Comparing the Text and the Two Filmed Versions of Jane Austen's Emma

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Comparing the Text and the Two Filmed Versions of Jane Austen's Emma

After reading Jane Austen's Emma, then viewing the BBC production and Miramax films based on the novel one can understand why most authors are horrified over the translation of their novels into film. The two film versions are quite different from one another, but both take such liberties with the original text as to wonder why the film makers of each even bothered with Austen's work. The BBC production encompasses more of the tone and atmosphere of the text, the polite, mannered, upper-class social milieu of Victorian England than does the Miramax version, but both make interpretations of the text that belie the filmmakers' agenda than they do of Austen's own. The films are different from the novel in many ways, including characterization, setting, action, dialogue and theme. For example, the Miramax version of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow portrays an Emma who is more like cupid armed with the bow of modern feminism. In the BBC version, Emma is not portrayed as lightly and as humorous. Instead, she is turned into a bantering harpy who lacks much of the charm of Austen's Emma. This analysis will compare the first chapter of Emma with the corresponding opening scene in each film. By doing so, we will see not only many differences among them (including some obtrusive additions on behalf of the films), but we will also see how the filmmakers differed in their interpretation of Austen's original.

The opening scene of each film directly corresponds to the first chapter of Austen's novel. In the text this chapter describes Emma Woodhouse as spoiled and self-willed, convinced she knows what is right for other people particularly when it comes to affairs...

... middle of paper ... all the ideology of modern day feminism. Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios is faithful to the scenario of an unconventional Victorian woman as portrayed by a Victorian female author. This is not to say that the filmed versions of Emma are not entertaining or without merit in their own right. rather, it is to suggest that instead of faithfully recreating Austen's work, the filmmakers felt it necessary to add their own personal interpretations of the work, modern interpretations that serve to undermine Austen's text. Like the tightly controlled, oppressive environment of Victorian England, Austen's Emma is best understood from within the confines the ideology of that elitist microcosm, not through the lens of modern interpreters who try to impose their own values on it.


Austen, J. Emma. F. A. Thorpe Ltd., Great Britain, 1995.

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