MovieChat Forums > Emma (1996) Discussion > The climactic Emma/Knightly scene was we...

The climactic Emma/Knightly scene was well, badly done.


When he tell her his feelings the acting was just awful. His was ok but Kate Beckinsale was just completely emotionless. She's expecting bad news and a broken heart but she get exactly what she want yet her facial expression is just blank. There should be joy and realisation as he says what she was not expecting. I'm sure she could have done it if she tried, maybe the director wanted her emotionless for some unfathomable reason. Then the kiss was just completely lame. It was like watching Robots.

The Dancing scene was awful too. If I'd not read the book I'd have no idea the significance of it. They do not show us that Emma noticed the humiliation Harriet endured and so we don't see her bask in Mr Knightlys good turn properly at all. Also Harriet does not show enough or any signs of being humiliated either. Her countenance should show her mortification to make his rescue sweeter. These are the two best moments in the story and this poor attempt completely misses them to my mind. Stupid.

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Yeah, I'm a fan of this adaptation in general, and I really liked Beckinsale and Strong. Overall, I quite liked this scene. But even I can't deny that the kiss was pretty underwhelming.

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Its not just the kiss. I continue to consider the lines preceding the kiss to be some of the worst writing in the history of moviedom considering the amazing source material they had to work with. Who had this grand idea for a sequence?:

(paraphrasing)

Knightley: I have loved you since you were an infant.
Emma: I hope you like me better now.
[they kiss]

I mean...that's supposed to be romantic? Just creepy. Ew...

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The actual quote was more like
Knightly: I held you in my arms when you were just three weeks old.
Emma: And do you like me as well now as you did then?

It seems everyone dislikes this scene but me :(

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No, you're not alone. I like it too.

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Me too

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Oh, I think it was very well done indeed. The OP doesn't take into account that Emma has in the past days had her world and her self-view very shaken - Beckinsale handles admirably, I think, the dropping of Emma's self-assurance, her acknowleding her less than admirable conduct, her failures of observation with a touching hesitance - the mask is off, she is just a very young woman, uncertain of herself for the first time in many years.

For her to be a little stunned by Mr. Knightley's declaration of love is very much more natural, under these circumstances, than a simple - "oh, it's all OK now!" about face. Austen shows us, in other novels, that she understands this - in "Pride & Prejudice," after engaging herself to Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet "rather knew herself to be happy than felt herself so." Or very close to that wording.

It's also prhaps worth noting that this adaptation, much like the book, isn't really a romance. The 1996 Miramax film and the 2009 BBC mini-series treat it so, but look at the realities - Emma has found her happiness, not with the dashing, romantic Frank Churchill, but with the steady Mr. Knightley, who is already family to her. Austen explicitly twins Emma's and Harriet's alliances; the contrast is Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill - in the former two alliances, it is the husband who provides the steadiness and stability, in the latter, it will be the wife who does so. The romantic hero, then, is presented, to his disadvantage, by comparison with the two farmers, Mr. Knightley and Robert Martin (yes, they are on vastly different levels of society, but they are both farmers, grounded in the realities of the land and the seasons).

I absolutely love this film; I do also love the 2009 mini-series despite the unevenness of the production and the rather uneasy "modernizations;" while not as faithful, it does provide a number of illuminating insights to some aspects of the characters that get short shrift elsewhere. I don't much care for the 1996 Paltrow film, although it is well made and well acted. I don't believe Douglas McGrath truly understands the book at all, alas.

Oh, right. So, she secretly trained a flock of sandflies.

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I continue to consider the lines preceding the kiss to be some of the worst writing in the history of moviedom considering the amazing source material they had to work with.

And yet it's Sandy Welch's 2009 miniseries which constantly gets slated for changing Austen's dialogue!

"Tony, if you talk that rubbish, I shall be forced to punch your head" - Lord Tony's Wife, Orczy

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I can think of other comparisons between the screenwriters. This version of Emma gets blasted a lot because of the passionate portrayal of Mr. Knightley. Over and over again, I've read comments implying that this Knightley is so angry that he must be abusive and Emma should stay away from him because he'll likely abuse her and their children.

