WCW: Emma


Given the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma coming out this year, it’s on my mind! We’ve looked at Mr. Knightleys, now let’s look at on-screen versions of Emma Woodhouse!


1948: Judy Campbell

A live BBC TV broadcast. Campbell was also in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), Anna Karenina (1985), The House of Eliott (1994), and The Forsyte Saga (2002).

1948 Emma - Judy Campbell

It’s hard to see much beyond lace and lipstick!


1960s: Diana Fairfax

Another live BBC TV version. Fairfax was also in The Count of Monte Cristo (1956), David Copperfield (1956), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1957), The Diary of Samuel Pepys (1958), Bleak House  (1959), Moll Flanders (1975), Love in a Cold Climate (1980), Sense and Sensibility (1981), The House of Eliott (1992), and Hard Times (1994).

1960 Emma

I’m not 100% positive if that’s Fairfax, but it’s definitely from this production.


1972: Doran Godwin

A BBC TV miniseries. Godwin did a lot of other TV, but nothing notable in the period vein.

1972 Emma

There’s a lot of great details on these costumes, from Emma’s sleeve and bandeau to Miss Bates’s(?) cap!

1972 Emma

I don’t love the hair, aesthetically, but I accept that it is period.

1972 Emma

Nice sleeve treatment!


1996: Kate Beckinsale

Another British TV miniseries, but this time produced by ITV. Beckinsale has starred in many period pieces, including Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Cold Comfort Farm (1995), The Golden Bowl (2000), Pearl Harbor (2001), Van Helsing (2004), The Aviator (2004), and Love & Friendship (2016) — and she’s probably my favorite Emma!

Kate Beckinsale in Emma (1996)

So pretty and delicate!

The hats in this are SO GOOD

1996 Emma



1996: Gwyneth Paltrow

The first feature film version. Paltrow has also done a number of period films, including Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), Jefferson in Paris (1995), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and Sylvia (2003).

Emma (1996)

Paltrow’s wardrobe is very t-shirt-y.

Emma (1996)

See what I mean?

Emma (1996)

One of her better hairstyles.


2009: Romola Garai

Back to TV, back to the BBC! Garai is also a frock flicks veteran, including Daniel Deronda (2002), Nicholas Nickleby (2002), I Capture the Castle (2003), Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004), Vanity Fair (2004), Mary Bryant (2005), As You Like It (2006), Amazing Grace (2006), Angel (2007), Atonement (2007), Glorious 39 (2009), The Crimson Petal and the White (2011), The Hour (2011-12), Suffragette (2015), Churchill’s Secret (2016), The Miniaturist (2017), and the forthcoming The Windermere Children and Miss Marx.

2009 Emma

Love the print, don’t love the low neck/short sleeve for day. I need someone who cares more about Regency than me to write us a post about whether that was ever actually done in the period.

2009 Emma

Same issue here! © BBC 2009

2009 Emma

I’m not too sure about all the different fabrics, but the overall effect is nice.


2020: Anya Taylor-Joy

This newest adaptation will be a feature film. Although I hadn’t heard of her, Taylor-Joy has a decent resume that includes The Witch (2015), The Miniaturist  (2017), Peaky Blinders (2019), and the forthcoming Radioactive and The Northman.

2020 Emma

Great hat, she’s covered up AND has gloves!

2020 Emma

I have DEFINITE ISSUES with those ringlets, tho. They just look stupid.

2020 Emma

A pretty evening (I hope) gown.



Who’s your favorite Emma?


About the author



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.

18 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Doran Godwin was in The Irish R. M. -a delightful series. Period drama.

  2. Roxana

    I really wish they wouldn’t cast blonds as Emma. Harriet is the Blond, in every sense of the word!

  3. Colleen

    I’m not a fan of Anya Taylor-Joy, something I’m in the minority for. She just comes off pretentious and like she’s better than everyone because she’s acting with some well-known names in her films and when she was in Peaky Blinders. I would also agree that Kate Beckinsale is my favorite Emma. I used to watch Gwyneth’s, but cannot stand her English accent.

