Paltrow looks the part as pretty, wealthy, would-be social engineer Emma Woodhouse, doesn't alienate our sympathies in her patronising attempt to find a match for orphan Harriet Smith (Collette), and pulls off an affecting arc into chastened self-knowledge when circumstances turn her machinations back on herself. Throughout, the acting's the thing, with Cumming's oleaginous cleric vying to outdo Stevenson's screeching harridan, McGregor's modern charmer, and the smooth voice of reason from the agreeably understated Northam - though they all give way to Sophie Thompson as bespectacled Miss Bates. Indeed if the performers catch the eye, it's largely because McGrath (an American screenwriter here directing his first feature) has given them substantial chunks of Austen's dialogue and more or less left them to it, since the background's generic period-England adds little but the usual breeches, bonnets and gauzy soft-focus. Sadly, when the going gets tougher the film doesn't have many answers, and the odd unsettling surge of over-emphasis betrays an eye on the American market.
Cast and crew
Gwyneth Paltrow Toni Collette Juliet Stevenson Alan Cumming Ewan McGregor Jeremy Northam Sophie Thompson Greta Scacchi Polly Walker Phyllida Law