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Emma (Jane Austen) (DVD)
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The key to any Jane Austen adaptation is finding the perfect balance of romantic yearning and savage, satirical wit. Austen's Emma has these two qualities at their most exquisite and tantalizing, and this BBC adaptation from 1972 serves the novel with complete satisfaction. Delightful Doran Godwin captures not only the title character's good nature and resilient will, but also her exasperating self-satisfaction and ungovernable manipulative impulses. Believing herself to be acting in everyone's best interests, Emma takes the lower-class Harriet Smith (Debbie Bowen) under her wing and sets out to find the girl a suitable husband, disregarding what havoc she wreaks along the way. Her foolish father (Donald Eccles) cannot temper Emma's fancies; only the stern Mr. Knightly (John Carson) offers any reason or restraint. This sprightly adaptation is far superior to the mediocre 1996 film (starring Gwyneth Paltrow) and on par with the ingenious Clueless, which cunningly translates the story to a Beverly Hills high school. The luxurious span of a six-part miniseries gives this version the opportunity to revel in Emma's every deliciously misguided moment. --Bret Fetzer
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