Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Emma **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th February, 2020

EmmaJane Austen’s novel Emma was a set text in my ‘A’-level English Literature course; as the author intended, doubtless, one half-loved, half-despised, the 20-ish daughter of a devoted but hypochondriac father, Mr Woodhouse, living a life of ease in early 19th century England, with little to worry or vex her. Match-making is her favourite pastime, one of the great delights of Austen’s ironic humour being that Emma is remarkably bad at it, while dismissing any idea of matrimony herself. But matrimony is a very serious business in Austen’s world and period, which means that Autumn de Wilde’s decision essentially to make fun of the whole thing in her film left me feeling uneasy. Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of the eponymous character is itself playful, flirtatious, her father (perfectly pitched by a hesitant, draught-avoiding Bill Nighy) seen by her more as somebody to smile about behind his back rather than an elderly dependent whom she would never leave without her aid. Interestingly, some of the minor characters are most memorably represented in the movie. Mia Goth is a joy as poor, silly Harriet Smith, Emma’s protégée. Tanya Reynolds is similarly impressive as the bitchy Mrs Elton, though her husband, the vicar, is rather taken over the top by Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown). Presumably this was on the director’s advice, and she must be responsible for portraying the schoolgirls as a cross between Margaret Atwood’s hand-maidens and a gaggle of geese. Several of the interior scenes (especially with the servants in the Woodhouse household) are almost slap-stick. Yet some of the external scenes are lyric tableaux. I think it is that imbalance that left me predominantly dissatisfied with the film. Much of it is beautiful and the costumes and houses (far grander than Austen’s originals) are gorgeous. But somehow it leans too much towards 21st century tastes and not enough to a real reflection of the novel’s period.

One Response to “Emma **”

  1. Tracey Samios said

    I really enjoyed reading your review of Emma Jonathan. Your descriptive expression is lovely. It has made me want to read the book and see the film and compare them myself! Tracey Samios, Melbourne, Australia.

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