Emma. (full stop) is the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emmawhich was published in 1815. This 2020 film is directed by Autumn de Wilde (at her debut) stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn who lead a huge cast also featuring a splendid Bill Nighy.
The film is quite faithful to the novel and therefore also very similar to the 1996 film in which Emma was played by Gwyneth Paltrow. In fact, many of the dialogues are identical between the two films and echo those written by Jane Austen herself. However, the 1996 version tried to realistically recreate the atmosphere of the era in which the story is set, while it seemed to me that this new film tries to do what Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) did. Emma. wants to attract a young audience with many actors in their twenties (as required by the original story, to tell the truth) and with choices made to make everything a little more modern. Does it work? The more I think about it, the more I think it doesn’t, but let me start from the plot.
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a young noble who lives with her father (Bill Nighy) and who enjoys facilitating marriages between people she knows. She succeeded with her ex-governess Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), now happily united with Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves). Now Emma does everything to make humble Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) unhappy by impeding her marriage with the farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) by letting her think that she can can marry first the insufferable Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), and then none less than Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who clearly loves Emma.
Emma emerges as a haughty, capricious child who harasses poor Harriet, despises the people in her circle (above all the talkative Miss Bates, Miranda Hart), and does nothing to be likeable. Only in the finale does she redeem herself with two good actions (salvaging the marriage between Harriet and Martin and making peace with Miss Bates). My guess is that these two scenes are thrown in just to make her a little more pleasant in the eyes of the public, but they are clearly out of character (or at least this is the my perception, I haven’t read the book).
More generally, the relationships between the protagonists are very explicit in the movie (for example, the love between Emma and Knightley is evident from the beginning), there’s a lot of slapstick humor, both men and women are much less inhibited than they were in XIX century England due to a very strict etiquette (it’s unthinkable for Emma to kiss her beloved in the presence of her father before their marriage!)…
In short, despite the gorgeous costumes and impeccable locations, the film never gives the impression of providing an accurate historical reconstruction. This is particularly true when these ultra-modern characters find themselves trapped in dialogues taken directly from the book and written for true XIX century characters, giving the impression that sometimes the characters themselves are acting and pretending to be in a sort of play.
But who am I to criticize all this? Maybe this Emma. is the kind of film that can bring young readers closer to Austen’s novel, which is not void of humor anyway! If this is the goal, and especially if it is achieved, then perhaps we should all welcome this type of operation. In my opinion, however, this film won’t last over time like the one directed by Douglas McGrath and starring Gwyneth Paltrow seems to be doing: Emma. will soon demonstrate that it was made in 2020 according to the canons of its time. Ciao!
- Movie trailer on Youtube
- Movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
- Movie review on The film blog
- Movie review on 1 more film blog
- Movie review on The m0vie blog
- Movie review on Oh! That film blog
- Movie review on The film experience
- Movie review on The attic on eighth
- Movie review on On stage blog
- Movie review on Jason’s movie blog
- Movie review on Consequence of sound