Austenalia

Review of new Emma directed by Autumn de Wilde

You can read a professional review here.  While I am a professional with regard to book reviews, I am not a professional movie critic, so this is just the opinion of one Janeite, take it for what it is worth. 

Overall, I found the new Emma very enjoyable.  The costumes and scenery–both the exteriors and the interiors, were gorgeous.  Some have noted that the director opted for bright colors; this is true, but the effect was to make certain things pop, and in my opinion, color was not overused, nor was it distracting–it enhanced the scenes rather than detracting or distracting from them. As far as casting, with the exception of Mr. Knightley, they were all wonderful.  Favorites included Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse, Miranda Hart as Miss Bates, and Josh O’Conner as Mr. Elton. Of course, these three also had the most broadly comic roles, which they all made the most of. If O’Conner looks familiar to you, you may have seen him as Prince Charles in The Crown. His Mr. Elton is a completely different sort of character, so hats off to him. I felt that Mr. Knightley tended to fade in comparison to the other cast members, and he just didn’t seem “knightly” enough.  He wasn’t bad, just not as fantastic as Jeremy Northam (say what you want about the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma, Northam is the best Knightley ever).

First, let’s address the inevitable complaint form Austen purists, of which I normally count myself one. It is true that some of the colors used and some of the events in the movie are not completely faithful to the time period or the text. That being said, the essence of Emma was there and a lot of the dialogue, though it may have been moved to a different scene, was taken directly from Austen’s novel.  Unless one is making an 8 hour mini-series, one will never get everything from a book into a movie–that’s just a given. What is more important is the choice of scenes, the depiction of the plot and characters, and the theme of the work. 

The main characters, with the exception of the aforementioned Knightley, are all very well done and if not faithful exactly to the novel, they are definitely played in the spirit of the novel. Harriet is sheeplike, Mrs. Elton is hilarious (check out that hairdo), and Frank Churchill manages to be both pleasant and a little bit of a Rake. The important scenes, paramount of which is Box Hill, are there. I thought the Box Hill scene was well done–the viewer knows what is coming, but still wishes heartily that it wasn’t.  Hart’s Miss Bates has just the right combination of wounded bird and stiff upper lip. Emma manages to look surprised, as if thinking, “did I say that out loud?” She did.

One of the most interesting things about the movie was the soundtrack.  It is stylish, but unusual–the songs are almost like the narrator’s voice and they help imbue the irony that every true Janeite is looking for. The songs are of various genres–some operatic, some art songs, or what sound like art songs, and some gospel. An eclectic mix, but I thought it worked.

All in all, I would recommend the new Emma–there are a lot of Easter eggs for Austen fans and though the fourth wall is never broken, the viewer almost feels like the movie is winking–it is not taking itself too seriously, which I think is in the spirit of Austen.  She used humor to point out the unfairness in society, the petty wrongs, the silly rules. Somehow, I think she might have approved. (Except of course, for the inexplicable nude scene at the beginning. I am still trying to figure out why that was there. Just don’t look if you don’t want to see it.)