From Novel to Screenplay
Screenwriter Andrew Davies worked with Producer
Sue Birwistle on A&E's "Pride and Prejudice." The two met when Birwistle was Davies'
student at Coventry College of Education. In adapting the Jane Austen novel to film,
Davies says, "There is a certain amount of liberty that you can take. You can't change the
actual story, but there's always some hidden scenes in the book that Austen
didn't get around to writing herself, and it's nice to fill in some of the
little gaps." Davies adds that Austen "writes the best plots and characters, and her
dialogue is terrific. So while there's this little craze [for Jane Austen movies],
I'm just going to take advantage of it for all I'm worth." 1
Hartfield, Emma's home, was filmed at
Trafalgar Park, near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England. Highbury Village, where
Miss Emma Woodhouse shopped was filmed at Lacock, near Corsham, in Wiltshire, England.
The setting looked more authentic than the Higbury location of Douglas McGrath's "Emma."
The Weston's home was filmed Dorney Court, near Windsor, in Berkshire, England. Finally,
Donwell Abbey, Mr. Knightly's vast estate, was shot at three different English castles:
Broughton Castle, Broughton, near Banbury; Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe, Gloucestershire;
and Stanway House, near Broadway, Gloucestershire.
Abbey Mill Farm, where Mr. Knightly has invites his friends to pick strawberries,
was filmed at Thame Park, near Thame, Oxfordshire.
Director Diarmuid Lawrence sought to make the film as historically accurate as
possible. This was sometimes complicated by the weather and location. While the novel
spans four seasons, the film schedule was limited to one summer. To create snow for the
winter scenes, the production crew used "a mixture of salt and foam.
The foam is a bit of a problem when you run carriages over it, because it
just comes up like soap bubbles." 2
They also filmed near military planes which constantly
flew overhead during production.
Actor Mark Strong (Mr. Knightley) enjoyed the opportunity of working on a period film and even enjoyed
wearing the costumes. "They make you stand up straight," he says. "You understand
now why everybody looks so formal in paintings of the time, because these clothes do it
for you. The way they're cut keeps your shoulders back, keeps you upright...everything
was done for show, to make you look fantastic." 3
Relationships On and Off the Set
Samantha Bond, who played Mrs. Weston, remarks that the cast was very compatible and
worked well together. She recalls that it was great fun to work on the film, especially
because the movie was about "a group of people who know each other very well...to get
that onto the screen, it helps if you all do get along. It's very hard to make up." 4
The Actors on Their Roles
On her role as Emma Woodhouse, actress Kate Beckinsdale remarks: "She's very snobby,
but she's got this kind of lovely spirit, and she's very strong and forthright and
quite funny to watch...so I like her terribly." As for Emma's matchmaking, Beckinsdale
explains that this was most likely a result of Emma being "in her house with her old
father, and [being] probably quite bored, [so she] plays out all these fantasies on
other people." 5
Beckinsdale viewed the A&E adaptation of Emma as a "traditional Jane Austen
British thing," while the Miramax film starring Gwyneth Paltrow
"was much more whimsical and gorgeous; it may not have been accurate as to
the period, but it was a delicious looking American movie." However, Beckinsdale
admits that she did not think Emma works well outside of the book, because of
its "telescopic look at someone's character." Rather, she prefers the modern
spin on the book in the film "Clueless" starring Alicia Silverstone, which
she says "was the most successful adaptation of Emma."6
Mark Strong, who played Mr. Knightly, considers the difference in the character of
Mr. Knightly and Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice." He remarks that while Austen "writes
similar characters, they have a different quality about them... Darcy and
Knightley have a similarity in a sense that they're both very brusque.
Darcy was proud, where I think Knightley is honest." Strong viewed
Knightley as "an older brother figure" and in some way "responsible for
educating Emma; he wants her to be the best person she can be." 7
On period films in general, Strong says, "Whether the language and the costumes
provide you with the overall look and feel of the period, the fact of it is the
emotions underneath it are as modern as they are in any other drama. I think that's
why Shakespeare is still performed today...the emotional content is real." 8