Magazine article The Spectator

The Great Neck Show

Magazine article The Spectator

The Great Neck Show

Article excerpt

Missed the last Jane Austen country wedding? Don't worry; there'll be another along in a minute. After Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Dumb and Dumber - no, hang on, that's some other fellow's; I meant Persuasion - anyway, after three hits in the last year, Miss Austen is now back with Emma - or, if you prefer, Neck and Neckability.

The neck in question belongs to Gwyneth Paltrow, and, in Douglas McGrath's adaptation, it's the star of the show, lovingly lingered on from every conceivable camera angle. It is, unquestionably, a great neck and a shoo-in at next year's Oscars for Best Neck in a Supporting Role. This is a neck you'd want to go neckin' with, an elegant curve of alabaster atop girlishly bony shoulders. But Miss Paltrow's minders have still felt it necessary to take no chances and to surround her with actresses apparently selected principally on the grounds of their comparative necklessness. Sophie Thompson, so good as Anne Elliot's sister in Persuasion, is far too young for the part of Miss Bates, but neck-wise, she's no threat to Miss Paltrow; Toni Collette, last seen as the game gal in Muriel's Wedding, reduces Emma's friend Miss Smith to a beefy clod, but she doesn't get in the way of Miss Paltrow's neck. Everyone else looks goofy or lumpy or wedged into an awkward frock; even Greta Scacchi comes off badly, squeezed into a get-up that makes her look as if her nose is missing.

Emma is the story of a meddlesome matchmaker, and true, unlike its predecessors, it does have a title role. But a title role doesn't mean a star vehicle: after the sterling ensemble work of Sense and Sensibility, there's something faintly depressing about a crack British supporting cast running around trying to make a passing Hollywood star look good. Miss Paltrow's accent isn't a problem, though she has a tendency to show off her enunciation as if she's reading aphorisms on a Radio Four literary quiz. Still, the accent is better than her dialogue, which is peppered with ostentatious non-Austenisms like `Good God!' And the dialogue is better than the look of the film, which misses the point entirely right from the opening's revival of that hoary old convention, ye olde worlde map with helpful labels for 'London' and `Highbury', just like the Ronald Colman Prisoner of Zenda. McGrath's Emma looks like a period film - which is to say it doesn't conjure any particular time and place, only a generalised nostalgia. …

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