Those of you who know my Janeite side know that I am not a purist. I am not against taking the novels out of their early 19th century setting and putting them in another era. That does not mean that every modern adaptation is worthy of the original novel.
Famed mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith entered the Jane Austen arena with his modern rewrite of Austen’s 4th novel, Emma.
As she is in the original novel, Emma Woodhouse is “rich, clever and handsome”. She lives with her widower, hypochondriac father and her governess, Miss Taylor. Miss Taylor is recently engaged to Mr. Weston. Emma has recently graduated college and is eager to start her interior design business. But first she has some matchmaking to do.
Her initial success with Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston leads her down a dangerous path. She may or may not have mistakenly guided her new friend Harriet Smith away from Robert Martin, the son of local B&B owners and potentially into a match with Philip Elton, the local vicar. Add in Emma’s longtime neighbor/verbal sparring partner/ brother in law George Knightley and you have what may end up being an interesting summer.
I will forewarn my fellow Janeites that if you are a purist, you will not like this book. McCall Smith has taken some liberties with his take on Emma. While I am not a purist in any sense of the word and I do enjoy a modern adaptation, I still prefer certain traditional elements of the novel and the character to remain. McCall Smith has taken too many liberties for my liking.
Do I recommend this book? If you don’t mind too many changes to character and story, then yes. But if you prefer the novel in it’s original form, then I recommend that you stay away.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Emma Woodhouse is Austen’s Queen Bee. She is confident in her view of the world and her place in the world. Living with her widowed father (her mother died when she was a baby, her elder sister is married and moved away), Emma is mistress of her father’s house. Unlike some of other the Austen heroines she is not a dependent on the good will of her relations (Mansfield Park), nor is her home entailed away to the nearest male relative after the death of her father (Sense And Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice).
That being said, I will compare three of the filmed Emma adaptations.
Cast: Alicia Silverstone (Cher Horowitz), Dan Hedaya (Mel Horowitz), Josh (Paul Rudd), Tai (Brittany Murphy)
Pro’s: Amy Heckerling as both director and screenwriter, perfectly adapted the novel. The transition from rural 19th century Highbury to mid 1990’s Los Angeles is seamless. The movie is totally funny, totally quotable and iconic in it’s own right.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale (Emma), Bernard Hepton (Mr. Woodhouse), Mark Strong (Mr. Knightley), Samantha Morton (Harriet Smith)
Pro’s: It is a well done adaptation. The casting is on target and the screenplay is true to the novel. Beckinsale, as the title character is both infuriating and charming. Strong is sexy and annoying in the all knowing big brother sense.
Cons: Mark Strong’s Edwardian Mullet, which really is the only con I can think of.
Cast: Romola Garai (Emma), Michael Gambon (Mr. Woodhouse), Jonny Lee Miller (Mr. Knightley) Louise Dylan (Harriet Smith)
Pro’s: This adaptation is well done and so very funny. Garai and Miller have this bickering brother and sister relationship that is just so endearing. There is almost this Benedict and Beatrice style relationship where they begin to fall in love through the bickering and in fighting.