Yet the passionate, angry (and in one or two scenes, physically abusive) Mr. Thornton in Welch's North & South almost always gets a "free pass." And if he doesn't get a free pass, it is still swept under the rug with rationalizations, justifications, and even explanations such as, "It was a bad decision to add this bit which wasn't in the novel, but the rest of the mini is so perfect that one must make exceptions for this one transgression."


Both Andrew Davies and Sandy Welch are guilty of one offense or another. It comes down to what an audience is able to forgive, and what they are not able to forgive. (Or how much they're willing to fast forward through specific scenes and pretend they don't exist-- which is what I do when Thornton beats Stephens).

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No, I don't like that scene with Mr Thornton, either. I understand Sandy Welch's rationale - visual shorthand, making the character more interesting, etc., but the result is that Margaret's prejudice is confirmed and Thornton's character is denigrated. So we have a flawless heroine and a thuggish hero, which is not what Gaskell created. Nor do I agree that the adaptation is perfect - attractive, powerful, but far from perfect, compared to the multi-faceted novel.

Although Welch is guilty of exaggerating the comparison between Margaret's gentility and Thornton's rough and ready nature, Andrew Davies/Mark Strong's Knightley is not based on any understanding of Austen's character that I'm aware of, and that directly affects the portrayal of Emma's relationship with him. Strong's Knightley is such a miserable, glowering, intimidating man that their union comes completely out of left field (and I don't buy that the audience might not be expecting Emma's choice of husband - everybody knows!) In the garden scene, I was thinking, 'Run, Emma! Run!'

So more than being able to forgive, the audience also has to believe in the script and the characters. I will never watch the Beckinsale/Strong Emma again, because they are not how I imagine my favourite characters to be. The easy friendship between Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller is far more agreeable.

"Tony, if you talk that rubbish, I shall be forced to punch your head" - Lord Tony's Wife, Orczy

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garai and Miller are not very close to how I imagine them in the book. I do enjoy Emma 2009 very much, but there's a lot about it that I have to "overlook" while I'm watching it and disregard because it doesn't fit my image from the novel. Garai simply doesn't have the manners and posture that Emma really ought to have (director and producer's fault), and Miller is far from the outdoorsy Knightley I see in my head when I'm reading the book. I have similar issues with the Northam Paltrow version. Northam is too much the perfectly groomed, dandyish gentleman; I just cannot imagine him wearing Mr. Knightley's "thick leather gaiters" (ch. 33)!

As to Strong's portrayal, I don't disagree it went too harsh at times (director's fault, as per the notes in the making of/script book published back in 1996). But there is evidence in Austen's novel to indicate that Knightley got passionately ticked off in dealing with Emma's high-handed schemes (and about other things):


"Mr. Knightley's downright, decided, commanding sort of manner" (ch. 4).

"'Not Harriet's equal!' exclaimed Mr. Knightley loudly and warmly; and with calmer asperity" (ch. 8).

"Mr. Knightley actually looked red with surprize and displeasure, as he stood up, in tall indignation, and said, 'Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?'" (ch. 8).

"He was very much vexed. He felt the disappointment of the young man, and was mortified to have been the means of promoting it, by the sanction he had given; and the part which he was persuaded Emma had taken in the affair, was provoking him exceedingly." (ch. 8).

"But yet she had a sort of habitual respect for his judgment in general, which made her dislike having it so loudly against her" (ch. 8).

"We shall only be making each other more angry." (ch. 8).

"It was longer than usual before he came to Hartfield again; and when they did meet, his grave looks shewed that she was not forgiven" (ch. 9).

"Mr. Knightley grew angry. ‘That fellow,' said he, indignantly, 'thinks of nothing but showing off his own voice. This must not be.'" (ch. 26).

"How shocked had he been by her behaviour to Miss Bates! How directly, how strongly had he expressed himself to her on the subject! Not too strongly for the offence — but far, far too strongly to issue from any feeling softer than upright justice and clear-sighted good will" (ch. 48).



