Emma Movie Poster

Title: Emma
Screenwriter: Douglas McGrath
Director: Douglas McGrath
Release Date: August 2, 1996
Running Time: 120 minutes
Synopsis: In rural 1800s England things go bad for a young matchmaker after she finds a man for another woman.

Wrong Actor or Wrong Director?

Although this was my first time watching Emma, I’ve always known about the movie, so I knew Gwyneth Paltrow played the titular character. I didn’t recognize the actor playing Mr. Knightley, but I was definitely familiar with Toni Collette who played Harriet Smith, Ewan McGregor who played Frank Churchill, and Alan Cummings who played Mr. Elton. Before I go into further detail, I will just state I did not enjoy the portrayal of Ms. Woodhouse, Ms. Smith, Mr. Churchill, or Mr. Elton. However, I wonder if the director chose the wrong actors or if he intentionally created this clunky and unnuanced adaptation of the lesser known Jane Austen classic he apparently fell in love with while in college.

Emma was all of the snobbery with none of the charm. Frank Churchill reminded me more of a cross between the Mad Hatter and Johnny Depp’s rendition of Willy Wonka than an English gentleman from 19th century high society. Harriet Smith came off like the town idiot instead of a young and inexperienced girl. Mr. Elton was the offspring of a love-sick puppy and a conniving weasel. Sure…maybe these missteps could be due to the actors being unfamiliar with the source material, but in the end, the buck stops at the top, which means the blame has to land at the feet of the director.

Hmm..Not Quite

How can you have the intelligent, clever, and witty Emma not see the obvious affection from Mr. Elton? Stevie Wonder could see that pining! In the book, Mr. Elton uses the oft-used but terrible tactic of showing interest in the friend of the girl he likes in order to get close to that girl. FYI: Gentlemen, this never works, so please don’t do it and tell all your friends. To the casual observer, it could be seen as Mr. Elton being interested in Harriet. The movie, however, beats you over the head with the fact that Mr. Elton in obvious “in love” with Emma or at least in love with her money and her status in society.

The interaction between Ms. Woodhouse and Mr. Elton is only the icing on the cake for the movie not quite hitting the right note for me. That fateful scene in the carriage between the two seemed to be the start of the movie taking shortcuts in order to wrap up the story in a nice tight bow by the two-hour mark. This included the scene where Harriet was attacked by the gypsies, which was absurd and botched to put it politely. Although it still led to the misunderstanding between Emma and Harriet about the man who unintentionally earned Harriet’s affections, the scene in the woods foreshadowed one of the novel’s big reveals, and the movie’s treatment of that scene made it appear less significant, which diminished all the subsequent events in the story that were affected this scene, namely the revelation of the true recipients of Mr. Churchill’s and Harriet’s affections.

Overall Opinion

Although I have always love the interpretation of Emma through the looking-glass of Clueless, I enjoyed seeing a more direct adaptation of the novel even if the movie’s interpretation had a pacing issue that meant the end felt rushed and incomplete.

The Final Grade

Kettle Korn: The adaptation of Emma was more hit than miss, but the misses were for pivotal scenes in the story.

Your Turn

So…are you Team Emma or Team Clueless? Did you appreciate Gwyneth Paltrow’s British accent? Did the end of the story feel rushed to you? Let us know in the comments! |RL

P.S. Want more Emma? Read the book review! Join the quotefest!

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