Part IV: Emma, cont’d.
I just finished watching Gwyneth Paltrow star as Emma Woodhouse in the theatrical adaptation written by Douglas McGrath. It was released in 1996 and, since there were two versions of Emma in 1996, I tend to just refer to this one as “the Paltrow Emma,” to differentiate it from “the Beckinsale Emma.”
This was the very first adaptation of Emma I’d ever seen and I’ve always loved it. For the most part, I really like the cast; I think that Gwyneth Paltrow does a good job as Emma (she looks so much like her mother, Blythe Danner, who is one of my very favorite actresses), and Jeremy Northam is a wonderful Mr. Knightley. I like Greta Scacchi as “poor Miss Taylor,” and I just adore Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates (to be honest, she can do no wrong in my book). Some people think I’m crazy, but I really like Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton and Juliet Stevenson as Mrs. Elton. No, Cumming is not nearly handsome enough to play Mr. Elton, but he is just so good at being unctuous that I cannot help but like him in the role. As for Juliet Stevenson, she’s another actress who can do no wrong (if you don’t believe me, rent Truly, Madly, Deeply), and she’s just terrific as the perfectly tacky Mrs. Elton.
On the other hand, however, I am not fond of Toni Collette as Harriet. She is not really believable as a sweet, naive, innocent girl who allows Emma to make all her decisions for her. I also don’t think that Polly Walker was well cast as Jane. The book’s Jane has a delicate constitution and, while we are repeatedly reminded of this in the film, Ms. Walker appears to be as healthy as a horse, making the comments about her being delicate rather silly. But, in my not-so-humble opinion, the single worst bit of casting involves Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill. I can’t even begin to say how wrong he is for the part; the ridiculous wig is just the tip of the iceberg.
There aren’t a whole lot Austen’s words left in the script and, with the film being only 2 hours long, more than a handful of scenes are left out, but the basic plot remains intact. One such missing scene that I would have loved to have seen is when Frank plays with the children’s alphabet game and gets Jane upset, but it’s not here (N.B., this scene was also left out of Emma72). The visit to Donwell and the Box Hill picnic are combined into one outing and, once again, Jane is not present to hear Emma insult her aunt. And, the next day, when Emma goes to visit Miss Bates, it is Miss Bates whom Emma hears making excuses for not being able to visit, instead of Jane. The scene where Harriet is attacked by gypsies is wrong because, instead of her school friend being with her, it is Emma, and that makes very little sense in the grand scheme of things. I really like the Crown ball scene, and the scene where the Eltons visit Emma for tea is very well done — you could cut the tension with a knife.
It’s not a great adaptation, but it’s still a delightful film and I smile every time I watch it.