I just re-watched the Gwyneth version of Emma last night and I have to revisit my previous way too short review. This adaptation really has to be taken on it's own and not compared to the newer, longer BBC miniseries. This one is absolutely lovely. The line when Mr. Knightly proposes to Emma, "Marry me...marry me my wonderful, darling friend." cannot be beaten. What girl would not melt into a puddle if these words were spoken to her? Not moi.
And although I have mixed feelings about Gwyneth Paltrow, (you only have to check out her website, GOOP, to know what I mean-it's filled with instructions on how to dress, eat, exercise and think like Gwynnie) she does a very affectionate, fun version of Emma and I really love her dresses in this. OK, very shallow, and yet very true. I really want this one for myself:
And yet, it would look totally stupid on me. OK, I want her toned 24 year old body as well (or for that matter her toned, post baby 37-year-old body).
Anyhow, enough with Gwyn, and on to the perfection of Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley. Except for the excess of hairspray, which is likely attributable to the mid 1990s filming time and gives him rather the look of a newscaster, he is truly hard to beat in this role (OK, he is tied with Jonny Lee Miller in the new Emma). He does a great job of joining understated comedy with leading man yumminess. I have to say that the only quibble I have with his portrayal of our leading man was the slightly effeminate nature of his dancing with Emma at the ball. I had to look him up on IMDb to make sure of his orientation, but as he was married in 2005 to a Liz Morro, apparently the unmanly dancing was only that. Still, badly done...badly done Mr. Knightley (just kidding, only my husband rolls his eyes excessively anyway at these English Country Dances and I have to admit this one [see You Tube video at bottom] makes me want to burst out laughing).
Now, while on the topic of rare criticisms of this film, the only other thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the fright wig on Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill:
Miss Potter. Cute and sweet all at the same time.
And there are wonderful, exquisitely acted scenes throughout which did not register with me in the previous dozen or so times I have watched this over the years. If you watch the performance given by Phyllida Law (mother of Emma and Sophie Thompson) as old Mrs. Bates...I have never seen a wordless performance so nuanced and hilarious. Now I see where her daughters got their talent. She randomly tunes in and out, and watching her pick at some dainties on a plate, well...take my word for it. It is worth another viewing just for her performance. I believe she may have gotten her inspiration for this character from her mother-in-law Annie, who was deaf and lived with the family for 17 years. She turned her notes (the best way to keep Annie involved in the household gossip and funny stories) into a book , Notes to my Mother-in-law, which will be on my Christmas list this year:
And her daughter, in real life as well as in this film, Sophie Thompson, gives the ultimate performance of Miss Bates. Just watch her adjust those spectacles and talk, talk, talk.
Toni Collette does deserve a mention for her sweet Harriet in this version. On watching this again, she is not so over the top as I remembered, and altogether really delightful. I think it was just swinging that stupid butterfly net that put me off her performance. The final scene between her and Emma where she explains how she had accepted Robert Martin's offer of marriage is adorable.
And I will repeat that Juliet Stevenson as Mrs. Elton, "There is a shocking lack of satin", is another joy to watch. This is a role that she absolutely owns. Every time she cuts off Mr. Elton's speeches, or when she chomps that sandwich and then rubs her fingers together, or speaking with her mouth full...she is so much fun to watch, it is hard to feel for her the disdain which I am sure Jane Austen intended us to feel. I think the only role in which I love her more was as the mother of Kiera Knightly's character in Bend it like Beckham, "Get your lesbian feet out of my shoes!". Bwah ha ha!!!
Well, if that doesn't make you want to rent this version of Emma or buy it, or dust it off from your collection, then you might want to find another blog dedicated to another topic.
P.S. To my sister-you were right about this one. I stand corrected!