Actress Romola Garai -- one of those rare screen stars who miraculously looks far better without heavy makeup -- is a spirited Emma, quite sure of herself and full of verve. Her expressively mobile mouth anchors a wide-eye, imperfectly pretty face. As the heroine, she plays not so much on her looks as her ability to play a character whose face cannot help but give away her underlying emotions.
The nuances of Austen's writing and the exchanges between the characters -- many of which are not necessarily verbal -- are given a deeper, wider treatment in this four-hour version. The characters are less obviously drawn, and the actors have the opportunity to flesh out their performances -- with gratifying results.
Johnny Lee Miller makes for a different sort of Knightley than Jeremy Northam's. Less imperious and more reserved, he's not the dashing wit, but a steadier flame to Emma's tempests. He sees more than he says, but when he speaks, more and more of his character is revealed. His is a Knightley with more dimensions, reflecting a maturity which eventually tempers and attracts an older, wiser Emma. An Emma who comes to know her own heart when faced by her follies and their consequences for those around her.
His sense and her altered sensibilities meet, in the final and very fulfilling climax of the story, in a most perfect meeting of the minds and hearts. In the end, "Emma" concludes with happy outcomes and charmed futures for most, but I always come away feeling bad for Miss Bates ...
... was that Jane Austen's intent? There are no miscalculations in her novels.
She noticed the smallest things ... and never missed their meaning.
Is this why we continue to love Austen, even to this day?