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February 28, 2020

Emma (1996) --- “Cupid Is Armed And Dangerous.”


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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Directed and written by Douglas McGrath (Infamous), Emma (1996) is the fourth adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 comedy of the same name. Pretty socialite Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) entertains herself by playing matchmaker for the people around her. Her latest “project” is Ms. Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), an unpretentious debutant, who Emma believes is too good for the kind farmer Mr. Martin (Edward Woodall) who loves her and better suited for Reverend Elton (Alan Cumming), who secretly likes Emma. Despite her avid interest in romance and marriage, Emma is clueless when it comes to her own feelings and believes that she is beyond marriage and criticism. Only her widowed and dashing brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam), has the guts to put her in her place. So when her matchmaking attempts start causing more problems than expected, can Emma make things right before she jeopardizes her own chance at love and happiness?
     Although Emma differs slightly from other Jane Austen film adaptations, many of the themes and plights are the same throughout each of the films. Emma is a decorative comedy of 19th-century manners delivered with a sharp 20th-century edge and style. It is set in a time when most people traveled little and gossip was a great pastime, especially when one’s natural character tugs against the strict laws of society. Like most of Austen’s novels, the story targets the romantic buried inside each of us but unlike most rom-coms Emma uses enough social commentary and character development to lift it above the level of typical rom-coms by telling a witty and sophisticated comedy about how a strong-willed busybody matchmaker with a disdain for social conventions spends her days trying to pair off unwilling candidates for matrimony. Although Emma starts off slow and runs longer than seems necessary, it’s still a fun and entertaining film that is sure to keep the audience interested in the story’s inherent romance that thrives on overthrowing well-bred stupidity and pondering the tiniest mysteries of love. For those who believe that the storyline seems familiar, even if you’ve never seen any of the previous adaptations, this is because 1995’s Clueless is a modern take on Emma.
     Academy Award Winner Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love, The Politician)  is a unique actress with a wide range of skills and styles which have been demonstrated both in this film and in other works too. As Emma Woodhouse, she seems to be comfortable and right at home in the role of the film’s titular character. With an open and expressive personality, she delivers a charismatic performance and an endearing manner that personifies all things British with a natural ease that can be easily taken for granted or overlooked. Jeremy Northam (The Crown) is perfect as Mr. George Knightley. He carries himself in a way that makes the character believable and relatable. Similar to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcey in the Pride and Prejudice mini-series, Northam has created a memorable character that is perfectly compatible with Paltrow’s strong-willed character. Among the supporting cast, the most noteworthy is  Toni Collette (Knives Out, Unbelievable) as Emma’s malleable friend makes for an effectively frumpy Harriet Smith. Alan Cumming (The Good Wife, Broad City) is wonderfully foolish as the clumsy and suitably smarmy Reverend Elton. Sophie Thompson (Coronation Street), in her 2nd Jane Austen film adaptation, is almost too perfect as the irritating Miss Bates. And while Ewan McGregor (Birds of Prey) is a pretty versatile actor and he delivers a fair performance as the ‘dashing’ and possibly treacherous young bachelor Frank Churchill, he almost seems to be miscast or underused in this film.
     Overall, Emma (1996) is an entertaining 20th-century style comedy set in the 19th-century. The story is an even balance of social satire and daytime soap opera that makes for a glaring reminder of civilized behavior and the value of gentleness and grace in a world of unpleasantness. The cast performances were solid throughout, especially the supporting performances who are just as important as the main ones. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen or you’re looking for a Jane Austen style comedy, then I highly recommend that you check out this film.

Final Vote --- 7.2 of 10 stars

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Movies Similar
Becoming Jane (2007)
Emma (2009)
Emma (2020)
Mansfield Park (1999)
Northanger Abbey (2007)
Persuasion (2007)
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Pride and Prejudice, mini-series (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)

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