So there are now four cinematic adaptations of Emma available to the modern audience (there were apparently versions made in 1948 and 1960 but I can't find them): BBC's 1972 mini-series, Douglas McGrath's 1996 Hollywood adaptation, Andrew Davies' 1996 TV version, and the new BBC mini-series we've all been abuzz about. All have their strong points but I find none of them perfectly satisfying. So here's an endeavor in futility - if I could pick my favorite portrayals of each character, this is the Emma that would result. A lot of this is arbitrary and based on my personal biases; I would love to hear how much you disagree with me!
Emma Woodhouse - I have to go with Gwyneth Paltrow. She just looks the way I think Emma should. I like all the different portrayals of Emma for one reason or another but her's is the one that stays in my mind. She has all the beauty, poise, arrogance, and petulance that the character requires.
Mr. Knightly - Who am I to break up a Hollywood match? Jeremy Northam captures Mr. Knightly's maturit, kindness, and, most importantly, he is swoon worthy. I really like some of the other portrayals of him but they're just not attractive enough. I am vain creature, aren't I?
Mr. Woodhouse - Some actors I absolutely adore have played this character (Bernard Hepton, Michael Gambon) but my favorite is Donald Eccles from the '72 version. He looses none of the humor of the character, admirably balancing courtly instincts with hypochondria.
Mrs. Weston - Samantha Bond from the '96 TV version. This is a very biased decision. I loved her portrayal of Maria Bertram in the '83 version of Mansfield Park and am always pleased to see the same actors in Austen adaptations. Besides, she made a very fine Mrs. Weston.
Mr. Weston - Raymond Adamson, '72. I can't find a picture of him in this role but he was the perfect, jolly Mr. Weston.
Jane Fairfax - I have to favor Olivia Williams in the '96 TV adaptation. She does an excellent job of balancing Jane's refinement with the awkwardness of her predicament. I would like to prefer Polly Walker from the Hollywood version (I have been rather obsessed with this actress ever since she blew my mind away as Atia in Rome) but I cannot.
Frank Churchill - This is a really arbitrary choice as none of the portrayals of this character truly satisfy me. Falling back on looks again, I have to say Robert East from '72 but alas, no picture. I like Raymound Couthard's portrayal from the '96 TV version but just cannot reconcile myself to the idea of Frank Churchill as a blonde.
Harriet Smith - Without hesitation I say Debbie Bowen from '72. She is the only actress to have ever played the role to my satisfaction. In appearance and deportment she is the perfect Harriet Smith.
Miss Bates - Another one for Hollywood! Sophie Thompson portrays all the sweetness and silliness that this character requires. Most importantly, she keeps me laughing, as Miss Bates should. I must admit that Tamsin Greig in this role in the new version of Emma left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. It was a creepy portrayal.
(In regards to Mrs. Bates I have nothing to say. They are all silent old ladies in frilly caps and rather interchangeable).
Mr. Elton - Blake Ritson in the new version nails this role! He's absolutely fabulous, simpering and smirking to my heart's content. This portrayal so far surpasses all the previous Mr. Eltons that I can barely tolerate watching them anymore. He is one of the highlights of this adaptation.
Mrs. Elton - This is a much harder call. Each portrayal has its merits (it must be such a fun role to play) but I think I have to go with the Fiona Walker in '72, probably because she's the one who I would be most tempted to hit if forced to endure her company.
Mr. John Knightly - A favorite character of mine. Dan Frendenburgh did an excellent job in the new mini-series of portraying his cantankerous nature. You would think with all the wonderful pictures available of this version online I could find at least one of him, but I can't. Why is he always overlooked? They didn't even bother including him in the Hollywood adaptation.
Isabella Knightly - Another overlooked role. I thought Meg Gleed did her credit in '72. Again, no pictures.
Mrs. Goddard - My own biases make me prefer Mollie Sugden, of Are You Being Served? fame for this small part.
Robert Martin - Edward Woodall, Hollywood. He just has such a pleasant, cheerful face, exactly as I always pictured Robert Martin.