Emma (2009 TV serial)

Emma is a four-part BBC television drama serial adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Emma, first published in 1815. The episodes were written by Sandy Welch, writer of previous BBC costume dramas Jane Eyre and North & South, and directed by Jim O'Hanlon. The serial stars Romola Garai as the titular heroine Emma Woodhouse, Jonny Lee Miller as her loyal lifelong friend Mr. Knightley, and Michael Gambon as Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse. The serial originally ran weekly on Sunday nights on BBC One from 4 to 25 October 2009.[1]

GenreCostume drama
Written byJane Austen (novel)
Sandy Welch
Directed byJim O'Hanlon
StarringRomola Garai
Jonny Lee Miller
Michael Gambon
Tamsin Greig
Rupert Evans
Robert Bathurst
Jodhi May
Louise Dylan
Blake Ritson
Christina Cole
Laura Pyper
Composer(s)Samuel Sim
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes4
Executive producer(s)Phillippa Giles
Producer(s)George Ormond
Original networkBBC One
Picture format576i SDTV
Original release4 
25 October 2009
External links


For a detailed account of the plot, see main article: Emma (novel)

Austen's classic comic novel follows the story of the "handsome, clever and rich" Emma Woodhouse. Dominating the small provincial world of Highbury, Emma believes she is a skilled matchmaker and repeatedly attempts to pair up her friends and acquaintances. Nothing delights her more than meddling in the love lives of others. But when she takes protégée Harriet Smith under her wing, her interference has a detrimental effect.

Brought up sharply against the folly of her own immaturity, the consequent crisis and her bitter regrets are brought to a happy resolution in a comedy of self-deceit and self-discovery.

Cast and characters


  • Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse: In Austen's opening lines of the novel: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." Emma has no need to marry, being head of her own household, and having plenty of money, but she delights in matchmaking those around her — and credits herself with being very good at it - despite Mr Knightley's scepticism.
  • Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. George Knightley: Mr Knightley is Emma's only social and intellectual equal in Highbury, living at Donwell Abbey, a rambling country estate a short walk from Hartfield. He has known Emma since she was a baby, and there's an easy familiarity between them. He is an individual, quick-witted, with a dry sense of humour — often used in sparring with Emma. But he also has a strong moral compass — and at times he strongly disagrees with Emma over her behaviour.
  • Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse: Mr Woodhouse is described by Austen as a valetudinarian — old before his time. He lost his wife when his two daughters were very young, and has developed an extremely nervous disposition. He is a loving and kind father, but he worries constantly, especially about health. He hardly ever leaves Hartfield, and hates the thought of Emma ever leaving him.
  • Louise Dylan as Harriet Smith: Harriet is a parlour boarder at Mrs Goddard's School. She has been sent there to be educated by her father, who remains anonymous, because Harriet is his "natural daughter" — i.e., she's illegitimate. Being a parlour boarder means that she has stayed on at the school to help out with the other girls. She's pretty, but in reality, she has little prospect of marrying a gentleman. Emma, however, is sure that Harriet's anonymous father must be a gentleman, and takes her under her wing.
  • Jodhi May as Anne Taylor/Weston: Anne has been Emma's governess since her mother died when Emma was a baby. More like a sister than a governess, Anne is wise and caring, but devoted to Emma and perhaps a little indulgent. When she marries Mr Weston, she is worried about leaving Emma on her own at Hartfield.
  • Robert Bathurst as Mr. Weston: Mr Weston is an eternal optimist, despite the fact that his life has not always run smoothly. He married young, to a woman who spent all his money, who was disowned by her family, and then died, leaving him with Frank, his two-year-old son. He agreed for Frank to be adopted by his wife's estranged sister, who insisted that he change his name to Frank Churchill. Frank has lived in the lap of luxury ever since.
  • Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill: Frank is a ball of energy, charming, mischievous, and spoilt. He has been kept at his manipulative aunt's beck and call for most of his life, and often seems to be called back to her bedside whenever he ventures away — although it is never entirely clear whether this is just a convenient excuse for not visiting Highbury and his father. At his worst, he could be a rogue — and he seems to delight in gossiping about Jane Fairfax.
  • Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax: Jane's parents died when she was a toddler. Her aunt, Miss Bates, and grandmother Mrs Bates sent her from Highbury to live with the Campbells, who could offer greater advantages. Captain Campbell knew she would be a good companion for his only daughter, Miss Campbell. Ever since, Jane has excelled at everything a girl should, and Miss Bates has bored Emma rigid with Jane's virtues at every opportunity. Now Jane has reached the age where she must leave the Campbells and return to Highbury — but what is the real reason for her return?
  • Tamsin Greig as Miss Bates: Miss Bates is the daughter of the former vicar of Highbury, who died many years ago. She has never married, and now never will. Without a husband to provide an income, she faces ever-increasing poverty. Despite her woes, Miss Bates has a perennially cheerful disposition. She fills any silence with incessant talk.
  • Valerie Lilley as Mrs. Bates: Where Miss Bates talks non stop, her aged mother, Mrs Bates, never speaks. She sits quietly in the corner of the room, or is wheeled from place to place by Miss Bates, revealing very little of what she really thinks of their situation.
  • Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton: Mr Elton is the vicar of Highbury. In the early 19th century, the post of vicar could be given, inherited, or bought, and conferred a certain social status as well as an annual income. Mr Elton is a dashing young man, aware of his status in the village, and his eligibility. He's charming — perhaps, at times, a little too charming.
  • Christina Cole as Augusta Elton: Mrs Elton is rich, and a good catch for Mr Elton in many ways. But she's also vulgar and interfering, and one-upmanship is second nature to her. She arrives in Highbury keen to prove her social standing, and immediately puts Emma's nose out of joint.


