Saturday, May 12, 2007


1996, UK/USA, directed by Douglas McGrath

Part of the wave of mid-1990s adaptations of Jane Austen, on both the big and small screens, Emma doesn't have the quite the same lively energy as the more recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which injected particular verve into ball sequences that here seem much flatter. Of course, Emma also has to deal with a much spikier - and occasionally frustrating, on the page and the screen - central character rather than the charming Elizabeth Bennet, and Gwyneth Paltrow is generally strong, treading a very thin line as the meddlesome Emma. Paltrow and co-star Jeremy Northam do particularly good work in navigating the film's most dramatic, and emotionally rich, moment, when Emma's bitterest side is given full rein.

By contrast, the turnabout that results in Emma's final redemption is less skillfully handled, a weakness only partly inherited from the novel, since the film dispenses with one key character, as if her story did not also require resolution. Even in comparison with the average Austen adaptation, Douglas McGrath's film is rather self-consciously pretty: parts of the film unspool as an advertisement for quaint English landscapes, with the impoverished families of the area living in remarkably picturesque locations despite their allegedly straitened circumstances.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States