Jane Austen herself wrote that she had created “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” That’s being a little hard on the well-meaning but frequently myopic Emma, who’s just trying to curate the little world around her as she sees fit.

Gwyneth Paltrow, in what was then her biggest role to date, commanded the screen with her swan-like beauty and determined English accent in the 1996 Miramax production—which, in its earliest inception was also going to be a contemporary take, set in New York, but they reverted to the 1800s because Clueless was already in the works. “She doesn’t soften the unpleasant things in Emma’s character, nor does she inflate her good qualities,” director Douglas McGrath told the Los Angeles Times. “She has everything a young woman that age has, all the petulance, the vanity, the self-confidence that can only come from youth and ignorance. The tenderness, the repentance, the honest desire to help someone even though in her case it always seems to turn into harm. Because she doesn’t always try to make herself look good, that makes her all the more endearing.” (The convincing accent also helped her score her Oscar-winning role in Shakespeare in Love.)

Kate Beckinsale did the honors in the 1996 ITV version, which came to American TVs in February 1997. The New York Times called her Emma “plainer looking than Ms. Paltrow’s, and altogether more believable and funnier.”

The need for the 2009 BBC miniseries starring Romola Garai (AtonementThe Hour) was questioned, though The Guardian acknowledged that it was quite good, regardless. Garai’s “eyes alone deserve a BAFTA— they’re practically popping out of her head for the whole episode; has she popped a pill?” critic Sam Wollaston wrote.

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In 2020, Anya Taylor-Joy (born in Miami to a Scottish-Argentine father and English mother of South African and Spanish descent, and most notably of The Witch and Glass) plays Emma “with glamorous poise and a light sheen of frost,” Variety‘s Andrew Barker observed.



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