  • Dan Fredenburgh as John Knightley
  • Poppy Miller as Isabella Knightley
  • Jefferson Hall as Robert Martin
  • Veronica Roberts as Mrs Goddard
  • Liza Sadovy as Mrs Cole
  • Eileen O'Higgins as Miss Martin 1
  • Sarah Ovens as Miss Martin 2
  • Susie Trayling as Mrs Churchill
  • Frank Doody as Mr Dixon
  • Amy Loughton as Miss Campbell / Mrs Dixon


Principal photography commenced with a four-day shoot in the Kent village of Chilham from 14 to 18 April 2009. Production design staff covered several roads with gravel to disguise the 21st-century road markings, and erected a fountain in the village square.[2] Filming occurred from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day and was scheduled to coincide with the Easter school holiday to minimise local disruption.[3]

Filming continued at the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Send, Surrey on 24 and 28 April, where scenes of a wedding and a Sunday service were completed.[4] Further filming took place at Squerryes Court, Westerham, Kent where many interior scenes were shot.[5]

The scene that shows Emma and Harriet Smith on their way to visit the poor was filmed in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The church they pass along the wooded path is St Etheldreda's Church, Hatfield.


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUK viewers
1"Episode One"Jim O'HanlonSandy Welch4 October 2009 (2009-10-04)4.84[6]
Rich, independent and kind-spirited, Emma Woodhouse has no need to marry, but nothing delights her more than matchmaking those around her. Once she has married off her close companions, she alights upon the pretty Harriet Smith to fashion into her new playmate and ally. She persuades Harriet that she is too good for her suitor, the farmer Robert Martin, and encourages her to set her sights higher. But close family friend Mr Knightley warns Emma that her meddling will cause great pain – to both Robert and Harriet. Emma refuses to listen, and Mr Knightley is furious at Emma's stubbornness.
2"Episode Two"Jim O'HanlonSandy Welch11 October 2009 (2009-10-11)4.12[6]
Emma continues her attempts to marry off Harriet and Mr Elton, vicar of Highbury. Although uninterested in marriage herself, she is intrigued by the mysterious and elusive Frank Churchill, who she hopes to meet for the first time at a village Christmas party. Frank does not arrive, and instead Emma becomes the subject of unwanted and embarrassing attention from Mr Elton. A few weeks later, village gossip and speculation focuses on the arrival of young Jane Fairfax and a large piano she has been sent by a mystery admirer. Emma refuses to believe that Mr Knightley could be the secret admirer. He couldn't be, could he?
3"Episode Three"Jim O'HanlonSandy Welch18 October 2009 (2009-10-18)3.32[7]
Emma teases Mr Knightley about Jane, but he remains tight-lipped. Meanwhile, Frank and Emma plan a ball, and Emma wonders whether she might be in love with him. Despite having a wonderful time at a village ball, she decides not. With her matchmaking officially abandoned, Emma feels cooped up and bored, so Mr Knightley suggests a day trip to Box Hill for a change of scene and some temporary escape. He also tells Emma that he suspects Frank and Jane to be secretly in love. Emma rebuffs the suggestion – she can personally vouch for Frank's indifference to Jane – which leaves Knightley feeling hurt at Emma's indifference towards him.
4"Episode Four"Jim O'HanlonSandy Welch25 October 2009 (2009-10-25)3.66[8]
What was intended as a day of fun turns into a day of agony for everyone on the Box Hill excursion. Things come to a head when, egged on by Frank, Emma behaves badly, insulting Miss Bates. She is berated by Knightley, and realises that her behaviour was shameful. She tries to repair things with Jane and Miss Bates, but Jane will not see her – although Miss Bates tells her that Jane has accepted a job as a governess, and cried all night. Meanwhile, Knightley goes to stay with his brother in London, and will be away for a while. When Frank's controlling aunt dies, the Westons expect him to propose to Emma – but his actions set in motion a chain of events that both shock Emma and make her realise something that has been in plain sight all along.

