An Austen Classic Gets a Witty New Rendition
March 29, 2020 | By Lily Elwood, Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
Emma. is the newest reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic novel about young, upper-class Emma Woodhouse who, until recently, had faced few hardships in her own life. Not seeking a match for herself, she tries her best to set up her new friend Harriet with men in town, leading to many mishaps and miscommunications. It’s a beautifully retold story that is hilarious, heartfelt, and a genius satire of 19th-century society that succeeds in staying relatable to modern life.
Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
Written by Eleanor Catton and directed by Autumn de Wilde, the film is a faithful retelling but adds fun new scenes to update the story. For instance, while Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is alone after getting dressed, she lifts all her skirts and takes a moment to warm herself by the fire. It’s a lovely comedic touch that allows the audience to see Emma as a real, grounded person with multiple dimensions to her, and not just any other lady of society. Later in the film, when Emma is pursuing love herself and is faced with the man she loves, her nose starts to bleed. In this world of high-class snobbery, flamboyant fashion, and strict societal expectations, to see Emma as truly human makes the movie much more relatable and applicable to today. These moments are where Taylor-Joy truly shines, and they highlight the personal growth Emma undergoes. Taylor-Joy’s emotional range is incredible, whether she is portraying Emma gleefully discussing and meddling in Harriet’s love life, or showing Emma’s darker side, a person who thoughtlessly insults people and must deal with the consequences. She masterfully expresses all these emotional experiences so that in the end, it is evident how much the character Emma develops into a better person.
Two other outstanding performances were those of Josh O’Connor, who plays Mr. Elton, and Miranda Hart, who plays Miss Bates. O’Connor perfectly portrays the role of the entitled man who finds it hard to believe he would ever face rejection. He is extremely entertaining to watch as he dives into the ridiculousness of the upper-class lifestyle, and when his confession of love for Emma is shot down, he becomes this angry, obnoxious character, acting like a child who had his toy taken from him. Miranda Hart is wonderful comedic relief, playing a character who rambles on and on about her life and the life of her niece, Jane Fairfax. The character is an archetype of the annoying friend, who, no matter how short the story is, manages to go on so many tangents and add in unrelated anecdotes. Later in the movie, Hart shows another side of Miss Bates, after Emma insults her. It is a sad moment where you see that Miss Bates understands her place in society and doesn’t think very highly of herself, and Hart really gives a look into the soul of the character.
Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
Another element that makes this adaptation a standout is the spectacular costume design by Alexandra Byrne. It is accurate to the time period, but there are no boring fashion moments here. The bright colors, beautiful lace details, extravagant hats with ribbons, and intricate hairstyles all put the focus on the over-the-top drama of the upper class. The costumes are a constant thread reminding us of the film’s social commentary, making fun of the ludicrous lives the wealthy lived. On top of this, the set design evokes the opulence of the era, whether in Emma’s father’s home, out in the fields, in the town, or at a wildly extravagant ball.
Despite the story’s dependence on the expectation of women to be married, de Wilde is still able to make Emma a strong female character with a personality and life of her own before she is wed. All of the beautiful details of the movie, the humor embedded in the screenplay, and the superb acting combine to create one of the best Jane Austen adaptations out there and a fabulously embellished version of Emma’s story.