Emma, 2020 movie

EMMA. - Official Trailer [HD] - Now On Demand and In Theaters

No, I haven’t provided a link. The message: “YouTube (owned by Google) does not let you watch videos anonymously. As such, watching YouTube videos here will be tracked by YouTube/Google,” got up my nose.

Milly and I went to the movies on Sunday. I’m not sure if it was the first day cinemas were open in Western Australia, but I think so – the Premier was in the newspapers having a pint in a pub to illustrate lifted restrictions. Of course most punters regard reduced restrictions as the end of the virus, so stage 2 will be upon us soon. I’ve stocked up on masks, I can’t imagine they’ll shut down the economy a second time.

Unfortunately, our art-house cinema chain, Luna, had not yet re-opened so our choices were restricted to Emma and the NZ film Boy which was apparently a hit at Sundance. Emma suited us better timewise so Emma it was.

“Directed by Autumn de Wilde. With Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Angus Imrie.” Those are names I do not know, but they’re an odd looking lot. Very few of the cast looked as I imagined them, though Bill Nighy made an excellent, very frail, Mr Woodhouse; and the director had Robert Martin, the farmer, as an awkward young country boy which worked quite well. Harriet was well done, looking exactly like a 16 year old school girl. Mr Knightley, frankly, looked like a yokel in fancy dress, leading to a serious disconnect between his appearance and his speech, far too young and frisky for the stern corrector of Emma’s speech and behaviour JA envisaged.

For some reason all the actors leapt and capered, not to mention undressing, and dressing at the drop of a hat, all a bit disconcerting.

So, to get to the meat. The screenplay was by Eleanor Catton whose The Luminaries was probably the first work of historical fiction to be reviewed, negatively, in these pages. She appears to have done no more than select Austen’s words and string them together. There was no attempt at interpretation. The movie, long enough at two hours, concentrates on Emma and Harriet’s friendship and the tangles Emma’s matchmaking gets both of them into.

The settings as you would expect, are gorgeous. I didn’t look to see which stately homes were used.

Spoiler coming up. The Westons, Miss Bates, the vicar and his new wife, Frank and Jane play their expected parts but very much in the background. Emma’s concerns are her father and Harriet. About half-way through, Emma dances with Mr Knightley and they make eyes at each other. We are meant to realise that they have feelings (for each other). Consequently, the denoument, when it is announced that Frank and Jane have all along been secretly engaged, falls flat.

I gave it 3/5

To the extent that I remember it, and I do own a copy, I think the Gwyneth Paltrow version is better. In fact, I remember only bits and pieces from the book as well. Lets hope WG posts a review. Her scintillating analysis of Emma, in three parts, made her the inaugural wadholloway blogger of the year in 2015, and I can well imagine her applying the same gimlet eye to this curate’s egg of a movie.



22 thoughts on “Emma, 2020 movie

  1. I’ve looked at the actors. I understand your comment about Mr Knightley. The version with Gwyneth Paltrow seems better indeed.

    PS: Thanks for teaching me the word “yokel”. I didn’t know that one. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a word often used to disparage country people one doesn’t like. A slack-jawed youth. A hayseed. Which reminds me, when I moved up to the city from the country in Year 10, the other kids would tease me because I talked slow.


  2. Growing up in the corn fields of Michigan we often referred to the Local Yocals (Yokels). An old term. Now just to be contrary. I really enjoyed Emma and when another friend wanted to go to it after I saw it, I went with her so have now seen it twice. Mind you the best part of period films for me is the scenery, especially the horses. I LOVE the horses and the carriages and the wide. green pastures. I’ve not ever seen any other version of Emma so will keep my eye open in case they pass by again. But I just love the more modern screen cinematography. It’s the photographer in me I guess. I need to reread the book as I’ve forgotten quite a bit of it and for the record….I loved Harriet. Her facial expressions were gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t remember books for very long, though writing about them fixes them more firmly in my memory. I’m happy to cycle through the Jane Austen novels every 3 or 4 years.
    I enjoy being contrary so I don’t begrudge anyone else the pleasure. It’s a slow movie to sit through twice, you must really enjoy scenery!


  4. Last night, my book club was joined by the author Katherine Arden, who said she’d just tried to watch this new version of Emma but had to turn it off. On a positive note, she also said the movie’s poor quality motivated her to re-read the book, though I know it’s quite long.


    • This Emma is long – 2 hours – and slow, but not tedious. I guess there I differ with Ms Arden. I checked my JA shelf, Emma is 370pp, by comparison Mansfield Park is 470pp. Austen’s books were originally each published in three volumes, but the last two, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, being shorter, were published together in four volumes.


  5. Confession: I haven’t read Emma nor seen any of the films! That said, it sounds like Paltrow’s version is the one I should seek out. I will admit, the preview of this film intrigues me — it doesn’t feel Austenian at all. But perhaps that’s the reason it’s so intriguing!


