This BBC WGBH/Boston Co-Production features an all-star cast including Romola Garai (Atonement) as Emma, Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone) as Mr. Knightley, and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Book of Eli) as Mr. Woodhouse. Beautiful, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse is convinced she is good at matchmaking after her older sister and her governess both marry suitable husbands. Certain of her talents, Emma plays a dangerous game as she persuades her new friend, the young, pretty and socially inferior Harriet to reject an advantageous marriage proposal to a local farmer in favour of dashing Mr Elton. So begins a story which challenges Emma’s naivety and her social preconceptions. Fresh and funny, this perceptive adaptation brings Jane Austen’s comic masterpiece to life.
Everyone knows the story of Emma, right? Surely you haven’t gone your whole life without seeing Clueless, at the very least. (As if!) Well, in case you’ve suddenly time traveled from before 1815 (in which case, I heartily compliment you on your technological adaptation), Emma Woodhouse fancies herself a matchmaker. She’s so confident, in fact, that she doesn’t really bother to see beneath the superficial qualities of the match to the people underneath. After all, as long as they’re popular and cute suitably titled and landed, it’s all good, right? Being a matchmaker and all, Emma’s not about to give up on finding a Mr. Sweet Breeches of her own, either. It just might not be the man she expects.
Tl;dr: This version is so much better than that Gwyneth Paltrow movie.
Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse
Romola Garai is so cheerful and expressive that a character who, by all accounts, should be one of the most annoying people on earth—keep your nose out of others’ business, Emma!—instead comes off as sweet and well-meaning.
Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley
Jonny Lee Miller just isn’t in enough media. He’s great as Mr. Knightley, and this is perfect for those times when you’ve yelled “Hack the planet!” one too many times and need to watch him in something else.
Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse
Like Emma, the needy Mr. Woodhouse should be incredibly annoying and smothering, but Michael Gambon imbues him with such kindness and vulnerability.
Jodhi May as Mrs. Weston
Did you ever wonder what happened to Madeline Stowe’s haunting sister after Last of the Mohicans? (I can genuinely say that I did, before the age of IMDB.) Here she is!
Couch-Sharing Capability: Rollin’ With The Homies
As with all Jane Austen adaptations and retellings, this one is made to be enjoyed with others who will appreciate both your literary leanings but also your massive eyerolls when you Just. Can’t. with Emma. WHAT-EVER.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Sporadically. It Means “Once In Awhile.”
You don’t need anything to enjoy the pretty period costumes, dialogue, and Jonny Lee Miller’s face—but on the other hand, you know what’s going to happen, so why not let the scenery and a fine wine wash over you?
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Old People Can Be So Sweet
This is my favorite adaptation of Emma (Clueless excepted, since it’s a retelling). Watch the pretty people fall in and out of love, watch Emma grow up, watch Jonny Lee Miller be charming and gorgeous.