Thursday, October 23, 2014

Movie Review: Emma (A&E 1996) with Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong

At 1 hour and 47 minutes, this is the shortest Emma adaptation. Throughout—with the shots of golden grain fields, candlelight, and dark interior woodwork—there is a richness and depth of tone to many of the scenes. Along with this the dresses are all superbly cohesive. A lot of whites and creams were used—plain or dotted—and they fit together beautifully… Also, while Emma herself is still very much the grand lady of Hartfield, there is also in this specific adaptation a much greater emphasis on the presence and influence of the wider agricultural community and dependents.

As to Emma herself: I would say that (simply in part because it is shorter), this adaptation does particularly bring out her haughty snobbery—as regards the Martins, etc—while at the beginning she does seem more overbearing and controlling with Harriet and defiant toward Mr. Knightley. (Again, with a shorter version, sometimes the lines are just drawn much stronger.) Yet she can be playful and is always very gentle with her father. 

There is a unique-to-this-version emphasis on her fanciful imagination, and I think it’s most interesting to see how they brought out how she really blinds herself with regard to Churchill. He certainly flatters her, but she leads him off to a very good start. Her manners are also well bred and graceful—and she does fit very well with Mr. Knightley.

(And note: I did not use to think this!), but of late I’ve decided Mr. Knightley is actually quite good, very much a Mr. Knightley (though I agree, it does all come across pretty strong). Often brusque and abrupt, his manners are also perfectly concerned, caring, and gentlemanly—especially toward Jane, Harriet, and his estate dependents—while his deep concern for Emma comes out excellently at Box Hill.

Mr. Woodhouse is very good (if you’re interested, he also plays Sir Bertram in the BBC ‘86 version of Mansfield Park). Other than that, and besides Mr. Knightley (who also plays in The Young Victoria)I think the familiar faces in this version are:

Mrs. Weston (Maria Bertram in the same ‘80’s version of Mansfield Park) and shown here with Mr. Weston,

and Mrs. Elton (Mrs. Hurst in the BBC/A&E ’95 P&P).

Mr. Elton is probably the most ill-bred of the Mr. Eltons while Mrs. Elton is quite vulgar (though, I think, not particularly humorous).

Harriet is quite good:

very artless and girlish.

And… Ah yes! Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax!

He’s lively.

And she’s sweet and elegant.

And (for any and all of you who may be interested in so highly exciting and fascinating a circumstance) she could almost, almost be Ellen! She looks very slightly different—and her voice is lower—but she’s so almost it hardly matters… Very exciting, indeed!!! (I had a lot of fun putting together a collage with her and Captain Bryant which I may share with you all sometime.) 

But back to business!

With this Emma, I always end up immediately wanting to go over and re-watch the film solely for Frank and Jane’s development—and it always makes me want an entire good story about them—both before and after Emma.

They’re both excellent in their parts and very good together. I think (partly due to the length and partly to emphasize Emma’s blindness), it’s much more obvious in this version that there’s something up between them. She gets his teasing—softening and lighting up when he’s present—and he only really smiles when looking at her (which I very much like). And though you see the mutual attachment and attraction between them, it’s all so very well and subtly done.

As to the script: they did play around with the order of scenes quite a bit—combining and inventing a couple scene settings and quite occasionally moving/switching lines from one character to another or adding small talk. It does have a much faster pace overalland particularly near the beginning where Harriet and the Martins are developed much more quickly. Some of the internal monologues throughout are spoken aloud in company (such as when Emma speaks of her personal interest in Frank while at the Weston’s party…which is a little interesting), but by and large the script is pretty good.

All of that aside, I do have two major issues with this version. The first is that a Certain Exclamation (rather suddenly) starts getting used a lot—as in a lot—all throughout the climax. Secondly, the ending with the chickens being pilfered is a bit disturbing as—to me—it rather negates the message of the entire story. It might have felt different if the door had been locked, the thieves were pushing and shoving at it, and the man with the shotgun appeared again to scare them off. To me, that would seem to wrap the story up more fully. So those two points—along with the way a few lines were handled in the closing scenes—leaves a bit of a disappointing flavor.

However, the dance scene/harvest festival at the end is beautiful…reinforcing at the same time community life and continuity. In fact, when thinking of Emma (and specifically charity in the fabric of community) this is always the version/scene that comes first to mind for me—emphasizing as it does a charity that builds and shares with friends and tenants and transcends different classes of society.

This film also particularly highlights a quality of stability: both politically (though it’s not specifically mentioned, Emma takes place during the Napoleonic Wars) and domestically. Certainly brought out near the end, that stability also figures tremendously throughout as Mr. Knightley rescues both Emma from herself—and Highbury from Emma!


  1. Heehee, I was hesitant at first, starting this comment, because this version is really not my favourite. But I decided I would, after all. :-)

    I didn't care for Kate Beckinsale's Emma - she was, as you also said, rather haughty - and well, proud. She doesn't bring out the sweetness that Gwenyth Palrow did, or the innocent nonsensicality that Romola Garai did. Plus, I think Emma should be blonde. :-P

    Oh, and I don't like that Mr Knightley AT all. I'm glad to hear that you used to be in my faze as well. :-)

    I actually rather liked Harriet in this version. She wasn't very funny like the other Harriets, but she was sweet and I think she has the Harriet-face. :-)

    And why does Mrs Elton have an American accent in this version? I never understood that. :-)

    Yes, Frank and Jane are very good together. Jane is very elegant in this one too. :-)

    Oh and the CHICKEN ENDING. It just spoilt everything. Heehee.

