'Emma' is a tedious and unnecessary Jane Austen adaptation in pastels with little excitement to offer viewers

What does stand out in the movie is Autumn de Wilde's cheekiness. There is a bare-bummed Johnny Flynn in his first scene as Mr Knightley while Emma lifts her skirts to warm her behind


                            'Emma' is a tedious and unnecessary Jane Austen adaptation in pastels with little excitement to offer viewers
Anya Taylor-Joy (Box Hill Films/Focus Features)

As far as a 200 plus year-old novel goes, 'Emma' is as popular as it can get. The Jane Austen novel, first published in 1815 has been adapted for television eight times and for the big screen four times and that's not including the adaptations for stage and books.

The most popular movie adaptation of 'Emma' is undoubtedly the 1995 movie, 'Clueless', starring Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy, updated to be set in an American high school in the 1990s. Then there was the 1996 eponymous film starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, which remained quite faithful to the original material.

The 2020 adaptation is Autumn de Wilde's directorial debut based on a script by Man Booker prize-winning Eleanor Catton. de Wilde's adaptation, much like the 1996 film is set in the 1800s and much like the 1996 film, modifies the conversations between Emma and Mr Knightley.

What does stand out in the movie is de Wilde's cheekiness. There is a bare-bummed Johnny Flynn in his first scene as George Knightley as he is stripped off by his manservants of his riding gear and then clothed by them. There is also Emma Woodhouse, played by Anna Taylor-Joy, who lifts up her skirts so she can warm her behind by the fire.

It's an odd moment for the character, who is defined as 'handsome, clever, and rich,' and is known for her class superiority. It's Knightley's admonishings that humble her in Austen's book after Emma's interferences and disregard for others end up hurting those around her. It is quite like that in the 2020 movie, except rather than just admonishing Emma, Knightley's conversations enlighten her to the concept of empathy.

Much like Greta Gerwig's 'Little Women', 'Emma' also casts a critical look on marriage, however, less anachronistically. Emma gets her joy from matchmaking knowing she does not necessarily have to marry, using caring for her father as an excuse. 

In Austen's time, marriage was the only way for a woman to change her life. But it is also complicated by matters of love, money, family, land and social status. And while de Wilde's adaptation tries its best to get those messages through, the long winding conversations play to lose the viewer's interest.

However, it is clear the film features the who's who of the United Kingdom's future stars. Anna Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn,  Josh O'Connor, Callum Turner and Mia Goth are certainly actors to look out for.

All said, 'Clueless' still remains the most memorable adaptation of Austen's novel and it is doubtful the 2020 film will achieve the former's timeless status. 

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