With all of the Jane Austen film renditions hype, and with a very poor quality reception on our own TV set, I am enjoying picking up film versions of her literary oeuvre from the library.
This past week it was Emma: the film version with Gwyneth Paltrow, and the BBC made-for-TV version. As I watched and compared, I remember that about 4 years ago I did the same comparison--and arrived at the same conclusion. The BBC version is better! Even the production-- photography, lighting, colors, costumes. Granted, the film version is also well done--but disappointedly so, as viewers should expect more in production quality from a big screen version.
There are many similarities: both scripts fall short of bringing Jane Austen to life as the masterfully done Pride and Prejudice does. Both fail to spend enough time developing Emma's and Knightley's characters for us to get to know and care enough for them. Both have carefully done period costumes and settings, although I'd say Gwyneth's Emma is at the same time too rude for the period's manners and more likable to the viewer who hasn't read the novel.
What I enjoyed most in the BBC version, however, and what makes it definitely the superior of the two in my eyes, is the moral depth with which the viewer is left: that mingling on others' personal affairs is wrong. Also, Knightley comes forth as a just, kind man, just as Darcy revealed himself to the reader when Lizzie visited Pemberley, through the words of his old nurse.
Mostly I applaud the BBC version for including the last scene, when reformed Emma happily hosts a party for the genteel and farming families alike, dancing and rejoicing together. Very well done: Jane Austen would be proud, because in her portrayal of her own world, the kind and just shine and are rewarded with true happiness.
For the readers who are further interested in reading on this comparison, I found here a rather negative, but still interesting, comparison of the two. Worth reading as well are some of the reviews on Amazon.