MCM: Mr. Knightley

32

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know there’s yet another Emma coming — this time to the big screen! It seemed like a good time to do a run down and appreciation of the various versions of Mr. Knightley, that somewhat older neighbor who seems like an older brother until suddenly you realize his hotness … or so Jane Austen wrote it.

Note: there were various TV versions of Emma from 1948 through 1960, for which I can’t find any pictures! Their Mr. Knightley’s were: Ralph Michael (1948), Peter Cookson (1954), Tom Helmore (1957), and Paul Daneman (1960).

And now, for some visuals!

Emma (1972): John Carson as Mr. Knightley

I haven’t seen this version, but I have to say, I’m unimpressed. Okay, it’s the ’70s, but I feel like they REALLY went for the age difference here.

Emma (right) looks SO young compared to Mr. Knightley! He looks like her father/uncle!

1972 Emma

Alright, this softens me a little…

 

Emma (1996): Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley

I love so many things about this version, but I don’t love the wig they put usually-hot Mark Strong into for this role. He just looks like he has a combover! I know, it’s hard to embrace a balding/bald Mr. Knightley, but next time, do better, wig department.

1996 Emma

The hat is helping!

1996 Emma

But see? Receding hairline!

1996 Emma

Approaching combover status!

 

Emma (1996): Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley

ALL. THE. HOTNESS. IN. ONE. SMOLDERING. PACKAGE.

Emma (1996)

The collar!

Emma (1996)

The private smile!

1996 Emma

The smolder!

1996 Emma

I’ll even let him manspread :)

 

Emma (2009): Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley

I really enjoyed this version, which I wasn’t at all prepared to do! I thought Johnny Lee Miller was quite good, although he’s no Jeremy Northam for me.

2009 Emma

The two read as closer in age than other pairings.

Although I feel like Miller hasn’t aged…

He’s sweet, though, which is important.

And he wears a cravat well!

 

Emma (2020): Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley

Alrighty kids, I’m not too sure how I feel about this! The problem is Johnny Flynn played the bounder who left Eponine in the recent Les Misérables, so it’s hard for me to see him as noble Mr. Knightley … but then he was the lovesick William Dobbin in Vanity Fair, so, maybe it’s a wash? What do you think?

2020 Emma

He does wear a high collar well…

2020 Emma

And I like the caramel color scheme!

 

Who is YOUR Mr. Knightley? Does Johnny Flynn stand a chance?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

32 Responses

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Jeremy Northam in anything–that’s anything; the guy can play Mr. Knightley and Dean Martin and Ivor Novello and Thomas More, AND Bertrand Russell. All that range and gravitas, plus he’s so damned pretty.

      Reply
    • Constance

      He is the best of a creepy character…hate those men of old jonesing for young girls. The worst though is Roger Carbury of The Way We Live now…he is even creepier in the book.

      Reply
  1. Elizabeth Mahon

    Jeremy Northam will always be my Mr. Knightley, although Mark Strong makes a strong case. Johnny Flynn doesn’t look old enough to have held Emma as a baby unless he was a very strong 5 year old.

    Reply
  2. Kate D

    I like Jeremy Northam, but Romola is my favorite Emma, which makes the Johnny Lee Miller pairing my favorite.

    My first reaction was, “Another Emma…?” But the trailer looked funny, so I’ll watch it and probably enjoy it. After Vanity Fair, I can totally believe Johnny Flynn in the “scolding brother figure who realizes he’s in love.”

    Reply
  3. Jillian

    I loved Mark Strong’s performance as Mr Knightley! I never even noticed the wig, so a rewatch may be in order. Jeremy Northam is wonderful, but I couldn’t stand Gwyneth’s version of Emma and never made it through the movie.

    Not sure how I feel about Johnny Flynn being cast as Knightley. My concern is that he’s almost too young for the part, like Timothée Chalamet was as Laurie in Little Women.

    Reply
    • Lee Jones

      My concern is that he’s almost too young for the part, like Timothée Chalamet was as Laurie in Little Women.

      I don’t mean to go off topic, but Timothée Chalamet is 23 years old and will be 24 near the end of the month. How is he too old to play Laurie Laurence in “Little Women”?

      Reply
      • Jillian

        I said too young, not too old. He may be 23, but he looks like he’s 16. In movie he looks younger than both Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, and considering he plays a romantic interest for both of them, that’s not good. I think he was a poor choice for the role.

        Reply
        • Charity

          I think he looks absolutely adorable, but my mom said the same thing — “how old is the actress playing Jo? She looks way older than Laurie!” :P

          Reply
        • ladylavinia1932

          I also meant “too young”. My mistake, typing error. Regardless of his looks, Chalamet is technically not too young to portray Laurie.

