Film Scouts Reviews


by Leslie Rigoulot

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August 18, 1996

There are so many remarkable aspects to director Douglas McGrath's "Emma" that I barely know where to begin. But since everyone else is stuck on Gwyneth Paltrow, I suppose we could start with her outstanding performance, or McGrath's love affair with her graceful neck, or how she manages to shine in a British story with a stand-out British cast. But somehow we always get around to her being Brad Pitt's girlfriend. I'm sure Jane Austen, "Emma" creator, would heartily enjoy all the chatty gossip surrounding the pair since that was Austen's forte as well as Emma's.

If you've seen "Clueless", you know that our heroine, Emma, is a busybody who is trying to find a suitable suitor for her new friend. This being the real thing and not a re-telling, we are taken to the small town of Highbury in the early 1800's where the upper class Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) is remaking Harriet (Toni Collette) and persuades her to dump a local farmer (Edward Woodall) in favor of a better match with the vicar (Alan Cumming). Things steam up when a son returns home (Ewan McGregor) and Emma's brother-in-law (Jeremy Northam) disapproves of her match-making efforts. At the center of the story is a cruel cut to the talkative Miss Bates (Sophie Thompson). To McGrath's credit, the myriad characters are well developed and the complicated story easy to follow. While it isn't as technically pretty as last year's "Sense and Sensibility", "Emma" also appeals to me as a romantic comedy, not a period piece.

And now about that great cast: I'm sure I'm not the only hormonally driven female who knows who Jeremy Northam is. In case you haven't noticed, he's a rising star on the film horizon, seen in "The Net" with Sandra Bullock, "Carrington" with Emma Thompson, and opposite Ralph Fiennes in "Wuthering Heights". If you're as enchanted with him as I am, check out the BBC video "A Fatal Inversion", now available through CBS-Fox. Toni Collette will be familiar to those who saw "Muriel's Wedding' and reunites here with Gwyneth Paltrow with whom she appeared in "The Pallbearer". And Alan Cumming is such a convincing jerk that my best friend remembered him from "Circle of Friends". Of course, I wouldn't have recognized Ewan McGregor from "Trainspotting" as the dashing Frank Churchill, but I did recognize him from "Shallow Grave". And Sophie Thompson is indeed Emma's sister; Emma Thompson that is. And she got to work with her mother, Phyllida Law, who, oddly enough, plays her mother. Enjoy "Emma", a bit of brightness in a summer of explosions. Rated PG.

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