Emma (2020)

March 9, 2020

This was great. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed and cried this much in a Jane Austen adaptation. Still not my favorite story. It’s kind of difficult, in fact. Here, Austen makes her heroine the kind of character she normally mocks. Rich, vain, mockable. Emma does some really deplorable things because she thinks she’s right and ought to be excused her faults because she’s just so pretty and rich. And then. . .she learns, and we need to sympathize with her progress. But it’s hard. As the audience, we’re in the same place as her friends — we want to like her but she makes it hard.

On the ride home I did a compare and contrast with the Emma film from a decade or so ago, and while that film is nice, this one is passionate. It’s like this film turned the amplitude waaaaaay up. The highs are much higher, the lows are much lower — the picnic scene with Miss Bates in this one is brutal. The colors are much brighter, the costumes more flamboyant. The curls so much more curlier. Everything is stylized and choreographed, from a twitch of a finger to a stray glance. It’s a visually engaging film.

The film did so many interesting things. First off, servants are everywhere. Upper-class Regency culture was powered by household servants, but most adaptations put them in the background, almost as part of the set. Here, they get in the way. They walk across the foreground. There are lots of scenes of characters being dressed and undressed by servants. Their movements are choreographed. You can’t ignore them. Also, food. Lots of scenes focused on weird-ass Regency food. But there’s also the dancing, lots of great clothes and music, and the English countryside. All the things I want from an Austen film.

Star Anya Taylor-Joy is fascinating. The film spends so much time on her elfin face, her very large expressive eyes. Of course everything whirls around her.

Much like Shakespeare adaptations, I want my Austen adaptations to do something. To try something. To put a new gown on a familiar shape. To twist the knife a little. This one does.


2 Responses to “Emma (2020)”

  1. Carbonman Says:

    I first saw Anya Taylor-Joy in Thoroughbreds, a wonderful and truly twisted film. She’s got a great career ahead of her.

  2. Jared Moloshok Says:

    I first saw her in The Witch, where she did a similarly amazing job. She also voices one of the characters in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

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