1990's, Alan Cumming, Comedy, Douglas McGrath, Emma, Ewan McGregor, Greta Scacchi, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jane Austen, Jeremy Northam, Juliet Stevenson, Period Drama, Polly Walker, Romance, Sophie Thompson, Toni Collette
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse
- Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley
- Toni Collette as Harriet Smith
- Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill
- Alan Cumming as Mr Elton
- Polly Walker as Jane Fairfax
- Juliet Stevenson as Mrs Elton
- Greta Scacchi as Miss Taylor
- Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates
A ravishing and witty rendering of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Emma is a fine comedy romance about the errors and misinterpretation when it comes to matters involving the heart. With a delightful performance by Gwyneth Paltrow at the heart of it and an equally compelling cast surrounding her, Emma is one of those films that is almost impossible not to enjoy.
In the English countryside of the early-19th-century, a young woman by the name of Emma Woodhouse lives. A vivacious and charming woman, Emma likes to think of herself as being all-knowing when it comes to setting people up in romantic connections. This notion started after she helped introduce her now former governess Miss Taylor to the man who is now her husband. From then on Emma has made it her goal to unite others, all of it comes from a genuine place but little by little the results get complicated. Her meddling in the affairs of others begins to become a lot more complex when Emma decides to fix her shy best friend Harriet Smith up with the local minister Mr Elton. Though Harriet likes someone else, she is a little naive and instead takes Emma’s advice to pursue Mr Elton. Observing Emma’s meddling ways is family friend Mr. Knightley, who is the one person who understands what Emma is like and warns her not to get involved in other people’s love lives. Emma though is stubborn and genuinely believes she is aiding everyone with her services as Cupid, which she extends to almost everyone she meets. The amusing part of all of it is that while she’s so busy plotting to bring others together, she doesn’t see that love could be in front of her from many men; including the wise Mr. Knightley and the dashing Frank Churchill. Eventually, through all of Emma’s schemes that have been meant to be helpful for her social circle, disastrous results and odd pairings emerge through confusion and Emma’s belief that she is always right when it comes to love. But what of her own experience with love? Can she truly begin to see that love may be something for her if she’s so busy matching others up? And what of all the matches(or should that be mismatches) that she’s orchestrated from a good place that has gone awry?
Director Douglas McGrath mounts this comic tale with skill and a disarming wit, much in keeping with the Austen source material. He makes scenes flow into the next with a glee that is most delightful, as it captures how much of an impact Emma’s plans have on everyone’s romances and decisions. He also writes the script and delightfully covers the ways of old society and how Emma crucially misinterprets certain bits of information and runs with them, not realizing that something else was meant by the remark. With is direction and screenplay, McGrath makes Emma a class act from start to finish. The device of us hearing Emma’s innermost thoughts is a funny one too, especially when what she’s thinking goes opposite to her facial expressions. I must give a lot of credit to the cinematography of this movie as it contributes a playful and vivacious tone to the piece, much in the same way the eponymous character does in her own mischievous way. An elegant set design is beautifully rendered and compliments the absolutely stunning costumes worn by the characters, in particular the women involved in the story. And particularly of note and worthy of praise is the lush and romantic score from Rachel Portman, that won her a well-earned Oscar.
Embodying the title role with poise, personality and a convincing English accent is Gwyneth Paltrow, in one of her best performances. Showcasing Emma’s misguided belief that she is helping others when in fact a lot of what she does goes wrong, Paltrow finds humour within Emma as well as a core of naughtiness. Although Emma is a meddler and schemer, she does it out of kindness and Paltrow is adept at showing how she wants the best intentions for others, but how even she can’t hold sway over the heart and isn’t as skilled at matchmaking as she likes to think. It’s a stunning performance from a radiant Gwyneth Paltrow. The actors and actresses that surround Paltrow are of excellent calibre and ability. The handsome Jeremy Northam excels portraying the smart and very observant Mr. Knightley, who knows what Emma’s up to and warns her of the repercussions. A gentle and sweet performance from Toni Collette as Emma’s friend Harriet is another great part that is well suited to the talents of the very versatile actress. Then we have Ewan McGregor; delightfully charming but slightly uncouth as Frank Churchill, who could be a romantic contender for Emma’s heart. Alan Cumming is rather funny as the local minister who becomes unwittingly part of Emma’s matchmaking and Polly Walker is lovely to behold as the rather shy Jane Fairfax. Snobbery and bitchy lines come courtesy of Julie Stevenson, who is a hoot as the opinionated and stuck up woman who becomes Mr. Elton’s wife and knows how to rub Emma up the wrong way from the get go. Greta Scacchi and Sophie Thompson in small roles are both very appealing in different ways and put real stamps on the characters.
Capturing the observant nature and muddled romantic couplings of Austen’s novel as a result of the title character, Emma emerges as a hugely entertaining and lively period comedy that is topped off with a winning performance from Gwyneth Paltrow.