‘Emma’ (2009): A Playful and Whimsical BBC Adaptation


One of my favorite ways to waste time is to search out new period dramas. I probably can spend an hour on any given day doing this very thing online. (Never fear, I don’t do this daily, but I’m just putting it out there that I could.) But recently in an effort to help Silver Petticoat build up their period drama review archives I’ve been revisiting some of the oldie but goodies and re-watching them in consideration of writing a review. emma (2009)

DISCUSSION | Faces of a Romance Adaptation: The One All About Emma. 

My recent rewatch journey included a pair of Emma adaptations (I own three and have watched two of those three), which are different, but still similar. Today I reviewed BBCs 2009 adaptation that was more miniseries than film starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have “issues” with the miniseries and its lack of sophistication, but overall, I do adore this version. It’s more of a whimsical version, really. And as someone who appreciates individuality in cinema, I really, honestly do enjoy this take.

‘Emma’ (2009): A Playful and Whimsical BBC Adaptation. See my "overview" thoughts + a link to my review of the BBC miniseries adaptation. #JaneAusten #Movies Click To Tweet
‘Emma’ (2009): A Playful and Whimsical BBC Adaptation. A review link to my review of the BBC miniseries adaptation. Text © Rissi JC

If you’d like to know more specifics or my likes, dislikes and rambling fangirl thoughts on the romance, you can read the review* down below.

If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. – Mr. Knightley

Emma (2009) Review

It’s been six years since I first sat down to watch BBC’s most recent adaptation of Emma. Ironically, that inaugural viewing was I believe, around the same time of year I sat down to watch it again this month. (In those six years since watching this adaptation, this is only my second viewing.) While a second viewing didn’t damper my appreciation or take away from the charm that is Jane Austen, there was a certain commentary of criticism running through my mind as everything unfolded. Continue Reading →

*Adding in an asterisk here because I made a grievous oversight in aforementioned review. The ONE thing I was horribly remiss about and blanked on talking about in said review is the ballroom. Oh. My. Gosh. The vitally important dance between Emma and Knightley? It’s gorgeously choreographed and staged. Enough said.

As always, I’d love to know what you think of this version; is it a ‘thumbs up’ or down for you? Do you like the cast? What’s your favorite adaptation? Share your thoughts!

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. I love this adaptation. I rewatched it a couple of months ago after I reread Emma, along with the Gwyneth Paltrow version (which I hadn't watched in years). I just enjoy this one so much more: the cast is better, the filming and sets are gorgeous, the music is great, etc. I know that the older adaptations (BBC and film) can be wonderful in their own right, but honestly, it's hard for them to live up to the prettiness of the new adaptations, in my opinion. :)

    I also got my parents to watch it, so I've recently finally persuaded them to watch Austen adaptations and Doctor Who, both to great success. :) Speaking of Austen adaptations, I just rewatched the newer Persuasion the other day, and despite the overall shortness and that awkward running scene at the end, I love that one, too. It made me want to reread Persuasion as soon as possible…

    1. *high five* The older versions living up to these newer ones have a steep uphill battle. I 100% agree, Kristin. Part of it is the progression we've made in filmmaking and part of it is simply we've gotten better at writing/staging. Overall, I probably lean more towards liking this one best. (The romance is off the charts sweet.) However the Gwyneth Paltrow version has its merits (I just rewatched it too and will be reviewing it later this week on Silver). Primarily, I would say Jeremy Northam is the best thing about the movie. ;)

      Yay for getting your parents into BBC awesomeness! I always have my mom who is more than willing to binge watch stuff with me. I'm super excited about any and all of their newbie stuff. I *need* to rewatch Persuasion as well; the newest version is by far my favorite despite that running scene.

      Thanks so much for commenting, Kristin. Always enjoy your perspective and thoughts.

    1. It is sweet, isn't it, Katie? I think, overall this is my favorite as well… but then I adore revisiting any and (mostly) all Austen adaptations. :)

  2. I adore the 2009 adaption of Emma very much! Romola Garai, is the ideal Emma with her childlike qualities, yet her carefree strong independent ways. Jonny Lee Miller, is also ideal, as Mr. Knightley, Emma's perfect match!

    I, too, love that this version is longer and definitely more satisfying with it's deeper storytelling, back history on Emma as a baby and little girl, and they show us a closer relationship with her sister, Isabella!

    This adaptation of Emma is lovely in every way and will forever be a favorite for me!!!

