This year is many things, of which the most innocent is: the year when I watched Emma. (2020, dir. Autumn de Wilde) more than any other film.

I often give off the impression that I like period pieces, but in fact what I like is Keira Knightley. I had no particular draw to Emma. other than the calm excitement among artsy literary geeks leading up to its release which was tempered by a global catastrophe from which we have not yet escaped. I have not read the book or watched any previous film productions (though I did see Clueless as a 13-year-old; the only part I remember is that Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd end up together and it’s not incest).

Rather, I wound up watching Emma. once out of curiosity and at least six times thereafter because it was, without intention, the only film on my laptop during a period when I had no internet connection and no desire to be left alone with my thoughts. For several days this summer, I watched Emma. twice a night, every night, and a film that had been tolerable on first viewing became engaging, immersive, and no less confusing.

So I’m going to watch it again. Spoilers ahead, I guess.

~~~

The opening shot absolutely looks like a horror movie. The first time I watched it, I accidentally paused it right as Emma opened her eye, and it was like I had put on the One Ring and drawn Sauron into my bedroom.

Emma’s eyebrows are delightfully natural and unkempt, in stark contrast to the alarming tightness of her curls.

The sheep in this film are an absolute delight.

I am not convinced that Mr. Elton is not an automaton based on his eye movements as he says “Thisss man and thisss woman.”

Mr. Knightley’s position and relevance to the Woodhouse family are not once explained in this film, and if the representation in Clueless is inaccurate, then I still have no idea why he’s always around.

Oh, to be Bill Nighy in a floral-patterned suit that blends surreptitiously into uncomfortable floral-patterned furniture.

As is everyone else, I am utterly befuddled by Emma’s sudden and total obsession with Harriet, whose every movement—eating in particular—resembles that of an animated chipmunk.

Oh, to be Bill Nighy in a floral-patterned suit that blends surreptitiously into uncomfortable floral-patterned furniture set against floral-patterned wallpaper.

“You must sit over there” has the exact energy of Lady Catherine telling Mr. Collins to “Move! Over there!” in Pride and Prejudice (2005) except we give Emma a pass for being peppy about it.

“I saw you through the window.”

I do enjoy how the camera lets Miranda go out of frame, allowing us to care about her story about as much as Emma does.

How does Mia Goth make her breaths and voice go ᵘᵖ like that?

Mr. Martin seems incredibly well-dressed for a farm man, better than any gentility I have ever encountered, Miss Woodhouse.

I am choosing to ignore every storyline with Mr. Elton. He looks and acts a rat; I cannot imagine putting any further emotional energy into his aristocratic theatre.

Accusing Emma of painting Harriet “too tall,” in a scene with no other objects to which to compare her height, is the least constructive criticism Mr. Knightley could possibly produce.

“Emma has been meaning to read more since she was twelve years old”; same.

Oh, to be Bill Nighy in a floral-patterned suit that blends surreptitiously into uncomfortable floral-patterned furniture behind various heights of floral-patterned screens set against floral-patterned wallpaper.

“I only want to keep Harriet for myself,” but not in a gay way, because not every film can be The Duchess (2008).

How does Harriet, a girl with no known family who lives in a boarding school, have an entire bedroom and luscious bed to herself? My entire flat could fit in that room!

These girls derive so much joy from the sand-cutting game; they’ll spend the rest of their lives chasing that high.

Jane Fairfax is the stone-cold protagonist we deserve.

This film gives Mr. Knightley an absolute whirlwind of telling glances that imply a myriad of romantic interests, a fair portion of which are just left hanging as if they hadn’t happened at all, rendering the viewer unable to discern meaning from anything he does (until the floor yearning, but we’ll get there).

Emma has little skill in anything, little passion for self-improvement, and a simmering resentment for anyone who has accomplished the talents she’s abandoned. Where have I encountered that before, I wonder …

Mr. Martin x Harriet in the rain wants to be Mr. Darcy x Elizabeth in the rain except they are missing both pride and prejudice.

When Mr. Churchill says, “She is poor and of no consequence,” is that what Emma wants to hear? I don’t understand why he bothers to be cruel about Jane; he could merely be indifferent and maintain their ruse without suspicion.

I suppose it goes along with his other odd choices, like travelling a day for a haircut that is, objectively, the most uninspiring haircut to have ever graced a gentleman’s scalp.

“No return address!”

What is Jane Fairfax’s game with Mr. Knightley? Is she trying to spite Mr. Churchill for playing nice with Emma? Is it just camaraderie? (Are casual friendships even allowed in adult-hormone-land?) What did Mr. Knightley do to deserve this?