    Nope. Not my favourite version. :-P

    Thanks for a great review! I'm looking forward to the 2009 one! Stay tuned for a VERY LONG comment on that one. :-D

    1. Naomi!
      Oh, good! I'm so glad you decided to comment! ;) And yes, I think our sentiments are quite similar....

      About Emma....yes, for some reason I just kept thinking of her in a different time period or something. But she's not bad exactly....just....well, I like Emma to be tall. But it's not that she's not elegant.... I don't know--somehow it just doesn't go *pop* for me. :) But she does all right.

      I think part of it is that they really rush you into the opening events. (If I'm remembering correctly), I think the first time you really see Mr. Knightley is the argument scene between the two of them about Harriet and Robert Martin, which I think does affect viewers' perception of his character, too (as you haven't really seen much of the longstanding relationship between him and Emma beforehand). That whole scene just kind of *wow* happens.

      Yes, I think Harriet in this version is quite good. She definitely seems like the youngest Harriet. :)

      And oh, I know! Mrs. Elton! I don't know why they did that... All I can think is that they were trying to reach American audiences....but (speaking from experience ;)), it really actually seems to stick out. And lots of people (obviously) love the '95 P&P and they didn't do it in I'm not sure why they chose to do it in Emma. Ah, well...

      And I'm so glad you like Frank and Jane!!! :) I couldn't believe it when I realized I could cast her as my Ellen character.... It was so fun to do, though! :)

      And oh my, yes....the chickens. Oh, dear. I've watched it a couple times just to be sure and's exactly how I remembered it. "Spoilt" is exactly the right word.

      So yes, all in all this film has its good points--and I do like watching it occasionally--but (minus Frank and Jane ;)), taken as a whole it's not one I'd immediately recommend and definitely not a top favorite. (That honor is reserved for....yes. ;))

      But you're most welcome for the review! And oh, hooray!! I shall be most eagerly awaiting your long comment. ;) The '09 review is scheduled to go up tomorrow.... :)

    2. Yes, that's true - We can't really 'love' Mr Knightley in this version because we don't really get properly introduced to him. Good point. :-)

      You, so maybe they made Mrs Elton because it would 'charm' the Americans? Heehee. Maybe, true. But then Mrs Elton isn't the best character to 'charm'- Ha. :-)

      Is Ellen a character in a novel/book/story you are writing now? I love the name Ellen and I think it suits Jane Fairfax's face well. :) I love finding people in movies that suit my characters faces. Very fun. :-)

      Indeed, the chickens-thing. Why did they have to add it? My younger brothers though, thought it was all very amusing - so I guess it wasn't all for nothing. :-)

      Ooh, looking forward to the 2009 review!

    3. Naomi,
      Yes, I think that's probably a big part of the issue....because he actually does have gentleness later. Hmmmm.

      And yes, Ellen was my first full, finished book (and my first heroine :))! I started it when I was about twelve (and after successive stops, starts, and rewrites) finished and put it up on Amazon about ten years later. Naturally I've seen lots of ways to improve and grow my writing since finishing it, but it's still pretty special. :) (You can read more about it if you hit the "My Books" link just under my header...there are some excerpts up there, etc.) Anyhow, I'd never seen anybody really like how I pictured her until this happened--and I can't wait to put up the collage I made sometime soon. It's really pretty neat--and funny--and I'm totally thrilled about it! :)

      And I'm so glad you're looking forward to the '09! I'm looking forward to it, too--and your comment! (And I'm hoping we don't differ too much....! ;))

  2. This is my least favorite Emma adaption although I love the Jane Fairfax in this one! I always imagined Jane more sweet and demure, not "fancy".
    That's so exciting that you can see her as Ellen!! She's actually quite a lot like I saw Ellen as well! :) Congratulations on "finding" her-I know how exciting it can be to find a face/person for your character!
    Mr. Knightley was...ugh. I didn't like him at all! (I've only seen this Emma once though, so if I watch it again, who knows? My opinions might change...slightly!)
    I didn't like Emma either. I do like how Frank looks (he was pretty much the exact image I had in my head when reading the book!) but I can't remember how I liked his acting.

    1. Natalie,
      I quite understand your feelings.... ;) And yes, I think Frank is quite good! And agree about Mr. Knightley and Emma both. I wasn't particularly taken with the film when I first saw it a number of years ago---but I've now seen it a couple times in the last year and I think they can grow on you. It's just all so short and so intense....that it does definitely leave a certain impression. From my experience anyway, I tend to think this version has its good points (and I quite like certain things about it), but I don't think it would (necessarily) make you love the story if you didn't already.... And (again, for me anyway), it has some lovely bits, but something about it just doesn't quite "stick"/isn't particularly memorable for some reason. For instance, I had a hard time initially remembering after my first viewing even how different minor characters were handled--Frank, Miss Bates, Mr. Weston, etc. (so minus Mr. Knightley and Emma. ;))

      And I'm so glad you like Jane!!! I was actually dancing around telling my family last night, "Natalie likes her, too!!" And they were agreeing that it was most exciting news. :) (I guess I did something right with the descriptions! ;))

    2. Haha, yes you certainly were good with your descriptions!! :) I just loved how you described things in your book without stopping and spending 2 paragraphs on a character. You made it clear and enjoyable!

    3. Oh, thank you so much, Natalie!! That's so very encouraging! :)

      (And now that I've gotten some Emma thoughts out, I'm starting to get super excited about getting back to ODS your words are very timely and very truly encouraging! ;))

    4. Ooh, yay! So excited for ODS!
      ps. You got my reply to your email about the shipping address, right? Just want to make sure. :)

    5. Natalie,
      I'm excited, too....and super excited that you're excited!! :)

      (And yes, I did....and I see that you got mine again in all seems to be looking good. ;))


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