Earlier this month, the world was graced with another Jane Austen adaptation directed by Autumn de Wilde. Jane Austen’s story Emma is her second most adapted book, second only to Pride and Prejudice itself. The story follows a well-off woman, Emma Woodhouse, as she tries to set up her friend Harriet Smith with several men in their community, supposedly denying herself the same opportunity out of obligation to her father.
Jane Austen did not create Emma to be likeable. Before writing the book, she was quoted as saying “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Anya-Taylor Joy’s Emma stayed true to that role very well. Her interactions with the different people of Emma’s acquaintance made for a very true-to-book adaptation of the character. Her prissy attitude was played out while also providing the manners that polite society demanded.
Other notable characters were Mr. Knightly and Emma’s father Mr. Woodhouse. Despite seeing more of Mr. Knightly than one ever needed to see at the beginning of the movie, Johnny Flynn’s portrayal of the beloved character made room for more emotion than typically seen through the different adaptations. Tears streaming down his face as he reveals his true feelings to Emma and having to wipe his eyes as they get married made for a more human and loveable Mr. Knightly to be seen on the screen. Mr. Woodhouse was also a wonderful surprise. Bill Nighy’s version of Emma’s father made for some funny scenes within the more serious story. His hypochondriac and eccentric tendencies made for a gag arising several times throughout the movie. “Does anyone happen to feel a draft?” managed to be even more hilarious with every repetition. Each character was played true to Austen’s original work with some added tendencies that only served to make the characters more beloved and realistic.
The small directorial choices made by Autumn de Wilde within this movie also made it even more entertaining to the average Austen-ite. Outside of the gorgeous costumes, scenery, and dancing that come with every Austen adaptation, the women of the story were not wearing any visible makeup in order to stay true to the time period. The small breaks marking the changing of the seasons also allow for the viewer to mark the passage of time that shows the relationship between Mr. Knightley and Emma with a more realistic friends-to-lovers story rather than the more insta-love type story that seems to follow most Austen adaptations. Wilde’s beginning the story quoting of the first line of the book, “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her,” invited the viewer into Austen’s world.
Autumn de Wilde’s more realistic adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma gives the more Austen-averse viewers a place to start enjoying the story while also remaining loyal to the book. Her efforts were rewarded with one of the highest scores on Rotten Tomatoes for any of the other Emma adaptations. As a whole, I would rate this movie 8/10. It was fun to watch the fresh adaptation and being able to pick out the new additions to the classic. Definitely a must watch movie for every Austen-ite and rom-com lover alike.