Austen’s title character, Emma, is a young woman so prone to error of thought and deed that detailing the goofs in this film adaptation feels a bit like adding insult to injury. Emma pouted a bit over what she said is unjust criticism. She insisted that they are not mistakes at all. She objected to there being a list of ten, insisting that I ought to have limited myself to naming only three if I must do any at all. I’ll be sure to share her insights as we go along.
Most of the goofs are simple continuity or editing errors that viewers can spot with careful attention. There are a few anachronisms and other miscellaneous errors that wouldn’t really jump out as obvious goofs unless you are an expert in a field, or looked them up like I did.
10.) When down is up – At the end of the conversation when Harriet tells Emma of her encounter in the shop with the once-rejected Robert Martin, Harriet takes a random swipe at the strings of a harp. The faint sound goes up a scale, but the direction she strums, starting at the short strings and dragging her fingers along to the long strings should have produced a sound going down the scale. Emma says that criticism of a musical performance should only be done in private if at all.
9.) The incredible appearing earrings – During the scene in which Emma paints Harriet’s portrait, she starts out sans earrings when it is Mr. Elton buzzing around her. Along comes Mr. Knightley, peering over her shoulder and she is suddenly sporting a delicate pair of earrings. While this is most likely a simple continuity error, my alternate theory is that Emma’s subconscious feelings for Mr. Knighley prompted her to adorn herself with the earrings she handily had tucked into her reticule for just such an occasion. With method actors and motivation, you never know. Emma tells me that commentary on a young woman’s jewelry is gauche and undeserving of a response.
8.) Archery form and anachronistic footwear – This goof isn’t in the film, but can be seen on the packaging of the DVD cover. The image of Gwyneth drawing the bow on the front cover shows her using a Japanese archery technique that braces the arrow on the right side of the bow with the arrow stabilized by the thumb instead of the traditional form she displayed in the scene with Mr. Knightley where the arrow goes on the left of the bow. You can see in the small box on the back cover that she also wore leather bracers (arm guards) in that scene. The back cover also features Gwyneth styling a modern pair of slingback heels. Emma has pointed out that had she held the arrow on the left, the bow would have blocked her face. Shoes, she says, are a timeless fashion choice and not up for debate.
7.) Silent Worship – The duet sung by Emma and Frank Churchill is a song titled “Silent Worship” which originates from Handel’s opera Tomoleo. Although the opera pre-dates the Regency era that Emma is set in, the song “Silent Worship” is a 1928 adaptation by Arthur Somervell of the Handel’s aria “Non lo dirò col labbro.” As such, it is a lovely, but anachronistic rendition. Emma insists that Somervell plagiarized her personal adaptation and took the credit for it.
6.) Frank Churchill’s haircut – This one has me stumped. In most cases, a reference to Frank’s haircut would put one in mind of his infamous trip to London for a haircut, but this continuity error makes no sense. Frank’s hair is shorter when he arrives to say goodbye to Emma than it is when he leaves only a few minutes later. If this was Ewan McGregor’s real hair, it would seem likely that he filmed the ending of the scene one day, had a trim at some interim point and then filmed the beginning of the scene with shorter hair. McGregor was quite vocal, however, about what he termed, “The world’s worst wig.” This leaves us to ponder the question, did someone cut the wig? Emma would have me know that I must be wrong since Frank is a bit of a dandy and his hair is always perfect.
5.) Just make it stick – When Mr. Woodhouse examines Emma’s painting, it is being held to the board with some sort of tape. Adhesive tape was invented by a surgeon in 1845, so this was impossible. The appropriate method for this era would have been to paste or pin the paper to the board. Emma has no idea what I am talking about.
4.) Counting arrows – The archery scene has numerous issues with the arrows as well as the dogs, so this one is just one example. After a few shots, the target is shown (see left side) with four arrows in it. Then we see Mr. Knightley take a shot and hear the thunk as it hits the target. Then Emma takes a shot and we see the arrow as it goes into the target a bit higher than the others, but there are still only four arrows in it when there should be six. The two then walk up to the target to retrieve the arrows and there are six arrows embedded in the target – three high and three low. Emma is affronted that I would pay such close heed when she is only practicing.
3.) Mr. Knightley ties the knot – In the scene at the end of the film where Mr. Knightley has returned to Highbury with the intention of proposing to Emma, we see his cravat become somewhat messy during their walk, only to be perfectly tied when he says “Marry me.” Emma has informed me that she, noticing the untidiness of his cravat, straightened it up herself while he was talking. She tells me that this skill, to deftly bring order to a man’s neckwear, was perfected on her father and has proven useful as a wife.
2.) What’s up with Emma’s hair? – In the same part of the film, Emma begins the scene wearing a bonnet. When she takes it off, her hair is tousled, with the pile of curls that had been under her bonnet hanging loose and near her forehead. The curls shift and change throughout the scene until at the end when Mr. Knightley proposes, they are much further back and look freshly arranged. Don’t we all wish our hair behaved this way? Emma was coy about this one. Apparently, her personal beauty secrets are not up for discussion. I think my joke about her curls being alive like Medusa’s snakes gave offense. Considering that moment where Mr. Knightly practically turned to stone, I don’t think I’m so far off the mark.
1.) Lost in the kiss – I saved the most delicious one for last. I adore Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley and he is at his finest in this proposal scene. Unfortunately, there is a moment of poor editing during their kiss (at 1.44 in this clip.) We start out looking over Emma’s shoulder and Mr. Knightley’s head is tipped to the right as he locks lips with Emma. The camera cuts to looking over Mr. Knightley’s shoulder and his head is tipped to the left. It would have worked if it wasn’t for noses. There is no way they could have switched their head tilt that fast without pulling back. Emma found the clip curious but admits that she was so distracted at that moment that she has no recollection of which way her head was going at the time.
Did you notice any of these goofs when watching the film? I confess that I missed most of them initially. If you are aware of, or you’ve spotted some goofs I didn’t include on the list, please feel free to add them in the comments. Thanks for reading. Your comments are welcome and appreciated.