I put off watching the new movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma for quite some time. Emma has a special place in my heart as an Austen-ite. (My cat is named Mr. Knightley for fricks sake)
When I finally got around to watching Emma. (also yes, the new movie does have a period after it which is very confusing) all of the reasons I had put off watching the film in the first place came to the forefront. At it’s core Emma is a story about love; romantic love, familial love, sisterly love. The new movie is less concerned about telling the story of a bright and compassionate young woman and more about evoking a mood or aesthetic.
This is not to say that evoking an aesthetic in a movie is necessarily a bad thing. Take Sofia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst. That movie evokes an aesthetic like no other to demonstrate the vulgar excess and indulgence of Versailles.
However, trying to evoke solely a fun, feminine, carefree aesthetic in Jane Austen’s Emma makes no sense. It’s a story about so much more than that.
On the other hand, BBC’s 2009 Emma miniseries struck the perfect tone and pace for the story. The mini-series format works amazingly well for most Jane Austen novels. They allow the plot to breathe and to truly grasp the nuances of the characters. I also cannot say enough about Romola Garai’s portrayal of Emma Woodhouse. Emma can very easily come across as snooty such as in Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance in the 2020 adaptation but Garai walks the line perfectly.
I’m also pretty obsessed with Johnny Lee Miller’s performance as Mr. Knightley. I legitimately cringed watching Johnny Flynn deliver Knightley’s famous admission of love. It just came off as insincere. (Also what was going on with his because *yikes*)
So in conclusion, watch the BBC miniseries Emma and report back. And if you’re not into watching all that at least watch Knightley’s proposal scene on YouTube. (It make me cry every time.)