Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Movie Review: Emma (1996) with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam

To this adaptation—with it’s fresh, almost fairytale atmosphere, lovely costumes, and sparkling character renditions—goes the tremendous credit for my first beginning to love Emma! 

The scenery and sets are very good, and I love the general color scheme—blues and pinks, yellows and minty greens—creating a vibrant, airy feel. The rippling theme music is thoroughly delightful, and a positive pleasure to sit down with at the piano! As a note, the hairstyles are often mentioned (and I do admit, a couple take a little getting used to), but after seeing this numerous times, I’ve decided they fit in very well with the overall tone of the story—indeed, several have become favorites (in that I’ve actually tried to copy them a couple times)!

As to the characterizations…

I think Gwyneth Paltrow does an excellent job as Emma. Elegant and graceful, with delicately arch expressions and a warmth and depth of character (shown in great part by her gentle care of and concern for the suffering) she’s brings a fresh life and delight to Emma.

(This is a highly personal note, but along with distinctly one other, very different, period drama—the ‘04 North and South, or the 1975 as well, for that matter—this particular film always leaves me wanting to be more of a thorough lady—in both heart attitude, mind, and manners.)

Mr. Knightley is perfect! Straight-forward and direct, Jeremy Northam brings a wonderful charm and twinkle to the clear-sighted friend and lover. And he’s very tender (without being the least mushy) in his treatment of Emma.

The minor characters are all very well done…

There’s kind and mature Mrs. Weston (a particular favorite of mine)!

And the sweet and ever-cheerful Miss Bates…(another favorite).

The Eltons are delightfully funny without losing their superciliousness.

While this version really brings out Harriet’s warm-hearted goodness. (And yes, I really like how—underneath everything—she always likes Mr. Martin best!)

You don’t see a lot of Miss Fairfax, but she’s well done. (She’s also the most sophisticated Jane.)

And Frank is also good.

With this adaptation, I have to admit—in fairness—that they did tweak the lines quite a bit (paraphrasing, etc.), but I shall hasten to add that (obviously) I think they did an incredible job. Plot wise, there are a few small changes (i.e. Frank first suggests the Dixon connection, and the strawberry picking and Box Hill picnic are combined into one outing, etc.) while the developments are also abridged a bit (particularly at the beginning), but again, it’s all very well done and the explanations flow very smoothly. 

I can see where it was given a more ‘modern’ feel in places, particularly with the long (or short) asides Emma has with herself, but by and large I think it contributes excellently to the lighter feel and faster pacing. 

Partly because it is shorter, I think they opted to (not so much soften) as bring out more of the humor in the story; and—going straight to the heart of every scene—each one is distilled down to pointed, poignant perfection!

The singing scene is very well done.

(I love this bit!)

And throughout the film in its entirety there are also some most highly amusing and quote-adaptable lines such as:

“A party is a party, but a Christmas party…”


“I hope I’m not intruding.”

(Just because we need another picture of Mrs. Weston.)

And focusing particularly on the nature of friendship and the consequent charity necessary and binding among friends, the themes in this rendition are handled superbly.

The relationship between Mr. Knightley and Emma is beautiful. I love its portrayal of a wonderful, strong, honest, willing-to-say-the-hard-things friendship blossoming into and making a strong foundation for wedded love.

And...*spoiler* the entire ending is simply exquisite!

(I just love it!!!! ;))

In conclusion, I’d say that—altogether—if you’re meeting Emma for the first time (or period dramas in general), this is definitely the one I would recommend to begin with! A splendid adaptation—it’s lovely, refreshing, and a thorough enjoyment!


  1. I agree that Emma here makes a very charming, poised and elegant Emma - she hardly seems nonsensical enough for my taste, actually. :-) And, as you said, not all the hairstyles are bad. Some are *really* bad though - Emma's hairstyle at the ball, for example.

    Mr Knightley was better than I expected. But still - Johnny Lee Millers is too priceless to compare. :-) Says I.