  4. Nzie

    I’ve only seen the Romola one but quite liked it. Will have to see if I can find Kate Beckinsdale.

  5. M.E. Lawrence

    Beckinsale grows on one. She’s great at smug, savvy characters (although her Emma is also appropriately clueless).

  6. ljones1966

    A BBC TV miniseries. Godwin did a lot of other TV, but nothing notable in the period vein.

    She did “The Irish R.M.” with Peter Bowles. I thought it was pretty damn good.

    I loved Beckinsale in “Love & Friendship”. As Emma Woodhouse, I found her a bit on the dull side. And the 1997 version is not exactly a favorite of mine. I tend to prefer the versions with Gwyneth Paltrow and Romola Garai over the others, especially the 2009 version.

  7. Lila

    Kate Beckinsale! She’s the only one who looks like a strong, healthy nut :-)

    Romola Garai didn’t have the gravitas (all this eye rolling…. don’t know what the director was thinking of), the whole Gwyneth movie was a fantasy of opulence, Doran also did very well but the production was a bit stilted…

    The Beckinsale version had the best Mr Woodhouse and Miss Bates, had realistic costumes and a witty script. Frank Churchill was weak but Jane Fairfax simply superb, even better than Emma. She looked just as I imagined her. Also very good Harriet and Mr. Martin.

    And the Eltons steal every scene they’re in. I’m a SCOURGE of puppies, am I not, Mr. E….?

  8. Alice Black

    So glad I found out here that there is a movie with Kate Beckinsale – the movie is so adorable we watched it twice in 2 days! It is very close to the book (I read it last year), has great direction, and all the actors are incredible.

    As to the Gwyneth movie, it’s a totally different piece of cake, I call it a “vaudeville version” of the book, with only comic moments taken from it. Can you believe for a moment this Mr. Knightley has been a grieving widower for many years?) Still, very enjoyable.

    So, here comes another vaudeville version of Emma, and although the lead actress looks totally miscast to me, of course I am going to watch it for the costumes, scenery, cinematography and Austen atmosphere.

  9. Charity

    Gwyenth is my favorite Emma. That was my favorite movie for… a decade at least. I’d watch it at least once a month in my teens and knew almost the entire thing, line by line, by heart. It was my introduction to Austen herself — since I had never read her books in my youth, it was my “gateway drug.” From there, I went on to watch the Emma Thompson Sense & Sensibility and the rest.

    I look forward to the new adaptation, it seems ultra-cheeky. My mother was in the theater with me when we saw the trailer and she laughed and said, “She looks like an absolute SNIT! We must go see that!!”

    • Lily Lotus Rose

      I feel you on this one! Gwenyth is my all-time fave Emma. This version of Emma was my introduction to Jane Austen, and then like you, I graduated on to the film version of Sense and Sensibility before reading any of her novels. I will also add Alicia Silverstone as Cher in “Clueless” as my second-favorite “Emma,” so to speak!

  10. Damnitz

    Kate Beckinsale was the best, I ever saw.

    The movie with Paltrow was so irritating with so many Details, which were just wrong like the drinking glasses and they were all speaking too fast and dancing and more… The best of McGrath’s “Emma” was the appearance of Greta Scacchi, although Samantha Bond did a very good job in Lawrence’s version too.

  11. Alden O'Brien

    Low neck and short sleeves are fine for early 1800s. They cover up more as time goes on. I’m bothered by the large scale of her prints, though. The orange can pass as an Indian block print, but it’s still not very up to date. That vanilla background blue floral looks like a Waverly curtain fabric available at your local Country Curtains outlet.

  12. Jose

    I’m missing two old Emmas here
    1957 with Sarah Churchill (Winston Churchill’s daughter) it’s old TV probably no photos
    And a 1962 TV film I’m quite sure there’s photos of this production around
    I really wanted you got one of Sarah’s films photos it’s so sad she was a pioneer on tv made lots of period pieces but there’s so little of her work and it’s most on photos


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