Emma Parent Guide
A romantic comedy that zips along, moving briskly on tides of misadventure, comedy, and laughter.
Parent Movie Review
Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) is “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition.” So begins Jane Austen’s novel about one of her most complex characters, a woman whose determination to meddle in the lives of everyone around her, when coupled with her willful blindness to her own motivations, leads to heartache, hilarity, and the predetermined happy ending.
Fancying herself a matchmaker after the marriage of her governess turned companion (Greta Scacchi playing Mrs. Weston), Emma decides to take a boarding student at the local school under her wing and groom her for a grand marriage. But Emma’s brother-in-law, George Knightley (Jeremy Northam), disapproves of Emma’s plans for little Harriet Smith (Toni Collette). Throw into the mix an arrogant vicar, a social climbing bride, a perplexing visitor, and a reserved gentlewoman, and Emma’s best laid plans soon disintegrate into comic mayhem.
Emma is one of Jane Austen’s most intricate plots and adapting it for the big screen can easily go awry. Luckily, director Douglas McGrath has done a fine job getting the critical elements of the story on screen without losing Austen’s delicious sense of irony. He is aided by performances that are almost uniformly charming: Gwyneth Paltrow as the cluelessly snobbish but well intentioned heiress, Jeffrey Northam as the emotionally restrained gentleman, and James Cosmo as Emma’s hypochondriac father. The weak spot in this production is sadly Toni Collette as Harriet Smith. It’s not Collette’s performance that’s the problem; it’s just that she appears too mature to be playing an impressionable teenage ingenue. Collette has an aura of brisk competence that does not jibe with the clueless Harriet Smith. Luckily, even this poor bit of casting can’t sink the buoyant plot. Emma’s story zips along, moving briskly on tides of misadventure, comedy, and laughter.
Fans of romantic comedies who want to pass their fondness on to another generation need not worry about content issues in Emma. There is some mild kissing and light social drinking. But none of that detracts from the main messages of the film: the importance of doing the right thing even when it’s hard, the value of family relationships, the dangers of judging by appearances, and the need to treat everyone with respect. When these themes are packaged up with an entertaining plot, lush English landscapes, even more charming English accents, glorious costumes, and lots of humor, this is a film that’s not to be missed by fans of period drama and anyone else who wants to spend a fun two hours contemplating the folly of clueless good intentions.Directed by Douglas McGrath. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Greta Scacchi, Toni Collette. Running time: 120 minutes. Theatrical release June 8, 1998. Updated December 10, 2020
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Emma rated PG? Emma is rated PG by the MPAA for brief mild language
Violence: It is implied that a woman has shot a dog with an arrow by accident: she shoots the arrow and a dog is heard yelping. No injury is seen.
Sexual Content: A man and woman embrace and kiss on a few occasions.
Profanity: Brief use of mild language.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Occasional mild social drinking by major and minor characters. A man’s ill-judged behavior is blamed on inebriation, but he is not obviously drunk.
Page last updated December 10, 2020
Emma Parents' Guide
Why does Emma interfere in the lives of those around her? Do you think she is well intentioned or controlling? Have you ever tried to arrange someone else’s life for them? Did they appreciate it?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you enjoy this movie, you will definitely want to read Jane Austen’s original novel, Emma. Two of Austen’s other beloved novels that feature appealing female protagonists include Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility.
Victoria Grossack has imagined a sequel to Emma entitled The Highbury Murders. This whodunit sees Mr. and Mrs. Knightley determining the identity of a killer stalking their beloved village.
Alexander McCall Smith has written an updated Emma: A Modern Retelling which brings Emma and her father into the 21st century.
Related home video titles:
Other Jane Austen novels that have been turned into excellent films include Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Clueless is a modern remake of Emma’s story.
Jane Austen’s effect on the lives of modern women is clearly illustrated in The Jane Austen Book Club.
One of the most popular period novels involving spunky young women is the classic Little Women. You can watch the 1996 or 2019 big screen versions. A Christian version set in the 21st century is also available.
A real life love story set in the Austen era is the tale of poet John Keats and his love for Fanny Brawne. If you’re looking for a weepy costume drama, check out Bright Star.
Viewers who just can’t get enough of Emma Woodhouse, will want to watch on of the detailed TV miniseries versions, filmed in 1996 and 2009.