Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Emma (1997)

This was the first version of Emma that I saw. It was on Masterpiece: Classic one weekend a couple of years ago, so my mom and I sat down to watch it.
Poster/Box Art

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 (Kate Beckinsale) 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 (Samantha Morton), much to the chagrin of her father and her brother-in-law, Mr. Knightly (Mark Strong).

Both Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong are fairly well known, but you might recognize some of the cast in Emma. Samantha Bond (Mrs. Weston) was in one episode of Downton Abbey and Lark Rise to Candleford and was also in Mansfield Park (1983). Samantha Morton (Harriet Smith) was in Jane Eyre (1997). Olivia Williams (Jane Fairfax) was also in Miss Austen Regrets. Lucy Robinson (Mrs. Elton) was also in Pride and Prejudice (1995). And I believe Raymond Coulthard (Frank Churchill) was also in He Knew He Was Right.
Emma Woodhouse with Frank Churchill (Left)
and Mr. Knightley (Right)

Kate Beckinsale was okay as Emma (though not my favorite as Emma and even though I thought her imaginings were getting to be too much), but to me, Mark Strong is not Mr. Knightley. He seemed to be always yelling whenever he got upset, like he was going to throw a chair or something. I mean, was it really like Mr. Knightley to start yelling when he heard that Frank Churchill went to London to get his hair cut? I could see Mr. Knightley making a sarcastic remark about it, but to actually start yelling?

I didn't particularly care for Samantha Morton's Harriet. In the book, she is supposed to be a pretty looking girl, and I don't think that she was pretty enough. Olivia WIlliams's Jane Fairfax I liked. She was elegant and pretty, as she is in the book. I particularly disliked Frank Churchill in here, though. He just seemed too full of himself and he really irritated me (well, more than Frank Churchill usually does).I also thought that Miss Bates was too old. When I picture Miss Bates, I see someone in her late 30's or in her 40's; this Miss Bates could have been in her mid fifties or later.

Some of the acting I thought was forced and not "real". It just seemed like some of the lines were just said... It seemed like there were some spots where there could have been a little more emotion or if an emotion was expressed, it came out fake.
Jane Fairfax (Background) and Harriet Smith (Left Foreground)
and Emma Woodhouse (Right Foreground)

There are some nice outdoor scenes, but I thought that some of the overtones were a little dark for Emma. Emma is a light-hearted story, so the scenes ought to be light and vivid, but the scenes were dark. Scenes take place outside either in Highbury, out on the country roads, or outside of Hartfield or Donwell Abbey, or inside the different homes of the characters.

Some of the costumes I liked, others not so much. I never really liked the extra high neckline, so when Harriet had a white dress with a really high neckline, I didn't like that dress. I also thought that they over-did some of the neck kerchief frills: the ones without the frills were much better. The rest of the gowns, overall, I thought were good.

Harriet and Mr. Elton married?! One of Emma's many
Some of the music is very light and bouncy (like the theme song and dance numbers), but there were times during Emma's imaginings that the music got very serious and completely unlike the tone of Emma. Overall, the music is kind of a hit and miss.

Overall: 3/5
I didn't completely hate this version of Emma, but I much prefer the 2009 miniseries to this version. The acting wasn't the best and the scenery could have been a lot lighter and more fitting to the tone that the book had. If you don't have too much time to spare and want to watch a version of Emma, this version or the Gwyneth Paltrow version are both okay, but if you really want a good sense of Emma and have the time to spare, watch the 2009 miniseries.

Emma is available on DVD. It runs for 107 minutes.


  1. I didn't like the Knightley on this one...he yelled too much, and was always scowling...ugh. I liked Emma pretty well, though, except I didn't like her much better at the end then at the beginning. I pretty much agree with you on all the characters, except, I probably liked Emma more than you did, and Frank Churchill seemed to fit the part (although I don't know if he's my favorite...) All I know is, Frank Churchill really annoyed me in the book, too!! haha

    I like this one better than the G. Paltrow version...that one seemed to modern for my taste, changed pretty much all of the quotes, etc.

  2. I haven't seen this version, but I did see the 2009 one. And for me, that was the best Emma version which makes it harder to like the other versions.

  3. I rather liked this version, but I do not love it. Kate Beckinsale managed to capture the snobbish qualities of Emma, but without the humor. Mark Strong was a little too intense and scary as Knightley.

    Also, I got the feeling tha Andrew Davies was not that particularly interested in Harriet Smith's story arc. He more or less rushed the arc featuring Emma's attempts to act as matchmaker for Harriet and Mr. Elton. Davies seemed more interested in the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax story arc.

    I also thought that Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence seemed a little too fixated on the class differences in early 19th century Britain than was featured in Austen's tale. The harvest ball sequence in the end seemed unnecessary, which I suspect was more of the class difference theme. The photography was too dark and not very sharp. And quite frankly, I do not think it was as funny as the other adaptatations of the novel.

    But it was still okay. The production designs and especially the costumes were first-class. And Raymond Coulthard turned out to be my favorite Frank Churchill.


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