Compare and contrast the film Emma (the Gwyneth Paltrow version) with the novel Emma by Jane Austen?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jane Austen's novel Emma is full of lively characters who "have resources" of inner strength and joy. While they may be saddened, they do not succumb to modern-day demonstrations of depression or despondency. Even Harriet, whose grief over Elton is protracted and loud with silly aspects, never sinks into motivationless, joyless depression or despondency.

The film embraces a modern interpretation and spreads depression through Emma's early characterization as shown in her first close-up at Mrs. Weston's wedding reception through to the first visit from Mr. Knightley when Emma decides Mr. Elton needs matchmaking assistance. Modern psychological characterizations also inform other characterizations, such as the sinister attitude of bitter irony Frank displays when he first meets Emma while she is stuck in a puddle from caused by rain flooding: "Is your horse just washing his feet or are there darker forces at work here?" The situation and the dark psychological characterization are not part of Austen's narrative. Some specific differences follow.

Variation in Scenes and Presentation of Facts: Mrs. Weston's wedding opens the film while the novel begins afterward once the couple is away from Hartfield. Mr. Weston takes the narrator's role in the novel and explains in the film to Harriet about his son Frank Churchill.

when his wife died, after a three years' marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain. (Austen)

Altered Characterizations: Example: Mr. Elton is characterized, or more properly stated caricaturized, in the film in a way similar to Austen's characterization of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. While they share the same profession, Elton is no Collins. Elton is rational gentleman enough to be admitted to Mr. Knightley's society whereas Collins would not have been or would have been tolerated though not welcome. This negative alteration of characterization applies equally to others such as Miss Bates; Mrs. Elton; Emma herself. 

Reconstructed, Modernized Lines: FILM: "Mr. Elton is a man of twenty-six. He knows how to take care of himself." NOVEL: "Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care of himself."

Presence of Silent Servants: No hint in the novel is given of household servants at all. They are the silent and invisible "other" in the novel though visible in the film.

Psychological Assumptions: Example: Emma has lost her governess so, along with sadness, which is clearly indicated by Austen, she must also be depressed or despondent as well, which is indicated by Paltrow in her posture in the first Hartfield dinner table scene and her bitter tone to Mr. Knightley during his first filmed visit at Hartfield.

The comparisons of similarities lie in the scenes and situations that arise and in the general relationships, actions, and behaviors of the characters. While their psychology is altered in the film, the roles they play are not altered, only the attitudes with which they fulfill those roles are altered, which, to some, amounts to a great deal of alteration.