Scene Breakdown: Mr. Knightley’s Confession in BBC’s ‘Emma’ (2009)

Mr. Knightley and Emma sitting together in Emma 2009.

Emma is my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels and this version especially reigns superior. We’ve written about the 2020 version plenty of times as well, but where Knightley’s confession is concerned, the way it happens in BBC’s mini series single handedly ranks as most superior.

Emma and Knightley’s relationship has always been the most pleasant showcase of two people who’ve known each other for years gradually falling in love. What I’ve loved most about Emma and Knightley is that even though they can and will do anything to get under the other’s skin, at the same time, they’ll always have each other’s backs.

Emma tells the story of two people completely and insanely in love with one another, but failing to realize it until the bond is somewhat threatened. Sometimes, the one is right under your nose, but we’re often too busy picking on them to realize. With Emma and Knightley, it was always about their intuitive desire to protect the other from the world. It’s about an understanding that’s stemmed so deep, it’s impossible for another person to reach that level they’ve fortified.

It’s indescribably fascinating to me that both Emma and Knightley never run out of things to say each other, but when it comes to showcasing their feelings, they have a difficult time bringing it to life with words. And in a sense that’s the most riveting — sometimes it’s easy for people to share their feelings, but for the most part, there comes a point where you love someone so much, you can’t talk about it as much. And that’s just it … Jane Austen literally found a way to describe the most indescribable feeling and some still have the audacity to disregard the sheer passion in which she wrote romance with.

 “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more,” is the greatest way to confess love, ever. It breaks down a thousand and one feelings so incomparably, it demands no words, only appreciation.

Emma’s the dearest person to Knightley, and it’s gorgeous to know just how much they admire each other–flaws and all. It’s all exemplified. There’s no woman who’d call him out on his flaws or expose the truth as often without the fear of what the world may think of her. She doesn’t take his scolding to heart, but she finds a way to be transparent with him while continuously reminding him how important it is to be honest in a world where people lie too often. And for Emma, without even realizing, she’s put him on a pedestal, the most superior of all men — the kindest who’ll take everyone’s feelings into consideration, who’ll listen, treasure, and welcome with open arms. Knightley may be opinionated, as they both are, but at the end of the day, even if he doesn’t say it out loud, he often sees the best in people. He sees the contents of their heart, and when it comes to Emma especially, he’s known it all along — her desires to help people are stemmed from a genuine place of compassion.

It always showed such character in Knightley when he chose to live with Emma and Mr. Woodhouse because he knew how attached her father was to his daughter. In 19th century England, it was inevitable that people would move away from their families when they marry, but for Knightley, his privacy didn’t matter as much as her comfort and happiness. He knew she’d always be on edge thinking of her father thereby, without her even asking, he’d already made the decision to do so when they’d officially gotten together.

Often times, in stories like this one, one party has to change in order to be worthy of the person they’ve always known. However, with Emma and Knightley, neither of them ever had to change too much of who they used to be. There’s nothing wrong with change if it’s done to grow into the best version of yourself, but they didn’t need to. They’re both imperfect and complete opposites. It’s easy to love each other completely. And even the qualities that make them angriest are traits they’re ridiculously in love with. It’s what makes them who they are, it’s what makes their banter so marvelous and intriguing.

They’ve inspired one another to grow for the better all while ceaselessly proving that they’ll always be there to take care of each other. And they could never even find the right words for it, but that’s what makes this confession so beautiful. Their adoration is one thing, but the detail that Austen painted such a stunning relationship and quite literally described how impossible it is to put adoration into words. Think about that. I might spend my entire career trying to break down the sheer genius of what she’s mastered, but that’s just it. There’s no way to do it because she’s already reached peak perfection. There’s no quote I use more than that when perfectly overwhelmed, and it’s not something I’ll ever stop using.

There are no words, so instead, let’s celebrate the perfection.

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