The Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma was the first time I saw a Jane Austen movie and wasn't able to get into it. I thought it might have something to do with Gwyneth because I'm pretty lukewarm about her to begin with, but now that I've had a chance to see the version starring Kate Beckinsale, someone I really, really like a lot, I think it wasn't all Gwyneth's fault.
Over at the Masterpiece site, Andrew Davies reveals that Austen predicted my reaction a couple of hundred years ago. In the intro to the Masterpiece presentation, Gillian Anderson claims that the character of Emma Woodhouse is ironic because the more obnoxious she is, the more we like her. That's not my reaction at all. Davies quotes Austen as saying, "She is a heroine who no one but myself will much like." I think I'm going to have to side with Jane on this one.
Davies goes on to sum up my problem with the story:
...Emma is so arrogant and snobbish. She treats other people like toys, or pieces on a chessboard. She moves them around saying, "You've got to go with that one, and you've got to go with that one," as if they've got no will or taste or imagination of their own.I feel like I need to see Gwyneth's version again, because I think I owe her an apology. I remember liking the end of her version, or at least feeling some satisfaction that she's really truly learned her lesson. As I was watching Kate's version, I only remembered two scenes from Gwyneth's. One was the picnic scene and Mr. Knightley's (the only character from the story I really like) laying into Emma for being so mean. The other memorable scene was towards the end when Emma realizes that she loves Knightley and we witness her extreme, repentant gratitude that she may not have lost him forever.
Like I said, I need to see that version again to be sure, but that's the impression I remember. I didn't get any of that from Kate's version though. With Kate, we see that Emma has learned her lesson, but I guess I wanted more penance. She still looks a bit haughty and pleased with herself at the end, even though she's sworn off meddling with the love lives of others.
Two of five Mr. Knightleys.