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Emma (1996 film): Wikis


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Promotional poster for Emma
Directed by Douglas McGrath
Produced by Patrick Cassavetti
Steven Haft
Written by Jane Austen (book)
Douglas McGrath (screenplay)
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow
Alan Cumming
Toni Collette
Ewan McGregor
Polly Walker
James Cosmo
Greta Scacchi
Denys Hawthorne
Sophie Thompson
Jeremy Northam
Juliet Stevenson
Edward Woodall
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Ian Wilson
Editing by Lesley Walker
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) August 2, 1996
Running time 121 min.
Language English

Emma is a 1996 period film based on the novel of the same name by Jane Austen. Directed by Douglas McGrath, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, and Ewan McGregor.



The film describes a year in the life of Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow), a congenial but naïve young lady who thinks of herself as a romantic matchmaker in her small community in early 19th-century England. Emma fails horribly as a matchmaker, but things ultimately end well for her and her friends.

When her governess gets married and goes to live with her new husband, Mr. Weston, Emma proudly takes credit for having brought the couple together. Her father and their old family friend George Knightley (Jeremy Northam) dispute her claim and disapprove of her trying to make more matches, but she ignores their warnings and sets her mind on setting up Mr. Elton, the minister who performed the Westons's marriage ceremony, with Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), an unsophisticated young woman just entering society.

As a close friendship develops between Emma and Harriet, it becomes clear that Harriet is being courted by Robert Martin, a farmer who has known Harriet since she was a girl. When Martin proposes to Harriet, she is inclined to accept, but she has come to rely heavily on Emma's advice, and Emma persuades her to reject the proposal.

Meanwhile, Elton has been expressing a desire for Emma by taking an interest in a picture she drew of Harriet and by giving her a riddle for a book of riddles being compiled by Harriet. Emma misinterprets this as interest in Harriet, but when Elton and Emma are alone, he fervently declares his love for Emma herself, and she finally realizes her mistake. She rejects his pleas, and he later marries another woman, who turns out to be a vain socialite who competes with Emma for status in the community.

Over the next few months, various gatherings show who loves whom among Emma's friends:

  • Emma is briefly attracted to a charming, gallant young man named Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor), Mr. Weston's son who comes to visit from London, but Emma soon decides to set him up with Harriet.
  • Churchill is revealed to have a secret engagement with a shy, pretty woman named Jane Fairfax (Polly Walker).
  • Harriet has no interest in Churchill, preferring Knightley, who was the only man who would dance with her at a party.
  • Knightley danced with Harriet only out of politeness, and is starting to fall in love with Emma.

The conclusion of the story begins when Emma ridicules a poor woman named Miss Bates during a picnic, after which Knightley angrily scolds Emma and leaves town for a while. She finds herself thinking about him while he's away, but doesn't realise she loves him until Harriet expresses interest in him. When Knightley returns, he and Emma cross paths in a meadow and have a conversation that begins awkwardly but ends with him asking her to marry him and her gladly accepting. The news of their engagement upsets Harriet, who avoids Emma for a while, but returns a few weeks later, engaged to Martin. The film ends with Emma and Knightley's wedding.


Gwyneth Paltrow won critical acclaim for her role as Emma, particularly her ability to deliver an impeccable English accent, disguising her normal American accent. The characters of Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates were played by real-life mother and daughter Phyllida Law and Sophie Thompson. Scottish actor Alan Cumming and classical actress Juliet Stevenson stole most of the comic moments as Mr. and Mrs Elton.


McGrath originally wanted to make an updated film version of Emma set in modern times, but rejected that idea after learning that Amy Heckerling's Clueless was already in production.[1]


The film earned an Academy Award for Best Musical or Comedy Score. Gwyneth Paltrow also won the 1996 Golden Satellite award for Best Actress in a comedy or musical.

Comparisons with the novel

Although in general staying close to the plot of the book, the screenplay by Douglas McGrath enlivens the banter between the staid Mr. Knightley and the vivacious Emma, making the basis of their attraction more apparent.

Austen's original novel deals with Emma's false sense of class superiority, for which she is eventually chastised. In an essay from Jane Austen in Hollywood, Nora Nachumi writes that, due partly to Paltrow's star status, Emma appears less humbled by the end of this film than she does in the novel.[2]


  1. ^, "[1]"
  2. ^ Peter M. Nichols, The New York Times Essential Library: Children's Movies, Times Books, 2003, ISBN 0-8050-7198-9,

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