Between rereading Pride and Prejudice, rewatching both Joe Wright’s more faithful adaptation and the looser Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and watching Hulu’s The Great all within the past couple weeks, I can admit I was starting to feel a bit burnt out on period pieces while making my way through Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Fortunately Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation finds a humor and whimsy that my imagination was too uninspired to impart on these proud and proper high society members itself.
Basic Synopsis: Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me no match. These pairings you find all come with a catch.
Brief Thoughts on the Book: To compare the two novels, Emma feels a bit like a long-winded exploration of the more unbearable characters of Pride and Prejudice: the entitled Caroline Bingleys who put her superiority of social standing above all else, and the outspoken Mrs. Bennets, whose ridiculousness is humorous in small doses, but taxing when it comes in 2.5 page monologues about baked apples. Sure, there is cleverness to be found, but without a character like Elizabeth Bennet guiding us through the world, there isn’t the same commiseration or understanding between the protagonist and reader about how ludicrous this world can often be.
First Favorite Line: “A farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore as much above my notice as he is below it.”
Brief Thoughts on the Film: Fortunately for me, the film adaptation of Emma does all the heavy lifting, emphasizing the silliness of the various characters and misunderstandings involving the constantly fluctuating romantic feelings being thrown around every which way. The performances and staging are constantly playing up the various relationship dynamics, with a whimsical soundtrack that combines with these elements to produce something quite farcical; which I absolutely love. And I love whoever is responsible for casting Bill Nighy as the ever anxious Mr. Woodhouse. Everyone is great in this film (and I truly mean everyone: from Mia Goth as the impressionable Harriet Smith clinging to every word Emma says, to Josh O’Connor as the self-important, Cheshire Cat grinning Mr. Elton), but Nighy’s dance with his draft impeding screens is as fraught with tension as the dance between Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma and Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightley at Emma.‘s only ball. There is a shot of him hidden away in his barriers as Emma and Knightley walk through the room’s foreground arguing about her various romantic manipulation attempts and I about died.
Second Favorite Line: “Better to be without sense altogether, than to misapply it as you do.”
Biggest Complaint: Though there is plenty of small dose buildup, there is a scene later on that does feel a bit out of nowhere in terms of Emma’s behavior, changing the tone for a large part of the rest of the film. But I think this can go in the “contextual content trimmed for time” pile as Emma. tries to juggle all the balls in the air as gracefully as possible as it races to the finish line.
Final Thoughts: It’s a rare occurrence, but every once in a while there’s a film I find far superior to the book it is adapted from. Emma. is easily one of those times.
So what’d you think of Emma.? Be sure to let me know in the comments below or over on twitter, where you can find me at BewareOfTrees.