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Career > > 1996 > Emma


August 02, 1996 | Miramax | 121 minutes
Directed by: Douglas McGrath | Written by: Douglas McGrath | Literature: Jane Austen | Cinematography: Ian Wilson | Editing: Lesley Walker | Costume Design: Ruth Myers | Production Design: Michael Howells | Music: Rachel Portman
Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a congenial young woman who thinks of herself as a romantic matchmaker in her small community in early-19th-century England. When Emma attempts to match up her friend Harriet (Toni Collette), a respectable young woman of imperfect pedigree, with Reverend Elton (Alan Cumming), Emma starts to run into complications, which multiply amongst themselves with cases of mistaken intentions of love. Emma doesn't know who loves who, and she finally realizes the one person she truly loves herself.
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma Woodhouse), Jeremy Northam (Mr. Knightley), Toni Collette (Harriet Smith), Ewan McGregor (Frank Churchill), James Cosmo (Mr. Weston), Greta Scacchi (Mrs. Weston), Alan Cumming (Mr. Elton), Denys Hawthorne (Mr. Woodhouse), Sophie Thompson (Miss Bates), Kathleen Byron (Mrs. Goddard), Phyllida Law (Mrs. Bates), Edward Woodall (Mr. Robert Martin), Brian Capron (John Knightley), Karen Westwood (Isabella Knightley), Polly Walker (Jane Fairfax), Rebecca Craig (Miss Martin), Angela Down (Mrs. Cole), John Franklyn-Robbins (Mr. Cole), Juliet Stevenson (Mrs. Elton)

Production Notes

Director Douglas McGrath fell in love with Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma”, while he was an undergraduate at Princeton University. He believed the book would make a great film, but it was not until a decade later that he was given a chance to work on the idea. After receiving an Academy Award nomination for his work on Bullets Over Broadway, Miramax showed interest in bringing the orignal story to the screen, a year after Amy Heckerling’s modern version of the story, “Clueless”, was a box office hit. McGrath decided to bring in Gwyneth Paltrow to audition for Emma Woodhouse. Following the read through, the co-chairman of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, decided to give “Emma” the green-light. However, he secured Paltrow to appear in “The Pallbearer” first, before going ahead and allowing the film to be made. Toni Collette was cast as Harriet Smith, being the “resident non-Brits” with Gwyneth Paltrow among the cast. Of Collette, Paltrow says: “She’s such a nut! I just adore her. We were always off in a corner, cracking jokes.”

I tried to read Jane Austen when I was younger and could not get into it at all. But then I picked up Emma and thought it was so warm and witty and clever. I think that the older I get I appreciate Jane Austen more and more. I think the movie has much to say. About peer pressure, and trusting yourself. (Toni Collette, The San Francisco Chronicle, August 1996)

Miramax secured a large ensemble of British actors for the supporting roles, including Jeremy Northern, Ewan McGregor, Alan Cumming and Juliet Stevenson. McGregor, who chose “Emma” as the perfect counterpart for the recent success with “Trainspotting”, later regretted appearing in the film, saying “My decision-making was wrong. It’s the only time I’ve done that. And I learnt from it, you know. So I’m glad of that – because it was early on and I learnt my lesson. It’s a good film, Emma, but I’m just… not very good in it. I’m not helped because I’m also wearing the world’s worst wig. It’s quite a laugh, checking that wig out.” British costume designer Ruth Myers created and designed the clothing for the film. She wanted to mirror the lightness of the script within the costumes and give “a spark of color and life” to the early 19th century setting. The musical score of the film was written by British composer Rachel Portman.

“Emma” was a success with critics and audiences upon its release, earning a modest 22 million on its 7 million dollar budget. Ken Eisner, writing for Variety, proclaimed “Gwyneth Paltrow shines brightly as Jane Austen’s most endearing character, the disastrously self-assured matchmaker Emma Woodhouse. A fine cast, speedy pacing and playful direction make this a solid contender for the Austen sweepstakes.” In 1997, “Emma” received two Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Original Score, with Rachel Portman winning in the latter category.

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