written by me for Charity's Place
Emma Woodhouse is a charming young heroine with far too much time on her hands. Since the marriage of her prior governess, Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston, a widower with one grown son, Frank Churchill, she has decided to set her talents toward matchmaking, and providence seems to have dropped the ideal subject into her life. Harriet Smith, a naive admirer of Emma's cunning personality, is in need of the ideal match... and Emma believes that she has found such in Mr. Elton, the reverend of their small parsonage. Her brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley, the one male who can withstand her wit and match her line for line in Highbury, advises her against it, saying that Mr. Elton would never marry below his station, as Harriet has no background nor parents of consequence.
However, Emma blunders on ahead, and is encouraged by Mr. Elton's apparent interest in Harriet. Unfortunately, it is obvious to everyone save herself and the poor Harriet that his fascination is not with Miss Smith... but Miss Woodhouse, and when she interprets a riddle meant for her as a love note to Harriet, the plan becomes even more muddled. Sadly, Harriet is ill the night of the Christmas Party, and Emma must ride with Mr. Elton alone... who proposes upon the way home! Infuriated, she refuses, and must explain things to her dear friend, who is shattered.
In the meantime, Harriet was the receiver of a proposal of marriage by Robert Martin, a pleasant farmer who adores her; however, Emma's influence encourages her to reject the offer, something for which Mr. Knightley is disgusted. Determined to see Harriet happy, Emma promises that she shall never again try to match her friends up again. It is about this time that Frank Churchill comes to town and apparently takes a fancy to her. Other minor plots include the appearance of Jane Fairfax, whom Emma loathes, and various disagreements between Emma and Mr. Knightley, as well as Mr. Elton's new and intolerable wife.
But inspiration once again strikes --- and Emma is encouraged in the idea that Frank and Harriet would make a "charming couple." Unhappily, however, Mrs. Weston confides in her suspicions that Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax are secretly in love, and stay apart publicly to keep it low-key. Wary, for Emma dislikes Jane and likes Mr. Knightley, she is determined to discover the truth. Unfortunately, she has not yet learned that you shouldn't play with matches.
Set in the lush British countryside, Emma is a film that not only proves an elegant and entertaining story, but also gives you a feast for the eyes, from the gorgeous gowns of the era to the great manor houses and fashionable tastes of the wealthy. There is something attractive in every scene, whether it be the simplicity and yet charming angle of the cameras or the plush surroundings. The acting is very good - especially by Paltrow, who can make you fond of her, despite her faults, and Northam, who uses his eyes to portray what he would never dare say.
Careful notation was made of the customs and dances of the era, which gives an already-perfect film a nice overlaying touch. I could find no fault in the picture except perhaps that the sound is rather low - but it's a gorgeous and fulfilling way to spend an afternoon... which I have, more than two dozen times. There is nothing to be wary of - there's no hint of scandal or immorality, few profanities, and no violence. The worse of the suggestiveness of the film is a few low-cut gowns and a passionate (and much-awaited!) kiss. The women will fall in love with Mr. Knightley halfway through, and find the dialog witty. All in all, it's a clean and well-appreciated comedy with just the right spattering of romance.
© Charity's Place 2000