Thursday, November 1, 2012

Film Review: Emma (BBC, 1996) by Hailey Wansick

Emma.  Dir. Diarmuid Lawrence.  Perf. Kate Beckinsale, Bernard Hepton, Mark Strong.  A&E Television, 1996.   3 out of 4 stars.
This adaptation of Emma is full of some of the cheesiest scenes I’ve ever seen, so of course I loved it.  It focuses a lot on Emma’s thing for matchmaking and how her imagination is always running away with her, showing more than one instance where she’ll simply see a character’s perfect match and then we’ll see where she is imagining the wedding between the two.  In Harriet’s case Emma is sitting in church after deciding she will try to find a match for Mr. Elton, looking around at all the eligible ladies, when she looks up at the window and notices that the sunlight is falling onto someone as if it were meant to be.  It is very played up, but it kind of works by showing the audience things they might not catch onto if they haven’t read the book

One of the most successful parts of this version is the dialogue.  Almost every time a character opens their mouth it’s directly from the book.  Besides cutting some of the longer speeches short to save on time, and then making small changes when some of the characters from the books are replaced with others for casting reasons, I thought it was very faithful.  But the dialogue isn’t always faithful to the book, and at one point filmmakers decided to make a small detail known at really strange time.  This happens when Knightley has finally proposed and been accepted by Emma and you know he’s about to kiss her. For whatever reason they just had to have him say, “I held you in my arms when you were three weeks old.”  After rewinding to make sure I heard him right, I continued to see if Emma would find that as ill-timed as me, but then she replies with, “Do you like me as well now as you did then?” in a really flirtatious voice.  I understand how things were when the book was written, but when the movie was filmed things were a little different and this probably could’ve been left out to make Knightley seem like less of a pedophile.  Clearly the makers of this film have a weird sense of humor that I think translates a little differently than they’d hoped.
I really liked the casting choices in this Emma.  Kate Beckinsale plays spoiled and controlling, yet educated and well-mannered perfectly.  And Mark Strong seems just like Knightley.  I definitely could not see him going to London to get a haircut.  He didn’t make it too obvious that he was in love with Emma like some actors would have done, and he was just the right amount of scolding brother when she acted foolishly.  My other favorite casting choice was Mrs. Elton, simply due to the fact that she was so annoying, probably even more so than Miss Bates.  Just the sound of her voice got on my nerves, but in a good way, in the way Mrs. Elton is supposed to get on your nerves.
            A major theme in this movie is marriage, because Emma’s main goal for most of it is getting less-fortunate people married.  She knows that since they aren’t as wealthy as her, it’s their responsibility to get married, and she’s determined to “help” them make the right choices.  This version also shows how Emma’s thoughts on class change throughout the film with the help of Knightley. When Emma tells her opinion of Miss Bates in front of everyone, he scolds her.  When she treats Jane horribly, ignores her, and can’t figure out why she would befriend Mrs. Elton, he makes Emma realize that she just wants a friend.  Emma’s change is shown at the end of the film when she invites Harriet and Robert to come stay at Hartfield, and then they all dance together, because that is not how things were and everyone is quite shocked by her behavior.

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