I haven’t done a movie review here in quite a while. So, since I just watched it again, I thought I’d share my thoughts about the newest Austen novel adaptation, Emma 2020. But first a brief update:
No, unfortunately I don’t have major progress on a new book to report (see previous post). But the good news is that the audio book of Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words is now available! Harry Frost (who is the voice of Darcy to so many) did a great job narrating the story, and I think you’ll enjoy listening to it. I did! (Read a little about the collaborative process – my notes to him and his comments to me, etc. – in this post at Austen Variations.)
Now, back to the movie review.
To begin, I should say that when I heard there was another film adaptation of Emma being made, my initial reaction was, “Why?” After all, we already had three good movie versions, (starring Kate Beckinsale, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ramola Garai in the title role). I own and like them all, for slightly different reasons. (I wondered why they didn’t make a decent adaptation of Mansfield Park instead? I’m still waiting for one worth adding to my collection!)
Of course, when it came out, I had to see it anyway. I couldn’t NOT watch a new Jane Austen movie! In fact, I had a date made to meet a friend at the theater. Then Covid hit and closed the theaters that very day. I finally got to see the movie a few months later.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, though – strange music, a bazaar nose bleed just where I would least want one, a Knightley who seemed too young and briefly appeared naked, and plenty of liberties taken with the story and characters. A faithful adaptation? No. Still there was something interesting about it – interesting enough to take a second look.
I was glad, then, that I had a copy of the movie on loan, so that I could do just that. In fact, I watched it three times before returning it – or maybe it was four. Each time, the movie grew on me a little more until I decided I must add it to my permanent collection alongside the other three.
What turned the tide of my opinion? Most importantly, after the first time through I stopped expecting it to be something it wasn’t. No, although it captures the spirit, it’s not a completely faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. But, as I said before, we didn’t really need another one of those anyway, did we? This Emma is deliberately different; it must be judged for what it is – what it attempts to do – not for what it isn’t.
What it is is innovative and quirky. It’s fun and funny. It’s “Jane Austen’s beloved comedy… reimagined in [a] delicious new film adaptation.”
So, considered in this new light, everything makes more sense. The odd music choices don’t put me off; I rather enjoy them. I find Johnny Flynn’s version of Mr. Knightley – one more tortured and less sure of himself than the others – rather endearing. Bill Nighy’s much more energetic but equally neurotic Mr. Woodhouse has completely won me over. (I still don’t really care for the nosebleed, btw, but I can live with it.)
As for the leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy, I think she does the title role justice. Her Emma is not very likable (Jane Austen never meant her to be), but by the end she has been humbled and softened sufficiently that we can wish her well.
The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her. (Emma, chapter 1)
Other highlights? THE COSTUMING! Even people who hated the movie raved about the costumes. And then there’s the Emma/Knightley ON-SCREEN CHEMISTRY. It really revs up during the dance sequence, and then there’s that one other scene… In the Kate Beckinsale / Mark Strong version of the culminating kiss, I cringe every time or even avert my eyes: zero chemistry. With this one, I sigh, then I back it up and watch it again… and possibly again after that.
[Confession: I would probably have bought the movie just for this scene alone – their palpable attraction first explored, along with the moving musical accompaniment – thrills my romantic little soul every time. It has now joined a couple of other all-time favorite scenes that I always watch more than once: what I call “The Look” in P&P ’95, and the meeting at the railway station at the end of North and South.]
So if you haven’t seen Emma 2020 yet, I recommend you do… with an open mind, not expecting something it was never intended to be. If you have seen it and didn’t care for it, consider giving it a second look. It may grow on you, like it did me, until you’ve given it a place in your affection and maybe even in your movie collection.
Interested in my other movie reviews? Here they are: Amazing Grace: a Must See Movie. Zombie Date Night: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. A Tale of Two Movies: Far From the Madding Crowd / Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Becoming a Fan of Becoming Jane. Lady Susan: the most unlikely heroine (Love and Friendship). And a related post: My Movie Picks.
PS – For a like-minded but more in-depth review of Emma 2020, read this excellent post by Hazel Mills at All Things Jane Austen.