“Emma” in review

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

With not much else to do, more people are staying in to watch movies than ever. Not many movies have come out in 2020 so far, but there are still a good number of recent movies to enjoy during this time at home. “Emma.” (2020), stylized with a period, is the most recent film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel of the same name, and is a witty and comedic take on the original novel. 

Emma, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is a young woman of higher rank who takes it upon herself to play matchmaker for her friends and family. However, she is often blind to people’s feelings and best interests, and misunderstandings and social awkwardness ensue.

Even though the original novel was published in 1815, the story remains as relevant as ever. The protagonist is well-meaning but ultimately acts in misguided ways. Emotions and friendships are just as confusing as ever, and falling in love is not pretty. Class, wealth and social standings are examined and commented on with wit and intelligence.

In an interview with RadioTimes, the director, Autumn de Wilde explained that her goal lay in “in finding ways to humanise rather than modernise.”

Although de Wilde was speaking specifically about the scene where Emma gets a nosebleed during a stirring romantic confession – something that did not happen in the original novel — that quote stands true for the movie as a whole. The language, setting and costumes are all period, but the characters feel quite real and extremely relatable.

The movie also brings out the more comedic side of the original novel, even though it stays very close to the source material, and certain comedic bits play out well over the course of the film. The added laughs do not detract from the emotions of the story; instead, they make the movie feel more human.

“Emma.” has a certain aesthetic that clearly stands out from other period adaptations of the same novel. The colors are pastel and fresh, and the film is pretty to watch. The colorful costumes especially stand out against the scenery. Emma, as a young woman of great wealth, wears a new pretty dress in almost every scene — as well as a variety of interesting hats. Her friend Harriet wears clothes more appropriate to her lower station, but her costumes throughout the movie show her growth not only in society, but as a person.

The settings and costumes may be romanticized, but the emotions are real. The acting is very well done, and the choreography is much more active than in previous period adaptations, adding to the comedy and making the film much more visually interesting.

Anya Taylor-Joy, the star of the film who plays Emma, does not try to make Emma a more sympathetic character than she is. While the viewer may end up rooting for Emma anyway, they will also cringe at her selfishness and occasional societal blunder — such as when she makes fun of a close friend for being dull and boring. However, even though she conveys Emma’s bratty actions well, the character’s often selfless intentions come through, and Emma shows true growth over the course of the film.

Taylor-Joy and her romantic co-lead, played by Johnny Flynn, have great chemistry. Even though she is focused on other men throughout most of the film, it becomes clear to the viewer long before it becomes clear to the main character where her real affection lies. This does not remove any of the stakes, but instead makes it even more satisfying when the characters realize their true feelings for one another.

Even the background characters – the maids and footmen and coach drivers – who had no lines in the novel, are well-played and expressive. They clearly have opinions about what is going on, even though society does not permit them to say anything, and oftentimes the facial expressions of the background characters heighten the comedy of the film.

“Emma.” is a period film, and that may not be everyone’s cup of tea — the movie focuses on emotions and characters and flowery language, and does not contain much action. However, this movie is perfect for those who do enjoy period pieces, who have to read the original novel for class or who simply need a PG movie that they can watch with their parents. “Emma.” is a beautiful movie, and the timeless story will remain relevant for years to come.