I will not break my own rule, but I will at least acknowledge the presence of Minnie Mouse.

Is any of the food in this film meant to imitate an actual edible item? I’m particularly suspicious of the asparagus cake and the period blood wine.

Man, can you even imagine a dance? Touching other people? Holding hands with a stranger? Breathing within a metre of someone you don’t know?

“We are not really so much brother and sister as to make it improper” is the first and only acknowledgement of how and why Mr. Knightley and Emma have anything to do with one another.

I’ve witnessed a lot of contradictory eye contact in this film so far, but Mr. Knightley and Emma dancing is the first scene of yearning, and hereafter the yearning is relentless, as if they had forgotten to yearn all along and have to make up for a lifetime of it.

Mr. Churchill asks Mr. Knightley “What is your purpose here?” as if Mr. Knightley isn’t at Hartfield in almost every scene.

I don’t really understand Emma’s jubilance with passing Mr. Churchill off to Harriet before the yearning has reached its peak (she has seemed at the very least amused, and perhaps a bit protective, of Mr. Churchill). But then I hardly understand anything in this film that I have seen upwards of seven times, so.

Time for Mr. Knightley to take off his fancy clothes and yearn on the floor.

See, Denethor, that’s how you eat a tomato.

Only on this, my nth viewing, have I figured out why Mr. Knightley invites Harriet rather than Emma to see his special window (not a euphemism).

This film feels like a simulation when Harriet says “I should not have thought it possible that you could have misunderstood me,” as if Autumn de Wilde is speaking directly to me and my persistent misunderstanding of almost every interaction set forth up until this point, even after several viewings!

“If I loved you less then I might be able to talk about it more,” he says, yearnily. If we might recap Mr. Knightley and Emma’s interactions since The Yearning, they amount to: a dance, a yearny meeting in a courtyard, and an intense argument. And what does this new yearning culminate in? An attempt to push blood back into Emma’s nose!

Their scheme to get screens arranged in front of Mr. Woodhouse so that they can make out is some thirteen-year-old antics, but at least they’ve quit yearning.

Emma’s hats need their own movie.

With acknowledgement of Daniel Lavery and Nicole Cliffe who, to my knowledge, pioneered the “movie yelling” genre.

6 Comments

  1. Geneva Langeland

    I loved the trailer and forgot to watch the movie when it came out. Time to remedy that…

    Reply
  2. Katie Van Zanen

    I watched this much anticipated movie and found that I was too much a Jane Austen literalist to enjoy it. (Johnny Flynn! Is too shaggy! And not enough older than Emma!) Also, I had recently watched the 1998 one with Gwyneth Paltrow, I much preferred its slightly sluttier Jane Fairfax.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I don’t get why people complain about Mr Knightley being always too young. Even in the book Emma describes him as visibly young.

      Johnny Flynn is 37 like his character. Anya Taylor Joy is 23. They are the closest to the book casting so far, and I think you can tell she’s younger than him in some scenes while it’s less relevant in others and it’s ok. Just because movies like Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility had actors play characters who are much younger than them, it doesn’t mean casting people who are the same age of their characters is bad.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Lol this was so funny!
    I love this movie. I watched every adaptation and read the bookm and while the miniseries makes a better job summarizing the general plot (while still taking certain liberties with Emma and the text that many Austen fans didn’t like), given it’s much longer, I think this is my fav version of the romance chemistry-side and Emma and Knightley as characters. Took them decades but they finally got some things about him and the actor is a delight. This is the first adaptation of Austen that really gets her tone and satire and it’s the right mix of comedy and emotion.

    Fyi, Mr Knightley is Emma’s brother in law because her sister is married to his brother. In the movie, you might assume he’s just a friend and neighbor but when her sister and husband visit Emma and her dad with the kids, Mr Knightley is there and his affectionate body language with both the guy and the baby should be a hint. I like they don’t put many explanations but let the story suggest some things naturally (it’s funny that his brother was crying at their wedding too).

    Reply
  4. Kate Parsons

    I somehow managed to finish an English degree and 26 years of life without knowing the plot to Emma, so when I watched this I was SO INVESTED. So much yearning.

    Reply
  5. Kyric Koning

    Oh, you make movie commentaries too? Huzzah. I love it. Haven’t seen the movie, not really interested either, but this sort of thing ruffles my jimmies.

    Reply

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