? I think not. Is there anyone more delightful than Elizabeth Bennett? Blasphemy! Except if you're talking about Emma Woodhouse, and there we have something of a contest, the best sort of contest, because no matter who wins, they both win! I'm an abuser of exclamation points at the best of times, but when one is talking of Austen, it's torture not to append exclamation marks on the end of nearly every sentence because she's just that flipping marvelous (restrain self).
Given that we only have six full novels to enjoy--again and again--that leaves the fanatics with the various permutations and film adaptations. The latest Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Emma (the first two hours were aired last night) is a total romp and a delight. A delight I tell you!
Not that I haven't admired various adaptations over the years. Clueless was fun. The version with Gwyneth Paltrow was nicely done (of course, Toni Colette can do no wrong in my eyes), but what all previous adaptations never seem to get is how young Emma Woodhouse actually is. There's a girlishness about this Emma that rings so true. She's physically active here, running gaily from room to room, curtsying with a snap, and smiling with boundless energy. You get the sense that much of her meddling is because she has all this energy with no object to bestow it on. What other interpretations seem to miss is that Emma grows up in this novel, and the actress, Romola Garai, gets that. Also, there is a real chemistry between Jonny Lee Miller's interpretation of Mr. Knightley that successfully banishes the uncomfortable aura that always lurks in the corner of this novel where you have a thirty-six-year-old man lusting after a much younger woman. They play this like an old married couple. They snark at each other, endlessly, they argue, they get frustrated with each other, they share private moments in a room full of people. In short, I can't think of another adaptation that plays them so well as a couple.
I've only seen two hours of this, and I can say without hesitation that this is my favorite Emma on the screen.