Classic Remarks is meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating! This week’s question is:
Which Austen adaptation is your favorite and why?
The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was long my favorite because of how perfectly it captures all the characters; Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, and all the rest are my versions of Austen’s creations. I also appreciate that the mini series format allows the bulk of the book to appear on screen, and that the adaptation pretty much follows the novel word-for-word. However, once I saw the Romola Garai mini series of Emma, that became my favorite Austen adaptation.
Before I watched Emma, I had not much liked the titular character. Her penchant for setting up couples made her seem meddlesome and manipulative, and far from charming. Her devotion to her father is touching, but then you have to consider her outrageous flirting with Frank Churchill, her advice to Harriet that she should throw away the man she loves, and her habit of ignoring Mr. Knightley’s sound advice. Badly done, Emma.
Garai, however, plays Emma as light-hearted and young, rather than as manipulative. When I considered Emma as a high spirited girl who wasn’t old enough to appreciate fully her own limitations, I suddenly began to appreciate her. She means well, even if her advice is often bad. And Mr. Knightley–quite, frankly, he’s my favorite Austen hero. I love relationships that have a basis in friendship.
Garai’s Emma is a testament to the power of adaptation to reinterpret texts and enable audiences to view them in a new light. The beauty of stories is that we can take them and make them our own. The Emma mini series does just that.