You might think that the last thing you need is another adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. You’d be wrong, but you might think it.
Sure, we have the whimsey of the Gwyneth Paltrow version. It made her a household name and still provides a pretty dose of nostalgia for the year in which we fell in love with Jeremy Northam and found out that Alan Cumming was hilarious. There’s the possibility as well that Toni Collette was a new face for some folks (I don’t mess with them though because that means they weren’t obsessed with Muriel’s Wedding and therefore have highly suspect taste).
And of course we have the 2009 mini-series with Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley, which provides the book-accurate moments you’re looking for, but unfortunately for me, fails to inspire otherwise. If you want inspiration, you can still view the whole web-series, Emma Approved, which takes adaptation to a whole new level but doesn’t leave the source unrecognizable like Clueless did. (I love Clueless, but not for the ways it mirrors Austen’s Emma. Mostly for Paul Rudd and Brittany Murphy).
And for you stone-cold weirdos out there, you can still find the other 1996 version starring Kate Beckinsale and a truly unfortunate-looking Mark Strong as Knightley. But why would you dollar-bin dive for a VHS copy of that nonsense?
Finally, here in the year of our Lord twenty-twenty, Autumn de Wilde has decided we need a new re-imagining of this Austen classic as the comedy it was always and forever meant to be. Focus Features’ EMMA. is hitting select theaters tomorrow and will be out for us country folk on March 6th.
Austen adaptations always inspire a fun bit of fandom infighting. Cobbling together the best cast from bits of each one, decade be-damned, is a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon if you’re the kind of person who knows what a piano-forte is. And while I have been guilty of this myself, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m looking forward to watching EMMA. without trying to graft onto it the things I love about other adaptations.
Anna Taylor-Joy plays our titular character. You might know her from The Witch or Split. I love the way that her eyes cut across other characters and scenes in the EMMA. trailers; they are wondrously expressive and bold.
The rest of the cast is so inspiring that I want to go live at every press junket and every premiere they’ve ever had to have for the rest of time. Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse could only be improved if he was also in an adaptation of Persuasion and simultaneously played Mr. Elliot. Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones and Gentleman Jack is bringing Mrs. Weston to life, and I can’t wait to see her play demure.
I am absolutely going to mess myself watching my fave, Josh O’Connor, awkward himself as Mr. Elton. We don’t even have to discuss the genius of Miranda Hart as Miss Bates, and I’m saying that as someone who believes that Sophie Thompson was literally put on this earth to play the picnic scene as Miss Bates in the Paltrow version. Go watch it. She is transcendent.
I am also super excited to see Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton. Tanya is so incredibly funny and heartwarming on Sex Education, and I think of her as so young, that I cannot wait to see her brand of quirky teenage hormones unleashed on such a spiteful character.
And yet, Autumn de Wilde is giving us the greatest of Austen gifts in EMMA. Johnny Flynn, who is playing Mr. Knightley, will begin the movie with a changing scene that will showcase all the effort and particulars that went into getting a man of this era dressed from his crack to his cravat. He talked about the costuming scene to Entertainment Weekly, and I love how de Wilde is creating a space not just for the female gaze, but for the intimacy of a moment that we usually only reserve for women of this era … or the warriors of others.
Movies and television shows will often show women getting dressed from the skin out in the heavy layers of the period. Outlander famously did it in episode 2 of the first season to show how uncomfortable time-traveling Claire would be in clothes from the 18th century. When it comes to men, we normally see only warriors donning the tools of their trade: armor and weaponry and battle-ready boots. But in this scene we get a gentleman, intimate physically with his valet, and as we will learn, emotionally with our heroine, be vulnerable in the every day and in the altogether. I think we will have a new scene to rival Colin Firth emerging from the pond and Matthew MacFadyen flexing his hand for hotness.
EMMA. looks hilarious, clever, whimsical and exactly like one of those delicious morsels of fun that you expect from a new imagining of Jane Austen. I cannot wait to gobble it up.
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).