Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Emma" (1996)


This movie was not my first Austenian experience -- that distinction belongs to Sense and Sensibility (1995).  However, this is the first Austen-related thing that I loved.  I can't remember the first time I saw it -- I think I probably watched it with my two teen-years best friends.  I do distinctly remember driving to town with my younger brother to rent it so we could watch it with my mom.  I loved it so much, I bought my own copy to take to college with me, where my new friends and I just about wore out that VHS tape.  I've seen this at least a dozen times -- maybe closer to twenty.  However, I think my last viewing was seven or eight years ago, and I'd never seen the widescreen version before.  I bought the DVD a year or so ago, when I found it for an enticingly low price, but never got around to watching it until now.  So when Heidi announced her Discovering Emma Week, I eagerly signed up to review this.  Finally!  A really good reason to sit down and rewatch it!

Oh my goodness.  I loooooooooove the widescreen version!  I kept thinking things like, "I never saw Mr. Knightley's reaction there!"  "I never saw that part of the dance!"  "I never saw Emma have that little moment of realization!"  Splendid, I tell you.

So anyway... you probably know this, but Emma is about a rich, headstrong girl named Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) who loves matchmaking.  Her rich, handsome neighbor, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) tries to help her grow and mature into a nicer and better person.  And then she realizes he loves her and she loves him and we all throw flower petals in the air at their wedding.


Right, so anyway, why do I love this movie?  Why is it, in fact, my favorite Austen adaptation?  Why do I like it better than the book?  So many questions, so little time.

I love this movie because it is beautiful.  I want to live inside it.  Hartfield entrances me.  I want to hang out in this room in the evening and read books:


I want to sit in this pavilion and do needlework:


I want to figure out what all these random thingamabobs are that are cluttering up this room:


I want to sit quietly in this rustic corner of the estate and write:


I even want to own chairs like these, though I think they belong to Mr. Knightley at Donwell Abbey, not to Emma at Hartfield:


I'm telling you, I would love to live inside this movie!  And I can't say that about very many movies, certainly not about any of the other Austen adaptations I've seen.  I usually only feel that way about westerns.  So this makes Emma something of a rarity.

And the cast could not be more perfect.  I have to admit that in my teens and early twenties, I would have loved to look like Gwyneth Paltrow in this movie.  She's still kind of my epitome of graceful, elegant womanhood.  I wish I could get my hair to do the pretty things her hair does.  Really, I'm almost a bit obsessed with her hair.





Also, Gwyneth Paltrow makes Emma Woodhouse much more sympathetic than in the book.  She's saucy and meddlesome and spoiled, but she's also sweet and kind and cheerful, and so devoted to her father (Denys Hawthorne), all of which makes me like her quite a bit.


Then there's Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley.  He's not nearly as combative as he is in the book.  Still bossy, still always chiding Emma for her faults, but he doesn't constantly pick on her.  And I feel like he knows himself so well in this, that already fairly early on in the movie he knows he loves Emma, and he's just waiting to be sure of himself and more sure of her before he takes any action.



But as handsome as Jeremy Northam is, the first time I saw this, I was really watching it for one person:  Ewan McGregor.  And he still delights me:  the smiley-est, most obliging Frank Churchill you'll ever see.  He actually manages to give the character some depth, which is saying a lot considering that Frank is a vain trickster.  But such a charming and happy trickster!


Even though he has the most appallingly bad wig:


Then there are Toni Collette as the sweet-but-shallow Harriet Smith and Alan Cumming as the unctuous-and-clueless Mr. Elton.  They never fail to make me laugh in almost their every scene.  Brilliant.


And Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates!  Oh, she makes me laugh and cry.  Poor, dear thing.


Also, I love the costumes.  I would love to wear some of these dresses.  And I'm not really all that interested in costumes or clothes or fashion!  But wow, I love these.

My #1 favorite (Emma's, not Harriet's)
My #2 favorite
My #3 favorite

But I think what really sets this apart from other Austen adaptations is how much it makes me laugh.  There are so many moments that I laugh aloud during, and even simple images that set me giggling.




I love how the filmmakers kind of gloried in the absurd in a gentle way instead of taking the story oh-so-seriously.  I can never decide if I should shelve this with the comedies or dramas.  But I generally shelve it with the dramas because when I think of this movie, the first scene that comes to mind is the scene where Mr. Knightley scolds Emma for being rude to Miss Bates at the strawberry-picking picnic.  The first time I saw this, that is the scene where I went from liking to loving it.  It adds such weight to the story, and shows that Emma is not merely a spoiled, heedless girl.  She can feel for other people, she can acknowledge she's been wrong.  She can change.


