Douglas McGrath’s Emma (1996) is a whimsical and enchanting comedy of errors based on the adroit styling of Jane Austen’s timeless heroine. In an age of relentless affectation and congenial attention to every social detail, Emma Woodhouse (Gwenyth Paltrow) is a breath of fresh air. She’s pert, precocious and an incurable romantic.
After her governess, Mrs. Weston (Greta Scacchi) marries to a much older man, but for true love, Emma is determined to play cupid with her new ‘worthy cause,’ Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), a shy young girl who is not well off – financially speaking.
Emma’s first attempt at a romance between Harriet and Mr. Elton (Alan Cummings) is a social disaster when he falls for Emma instead. His grand – if awkwardly staged - amour, in the back of a snowy carriage, is not reciprocated. Ah me, the follies of youth.
Meanwhile, a close personal friend of the family, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) advises Emma against further matchmaking. But Emma has already moved on to her next social arrangement, attempting a clumsy union between Harriet and Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor) that ends happily instead for one Jane Fairfax (Polly Walker).
What is most engaging about the screenplay by Douglas McGrath is that he has not mangled Austen’s delicate prose (primarily about form, behavior and social elitism set in the pastoral ‘ye old’ English countryside) yet maintains a flair for the cinematic in this otherwise quite wordy and elegantly photographed social melodrama with comedy on the side. Ably sustained by Rachel Portman’s orchestral background score, as a film Emma has timeless appeal much as the book by Austen endures. It is required viewing for anyone who wants to experience the inauspicious hilarities that coincide with falling in love.
Alliance Atlantis DVD presentation is quite abysmal and unsatisfactory. Not anamorphic, though widescreen, the image suffers from an overly soft characteristic that at times is quite blurry and out of focus. Colors are subdued. Flesh tones rarely appear natural, but instead adopt a rather garish orange or pink haze. Occasionally, edge enhancement and pixelization intrude for an image that is hardly smooth or easy on the eyes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and quite adequate for this presentation. There are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)