This 1997 TV version of Jane Austen's second most popular novel was scripted by Andrew Davies, the "adaptation king" of period drama, who brought us a soggy Darcy - but it's no Pride And Prejudice.

Compared to the sparkling movie version, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, or the fabulous Alicia Silverstone update Clueless, which both came out the year before, it feels rather staid and stiff.

Kate Beckinsale, before her recent transformation into a plasticised Hollywood babe, was adept at playing smart girls. Her Emma Woodhouse is not as shrewd as her Emily Post in Cold Comfort Farm, neither is she as likeable in the role as Paltrow, or Silverstone. But she and Mark Strong, who turns in a solid, if not warm, performance, as the moral Mr Knightley, look well together and are backed by some reliable character actors, including Samantha Morton in a very uncharacteristic role as dopey Harriet.

There are the usual high production values and imposing houses, but the actors seem lost in the large empty rooms. There's no sense of cosiness, which may be accurate - though surely Emma's house, Hartfield, should not be quite so grand - but leaves everyone standing around looking awkward a lot of the time.

A couple of dodgy dream sequences are jarring additions, but where this version does score is with nice satirical touches, such as showing the servants trudging up the hill, laden with furniture for the gentry's "simple" picnic.

You can never quite deaden Austen's splendid dialogue, or her basic, brilliant plot, but somehow Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence lose the shine of one of the funniest novels ever written.

If you only watch one adaptation, let it not be this.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2004
Share this with others on...
Emma packshot
Stiff adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.
Amazon link

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writer: Andrew Davies, based on the novel by Jane Austen

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Bernard Hepton, Samantha Bond, Prunella Scales, James Hazeldine, Dominic Rowan, Olovia Williams, Raymond Coulthard

Year: 1997

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Pride & Prejudice