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 of the heart. The chapter also informs us of the marriage of Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, as well as introducing us to Mr. Knightley and Emma's father. We also here of Mr. Weston and Mr. Elton. If we look at some of the particulars of this chapter and each scene, we can see how dramatically all three differ. The opening two pages of the novel are all expository, regarding Emma's disposition, her upbringing and her relationship with Miss Taylor. The marriage of Miss Taylor and her subsequent loss are greatly affecting Emma's mood. In the Miramax film version of Emma, the first scene opens by showing a universe and a spinning planet whose trials of stars leads into a trail of the characters in the film like a cosmic genealogy. A voice over by Paltrow reminds us that the world we are about to enter was one which fit into the palm of one's hand, and wherein an elegant dance drew more excitement than war. We open at the actual wedding of Miss Taylor, something that is only alluded to in the book. The wedding is also only alluded to in the BBC version. While the Paltrow version makes this change, it does add more excitement and visual richness to the opening in comparison to the other two.