So when I say I’ll be reviewing Emma (1996), most people think about this:
I however will be talking about this:
So this film follows the book of Emma pretty accurately. It doesn’t have everything, of course, as it is only a hour and 47 minutes, but it does a good job. So how I am going to do this review is a bit different, instead of looking at the storyline I am going to review how the characters were portrayed and the set design.
So let’s look at the indoor set featured above. Now I know that A&E Television was trying to go for a more realistic feel, but heads up movie writers; if we cannot see the action happening then you need to skip “accurate” for enjoyable. Nobody wants to spend their money on something that can’t tell them what is happening.
I agree that the chiaruscuro and candlelight is a nice effect, but not worth it. It is like when you watch Onegin and you have those scenes where you have no clue what anything looks like. Good thing for Ralph Fiennes’ amazing voice.
The rooms also lacked any pizazz or beauty.
The outdoors were extremely lovely, and kudus to the screenwriters who show how the servants had to carry every component of the picnic up the hill for their Box Hill little party. That was great.
So while Emma (1996) aka Gwyneth Paltrow Version had this absolutely beautiful and stunning costumes, this version’s ones were so boring. I mean even Catherine had better things than what the very rich Emma wore in this.
And “poor” Elizabeth also wore more attractive and beautiful garments.
These ones were just too plain and not befitting someone as important as Emma. I mean even her ball gown was boring.
Mr. & Mrs. Weston
So in the book Miss Taylor turned Mrs. Weston was Emma’s governess, but in reality her confidant and best friend. While they don’t spend as much time together, with her married, in a new home, and concentrating on her new family; still they are buds. In this we hardly ever see Mrs. Weston and I can’t recall a scene in which she talks to Emma, except to warn her about Frank and Jane’s upcoming marriage. Great job there A&E turning her whole character into a little blimp in the story.
Mr. Weston also hardly has any scenes or interactions in this film, which is a complete shame as he is a incredibly cool guy.
This is one area where the film was fantastic. I have not seen a portrayal of Harriet Smith as fantastic as the one done by Samantha Morton.
In this she doesn’t play Harriet as the empty flower pot or the kind-hearted klutz; instead Morton focused on the aspect of Harriet’s unknown parentage and ran with it in her presentation of the character. Before I watched this film, I never thought of what Harriet went through not knowing who her parents were. I mean if you think of how people treated those who were in a slightly lower class, but respectable (like the Bennets in Pride & Prejudice) imagine how they would treat someone who is unknown. When someone would not claim their child as their own, it typically meant an illegitimate birth, usually the mistress. So those girls in school were most likely not interested in becoming besties with Harriet, or having anything at all to do with her.
This completely explains why Harriet is so eager to do everything Emma says. After so long of being alone; family-less and friendless, she finally has someone who cares about her and will do whatever she can to keep it.
I have to say one of the best scenes is when Emma is chattering away about how Harriet’s father must be an important gentleman and you see Harriet looking down, brokenhearted saying something like I hope so.
The way she acts around Robert is also just adorable. You can tell she is crazy about him, but also scared. Scared of being abandoned again, rejected by her friend Emma, and making the wrong decision as she has no family to guide her.
Great job Morten.
Jane Fairfax is Emma’s character foil. While Emma doesn’t play piano well, paints okay, doesn’t read, has a meager education as she isn’t into studies, enjoys meddling, can be rude or snobby, and likes to do what she wants without thinking of others; Jane is the opposite. Jane is a superb piano player, an excellent painter, enjoys reading, has a high level of education, enjoys privacy, is kind, compassionate, and considerate of others. A regular Goofus and Gallant, (J.K. I love Emma). This is one of the reasons why Emma dislikes Jane, as she is envious of what she has accomplished.
However, in this film they didn’t show that at all. Emma dislikes Jane, but we hardly see them react or why Emma is so jealous. We don’t hear others praise Jane, and the conversation when Emma is pumping Jane for information wasn’t intriguing.
This Jane hardly even seemed there, she wasn’t a very intriguing nemesis.
Mr. & Mrs. Elton
So Mr. & Mrs. Elton are some of the villians in the novel and film. Mr. Elton proposes to Emma and when she refuses him he is extremely rude to her and Harriet; going out of town and picking out a shrew of a woman to be his wife.
In this depiction they didn’t have as much of a role. We see them for the crucial scenes of Elton proposing, them cutting Harriet, and so and so.
I didn’t like their depiction as they are supposed to be more hatable. You are supposed to extremely dislike them and want bad things to befall them.
Mr. Frank Churchill
Frank Churchill is also supposed to be the villian in the book. At first he seems like a nice, sweet guy, courting Emma; but in reality he is a major jerk. He ignores his father, ignores his real fiancé, and leads Emma on.
The Frank Churchill wasn’t quite as sleazy as he should have been, in my opinion, but he did a good job. He had a painted on smile and gave off an air of insincerity; which worked really great. This actor did a great job and I give him a ten.
Mr. George Knightley
I thought this was the worst depiction of Mr. Knightley. Where to start? Well first of all his hair. Why did they pick that particular hairstyle? It looks too mulletish and makes him have the appearance of a receding hairline.
My biggest issue with Mark Strong as Knightley is that he is just too brooding to be Knightley. Knightley is older, but still relaxed enough to be best friend with Emma and joke around with her. He is serious but can also have fun.
Strong as Knightley is just brooding all the time and whenever he talks his eyes flash and he practically yells in anger. He makes me think of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast the way he reacts to everything and everyone.
I thought Strong made the character too dark, he would have been better as a Darcy than a Knightley.
I also didn’t like the scene of him with baby Emma, that was a little too weird. And the scene he announces his proposal he sounds as of he is yelling at everyone as if he is planning to destroy them all.
I really hated this version of Emma. I thought Beckinsale was a horrible actor, just kind of staring off into space and being blank and like a piece of wood.
If she wasn’t being totally deadpan she had this creepy expression on her face like she wanted to devour everyone like a female praying mantis.
I thought it was horribly bland and boring.
I thought the way the characters were portrayed was boring, the transitions weird, and the film all around mediocre. There was no fun to it and the actors talked as if they were being paid an extra bonus if they could finish their lines in under three seconds.
For more on Emma, go to Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose: Superbowl 50
For more Emma adaptations, go to Mr. Knightley’s Diary
For more Jane Austen films, go to I Don’t Want You Far From Me: Sense and Sensibility (1995)
For more Jane Austen adaptations, go to The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy