Emma (1996)

EMMA, the 1996 version of Jane Austen’s 1815 comedy of manners, met with generally good reviews and was a success at the box office, its modest placement at 71st among the year’s earners still sufficient to put paid to a $6,000,000 cost with a gross of $22,200,000.

Douglas McGrath wrote and directed. It has a fine cast, is handsome to look at, Rachel Portman’s pleasing score won an Oscar, and Ruth Myer’s costume design was nominated. Her assured performance in the lead role boosted 23-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow into star status.

That said, this reviewer was not particularly charmed by the overall handling, greatly preferring the 2020 version, which I think bests it in every way. The newer take took hold quickly, held fast throughout and left me exhilarated. This one had me fidgeting, impatient for it to politely snail crawl to the shrug finish. Fastidious to the point of stillborn, lacking emotional resonance; to my unrefined tradesman’s tastes it recalled the thrill raised by a dutiful holiday gift of socks from a maiden aunt. To each, thine own. So much for being invited to tarry over scones before napping at the swan pond.

HARRIET: “I saw her at church. She seemed...”  EMMA:Vulgar? Base? Conceited? Crass? She actually seemed pleased to discover that Mr. Knightley was a gentleman. I doubt he’ll return the compliment and find *her* a lady. She proposed that we form a *musical club*. Is it possible that Mr. Elton met her while doing charitable work in a mental infirmary? There is only one thing to do with a person as impossible as she.”  HARRIET: “What?”  EMMA: “I must throw a party for her. Otherwise everyone will feel at once how much I dislike her.”

With, again, a swell array of players: Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, Alan Cumming, Ewan McGregor, Greta Schacchi, Juliet Stevenson, Polly Walker, James Cosmo, Phyllida Law, Kathleen Byron, Sophie Thompson. 120 minutes.


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