Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review of Emma (1996) starring Gwyneth Paltrow

This review of an Austen adaption, with some changes, is reposted from my previous blog

Summary: Emma Woodhouse, 'handsome, clever, and rich' is a young woman living in the village of Highbury.  Her matchmaking efforts with the silly Harriet Smith cause heartache for Harriet and disagreement with the family friend George Knightley.  Further complications arise when her former governess's stepson, handsome Frank Churchill, comes to Highbury.  But when, I think I'll stop now to avoid spoilers, in case you haven't read or watched this before.

I was rather surprised to see this cover. Later in the move I guessed that this is from the archery scene when Emma winks while she's aiming at the target. Still, it seems to show Emma's mistaken matchmaking efforts quite well.

First of all, on the whole I loved this movie. It was pretty close to the novel. I noticed that they stuck together the strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey and the Box Hill excursion, but I don't think I noticed anything else. The regency costumes and hairstyles are lovely, and so are the buildings, although when the screen said Donwell Abbey when Emma was going there, unless I had read the book I would not have known that that was where Mr. Knightley lived. Also, one thing that happened quite frequently was that they were speaking of something that was going to happen in the future, a character starts a sentence about it, and then they flash to the event and the character finishes the sentence. I know this doesn"t sound very clear, so I'll give an example: Emma is talking about not getting an invitation to the Coles and what she'll do if she gets one, then she says something like, "I am- "and then it shows her at the Coles party telling Mrs. Cole she was, "delighted to be invited."
Now my opinions of the actors, in no particular order:

Emma Woodhouse: Gwyneth Paltrow was just PERFECT as Emma. This Emma is fair haired, and beautiful and made me understand and identify with Emma a lot more than I could in the book. She is ladylike while still being the meddlesome Emma. Also, I love her acting. My brother glanced at it a bit before the proposal scene when Emma and Mr. Knightley were walking, It's obvious they're acting, he said. Well yes, it was not only Gwyneth Paltrow acting as Emma, it was the Emma-in-love-with-Knightley trying to hide it from him and act perfectly carefree when she thought he was going to tell her he was engaged to someone else.

Mr. Knightley: Mr. Knightley sort of grew into his role. At first I thought, No, this can't be Mr. Knightley, it just won't work! but as I got into it he seemed better and better as the Mr. Knightley for Emma and by the end I decided he was just right for Mr. Knightley after all.  He looks mature without looking old and he really cares for Emma.  

Mrs. Weston: Mrs. Weston was a very pretty, gentle brunette. The only problem is that she looks way to girlish to have been Emma's governess.? She seems only three or four years older than Emma.

Mr. Elton: His looks and actions aren't gentlemanly enough. I mean, in the book Emma holds him up to Harriet as a perfect model for a gentleman.Also, his courtesy seems commonplace and put on. In the middle of the novel we see that he's not the perfect model for a gentleman, but in this movie you seem to see it more at the start.

Harriet Smith: Toni Colette was very good in interpreting Harriet's character. The only thing is, in the book Emma first is attracted to Harriet because she's so very pretty but in this version Harriet's looks aren't anything out of the ordinary.  She also has red hair.

Miss Bates: Miss Bates was a little younger than I'd guess from the book.[EDIT: I've realized that I was guessing her age wrong and she would be about that age.]  She talks and giggles a lot, but we can see that it's all well meant.

Frank Churchill: His hair is longish, to between his ears and his chin, and he fits into his role quite well. (Handsome, rich young man who doesn't deserve the girl he's engaged to at all.)

Robert Martin: I like the way they portrayed Robert Martin. Even at the start I liked him better than Mr. Elton and if his manners aren't quite as polished, his are much more honest.

Jane Fairfax: A very reserved brunette. I would have imagined a much lighter and paler girl, and certainly we can't help feeling sorry for Jane, with all the rudeness of Mrs. Elton.

Mrs. Elton: As Knightley said about Emma's wanting to make silly, clumsy Harriet marry Mr. Elton, "You chose better for him than he did himself." Juliet Stevenson is a good actress, but I can't say anything better about her role as Mrs. Elton. Mrs. Elton is awful, rude and vain. During the movie I picked up a pencil to write something long and descriptive about her actions but all that appeared on the paper was "Ugh!" I guess that pretty much describes her. She was funny to watch sometimes, though.

It was a pity that this was so short, I think around two hours.  Because of that it couldn't get all of the wit and delightful dialougue of the book.  Emma is a story with a spring-y feel to it, and that is enhanced by the movie's good soundtrack, light-filled scenery, and delighful regency hairstyle and costumes. 

I read one person complain that this isn't really an Austen adaption as much as a romance movie.  But that's what Emma (the book) particularly is, especially with Emma's matchmaking efforts.  And besides, this movie can do triple duty, as a really good romance movie, as a period drama (the costumes are gorgeous) and as an Austen adaption. 

Anyways, I think I would give this movie 4 stars.  I can't really compare it to any of the other adaptions right now, but I plan to do a post on that when I watch them.

Miss Georgiana


Elizabeth said...

This is my favorite version of Emma! Lovely review!

Maria Elisabeth said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. It's nice to know that someone else likes this one. Everybody else's favourite seems to be either the Kate Beckinsale or the Romola Garai version.

Alexandra said...

This was always my favorite until I saw the Romola Garai version. Now it's a toss-up. :-) I love both Emmas, I *much* prefer Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley...he made Mr. Knightley my favorite Austen hero period, although Johnny Lee Miller did grow on me. I *much* prefer Greta Schacci's Mrs. Weston to the 2009's one (sorry, can't remember her name), although I do like Frank and Jane better in the 2009 version. Both the 1996 and 2009Miss Bates were very good, although I think the 96 one (Sophie Thompson) was a bit more comical, as fitted her role in this version, which was (I think) a bit more "lighter" than the 2009 version.

Really like your blog, by the way! Very lovely! I'd love if you stopped by my blog...


Miss Laurie said...

This is my least favorite Emma adaptation. It is a beautiful film but I think it is too beautiful. I don't really like the actors as well because they're portrayals are too polished and the characters are too cut and dry and easily summed up (like showing Mr. Elton as false early on). I really disliked Harriet, Mrs. Weston, Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill in this adaptation. There wasn't enough of the Frank/Emma relationship and Mr. Knightley is portrayed as a suitor for her early on. Also the character of Mr. Knightley is portrayed as a handsome tease instead of the kind, hardworking, generous, brotherly Mr. Knightley of the book. The costumes, scenery, music and screenplay are very lovely but I think it failed to catch the true spirit of Jane Austen's Emma. I don't hate this adaptation but I like it a bit less than the other adaptations.
Enjoyed reading your review!

~Miss Laurie
Old-Fashioned Charm