          Reply
          • Jillian

            Except his looks do factor in. If he looks younger than his romantic interests, it takes you out of the story a little bit. The fact that he looks like a child compared to the other characters feels weird.

            Reply
  4. Lee Jones

    Actually, Jonny Lee Miller is my favorite Mr. Knightley. He reminds me of the literary character a bit more than the other actors. But I liked them all . . . well, I don’t know about Mark Strong. His Mr. Knightley came off as a bit too intense. As for this new actor . . . I don’t know how he will turn out.

    Reply
  5. Joanne

    excuse me, but how is this even a question?! No one will ever by Mr. Knightley to me but Mr. Northam. When Emma says, “Now I may call you MY Mr. Knightley,” it doesn’t get any better than that as far as I’m concerned.

    I guess I was living under a rock but I didn’t know there was a new version of Emma coming – will be in the lookout.

    Reply
  6. Sarah Walsh

    Oh, John Carson is my Mr. Knightley, hands down!! No Knightley has ever come as close to perfection, in my opinion. He’s the only one who actually demonstrates the age difference well on screen, but he balances it with moments of utter adorableness. He walks that line perfectly between being a stern, uncle-like figure, and showing affection and concern for Emma. He becomes positively giddy when Emma tells him that she loves him back, it’s so sweet!! With all the other adaptations, Knightley appears too young to actually have the perspective Emma eventually realizes she needs; they just squabble like brother and sister. You don’t get the sense that he actually has the upper hand in experience and worldliness.

    Reply
  7. mjsamuelson

    Knightley is a tie between Northam and Miller for me. But the 2009 Emma is also my definitive version so Miller edges out.

    I really loved Flynn as Dobbin in Vanity Fair, so I’m willing to give him a shot as Knightley. Never saw Les Miserables, frankly.

    Reply
  8. Tamara

    Both Johnny Flynn and Jeremy Northam look way too young for the role, in my opinion, especially since Gwyneth Paltrow looks significantly older than Emma.

    Reply
  9. Charity

    Jeremy Northam’s Knightley will always be my favorite. None of the others can even come close to him, since he plays Knightley with a sense of humor that softens some of his harsh actions. He interprets a lot of the lecturing as flirty banter and I love that.

    My first reaction to the trailer was NOPE, especially when I saw a blond Knightley (it doesn’t work for me) but it looks hysterical and the actress playing Emma has a perfect snotty sneer, so I’ll see it. I imagine she’ll be a hoot even if this Knightley doesn’t win me over.

    Reply
  10. Colleen

    I like Jonny, Jeremy, and Mark. This new guy looks far too young. Knightley is supposed to be around my age–36, not like he’s 26. Plus, he looks like he’s a bounder–much like Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park.

    Reply
  11. Catherine

    Where is Brent Bailey on this list?! While I actually really liked Miller in the role, I think he does a great job in Emma Approved of making Knightley feel like someone Emma genuinely looks for approval from (which makes the end section so sweet!)

    Reply
    • Katie O

      I loved Emma Approved! It wasn’t a period adaptation, obiously, so maybe that’s why they didn’t include it. But I thought they did such a good job with that dynamic.

      Reply
  12. Lynn

    You missed Paul Rudd in MY definitive Emma – Clueless! Yeah, the 90s fashion aren’t quite vintage yet, but he’s perfect! (And freakishly unchanged…)

    Reply
  13. Katie O

    I wish you could combine the two 90’s Emma adaptations – have Kate Beckinsale with Jeremy Northam. I wasn’t crazy about Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, and, much as I enjoy him in other things, Mark Strong didn’t feel right to me either.

    Reply
  14. Gillian Stapleton

    Mark Strong was lovely as Mr Knightley – the moral compass who isn’t afraid to tell Emma to her face that she’s wrong, or to admit that he’s wrong either. And Kate Beckinsale was a delightful Emma, the best of the bunch in my opinion.

    Reply
  15. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, dear! As someone else said, “Jeremy Northam will always be MY Mr. Knightley.” He’s the best-looking of the bunch, and I thought he played the role to perfection. That said, the Gwenyth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam version of Emma is the only one I’ve seen. I’ve always loved that version and have never felt the need to watch other versions. Also, I have to second what someone else said: My 2nd-favorite Mr. Knightley is Paul Rudd’s character from “Clueless,” which is disqualified from your list, but still merits a mention here, in my opinion. I think Mark Strong is very attractive, but just based off the pictures, I don’t see him as Mr. Knightley, and he and Kate Beckinsale seem to have no chemistry–once again, just based off these pictures; I didn’t see it. I could easily picture Johnny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. The young guy from the 2020 version, looks too young, bratty, and rascally to me. I’ll probably give the 2020 version a pass.

    Reply
  16. Laurie

    Gwyneth is 11 years younger than Jeremy. But maybe we’re talking man/woman actor years.

    Reply

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