    • The main criticism of the Paltrow version is that she was too old for the part. And I agree with that. This one is a good illustration of the novel, rather than a good interpretation, but Mr Knightley in particular is poorly cast (too young, too callow). I’d say if you’re going to read the classics then start with Jane Austen (I’ll be honest, it astonishes me to find book bloggers who haven’t read all of Jane Austen, and I know Melanie hasn’t either. US literature education must be very US oriented)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh, my Literature education was *interesting*, to say the least. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, but that’s it. I hope to read all of Austen in a few years once I’m done with my Newbery Challenge. In fact, I’ll be participating in the Classics Club then. That’s my goal at least.

        My literature education in school wasn’t entirely US focused. I did take a British Lit class, a class on the Greek/Latin writings, and a US literature course outside of my traditional Language Arts (Lit/Lang/Rhetoric combined) courses. But for me, I stopped with courses like this in high school. My college degree is in Music Performance. I didn’t have to take any traditional math, science, history, or literature courses in college. I took math courses that were music theory, writing courses that focused on writing about the music theory of great works of music, history courses on the history of music, and science courses on the physics of music. My education was highly focused in college. It’s just the path I followed somehow.


  6. OK, so gimlet eye I don’t think I can do, but I have seen this EMMA twice, first in the cinema with my JA group, and second by DVD with Mr Gums and Daughter Gums at her request a couple of weeks ago. The latest JASA newsletter had multiple responses to it, most of which were mixed like mine, but were generally more positive than negative.

    It’s an interesting version. (I was fascinated by the scriptwriter credit.) I felt it was romanticised and prettified, but that it did convey some of the main themes of the novel, particularly concerning class (and Emma’s class-bound thoughtlessness vs Mr Knightley’s more considered understanding of humanity). That’s the most important thing to me, ie an adaptation getting the main thrust of a work.

    Here is what I wrote to my American friend after the first viewing: “It’s lighter, brighter and prettier than Austen’s work, and they fiddled a little with the plot/narrative though not significantly so. … I think it conveys Austen’s main themes re class, and meddling in other people’s affairs. I was initially uncertain about Bill Nighy as Mr Woodhouse, and his first appearance on the screen made us all feel he was going to be wrong – but, in fact, he was surprisingly good. I thought Mr Knightley looked too young – he’s about 16 or so years older than Emma in the book – but when I checked the actors, the actor is 13 years older than the actor who played Emma…”

    We (the JA group) thought the casting overall was pretty good – despite my initial concern about Nighy, and my concern about Mr Knightley. Harriet, and Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) were well cast.

    The Jane Fairfax-Frank Churchill story was not properly developed, but what can you do in a two-hour movie? I didn’t particularly like the portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley either, but I think Mr and Mrs Elton were well done.

    I was intrigued by the music. I think it added to the lighter tone they’d aimed for – but I think it might have counterpointed what was going on at times. I’d like to analyse it on its own. I enjoyed many of the scenes with Nighy, particularly that with the servants and the screens near the end. (Again, romanticised, though.)

    SO, overall, I found it lighthearted fun that captured some of the aims of the novel. It was sunnier, jauntier and prettier, but it did capture some of the novel’s humour, and it did show Emma’s character development. (As I recollect, though it’s been a while, both the Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale versions were pretty good, with different strengths.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you WG for that long and considered reply. Longer and more considered for sure than those few sentences I spent on the actual movie. I await now the official JASACT report. I agree with you exactly about Bill Nighy. When he came on screen I thought what have they done, but he very quickly as you say proved all us doubters wrong. And I take your point about the actor’s age but Mr Knightley just didn’t look right – perhaps the director was aiming at the Colin Firth wet shirt market. How unnecessary was that naked wet backside. John and Isabella could have been left out except it would have upset the purists, but what surprised me was what a minor part the Westons played. All in all not my favourite JA movie by a long shot. In particular I think the director lost all dramatic tension out of Harriet-Knightley and Emma-Churchill by having Knighley gooey eyed so early in the story (by having him gooey eyed at all really).


      • I’m afraid there won’t be a proper JASACT report Bill. We saw it in late February, and no-one took proper notes of our post movie discussion. I planned to write a quick report, but a trip to Melbourne in early March, during which we got the first intimations of things not being well with my parents, meant that on our return things like that blog post got completely overtaken. It’s now too late. The group did an email discussion on the absent hero, just before Mum died, that I said I’d write up – I haven’t done that either. The June meeting was cancelled because it was the day of Mum’s funeral, but we hope to meet in July and get back to routine.

        I did think the naked scene was a bit derivative as you say of a certain other adaptation.

        Perhaps, I was so relieved it wasn’t as egregious as Sanditon which was a shocker.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve not seen this one yet, but I’m sure I’ll watch it eventually. There’s a certain mood in which an Austen adaptation is just the thing. That Paltrow version I remember enjoying enough to buy on *ahem* tape.


    • I can only imagine I enjoy JA movies for the same reason kids like having the same story read to them over and over. What is that reason? It’s more than just familiarity, it must be a comfort thing. There you go – JA appeals to our inner child. (I still have some tapes, but no longer have a player. I do have a DVD player though and a Paltrow Emma to play on it)


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