Okay, I think I've finally run out of things to say here.  Oh yes... is this movie family-friendly?  Nary a hint of sexual content to be found.  There's one scene where some gypsies chase Emma and Harriet and try to steal their purses, and there are a couple of mild curse words, though.

Don't forget to click here or on the button below to visit Along the Brandywine and join in the "Discovering Emma Week" fun!


23 comments:

  1. Thanks for this- I was in need of a smile today, and thinking of Sophie Thompson's Miss Bates accomplished that. She's great. I recently say the 2009 version of Emma, and quite liked that as well. I was surprised how entertaining I found Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, considering how irritating I find him as Sherlock Holmes.

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    1. I remember when I learned that Sophie Thompson is Emma Thompson's sister, and I informed my mom of that fact, that she was most incredulous and demanded I show her my proof! Hee.

      I've only seen Jonny Lee Miller in a few things, most memorably a '90s movie called "Hackers" that a high school friend looooooooved him in. I've seen one episode of "Elementary," and was underwhelmed, but not particularly irritated. So hopefully, I'll have no problems with him as Mr. Knightley!

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  2. Wowwoww....thank you, Hamlette!!! I just can't stop smiling about this review! Such a lovely job for a beautiful film! :)

    Coming up to first seeing this version, I'd read the book once (and would have called it my least favorite Austen) and I'd seen the Kate Beckinsale film (which...yes...well...hem!) Anyhow, first seeing this is what gave me a complete turn-around about the story. Just sooo utterly sweet and beautiful---and so fun! (For me anyway, I don't think you can possibly sit down and watch it and not feel happy when you're done. ;))

    Thanks again so much for taking the time to do this! I love it! :)

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    1. I forgot to mention how much I LOVE the soundtrack! By Rachel Portman, who delights me often. I love listening to it in the early spring, and also any time I need some cheering up. It's also great to do housework to! Sprightly and sweet.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the review :-D I had such fun doing it!

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  3. Hooray for another Gwyneth Paltrow Emma fan!!! Your enthusiasm is wonderful to see. :) I greatly enjoyed your entire review. Your descriptions about the setting are particularly wonderful and I could not agree more with them! Have a lovely afternoon.

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    1. Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed this -- thanks for telling me so :-) I'm happy we agree so thoroughly on another movie.

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  4. Love this Austen adaptation partially because it does take a new approach to Austen - it's so much lighter and happier than even Emma normally is which is grand. Oh, and yes! Then there's Jeremy - no one quite does "badly done, Emma" like he does. ;)

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    1. I'm reading Mr. Knightley's Diary right now, hoping to finish and review it for this party before the week is out, and... I can only hear Jeremy Northam's voice through the whole book. Which is delightful. I really think that if it wasn't for his portrayal, Mr. Knightley would never have made it into my top 5 list of Austen heroes.

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  5. Great review, Hamlette! I love this version too! Paltrow and Northram's characterization of Emma and Knightley it near-perfect. And Ewan McGregor's Churchill is so fun, (even with the hair) and Allan Cumming's Mr. Elton! I love the scene in the carriage when he's trying to propose to Emma, and his whispering makes her jump. :D

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    1. "Kindly refrain from the intimacy of whispering!" I love that line. And that moment. And her grey cloak.

      Ewan is simply adorable in this (even with the hair). That moment when he first arrives, peering out mysteriously from the tree -- wow.

      Alan Cumming holds the distinction of being in three movies I love: this, GoldenEye, and X-Men 2. And he plays completely different characters in each one! A presumptuous fop, a needy nerd, and a shy mutant. Very versatile!

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  6. YES YES YES to so many things you said here! The awful wig, Miss Bates making you laugh AND cry, the costumes! I really do love this version more than the book as well. I think each time I watch this film I enjoy it more than before :) - Maggie @ macarons & paperbacks

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    1. What possessed them to give him such dreadful hair?!?!?!?! Was it for comedic effect? To highlight his ridiculousness? Everyone else has perfectly lovely hair (even if Jeremy Northam's does look a bit '90s now), but poor Ewan with the pink cotton candy on his head.

      And yes, this one totally improves with each rewatch :-)

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  7. This was my first Jane Austen film, so it has a special place in my heart. I was OBSESSED with it for about three years as a teenager. I, yes, wore my hair exactly like that for months. I picked out dresses that were similar to wear. I can quote entire scenes from it, on command, if you start me out with one word. I've probably seen it several hundred times. And it made me a lifelong fan of Jeremy Northam. I adore his Mr. Knightley. He's my favorite, out of all the Knightleys and indeed, all the Austen heroes. And I had to laugh at your reaction over the widescreen... because after wearing out my VHS tape and purchasing the DVD (one of the first DVDs I owned), that was my reaction too: "You can see Mr. Knightley in this scene!"

