This is a world where a woman is judged by the aura of the man whose arm holds hers, and while they maneuver, they dabble.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Writer/Director Douglas McGrath has made Jane Austen's "Emma" a delectable sight. He has adapted the novel for the screen with extraordinary gusto, bringing a jaunty eye to the art of leisure. Everything here is pulled from the magician's hat. No servants are visible in the creation of the luxurious rituals these people take for granted. The rituals are glorious: needlepoint for the ladies under an exactly placed summer canopy; tea for two at a white-clothed table under the trees; archery under the sun with one's best friend. And painting--the attics of the world are still full of paintings done by women waiting for life to happen to them. This is a world where a woman is judged by the aura of the man whose arm holds hers, and while they maneuver, they dabble.

Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the artful manipulator of men and women involved in this dance of courtship. It's hard to imagine better fun than watching Emma apply her keen intelligence to the problems of her friends. As keen intelligence often is, though, hers is hobbled by a cloudy grasp of the inner workings of the human heart. She can't see into a person's soul.

Deft at dealing with the customs and proprieties of courtship, Emma is thoroughly bewildered by the illogical chemistry of love. She is simply astonished when her friends do not love the people she has picked for them. "I seem doomed to blindness," she says, and so it seems.

Emma takes no notice of anyone who does not need her help. No one knows better than she that a rich unmarried woman is always acceptable. It's the others that she attends to. They need her. With an enormous reservoir of good will and generosity, she connives to make life work for them. When she fails, she becomes wretched in her nervousness over the details of their troubles.

With a sure step into the sublime, Mr. McGrath stages the picnic scene that is the backdrop for Emma's withering put-down of the fussbudgety spinster, Miss Bates. In the awful silence, Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam) shows his ultimate worthiness, and Emma moves from manipulation to understanding. It is a breathtaking moment.

Douglas McGrath's direction is exciting and innovative, and the cast, uniformly excellent, meets the challenge with glee. And that brings us to Gwyneth Paltrow. This young actress is content to let her raw intelligence shine through her beauty rather than insisting on projecting it. Erasing all trace of her contemporary American voice, she plays in perfect tune with the British cast. Hers is a spectacular performance of restraint and wit.

Paltrow and Jeremy Northam move Emma and Mr. Knightly beyond friendship to love with sly humor and delicacy that allows both to hold on to their very strong selves. For his part, Mr. McGrath has painted an abstract in which one scene or sight evokes the world of Jane Austen. In exuberant collusion with his fine actors, Mr. McGrath has made a bold and beautiful movie.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 492
Studio : Miramax
Rating : PG
Running Time: 2h0m

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