This Emma 3 review was written for this site by my friend Susan in 1997.
Emma 3: Susan Christie's Review, 1997
I just watched Emma3 for the second time, and Mark Strong has now earned my ardent support. I originally thought he was a little too strident, but in watching it again, the only scene where I really felt he went over the top was when he was so upset about Frank going to London to get his hair cut.
In the context of the film, Knightley was unhappy because he had cancelled an appointment to meet Frank and the latter could not be bothered to show up because of a haircut. I have to admit that Strong's portrayal in that scene was very un-Knightley-like; however, in other scenes, his actions were appropriate and not inconsistent with the book. When he does come on somewhat strong (no pun intended), it is generally because he is disgusted with someone's lack of manners, as was the case in this particular scene.
I thought the caring relationship between Emma and Knightley before they discovered a different kind of love for each other was clearly established in a number of scenes, as follows:
In a scene soon after Knightley has chastised Emma for interfering with Robert Martin's proposal to Harriet, Isabella and John Knightley are visiting and Emma is holding her namesake. Knightley and Emma share many meaningful looks across the room, clearly uncomfortable with their enmity. He comes over and tells her he once held her like that, breaking the ice between them, and allowing Emma to say that they must not be enemies. Knightley also shows the lighter side of his personality in this scene when he is smiling and playing with his brother's children. I felt this scene showed the closeness of the Knightley and Woodhouse families in general, and the relationship of Knightley and Emma in particular, especially how long it had been in being established.
In the scene where Knightley tells Mrs. Weston that he'd like to see Emma "in love and in some doubt of a return -- it would do her some good," I interpreted this as his wanting Emma to feel the effects her actions had had on Robert Martin, and not any reflection of his own feelings, which I don't think he had realized at that point. He simply wanted her to become more aware of others.
When Knightley helps Emma out of her carriage at Randalls, they banter together playfully and their affection for one another is clear. Later, at the ball, Emma is dancing with Frank and catches Knightley's eye and gives him a big smile which he doesn't return -- her own quickly dies. When Mr. Weston asks them to make an example and dance, Strong's "Will you?" seems somehow sweetly vulnerable, and his "Brother and Sister? Indeed not!" was properly indignant. At Box Hill, even while he is berating Emma for her comments to Miss Bates, Knightley reaches in the carriage and arranges her seat. When he says "Badly done indeed," his voice breaks with emotion on the word "indeed."
As for the lack of comedy felt by many, I thought the dream sequences perfectly fit Emma's matchmaking character. Since she was so sure of her skill and delighted in imagining its results, it was not unreasonable to assume she would daydream about her schemes either being very successful or quite the opposite. I really love when she is daydreaming about Knightley's proposal and her acceptance, and she remembers Harriet with a start: "Oh lord -- Harriet!" This is perfectly in keeping with Emma's degree of self-absorption.
I particularly liked the scene where Emma is in the village with Harriet, and Miss Bates calls out the window to let Emma know that Jane Fairfax is there. Emma quietly groans to Harriet, "Oh lord -- Miss Bates!" and then when told that Jane will be delighted to see her, says with full smile yet clenched teeth, "I doubt it!" However, I felt Emma went out of her way to disagree with the disparaging comments Frank makes about Jane as a cover. She doesn't agree with any of them, and actually tries to stick up for Jane.
I felt the proposal scene was much closer to the feeling of the book than previous versions. I love how Emma wants to run away when she sees Knightley coming, but instead turns away only long enough to compose herself and then turns back with a ghastly attempt at a smile. One of my favorite lines has always been, "you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it." In Emma2, I was so disappointed in how they changed that line to make it more politically correct. Here it is done as in the book, and their kiss, even though out of place, at least is more appropriate for the time. When Knightley tells her that he held her in his arms when she was three weeks old, I felt that he was saying he had loved her all his life in one form or another. I liked her asking, "Do you like me as well now as you did then?" Of course he does, but in a totally different way.
I've always felt that, prior to realizing his real feelings for her, Knightley acted as a "big brother" to Emma. He tries to educate her to become the best person she can be. He knows that he is probably the only person who can or will do this. I thought Strong portrayed this well, and the more I watch this version, the more I enjoy it. I agree there were a lot of scenes left out, necessary in a two-hour production, but those which concerned Emma and Knightley were included, which of course interest me the most.
I think Strong's and Beckinsale's portrayals, and this version overall, are very close to the intent of the book and of the period in which it was written, as far as how people would really behave. I didn't care for Mrs. Elton the first time through, but appreciated her a great deal more on a second watching. All in all, I'm very pleased, and plan on many more viewings.