Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Emma (1996)

I watched this version of Emma a while ago, then i saw that it was on TV recently, so I rewatched it. Naturally, I was comparing it to the recent one with Romola Garai, since I liked the newer one the most.

Synopsis taken from Emma (2009) Review
"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich" is a woman living in the English town of Highbury with her father. After making a match that lead to the marriage of her governness, Miss Taylor, and Mr. Weston, Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) had fancied herself to have a knack for matchmaking. She is determined to make a match between Mr. Elton, the local vicar, and Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), much to the chagrin of her father and her brother-in-law, Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam).

Some actors and actresses in here you might recognize. There's Gwyneth Paltrow, a very famous actress, and Toni Collette is fairly well known. Sophie Thompson, sister of Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) and is Mary Musgrove in Persuasion (1995), and Phyllida Law, her mother, both play Miss Bates and Mrs. Bates respectively. Ewan McGregor (the newer Star Wars movies) was Frank Churchill.
Emma and Harriet Smith picking strawberries.

Gwyneth Paltrow was okay as Emma. There were a couple of invented scenes that included her, Spoiler including towards the end her picking daisies and pretty much doing "He loves Harriet, he loves her not." End of Spoiler I am glad that they didn't overtly modernize the language, though.

Toni Collette's Harriet Smith was... okay. She did act Harriet's naive nature well, but there was something else that concerned me. In the book, Jane Austen writes that Harriet "was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness, and, before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance." Light hair... In other words, I would assume, blond. Why, then, did they make Harriet have red hair? Maybe the directors thought that two blond characters who are friends would confuse the audience a little? She also seem to be a bit too tall.

Sophie Thompson's Miss Bates was humorous, yet endearing. In this adaptation of Emma, Miss Bates is more of a comical figure like she is in the novel. In the recent adaptation, Miss Bates was more of a sympathetic character; her situation was more highlighted than her silly personality. I do like both Sophie Thompson's Miss Bates and Tamsin Greig's Miss Bates. I will say that this version of Miss Bates was probably closer to what I had in my mind as I was reading Emma.

Mrs. Elton: not a Regency bonnet?

There is some very nice scenery in this production of Emma. To illustrate the novel's lightheartedness, there is a bright tone to most of the scenes. The scenes look very delightful and happy.

There are very nice costumes in here. Mrs. Weston's dresses looked lovely and elegant; Emma's were bright and pretty; and, as much as I don't wish to say it, even some of Mrs. Elton's gowns looked nice, though I don't think her one bonnet is a Regency bonnet. Jane Fairfax did look nice; on a side note from that, I noticed that in the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma (which I might review at a later time) that Jane Fairfax and this Jane Fairfax looked nearly similar: both brunettes with hairstyles without curls and with deeper voices compared to the most recent Jane Fairfax. I wonder why that is...
Mrs. Elton: nice evening gown.

The overall tone to the Emma soundtrack is of a happy tone. Songs range from bouncy pieces, to flowing pieces, to more serious pieces (though there are few of these). The dance pieces are absolutely delightful! Fans of Pride and Prejudice will recognize "Mr. Beverage's Maggot" (the song that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy dance to) in here.

The soundtrack is available for purchase at Amazon.

Emma and Mr. Knightly dancing.

Overall: 3.5/5
Okay, it's not my favorite Emma, but it's not terrible either. After watching the newest adaptation (which clocked in at about four hours), this movie seemed to be the speedy version of Emma. It seemed like each scene rushed by so quickly. I could understand why it seemed so fast since they didn't have four hours to develop everything in the storyline, but it still felt like everything was moving too quickly. I would say if you had to pick between this version or the new version, I would go with the new version: they took more time to develop the story and everyone's character. With this version, if you are new to Emma, you would have to pay close attention to the movie in order to understand what is going on, otherwise you might be a little bit lost with the quick scene changes.

Emma is available on DVD at most stores or online. It runs for 121 minutes and is rated PG.


  1. This is the version of Emma that introduced me to the story in the first place. It came out when I was in high school (now I'm dating myself!), and I saw it in the theater. I'd never read Jane Austen at this point, so I didn't know how shortened it was. All I can say is that I absolutely fell in love with Mr. Knightley. To this day, Jeremy Northam is my favorite Mr. Knightley (although Johnny Lee Miller did a great job, too). I do enjoy the 2009 version, especially since they had the time to include more of the storyline from the book. But this version will always hold a special place in my heart. It's what started my love of Jane Austen in the first place.

    There are a few scenes I like better in this version than the Romola Garai version, particularly the scene where Mr. Knightley scolds Emma for shaming Miss Bates. This scene used to crush me in the 1996 version. You could see Mr. Knightley's heartache and disappointment even as he confronted her. I didn't see that portrayed as much in the newer version, which was a disappointment to me. There were other scenes where Johnny Lee Miller was wonderful, though.

    Quite honestly, I love Mr. Knightley and Robert Martin from the Gwyneth Paltrow version, Frank Churchhill and Jane Fairfax from the other 1996 version with Kate Beckinsale, and Harriet Smith and Emma from the 2009 version. I'm not sure about all of the other characters...I'd have to give it more thought. :)

    Sorry I always leave such long comments!! I start talking and can't stop myself! :)

  2. Have you seen the other 1996 version? My favorites are: 1. 2009, 2. 1996 (with brown hair), 3. This one and 4. The old BBC one. I'm sure I would love this movie...if I didn't have the other ones to compare it to!! ;)

  3. beast'sbelle,
    I thought Jeremy Northam was a good Mr. Knightly too. My favorite version of Emma is the 2009 one, but I still kind of liked this one; this one would come in second for me.

    I have seen the other 1996 adaptation (I think that's the Kate Beckinsale one). I didn't care for Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith in that one, but I thought it was okay. I might review that one in an upcoming review, but it might not be for a while; I have a couple more movies that I want to review.

    Thank you both for your comments! :-)


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