    Miss Bates was hilarious in this one - only, she was really young! Like barely thirty! But still - I loved the ways she kept on shouting random words to her mother. RANDOM, mother. :-P

    Miss Taylor was darling! But I hated Frank Churchill in this one, I'm sorry to say - His HAIR IS AWFUL. He looks so villainous. Oh, and Harriet - no, I didn't think she was that good. :-) Yup, I've got strong opinions. :-)

    I thought Mr Elton was splendid, though - VEWWWY annoying, of course. :-)

    Oh, and that ending. So sweet. :-)

    Thanks for the great review, Heidi!

    1. Naomi,
      I'm so glad you agree (mostly :))!

      Yes, I think the hairstyles are about 50/50. The ones near the end actually aren't some of my favorites...but (among others) that one where it's twisted and crossed over the top? I think she has it in the header picture (though it's kind of hard to see)....but sooo pretty.

      And yes, Miss Bates! "Like an angel! Pork, mother!" She's so sweet and fun. And I think Miss Taylor (aka Mrs. Weston) would make a lovely, mature friend and confidante. :)

      And yes, Frank's hair... (I've heard the actor even had things to say about that hair. :)) And I've seen this a lot of times and it was really just this last time (re-watching it for the party) that I realized he does seem young and charming enough -- so I really don't blame you in the least.

      And Mr. Elton...hilarious! Paraphrasing in the carriage: "However, I always maintain--and I hope you will concur--that small parties are the best. I would rather fall short by two than exceed by two." :)

      And....I'm SO glad you like the ending!! (I know they played with some of the lines), but it's just sooo utterly sweet and beautiful!!! :)

  2. Oh and by the way, you are also welcomed to play the Emma game - I don't believe I told you any of the answers. :-) Of course, you don't have to - but I just wanted to let you know that I'm perfectly fine with it! :-)

    1. Naomi,
      Oh, thank you! I was hoping to....and no, you didn't tell me any of the answers! :) (In fact, I think you're actually going to have me stumped on a couple of the dresses. ;)) ....I'll try to get over and leave a comment as soon as I can. :)

  3. Oh, this is bringing back good memories of my first reactions to this movie. I giggled through the whole thing. The hair was my biggest grief against it, but by the end of the movie, I kind of liked it because I liked the movie so well. It's so funny overall. Even though I prefer Jonny Lee Miller, I like how snarky Jeremy Northam was. And I think that GP was sweeter and more dignified than RG.

    1. Joanna,
      Oh, I's just so charming and delightful and humorous, isn't it? I think they do a great job "lightening" the story while keeping the weight of the messages/meaning of the story. Jonny Lee Miller's Mr. Knightley is (hem!) beyond compare my favorite Mr. Knightley...but I do still like Jeremy Northam a lot, too. (Funny note: since I'd been rewatching all these films for the party--when I read the book the second time this summer, multiple Mr. Knightley's kept popping up on different pages.... It wasn't too disturbing, but it was pretty funny. :))

  4. "Elegant and graceful" -- exactly how I described GP in this! So it must be true, if we both independently thought so :-)

    And wait... do you have the sheet music for this score? Does the sheet music for this score exist? ::Scurries off to Amazon:: Is this what you have?

    I think when my kids are a wee bit older and can understand the story and not just delight in the pretty dresses and laugh at the part with the dog picture (possibly my favorite scene), this will be the first "grown-up" period drama I'll introduce them to. It's very accessible and enjoyable :-)

    1. Hamlette,
      Most certainly!! :) And yes, we do! I checked your link and yes, it's what we have. It also has music from the '95 S&S, the '95 P&P, and the '95 Persuasion. (I think I got all those dates right....were they really all the same year?? I'm not used to thinking of those three all in one sentence.)

      Anyhow, this one's a great family movie! And I'm sure they'll love it someday. My dad and brother like it, too -- and it's short enough that you can watch it on a Friday or Sunday night with all parties concerned. :) Tremendous fun!

  5. There's really not much more I can say (that I haven't said in my own review of this version) except I love this movie! :)

    1. Natalie,
      "There's really not much more I can say." :) Ah yes.... your review's lovely! ;) I'm still so glad and excited you were able to do it and so glad you like this movie, too!

    2. Aw, thank you so much! I'm so glad I was able to do it too!


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