[Since I finished reading the novel, I figured that I’d watch the adaptations, too and I decided to start with the films I hadn’t yet seen. So, this is the first one, but there will be more.]
Emma Woodhouse (Kate Beckinsale) is “handsome, clever, and rich” and also very interested in matching the people around her. She credits herself with matching up her former governess Miss Taylor (now Mrs Weston) (Samantha Bond) and Mr Weston (James Hazeldine) and encouraged by that success, sets about her next “victim”, naive and unrefined Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton). Despite the warnings of her friend Mr Knightley (Mark Strong), Emma wants to match Harriet with the local vicar, Mr Elton (Dominic Rowan). For herself, Emma has no plans – other than Mr Weston’s son Frank Churchill (Raymond Coulthard) (who she has never met) excites her curiosity.
This movie has it hard. It came out in the same year as the more famous Gwyneth Paltrow version and so really doesn’t escape comparison. And mostly, it loses. But only mostly, not entirely.
It’s kind of pointless to talk about the plot, isn’t it? The story keeps close to the original and is quite well shortened so it fits one film. But the really interesting thing is the cast, I think, and how they compare to the other adaptations.
In this movie, they have the perfect Mr Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton). They let him go full-on crazy, just as he is in the novel and Hepton is wonderful in the role. It’s also great to see Samantha Morton, who is a great Harriet and very faithful to the character in the book. Olivia Williams was also great, unsurprisingly.
Unfortunately the men were pretty crappy. Casting Mark Strong as Knightley might have worked in 1996, but it so didn’t work after having seen him as basically one giant villain of craziness in the last few years. Also, does anybody find him attractive with that hair (see below)? Raymond Coulthard was just an idiot as Frank Churchill – there was no charm, just slime. And Dominic Rowan was completely forgettable as Elton. Seriously. I can’t even remember what he looked like anymore.
But it was probably Kate Beckinsale who I liked the least in the role she had. She was not a good Emma. She didn’t look right and she didn’t feel right, though it’s nothing I can put my finger on that makes me say that.
Summarising: Watchable, but there’s a reason the other one is better known.