Last Night’s TV – Emma

by Lynn Connolly


So the latest in a pretty long line of adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma has come to an end, and frankly, though I love period drama, I’m not sorry to see the curtain come down on this one.

Where the previous episodes have plodded somewhat, this final one tried to cram so much into the conclusion, it was breathlessly done, but worse yet, liberties with the original were taken that disappointed me.

Of course writers always want to put their own mark on adaptations, but I suspect that’s part of the reason why Sandy Welch has found this version of Emma hasn’t exactly broken any viewing figure records. The climax, while possibly somewhat pedestrian in the original work, was tampered with rather more than I’d liked it to have been.

Another niggle for me was that Romola Garai as Emma seemed to over think her part. Her exaggerated expressions and rather boxy attempts at high spirits were uncomfortable at times. Similarly, I thought Jonny Lee Miller portrayed Mr Knightley rather too light heartedly sometimes.

That said though, I think Welch did the right thing in making the key roles of some of the characters better known and in doing so, altering their personae somewhat. For instance, Harriet Smith and her circumstances got more air time than other adaptations have given her, and that helped to express the inequality that’s so important in the original piece.

Perhaps overall, despite the above positive note, I’m being too harsh on Welch; after all, adapting such a classic is a tall order and for Austen purists, probably any adaptation is going to be found wanting, but certainly with the last episode last night, I felt that it was not only hurried, it was tampered with too much to be easily forgiven.

The picnic at Box Hill is a pivotal scene of course and quite aside from the questionable alterations made to the Austen ending, it all felt rather overblown for the sake of dramatic conclusion.

But to add a positive again to that negative, as they’ve been throughout, the costumes and settings were faultless and added a romanticism that was so compelling, it almost made up for the often minor niggles about the adaptation. And the fantastic Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse damn near carried the whole thing through the worst of its treacheries.

I do think though that it’s now time Emma was left alone for a good long while, if not permanently. However good an adaptation may be, it inevitably dilutes the original piece and I’d hate to lose the true value of Emma in the attempt to bring her to the telly watching masses.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.