Emma (book) vs Emma (BBC movie)

By: Mira Shah

Interactions Between Emma and Harriet

In the movie, the interactions between Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith are somewhat different, as both of them seem to be real friends with one another. In the book, Harriet seems to primarily feed to Emma’s vanity, while Emma is portrayed to be Harriet’s matchmaker who will help her find a husband and a better place in society. Emma only needs Harriet as a companion to replace Miss Taylor, who has married and left Highbury. In the book, the moment they part one another, both girls realize that they have nothing in common and that their friendship was a result of the circumstances at the time. Even though they part ways at the end of the movie, they seem to have formed a bond that will last forever. This difference changes how the characters are portrayed. In the book, the characters’ shortcomings are brought out, as the reader sees why each woman used the other. However, in the movie, the personalities of both girls seem to be more perfect, as Emma’s vanity is not portrayed as well and Harriet’s desire for a higher place in society is not emphasized.

Conflict Between Emma and Harriet

In the movie, there seems to be less of a conflict between Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse after Emma tells Harriet that she should not be interested in Mr. Knightly. In the book, Harriet is resentful when Emma tells her this. She is upset that Emma essentially contradicts the advice she herself had given Harriet. Emma had initially claimed that Harriet should go for men of upper class. In order to settle their differences, Emma sends Harriet to London for a dentist appointment. In the movie, Emma shows a little bit more sympathy towards Harriet and does not send her off to London. She seems more resigned to the fact that she may lose Mr. Knightly to Harriet. Because of this difference, the perception of Emma varies. In the book, Emma is perceived to be a girl who always gets what she wants without having to struggle. However, in the movie, there seems to be more of a vulnerable side to Emma.

Mr. Elton's Affection for Emma

In the movie, it is clear that Mr. Elton is really trying to attract Emma’s attention, rather than Harriet’s. In the book, the reader would generally base his ideas off of Emma’s perspective of the situation, and most likely will believe that Mr. Elton wants Harriet’s love. While watching the movie, the viewer can see the characters and their expressions, and can therefore, understand each situation better. However, in the book, because of old style English writing and first person perspective, the reader is some times forced to infer what the other characters (besides Emma) are thinking. It is a lot easier to understand the characters and plot line while watching the movie than while reading the book.

Frank Churchill's Flirtation With Emma

In the movie, Mr. Churchill’s flirtation with Emma clearly lacks real romance. In the book, the blossoming “romance” between Emma and Mr. Churchill is somewhat more believable. It is a lot easier to understand the characters and plot line while watching the movie than while reading the book.

Harriet Smith's Background

At the end of the novel, it was proven that Harriet Smith was the daughter of a tradesman, after all of the debate throughout about her origins. The movie failed to mention Harriet Smith’s background. The book proves the error of Emma’s ways, as she had constantly tried to convince everyone that Harriet was born to nobility and deserved to be with someone superior to Mr. Martin. The movie makes it seem like Harriet is marrying someone lower in class than herself, as Emma’s errors are never really brought about. People never find out Harriet’s actual background.


The movie overall captures the essence of the book perfectly and even includes small details that could have been eliminated. Even extremely small details (e.g. Harriet throwing away Mr. Elton’s possessions) are not left out of the movie. This probably explains why the movie is approximately 4 hours long. The only real differences between the movie and the book are differences that are observed in every movie that is based off of a book. While watching the movie, it is easier to understand the plot line and subplot conflicts. The book makes these conflicts less apparent, because the scenes are not as clear. The characters in the movie are also more easy to remember because of the visual images. All of the characters in the movie even look like how one would expect them to look based on the book descriptions. The only exception is Harriet Smith, who was portrayed to be a lot prettier in the book.