Emma. (2020)




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This adaptation of Jane Austen’s book of the same name is director Autumn de Wilde’s feature-length directorial debut. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma. Before watching this film, I revisited 1995’s Clueless. Clueless was a modern-day adaptation of Emma. It is a fun comparison to make if you didn’t realize that Clueless was based on a novel from 1816. Clueless remains a wonderful re-interpretation of the source material. It also features the best in-movie ska band performance of all 1990s movies with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.


Emma. is a period film. It lacks the grandeur of Downton Abbey, but you can still tell the wealthy from the merely well off. Some comic relief is added via Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s father. His fear of drafts is a recurring joke that wears out its welcome rather quickly. The movie also relies on Mr. Elton’s awkwardness as a preacher far too much. His wacky wife, played by Tanya Reynolds of Sex Ed fame, suits him but is relied on too much for too little payoff. There are more clever jokes in the source material than just pointing out how strange two characters are over and over again.


Miss Bates, played by Miranda Hart, is the best supporting character. Her desire to ingratiate herself with Emma is endearing when you learn that she has been losing money and status throughout her life. She seeks to help Emma while constantly being rebuffed. When Emma finally makes an inappropriate joke in front of Miss Bates, Miss Bates steals the scene with an honest feeling eruption of emotions. It shows just how insensitive Emma truly is. This also kicks off a change in Emma’s behavior.


I saw Portrait of a Lady on Fire the day before seeing Emma. I had watched Clueless a few days before that. I would not recommend that combination. Emma is a solid movie, but my nostalgia for the 1990s has skewed my judgment. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a much better period piece and love story. Emma is a fine movie. It is a straightforward interpretation of a classic piece of literature executed very well.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst