Top Ten Goofs in Emma (1997)

Top Ten Goofs in Emma (1997)

Are you thinking that the title of this post is a goof? I can practically hear the objections winging their way across the cosmos. The Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow adaptations of Emma were both made in 1996. I wrestled with this conundrum since I can’t duplicate the title and the Goofs and Trivia series has an established naming convention. I followed the lead of several other Austen-focused bloggers who differentiate the two by using the release date of this version on PBS’ Masterpiece Classic series in January 1997. Now that we’re past that potential distraction, it’s on to the business of detailing the goofs.

I’ve mentioned this before, but since many of our readers have declared this version to be their favorite, it bears repeating. Identifying the goofs, little blunders of continuity, anachronisms, and other details that interfere with the suspension of disbelief aren’t necessarily criticism of the adaptation. It’s akin to finding Easter Eggs in games and DVDs. I embrace the little imperfections I find, as they are evidence of the humanity of those whose long hours of effort came together to create these creations that delight and entertain. On to the goofs.

10.) Where did the bees go? When Emma takes Harriet to visit the Martins, there are two charming straw beehives near the gate beneath a bush laden with blossoms. The scene, however, lacks even one busy little bee to lend authenticity to the picture.

9.) The idyllic harvest scene. After Emma and Mr. Knightley have convinced Mr. Woodhouse of the marriage, there is a short scene showing Mr. Knightley’s tenant farmers bringing in the hay. The men, women, and children are all joyfully toiling away in the sun, raking, tying, loading the wagon, etc., but there is not one smudge of grime or drop of sweat to be seen. It’s just a bit too picture perfect to be believable. I’ve set this video to begin mid-way so you can see what I mean. I little patch of dampness on the men’s backs or under their arms would have gone a long way toward making this scene believable.

8.) Rearranging the ribbons. The right image below is of Emma during dinner, and the front band sits back so far on her head that it meets with the back band at the crown of her head. In the image on the left, taken during her carriage ride home with Mr. Elton, you can see that the band of ribbons is arranged quite differently than it was during dinner.

7.) A timeless musical number indeed. The first musical number Jane Fairfax performs is an Italian song, Mi lagnero taceno by composer Gioachino Rossini. While Rosinni alive during the period presented in this adaptation, he didn’t compose this particular selection until 1858, making it an anachronistic choice. It is apt, however, as the lyrics of the song lament a cruel lover, foreshadowing the treatment she will soon experience at the hands of Frank Churchill.

6.) The forward-facing carriage seat – Our first glimpse of the Woodhouses transporting Miss Taylor to her wedding shows Emma and Miss Taylor already seated in the carriage while Mr. Woodhouse is assisted to the carriage by footmen. The carriage pulls away, and we are taken inside to the conversation. We see a sliver of the outdoors through the carriage window next to Miss Taylor, where it is clear from the motion of the landscape outside that the ladies are in the backward facing position. Georgian carriage etiquette 101 prescribes that the man takes the seat facing backward. The fact that Mr. Woodhouse is in the forward facing seat is reinforced by the padded wall behind him as well as when he waves to the villagers he sees on the road, and they wave back, approaching the carriage. It’s a possibility that this is an intentional faux pas demonstrating how Emma coddles her father, giving him a pass on the courtesy that is her due.

5.) The windows of Fords. As Emma and Frank Churchill are conversing on the street in Highbury, a man can be seen in the background washing the windows of Fords. As they approach, he is washing the bottom row of the side panes, but then unmethodically switches to the center of the bank of pains, starting with the middle window beneath the word “linen” in the signage. He then moves to the left and polishes its neighbor beneath the word “Ford” for several turns of the conversation. As Emma and Frank are discussing making some purchases in the shop, the man moves back to the same window below “linen” and applies his efforts to it again before dropping the cloth onto the rim of the bucket to open the door for them as they approach the shop. I’m afraid the combined picture below loses much of the impact because you don’t get the sense of the passage of time as the conversation cuts back and forth between Emma and Frank.

4.) The Christmas miracle. At the Westons Christmas Eve party, Emma stops to admire a portrait of Frank. The candles illuminating the painting are uniformly about four inches tall. Moments later, they have shrunk down to approximately three inches each, just as the alarm is made that it is snowing. They will not burn out before the party is over though. When Emma returns for one last look ere her departure, they are once again about four inches tall.

3.) Something’s knot quite right. During the carriage ride when Emma takes Harriet to visit at the Martin house, they pause on the rise to look over the expanse of Mr. Knightley’s estate. The ribbons of Harriet’s bonnet, while secure, are sagging in a most unattractive manner. In the next scene, they have arrived, and Harriet’s ribbons are tied up in a crisp and pretty little bow. She would have had no way to know that her ribbons were looking shabby, and Emma was not of a mind to help her impress the Martins, so there is no plausible explanation beyond a freshening of wardrobe between takes.

2.) Build me a boat back in time. The song that Emma and Frank sing as a duet is also anachronistic. Father, Build me a Boat was composed by Herbert Hughs in 1882, and therefore is many decades out of the appropriate period. Some speculate that Hughs, who was a collector of folk songs, may have simply documented a traditional song in this case. There still wouldn’t have been sheet music for it, however, so the designation of this title as a goof remains.