    Blessings! Net

    1. I'm glad to hear that, Net! I've not read the book (what else is new!? *sarcasm*), so I don't know who portrays her most accurately. I like that each of the primary adaptations has such a different portrayal (Kate's is cool, harsh elegance; Gwyneth is more coy and still elegant; Romola whimsical and childlike). I really love the romance in this adaptation too (that ending declaration and Emma's bursting into his house declaring she cannot marry him = priceless!).

      The deeper storytelling is the best aspect. I appreciate there is more room to grow and expand here. It makes the movie more beautiful. Thanks a bunch for sharing your thoughts, Net. I enjoy reading everyone's thoughts. :)

  3. This is my favorite version of Emma! Though I've yet to watch the Beckinsale one. But I do love that it takes its time painting the characters and exploring the drama in the story. And the musical score is absolutely beautiful! I have the soundtrack & listen to it frequently! :)

    1. Overall, I think this is my favorite too Courtney (so much to consider… :D). I just rewatched my final version for a final review on Silver. I do love Jeremy Northam though in the '96 Miramax version. If you ever see A&E's take, let me know what you think. :) Thanks for visiting and sharing! Loving this conversation.

  4. I'm a succor for all things Austen, so of course I loved this one. It definitely was different than the others, but since I read the book it's interesting to me to see which parts of it actually make it on the screen in different adaptations. They all have something a little different. Glad you get to go back and watch them all and review them. So fun!

    Tressa @ Wishful Endings

    1. It is fun to revisit these especially as I've not watched any of them for years. There are pros and cons to each adaptation, but overall I probably like this one best. My last re-watch was of the Miramax version (last weekend) and I do still have a weakness for Jeremy Northam as Knightley. Maybe partially because his portrayal was the first I saw. :) Thanks for the comment, Tressa.

  5. I fiiiiiiiinally got around to watching this adaptation…last year? The year before? and yeah, it definitely is the closest to the book and Romola Garai was excellent as Emma (my favourite of the three adaptations (I think there was a 1970s adaptation but I haven't seen any of those). Jeremy Northam is still my favourite Mr. Knightley, I think, but Johnny Lee Miller was very sweet as Mr. Knightley and I loved his scenes with Romola. And this adaptation was so pretty! Yeah, I'm happy I finally got to it, haha

    1. Yay! I'm glad to know you saw this one, Lianne and enjoyed it! I'd say, overall, this is my favorite though gosh… it's tough because I think I appreciate or respect something about each of the three primary versions. I don't know that I've seen BBC's earlier adaptation either, but given my feelings for the counterpart 70/80s versions of P&P, Persuasion and Mansfield Park, I don't feel I'm missing anything. ;)

      Like you, I still want to keep Jeremy Northam CLOSE to the top of the list as the best Knightley if not the best, but that end scene with Jonny declaring his feelings… *happy sigh* It's pretty amazing. :)

  6. Many of the things you said in your review are ones I've read before. A lot of people were bothered by Romola's Emma when this first came out. (And we are all certainly allowed to have our favorites for our own personal reasons! :) But I have to say that this was the first version where I could really enjoy the story. Having watched both 1996 versions, I wanted to like one or both of them, but somehow never could. I tried to force myself to like them because it's Jane Austen! I loved all the other adaptations, I should love Emma as well! :)

    Then this one came out and I fell in absolute raptures over it. And I finally figured out what had been holding me back from the others. It was Mr. Knightley. I LOVE Jonny Lee Miller as Knightely. I can sympathize with him and understand him and somehow I just get him. And the way he says that famous line "If I loved you less…"? Oh my heart!! The other Knightley's (as swoony as they may be, I completely acknowledge their swooniness :) just don't do that line justice. At least not for me. But Jonny? I love how he expresses it. It melts my heart into a puddle of goo every single time I watch that scene.

    So. Mr. Knightley was my holdup in the other versions apparently. And Jonny won me over. I am happy to let him do so! :D

    1. I think as I watched this one, I grew to understand and in some sense "accept" Romola's Emma more and more. I think the "shock" was just how unrefined she played her. I didn't mind the childlike actions because she was meant to essentially still be a child when the piece started. She was immature as growth is part of her story. That being said, I really (really) like this version. I remember falling hard for it the first time I saw it. Watching it this time probably saw me being more critical since the express reason I played it was for the purpose of a review.

      As for Jonny Lee Miller… I heart him as an actor and love him in this role. Like you, I'm enchanted by that line and in fact don't much notice it in the other versions. Jeremy Northam's defining moment in the one version is the "badly done, Emma!" He plays that scene to perfection! :)

      I'm SO glad you found a version to enjoy so well, Kara. When it comes to Austen we *need* that one version of each of her stories that just "works." :)

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