Directed by John Glenister, this mini series was first produced for the BBC and aired in July of 1972 over six episodes for a total of 240 minutes. This play like adaptation is a tad long but it’s complete script and talented actors will endear it to the true Janeite.
Written by Denis Constanduros, this version is an excellent adaptation of Jane Austen romantic comedy, but because it does cover the entire novel it can seem a bit lengthy. The dialog however is sweet and often funny. One of the things that were a bit disappointing was the scene of the Box hill party, which takes place the same day as the Donwell Abbey outing (instead of the day after) and half of the characters that were supposed to be present were missing while the other characters were participating in activities against their nature. But the ending interchanges between Emma and Mr. Knightley are tender and charming.
There is a serious lack of music in this film, but the opening and ending credits do feature light renditions on pianoforte of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’. Because of the lack of music, scenes to echo with a play like quality and seem to drain the excitement out of the ballroom scenes. The songs that Emma plays for her friends are light and pretty, while the tunes Jane Fairfax plays are so somber and her voice is mediocre.
Stage like settings with high ceilings, wide-open spaces, and fake windows give indoor scenes a surreal feel. Outside scenes feature country houses, a lovely town street, as well as a delightful church and cemetery.
The costume department did a wonderful job producing period costumes on their ostensibly limited budget. The female characters are dressed in exquisite regency gowns laced with frills and ribbons and all of the ladies wear darling caps and bonnets. The men sport stylish hats, gloves, and velvet dinner jackets that seem to suit their station in life. Some of the fabrics though appear a bit out of place for the time period, such as Emma’s rather excessive pink faux fur cloak. Our light-hearted heroine is often put in high starched collars and can be found wearing the same gown several days in a row!
All experienced stage actors, the cast brilliantly perform before the camera though their theatrical style causes one to feel as if you are watching a play rather than real life.
- Doran Godwin is Jane Austen’s “handsome, clever and rich” Emma Woodhouse. Though extremely elegant and upright Ms. Godwin just doesn’t seem to fit the mold Jane set out for one of her most popular heroines. She is neither pretty, nor convincingly twenty-one, nor does she have a very pleasing manner. Her acting is slow and deliberate with a high-pitched voice and a silly self-assured smile. Not quite “the picture of grown-up health” Jane Austen wrote of.
- Donald Eccles is Emma’s elderly father Mr. Woodhouse, and decidedly one of my favorite characters in this particular movie version. Thin and weedy with neat gray hair and eyes that grow endearingly wide as his concern about everyone’s health grows. He has even me convinced that opening a window at a dance would be as shocking as murder!
- Gray haired John Carson sadly is Mr. Knightley. Though he plays the aspect of Emma’s gentlemanlike “brother” correctly he often seems too old, too fine in appearance, too much the English aristocrat, and rather high-and-mighty for me to truly like him.
- Ellen Dryden is Emma’s former governess Mrs. Weston but with her supercilious ways she seems too elderly, and not motherly or friendly enough to be our heroine’s friend.
- Raymond Adamson as her husband seems to be trying for almost a sea faring type in his portrayal of Mr. Weston. But he is perfectly kind with friendly manners.
- A young Mollie Sudgen is smashing as the teacher Mrs. Goddard, a bit gussied up, but sensible and insightful.
- Blonde haired Debbie Bowen is Emma’s friend Harriet Smith, who in this version is far from a naive seventeen-year-old. She would be a lovely Miss Smith if she did not smile so much and wasn’t so gushingly grateful to everyone. Her “yes Miss Woodhouse” and “thank you miss Woodhouse” can easily got on my nerves.
- Timothy Peters is very pleasing as the vicar Mr. Elton. A tad thin, and dressed in vicar blacks, he is always kind and thoughtful and rather good-looking.
- Fiona Walker as Mrs. Elton is both horrid and wonderful at the same time. Her acting is so good that we really dislike this “little upstart” who talks with her hands and seems to be always trying to arrange every else’s life.
- Robert East – young, handsome, agreeable, smiling, friendly, with a true love of gloves and dancing, charmingly acts Frank Churchill, but is a bit secretive.
- Constance Chapman after portraying Miss Bates in a BBC radio production renews acquaintance with that character. But though her voice is truly suited for the chattering old maid her appearance is too old and smiling, and always seems that she is being told to keep quiet.
- Mary Holder plays the elderly Mrs. Bates, very quiet and matronly.
- Ania Marson as the lovely Jane Fairfax is quite small and fragile. But her acting is good but in one scene she is very quiet and patient and then all of a sudden speaks loud and cross to her aunt. But her voice is fine as she delights the guests at a Hartfield party with her singing performance.
- Meg Gleed, with her bright red hair and squeaky voice is Emma’s sister Isabella Knightley. She is rather too old though and could really be a grandmother rather than a young mother. She is very nice but always seems to be arguing with someone weather it be her husband, sister or father.
- John Kelland is her husband Mr. John Knightley who is like his older brother Mr. Knightley. But instead of being very jovial and funny his humor seems to come from arguing with his father-in-law and laughing at him behind his back, instead of kindly indulging him. But he is truly a kind, insightful brother-in-law to Emma.
- Harriet: Yes Miss Woodhouse, thank you Miss Woodhouse!
- Harriet: I like of all things to go shopping the day after a party. One has the possibility of meeting – so many people!
- Emma (to Harriet): But you may borrow my lace ruff if you wish.
- Mr. Elton: Oh, Kightley! There’s some horrid creature crawling n my neck! In the absence of my caro sposo e you may remove it if you wish.
- Knightley: On one condition, that you cease to call me Mr. Knightley Emma: But that is how I always think of you. Kightley: I do have another name you know. Emma: Oh, yes but to call you by it would make you seem other than you are, and that I should not like. Oh, dear! I do remember once when I was just a girl, calling you George just to see if it would annoy you. But when I found it did not I never did so again! Knightley: And can you not do so now just to please me? Emma: George…George!…George? I am sorry Mr. Knightley I can not do it, you will have to remain as you are!