P.S. I once counted the blows delivered by Thornton; I don't recall the number, now, but it went on for quite a long interval. I cannot bring myself to characterize a beating as "visual shorthand." Sorry, it doesn't wash. Hyperbole in the extreme.

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But there is evidence in Austen's novel to indicate that Knightley got passionately ticked off in dealing with Emma's high-handed schemes ...

Yep, that's Jonny's Mr Knightley in my favourite scene, the argument about Harriet and Robert Martin! He's frustrated with Emma, but not homicidal

I don't like Jeremy Northam as Knightley, either. I like the look of him, certainly - the Paltrow film is very photogenic - but he is more Frank Churchill or Henry Tilney than Mr Knightley.

As for Romola Garai's Emma, I don't have a problem with her deportment. Emma has been brought up by herself, almost, in the country, with a young and doting governess. I doubt she even had a season. Why should she compose herself like a London miss? When Mrs Weston is promoting Emma's good qualities to Mr Knightley, she talks of her being hale and hearty, not elegant and demure. No, Emma is a country girl, like Mr Knightley is 'outdoorsy' - Romola doesn't have to walk like she has a book balanced on her head for me!

(I'm falling into the trap of defending my favourite adaptation against another's favourite, which never works, but I can't help myself when it comes to Emma! Sorry!)

"Tony, if you talk that rubbish, I shall be forced to punch your head" - Lord Tony's Wife, Orczy

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(I'm falling into the trap of defending my favourite adaptation against another's favourite, which never works, but I can't help myself when it comes to Emma! Sorry!)

No you're not. The Beckinsale isn't my favorite, the 1972 version is (but it's still not how I envision Emma and Knightley in my head). I was just making a point that all writers do things that viewers disagree with, and that they even sometimes find appalling.

Emma doesn't need to "walk like she has a book on her head" for me either, but the Emma in my head (from Austen's novel) wouldn't throw herself down on a bed.

And I wouldn't characterize Davies'/Strong's Knightley as homicidal, Welch's/Armitgage's Thornton, however... (in that particular scene)

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The 1972 adaptation? Wow! I did watch the whole thing once over - which is more than can be said for the 1970s P+P - but I don't think I could do so again. John Carson, though far too old and portly, was pleasing to listen to, but Doran Godwin - ouch. You have my admiration for being a true Austen devotee

Who says Emma wouldn't throw herself down on a bed? There was nobody else in the room to see her! I'm not sure I understand the general logic behind what Emma would and wouldn't do - could people not talk or laugh or move the same as we do today? That's not to say Emma would ever have behaved in an ill-mannered fashion, but I'm fairly sure young girls did not go around with their arms nailed to their sides, maintaining a wooden expression and sitting bolt upright all the time.

"Tony, if you talk that rubbish, I shall be forced to punch your head" - Lord Tony's Wife, Orczy

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I am more than half a century on this earth, and I was raised by a country-reared mother who told me that in her day (considerably after Austen) a lady's back never touched the back of her chair, and boys were raised never to swing their arms - it was simply assumed that girls would know better than to be so ill-bred. They might walk barefoot to school, but they must walk like ladies and gentlemen.

So no, people did not move in Austen's day as they do now. They were thoroughly trained before they reached puberty in physical deportment, and, by Emma's age (almost 21 at the novel's beginning), it would be so ingrained that it would extend to her private moments without thought (as I noted when I watched my grandmother alone - bolt upright in her chair).

I do look past Garai's excesses (production choice, as noted), as her acting is so very splendid.

Oh, right. So, she secretly trained a flock of sandflies.

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I agree the proposal scene was strange. Both Strong and Beckinsale are two very attractive people and I was expecting the first kiss to be steamy. But it looked as if they didn't want to be near one another.

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The only problem I had with the scene is that it seemed he turned his head the wrong way and made the kiss kind of awkward. Other than that, I enjoyed it very much.

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