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    1. Okay, if you got your hair to do those sorts of amazing things, then I am forever envious. Just about the only times I have seriously considered chopping mine, it has been because then maybe I'd have short enough hair to successfully do pretty buns with festoony curls like Emma's, rather than giant piles perched haphazardly on my head.

      What else have you seen Jeremy Northam in? Any recommendations? I really have only seen him in this, but I do love him in it.

      And yes! There's so much more Mr. Knightleyness in the widescreen! All over! And random other stuff too -- like that shot I posted of Emma and Harriet hiding behind their parasols to avoid Miss Bates. Random shopkeeper dude lounging around on the side of the screen! Totally never there before. Very amusing. And just so many awesome reactions and nuances I never got to see before. SO glad to have the widescreen.

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  8. Oh, please don't be envious of my hair. It's so super fine and stringy and such. I had a lot of success, though, in piling it on top of my head and doing little curls, and sometimes big loops. It's been a decade since it was long enough to do it, though. I've had it in a bob or a pixie cut in the many years since.

    Oh, gosh. Jeremy Northam. I have seen TONS of movies with him in them. I recommend "An Ideal Husband" (Oscar Wilde, and it's hilarious -- though there is a tiny bit of nudity in the first 20 seconds, the rest of the movie is clean) the most. I would recommend "The Net" with Sandra Bullock, but my mother hasn't liked him nearly as well since she saw it, since he played a villain. "The Winslow Boy" isn't bad; he's a Victorian lawyer, but the movie is rather slow.

    Widescreen is awesome. Just sayin'.

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    1. My hair is naturally stick-brown, too long to hold a curl, too thick to do a bun with much... it's in a braid or ponytail 95% of the time. I often forget just how much there is -- it's down to my waist and pretty thick.

      Thanks for the recommendations! I'll sniff around and see if I can find any of those.

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  9. Hi! I nominated you on my blog. Ignore if thou wishest. :-)

    http://naomiblog15.blogspot.be/2014/10/famous-people-tag.html

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    1. Thanks! It looks like lots of fun. Might take me a few days to complete, just so you know.

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    2. That's fine. :-) Take your time!

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  10. And you make me wish I liked this one better! I haven't watched it in ages, so perhaps I'd change my mind. But I confess that I tried watching this and the Kate Beckinsale version and couldn't seem to really get into either one. Then the 2009 version happened and I fell in love. Jonny Lee Miller made me fall for Mr Knightley I admit. So I suppose we'll just have to agree to disagree on our favorite version! But I CAN agree that the story in general is funny! I do enjoy the bits of absurd and quirkiness that makes me smile every time. And I really enjoyed this review! Your reviews are the best, Hamlette. They always make me grin and oogle the eyecandy. Oh! And yes, Jeremy Northam is quite handsome and easy on the eyes! :D

    Also a good friend is currently listening to the audio of Emma and loving it! She keeps texting me and telling me I've GOT to read/listen. So maybe I will sometime soon :)

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    1. Well, that's the great thing about multiple adaptations of a book -- if you don't like one, you might like the other! I really am hoping to watch the '09 sometime soon. Maybe I'll get it from the library when my mom is here for Christmas! There's an inspired thought.

      I'm glad you like my reviews :-D I'm working on one for "While You Were Sleeping" right now. Total labor of love, I'm telling you.

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  11. Oh, I would really love to watch this movie!! All those screen caps are killing me! :P

    Goodness, Frank Churchill's wig is perfectly dreadful! Ugh, why...?!?

    IS that Harriet posing as some sort of Roman goddess or something? Looks like that part was rather funny ;) What was your favourite part of the movie?

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    1. Alas, Blessing Counter... there is no good answer the question of why is Frank Churchill's wig so awful. Aside from maybe being an inside joke since there's that whole thing in the book about him going to London just to get his hair cut?

      But yes, that's Harriet posing as some sort of Grecian something. Emma is painting her portrait, and Mr. Elton is twittering about. My favorite moment actually involves that portrait -- it's been framed and is hanging in the Hartfield gallery, and when Emma becomes convinced that Mr. Knightley is in love with Harriet, the narrator says, "Something had to be done!" and Emma sneaks into the room at night, takes down Harriet's portrait, and replaces it with a portrait of a big, shaggy dog! I'm giggling aloud just remembering!

      But my favorite scene, is probably Emma and Mr. Knightley walking together after he returns from visiting his brother, both of them talking cross-purposes at each other.

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Agree or disagree? That is the question...

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)