MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Emma - In Theaters
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn
I’ve read that Jane Austen didn’t particularly like Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy), the main character in her novel Emma, and that is perhaps the main reason this story has been adapted so many times for film and television. There’s something about seeing a selfish person of wealth and advantage taken down a few notches that’s appealing – even if that downward spiral is relatively tame.
Besides, Emma is a perfect YA heroine – self-absorbed with most of the people in her orbit submitting to her beck and call, including her hypochondriac father (Bill Nighy), sarcastic longtime friend George Knightley (Flynn), and a retinue of household servants.
The main story revolves around Emma’s decision to advise and “take on” Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) as her special project. Harriet is an orphan of unknown parentage (and an occasional topic of local gossip) and in love with Mr. Martin (Connor Swindells), a local farmer. Emma is convinced that Harriet could surely advance her station above such a commoner. She moves Harriet away from Mr. Martin and towards Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), an eligible vicar (with negligible skills in the pulpit). At the same time, Emma is attracted to Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), a man whose primary attraction is defined by his great wealth. As all of Emma’s maneuvers take place, George observes and coolly comments about her obvious misconceptions.
With so many good adaptations out there, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about a new version. Emma managed to rise above my expectations, primarily due to a great cast and some good comic timing. Harriet’s relationship with Emma grows from tentative work-in-progress to BFF status and becomes the film’s primary focus.
I wasn’t always in synch with some of the stylistic choices made by Autumn de Wilde (a renowned director of music videos). Not only were the musical soundtrack choices off-putting (mixing sprightly modern melodies with classical music as well as hymns that were composed years after Austen’s death), but the pastel color scheme – as beautiful as it is – was always taking me out of the story and into its own candy-colored world.
Still, the message of Emma is as timely (and family friendly) as ever. Young adults will fall in love, feel superior to those around them, make mistakes and eventually reach a place of repentance, assisted by those who truly care for them. Let’s do our best to remember our youth and be the persons who model grace for those in need.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A classic story, told with wit and compassion.
Two pitchforks: A couple scenes of side-bum nudity; arrogance and privilege used selfishly – hey, that’s the main story.
Emma (2020) – VOD Streaming Services - $19.99 Rental
Emma (1995). Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam – Hoopla (free with library account); HBO GO / HBO Now; VOD $3.99 Rental
Emma (2009 Mini-series). Starring Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller – Hulu, Britbox; VOD Purchase $6.99
Emma (1996 TV Movie) Starring Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong – Apple TV VOD - $.99 Rental
Clueless (1995 Modern adaption of “Emma”) Starring Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd – VOD Streaming Services $2.99 Rental.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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