Critical reception

Reviewing the first episode, Sam Wollaston of The Guardian called it "very good... even if it's not necessary", wishing the BBC would adapt some lesser-known novels rather than churning out the same adaptations again and again. He nevertheless praised the acting, suggesting Garai's "eyes alone deserve a BAFTA" and that Michael Gambon made "a splendid old Mr. Woodhouse".[9]

John Preston of The Telegraph also noted Romola Garai as "particularly good" in the titular role, and noted that while Jim O Hanlon's direction was perhaps a little too "steady and sure" there was still "plenty of sprightliness there too".[10] After the third episode of the series, however, he wrote that "[it] was a disaster, becoming ever more coarse and clumsy as it went on. The narration was obtrusive, the charm next to non-existent and the secondary characters insufficiently delineated." Emma he deemed "too bovine, too cocksure" in order for her to be truly in doubt. He did not find that Jonny Lee Miller, "who could have been a first-class Mr Knightley, was given enough screen time to make an impact". He concluded: "Contrivance ha[d] taken over. Sprightliness ha[d] disappeared. The soufflé ha[d] fallen."[11]

Tom Sutcliffe of The Independent wrote in a review that "the primary-colour brightness seems to have carried over into some the performances." He found that Garai "[did]n't capture the sense of frustrated intelligence that makes Emma bearable on the page", but blamed the script for it. He also saw a casting problem with Emma and Knightley in the sense that Miller "still carrie[d] too much of the seductive bad boy about him" so that he was not convincing as a "surprising love object", and "that threatens one of the novel's great achievements, which is to educate us alongside its heroine."[12]

Some critics also noted the dip in ratings following the first episode. In The Independent, Jonathon Brown observed that while "the critics have given it a qualified nod of approval" the second installment of the serial "pulled in only 3.5 million viewers – down nearly 1 million on the opening episode the previous week – while the third episode saw another 200,000 switch off". He suggests this may be due to the "13 million-strong audience from ITV1's all-conquering X Factor" which had launched a Sunday night results show for the first time, or that "the days of bonnet and bustle are [simply] over".[13]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
Golden Globes[14] Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television Romola Garai Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie Anne Oldham[15] Won
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Gemma Hancock (casting director), Sam Stevenson (casting director) Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Rosalind Ebbutt (costume designer), Amanda Keable (costume supervisor) Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Michael Gambon Nominated
Royal Television Society Best Music, Original Score Samuel Sim Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Miniseries Emma Nominated
Shanghai Television Festival Magnolia Award for Best Television Film or Miniseries Emma Nominated


The original soundtrack with music composed by Samuel Sim was released on 8 December 2009 and features numerous themes featured in the series, including music from the dance sequences during the ball at the Crown Inn. A track listing for the album is as follows:

  1. "Emma Main Titles"
  2. "Emma Woodhouse Was Borne"
  3. "Expansion Project"
  4. "Rescued from the Gypsies"
  5. "A Ball"
  6. "Knightley's Walk"
  7. "Dolls"
  8. "The World Has Left Us Behind"
  9. "Arrival of Little Knightley"
  10. "Donwell Dancing Again"
  11. "Superior Men"
  12. "Matchmaker"
  13. "Walk of Shame"
  14. "Playing Harriet"
  15. "Without Suspicion"
  16. "Frank Is Free"
  17. "Mr. Elton"
  18. "Blind Endeavours"
  19. "The Last Dance"
  20. "Lost and Found"
  21. "Only People We Like"
  22. "The Ship's Cook"
  23. "Cliff Tops"
  24. "Secrets"
  25. "It's Snowing and Heavily"
  26. "The Seaside"
  27. "Love Story"
  28. "Most Ardently In Love"


  1. BBC Press Office (4 April 2009). "Casting announced for BBC One's Emma this Autumn". Press release. Retrieved on 6 April 2009.
  2. Staff (8 April 2009). "BBC's Emma to start filming in Chilham next week". yourcanterbury.co.uk (KOS Media). Retrieved on 12 April 2009.
  3. "Stop Press: BBC Film Emma In The Square". Chilham Parish Council. Retrieved on 12 April 2009.
  4. "St Mary's church, Send, Woking, Surrey UK". Sendparishchurch.co.uk. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  5. Adam Williams (2 October 2009). "A classic setting". Kent Messenger (What's on section, p3).
  6. "Weekly Top 30 Programmes". Barb.co.uk. 28 October 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  7. "Cole, Houston boost 'X Factor' ratings – X Factor News – Reality TV". Digital Spy. 19 October 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  8. "Miss Frank's 'X Factor' exit draws 13.4m – X Factor News – Reality TV". Digital Spy. 26 October 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  9. Wollaston, Sam (5 October 2009). "Emma". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  10. "Emma – Criminal Justice – When Boris Met Dave: TV review John Preston reviews BBC One's new Jane Austen adaptation Emma, the new series of Criminal Justice starring Maxine Peake, plus More4's real life-inspired drama When Boris Met Dave". The Daily Telegraph. London. 9 October 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  11. "Emma, BBC One, review John Preston reviews the penultimate episode of BBC One's Jane Austen adaptation Emma". The Daily Telegraph. London. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  12. Sutcliffe, Tom (5 October 2009). "The Weekend's Television: Emma, Sun, BBC1 Monty Python – Almost the Truth: the BBC Lawyers' Cut, Sat, BBC2". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  13. "Costume drama: past it?". The Independent. London. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  14. "List of nominees for the Golden Globe Awards". Associated Press. 14 December 2010. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  15. Romola Garai all awards and nominations
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