Emma. Dir. Douglas McGrath. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette. DVD. Miramax Films, 1996. 2 out of 4 stars
This film adaptation is not a successful adaptation of Jane Austen. I felt that the film centered to much on Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam) getting together. If I’m being completely honest I did not think it was that great of a film. It does capture some elements from Austen’s novel Emma very well but in other places it falls flat.
One of the things I found to be unsuccessful about this film adaptation is that the characters Mr. Churchill (Ewan McGregor) and Jane Fairfax (Polly Walker) have few scenes. In Austen’s novel Emma, Mr. Churchill and Jane Fairfax are important characters. They create a tension between Mr. Knightly and Emma. Mr. Knightly is jealous of Mr. Churchill because of the attention he pays Emma and Emma is jealous of Jane Fairfax because of Mr. Knightly’s praise of Jane. This tension helps the audience see that the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightly runs deeper than friendship. It also reveals things about Emma’s character. We see Emma hate, envy, pity, and befriend Jane Fairfax in the novel but in the film adaptation Jane Fairfax is a character with few lines and no interaction with Emma at all. Without this element the film feels rushed as if the director was trying to hurry to the proposal scene between Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam).
The theme of this movie is the education of women. We still see Mr. Knightly trying to better Emma just as he did in Austen’s novel. In the same scene discussed above where Emma and Mr. Knightly are arguing about Emma’s involvement in Harriet rejecting Mr. Martin, there is an interesting dialogue that seems to have more to do with faults that Mr. Knightly’s sees in Emma’s character than with Harriet‘s.
Mr. Knightly: “Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief.”
Emma: “Hmm, you dismiss her beauty and good nature, yet I would be very much mistaken, if your sex in general, does not think those claims the highest a woman could possess!”
Mr. Knightly: “Men of sense, whatever you many say, do not want silly wives! On my word Emma, better be with out sense then misapply it as you do.
The film cut down the dialogue from the original text on pages 46 and 47 but it still gets the point across that though the conversation is supposed to be about Harriet Mr. Knightly’s comments are meant to criticize Emma’s character. When Mr. Knightly says “Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief” it can be interpreted as Emma’s own vanity working on her own weak mind or as Emma’s vanity working on Harriet’s weak mind. It also shows Mr. Knightly interest in Emma because if Emma was just another silly girl Mr. Knightly would not bother to lecture or try to educate her. Mr. Knightly appears to be the “man of sense” grooming Emma to become his wife by educating her so she will not be “silly”.