Emma BBC DVD Review

It’s difficult to find a synopsis or discussion of Emma which doesn’t include the word naive, and with rather good reason of course. Yet, while there are several fine screen adaptations of the work, they all suffer from a certain lack of delivery in this area. If you think about it, there aren’t many things that are more difficult in the world of acting. There is something oxymoronic simply in the idea of trying to act naive. However solidly other actresses have made efforts at Emma, there is always a certain betrayal of the role. Some vague “knowing what’s going on-ness” that is often easy enough to overlook, but there just the same.

That difficulty has been resolved.

One might be inclined to say that Romola Garai plays Emma with precision, but somehow I feel this would be a mistake, because the whole point is that to play Emma with precision is to have gone wrong. Part of the problem is perhaps that Emma has to be smart and naive, and that isn’t exactly a precise thing.

The time-honored tale of matchmaking gone awry has never been better, and has never been more in keeping with the original work’s sensibilities. Moreover, probably a result of the exceptional Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse and the surprisingly adept Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, Austen’s dialog has never come to the screen more believably.

In the original work, we are left wondering where Austen is going, and we can hardly help but go back and forth as we progress. Is Emma’s naivety, even her unfocused intelligence, strength or weakness? What are we supposed to make of the comparisons to those around her? In the end, are we meant to find ourselves in league with Emma (if we are), because she’s changed, or because she hasn’t?

You get the story from other adaptations, but more because you’ve read it already than because it is, in the strictest sense, given to you. Put it together with a gorgeous production, and this is a must own.

Beautiful, clever and rich, Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai, Atonement, Daniel Deronda) is convinced she is an expert matchmaker. Austen’s incorrigible heroine, certain of her talents, persuades a pretty protégé to reject a local farmer in favor of a more dashing suitor. So begins a story that challenges Emma’s naiveté, her social preconceptions and her own future with Mr. Knightley. Co-stars Sir Michael Gambon and Johnny Lee Miller (both of Mansfield Park and Cranford). Adapted for the BBC by BAFTA®-winner Sandy Welch.

Special Features –

Emma’s Locations – A nine-minute, behind-the-scenes featurette which explores the locations used in filming, but also spends a fair amount of time discussing the decisions. As is noted, the book doesn’t give you much detail, and finding locations that felt right was quite a chore. A solid bonus, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who enjoys the feature won’t want to get a further look at the incredible sites showcased in it.

Emma’s Costumes – A nice look at the mountain of work that goes into creating the costumes for a period piece, this featurette of about twelve minutes runs in a kind of day-in-the-life format. From color choice, to accessories, to material, everything is chosen so precisely that you can hardly imagine anything managed to get done at all. Mixing palettes and styles, and deciding if each delivers the correct feel and mood of the overall film, the creative team had so much to do (and apparently took everything more seriously than you’d imagine) that it’s a wonder the whole thing didn’t bog down. This is a great featurette that fans will certainly enjoy.

Emma’s Music – In this roughly ten-minute featurette, the music is thoroughly examined, with statements both on the general theory of score, and the particulars of delivering the mood to Emma. You get a quick overview of the surprisingly grueling process behind creating a score, and go through the paces of deciding how the music, when done right, guides without becoming distraction. The score is exceptional in Emma, and it’s a nice touch to provide an in-depth look at its creation.

Emma’s Mr. Woodhouse – An interview with Michael Gambon covering much of his career, from his earliest days trying to get work, through to his recent work on Cranford, and much more. About thirteen minutes long, this is a very nice addition. It is of rather specific interest, and not really related to Emma, but anyone who has seen Gambon will surely find something to take away from this look back at his career.

There might have been a bit more in the bonus department, and those who are as impressed with the feature as I am will wish for commentary, more interviews, or similar, but overall this is a very nicely put together release.

Own it on DVD today!

Enjoy a few clips below.


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.


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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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