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This the third adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma that I have watched recently, and the fourth one that I have watched overall, so I try to take each one on its own merits, but it’s hard not to compare.  In this version, Gwyneth Paltrow plays the main character and Jeremy Northam plays Mr Knightley.

Obviously in a two hour film, events move much quicker than in a mini series, and some parts of the book are completely glossed over, so it feels a bit like a condensed version (the last two adaptations I watched were both mini series).  However, it is a decent retelling of the story of Emma Woodhouse, a young woman who has no desire to marry herself, but delights in trying to find matches for her friends.  However, events get out of hand and feelings are misunderstood when she attempts to fix up her friend Harriet Smith with the local viva Mr Elton.

I have mixed feelings about this, because I actually did really enjoy it, but also felt that some parts were miscast.  Paltrow did a good job as Emma, with an excellent British accent, and Jeremy Northam was not bad as Knightley, although I personally found him a bit bland.  Alan Cummings was superb as the snobbish and unkind Mr Elton – probably the high spot of the film.  However, the casting of Toni Collette as Harriet Smith was a mystery – she is such a good actress, but seemed totally wrong for this role.  Polly Walker, while undoubtedly beautiful, did not really seem the right fit for Jane Fairfax, seeming far too worldly and confident.  Ewan McGregor was the dashing Frank Churchill, although he was barely recognisable, partly due to a horrendous wig!  Although he seemed like an odd choice, he was fine, and more or less captured the character.  I didn’t really think Denys Hawthorne was right for Mr Woodhouse though – I always imagine the character to be a frail worrier, but here he just seemed too robust and hearty.  Also, I was very disappointed that John Knightley (Mr Knightley’s brother, who is married to Emma’s sister) was basically cut out of the story.  He appears very briefly in just one scene, and has just a couple of lines.  Although he is not one of the main characters in the story, I enjoy his character, and would like to have seen more of him (even the scene where he warns Emma of Mr Elton’s true intentions was not featured).

The Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax storyline seemed to take second place to the Harriet Smith/Mr Elton storyline, which was a bit of a shame, but overall, the dialogue was sparkly and light-hearted, and I loved the shift from scene to scene, where dialogue would cross from one scene to another.

If I was to recommend a perfect adaptation, I would always choose the 2009 mini series with Romola Garai in the title role, but this is an amusing and entertaining enough version in its own right.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Douglas McGrath

Producers: Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Donna Gigliotti, Patrick Cassavetti, Donna Grey, Steven Haft

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Douglas McGrath

Main cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Alan Cummings, Toni Collette, James Cosmo, Greta Scacchi, Sophie Thompson

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series starring Romola Garai.

Click here for my review of the 1995 film Clueless (adaptation of Emma).

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This film from 1998 won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench). It’s a completely fictionalised account of Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) problem with writer’s block, while he was writing Romeo and Juliet, and how he overcomes such difficulties (but creates more problems for himself) when he falls in love with Viola De Lessups (Paltrow), who is betrothed to the evil Lord Wessex (Colin Firth).

I expected to really love this film – after all, it’s historical fiction, based on William Shakespeare and has an undeniably excellent cast – but I think I went in with my expections set a little too high, as I enjoyed it, but not as much as I had hoped. I cannot criticise any of the cast – Fiennes is great as Shakespeare, Paltrow is great as Viola, and Judi Dench is simply terrific as Queen Elizabeth I. Firth is his usual excellent self, camping it up as the stupid and obsequieous Wessex. Martin Clues, Geoffrey Rush and Simon Callow also lend great support (Rush was nominated for an Oscar), and Ben Affleck also popped up unexpectedly. It might seem as though he was out of place in a British historical comedy, but he was clearly happy to send himself up, and fitted right in.

It does have plenty of laughs, and also a couple of genuinely touching moments, and it is certainly a film I am glad I watched. However, I’m not sure that it’s one I would bother watching again; I think I prefer to see adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, rather than a film based on him writing them. All in all though, it’s a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, and there is certainly no weak link in the cast. I would rate it at 7.5/10, as I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been perhaps 30 minutes shorter.

Year of release: 1998

Director: John Madden

Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Julie Goldstein, Linda Bruce, Mark Cooper, Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt, Edward Zwick

Writers: Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman

Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson

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