Emma was the last complete novel to be published during Jane Austen’s lifetime and it was written after she moved to her last home in Chawton, Hampshire.
When she began the novel, Austen declared she was going to create a young, headstrong female character who many would dislike. The novel was published in December 1815 and Austen paid for a run of two thousand copies rather than lose the copyright.
Privileged Emma Woodhouse fancies herself to be an excellent matchmaker when her governess marries the widower Mr. Weston. Emma then sets out to make a match for her friend Harriet Smith but it has disastrous consequences.
When Harriet professes an interest in Mr. Knightley, an anguished Emma realises she herself is in love with him. Fearing his interest lies elsewhere, Emma is delighted when he proposes to her and vows never to matchmake again.
The first big-budget movie version of Emma premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival on 7 June 1996. Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, Jeremy Northam as Knightley, and Toni Colette as Harriet.
The film received mainly positive reviews and Paltrow was praised for her charming performance as Emma.
A second big-budget film was given a theatrical release in the UK on 14 February 2020, however its time in the movie theatres was limited by the advent of the pandemic and it appeared on steaming platforms thereafter.
The film cost $10 million to make and managed to gross $26 million worldwide. The film, starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma, was well received and praised for its production values, however there was little that would single it out from other adaptations.
The film was nominated for several awards, including two Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, as well as a Best Costume Design nomination at the BAFTA Film Awards.
The first televised appearance of Emma happened in 1948 courtesy of Judy Campbell who starred in the title role and also wrote the screenplay. Since it was a live broadcast on the BBC, the film was never recorded and only exists in photographs.
The novel’s second appearance live broadcast was in an 1954 NBC TV broadcast as part of their Kraft Television Theatre series. The broadcast starred Felicia Montealegre as Emma and Peter Cookson as Knightley. A second live show was broadcast by the same channel in 1957 in their Matinee Theater series with Sarah Churchill as Emma.
The BBC revisited Emma for a six-part series with Doran Godwin in the lead role, alongside John Carson as Knightley. The series was directed by John Glenister and was aired from 20 July to 24 August 1972.
The series has long been a favourite of Emma fans for its faithful rendition of the novel, although there were a few tweaks for dramatic purposes. It is the oldest production of the novel that survives.
In the same year as the previous feature film was released, Emma Woodhouse also appeared in a new television film from ITV which aired in the UK on 24 November 1996 and starred Kate Beckinsale in the title role.
The film was adapted by Andrew Davies who had won high praise for his production of Pride and Prejudice on the BBC. Anxious to repeat his success, Davies had offered to adapt Emma for the BBC but they had already commissioned a series of the novel with someone else. Davies took the project to ITV instead.
The film won Emmys for Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Special and Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special.
The BBC production which had been commissioned from screenwriter Sandy Welch almost a decade before finally appeared on screens in 2009 with Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley.
The four-part series was broadcast on BBC One from 4 to 25 October 2009 but the viewing figures dropped for each episode. Some critics began to express fatigue that the BBC were adapting the same novels all the time.
The series was nominated for three Emmys: Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie (winner); Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special; and Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special.