1.) The many hats of Emma Woodhouse. I saved this one for last, fully aware that it may be a controversial inclusion on this list. I’ll concede that the hats she wears are historically accurate. I’ll acknowledge that Kate Beckinsale and the costumer were deliberate in choosing the styles that were most flattering to Kate and signaled Emma’s position in that society. What I am unable to reconcile is that in spite of taking no care to protect her skin from the sun with a brim or parasol to shade her face, Emma Woodhouse has a creamy, porcelain complexion with nary a freckle or tinge of tan. I present the gallery of Emma Woodhouse hats:

Big brim, but twisted up and off of the face.
Somewhat reminiscent of a Sea Captain’s hat.
No brim at all. She usually wears this one in the winter months.
The brim is narrow and provides little if any shade to the face.
The single example of a hat with a brim. Emma wore this in one scene only – the strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey.
There were several outdoor scenes where Emma didn’t bother with a hat at all.

Now it’s time for you to weigh in. Were there any of these goofs that you had noticed? Are there goofs you’ve spotted that will expand this list? Are there goofs on this list that you don’t think belong there? I’d love to hear your comments.


19 Responses to Top Ten Goofs in Emma (1997)

  1. I was wandering google search for Jane Fairfax and found this. 🙂 This version of Emma has always been my favourite – perhaps because it was the first one I saw? I do remember vividly loaning the vhs tape to my friends as we were studying Emma for our final year at school in 1997, and recommending it as including more of the book scenes compared to the GP version!

    I don’t think I noticed any of the goofs myself except #8, the hair ribbons. I had wondered about the songs but never looked them up to determine their appropriateness.

    • How lovely that you found us! I call it serendipity. I love it when people declare their favorite version, perhaps because I have a hard time picking a favorite. This version certainly has it’s charms! Good work on noticing the hair ribbons. That one eluded me at first. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. I love the goofs! You did a great job finding these. I haven’t seen this adaptation in a long time, but I’m sure I noticed no goofs when I watched it. Next time, though….

    • Thank you, Pam. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I just got the DVD today for my next Goofs post. I have great fun watching for the goofs. It’s an entirely different mindset.

  3. I see what you mean about #9. During the first few seconds of the video clip, I expected everyone to break in to song! Or maybe to start talking about Ma & Pa Wilder.

  4. I love finding goofs and I certainly missed these. I loved your posts when you find them. Keep entertaining us with these observations. Eventually I may have one for you…. yeah, right.

    • When I’m watching a film for pure enjoyment, I put on my “suspension of disbelief” hat. In most cases. I miss plot holes, goofs, and such for the sake of the pleasure of immersing myself in story. When I’m watching for goofs, it’s a completely different mindset–very similar to proofreading and editing. I can never do it on the first viewing. This is a good thing, considering the money we shell out to watch a movie in the theater. This series is challenging, and is honing my attention to detail. This particular film is so well crafted that I did have to get pretty nit-picky to come up with ten.

  5. I really like the music in this adaptation, even if some of it is anachronistic. The musical selections for Emma and Jane reflect their characters extremely well.

    As you point out, the hats that Kate Beckinsale wears in this adaptation aren’t anachronistic. The trouble with Emma’s wardrobe, in my opinion, is the same problem that shows up in the vast majority of films set during the Regency era: there are not enough parasols and veils! Here is a fashion plate that shows both of those accessories: But veils could obscure leading actresses’ faces, and parasols might be unwieldy. I suspect that those are the reasons why filmmakers seldom put them in.

    • Rereading my comment, I can see that it looks as though I was implying that you didn’t mention parasols in your article. I didn’t intend to do that; I noticed that you did mention that Emma never uses a parasol. What I meant to emphasize was that parasols and/or veils appear in almost all of the “walking dress” Regency fashion plates I have seen (on the internet, anyway). For that reason, it’s interesting to me that so few films include them.

      • The only person I spotted with a parasol in this version was Mrs. Elton, who marched up Box Hill with one. They way overdressed her character, with fussy clothing, excessive trims, gaudy jewelry, etc., so I think that in her case, the parasol was intended to contribute to that effect. You are correct, however, that upper class women were serious about keeping their skin out of the sun. Kissed just enough for a hint of color but no more. What they would have given for modern sunscreen! I have wondered if filmmakers shy away from the parasols because they do their job well, and therefore interferes with the natural lighting that illuminates the face. Loved your comments!

  6. Enjoyed your post. Sadly, I don’t recall noticing any of these goofs although I haven’t seen this movie since it was first released on dvd. I used to own it but it was lost during a move. I think it’s time I break down and repurchase as I think it’s definitely time for a re-watch.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I believe this version hasn’t received the attention it deserves, possibly because it was the caboose of the Emma adaptation train of 1996. I was delighted to add it to my collection, as I’m sure it will be watched many times. There are layers and layers of things going on in this gem!

  7. I saw the PBS version of Emma. I didn’t think to look for goofs though!lol I ‘ok have to lookcloser!

    • The goofs in this particular adaptation are so minor that if you aren’t looking for them, you would never spot them. Trust me on this. I had to watch it through numerous times to find them.

  8. Thank you for sharing this insightful post. I recently introduced a good friend to this adaption. Overall it is a good one and I will be looking for the goofs upon my next viewing. 🙂

    • What a good friend you are, to make such an introduction. 🙂 It is an excellent version and well deserving of another viewing any time the mood strikes. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Oh Diana, I bet you can guess my response!
    No I never noticed any of those or any others.
    This is definitely my favourite version of Emma but alas it isn’t shown on tv as often as the GP version.
    I suppose I could buy it but if I do decide to watch a dvd it always seems to be P&P 1995 or 2005! both of which I love goods and all!
    I do enjoy your dedication to this series.

    • I know what you mean about certain adaptations receiving more air time than others. I broke down and bought the DVD in order to watch it several times to discover the goofs, which it took numerous viewings to spot. Not that it was much of a sacrifice, mind you. Any excuse to add an acquisition to my Austen DVD collection is a good one.

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