Friday, February 14, 2020


This new movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma has big shoes to fill. For those that remember it, the 1996 version starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Colette, Jeremy Northam and Ewan McGregor. The year before, Clueless was released starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd, resetting the story in modern times in Beverly Hills. Both were hits, or at least were hits with me.

Part of me was surprised to see another adaptation so soon. Then I did the calculation and realised it’s been 25 years. So, yes, perhaps it is time for another one!

For those that know the storyline, it is a mostly familiar script, staying quite true to the original book (with a few odd exceptions toward the end). My guess, though, is that those who are completely unfamiliar with Austen’s storyline (or previous movie versions) will struggle a little with the large cast list and keeping track of names, especially as numerous people who are mentioned are never actually on screen.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is 21, beloved by her father (Bill Nighy) and rules the roost of her little town of Highbury. Her great delight is matchmaking. Her brother-in-law’s brother, Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) is one of the few people of situation and closeness to ever correct Emma or challenge her. Every one else marches to the beat of Emma’s drum, including her new friend of unknown parents, Harriet Smith. Humour is used cleverly throughout as characters interact with each other.

The settings, as one would expect from a quality period production, are beautiful. England’s rural elite are creatively and lavishly dressed, with some ridiculously large collars from both men and women. Sets are pastel, clear and look like structured perfection. Even farm life looks idyllic. Did life in England ever actually look this good? I particularly liked the creative soundtrack, which contained numerous, familiar hymns.

While it was a solid cast, I felt the way the characters were played was a bit lacking. Emma wasn’t quite as appealing as she could have been, although perhaps truer to Austen’s creation. Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) wasn’t quite lovely and empty enough. Both Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith were a bit too insipid. Mr Knightley didn’t really seem to have the strength of character expected. Almost everyone could have have been a bit ‘more’ something.

So, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Perhaps I still remember previous versions too fondly. For me, this didn’t top them - but rather reminded me why I liked them.

I was a guest of Universal Pictures

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