2020, Movies

Emma (2020, Autumn de Wilde)

I have never seen the 1996 Emma, which I understand is viewed as the definitive Emma. (I mean the Hollywood film, not the British TV movie of the same year, which I’ve also never seen.) And I have never read the book. But still, I’m going to tell you what I thought about this version of Emma.

I must admit that I was slightly disconcerted at the beginning of the film. The way the film’s score launched us into the film, and the way one of the opening scenes was shot, it had the vibe of a musical. I told Jenn “I feel like Bill Nighy is about to burst into song.” I found it weird and I’m not sure if it was just me or there was some deliberate attempt to signal the artifice of everything. But whatever issue I had with that opening soon dissipated.

Because there seems to be a real attempt to be true to period while slyly acknowledging it is still a modern film. Jenn says the clothes are pretty on-style and it certainly felt very much like most of the locations were period appropriate. For the locations, I noticed two incongruities. One is Knightly’s house, which looked liked a museum. (That seems entirely deliberate in retrospect.) The second is the main store (I forget the name) which felt so very modern. I’m not sure if this was an attempt to pull us out of the fantasy or an attempt to be revisionist.

The soundtrack also contains some A Capella traditional singing. I’m not sure it’s exactly period but it is both traditional and utterly out of the norm for a film such as this. I appreciated those cues in part because of how unique they were for a standard period piece but also because of what they imply. (High art music is the music of the rich, “folk” music is the music of the common person, who supposedly cannot behave as properly as the rich.)

The film is extremely bright, perhaps the brightest period piece I can recall seeing. That definitely feels like deliberate revisionism. I do feel like period lighting is usually the way to go but with a comedy I think this is fine.

Having never seen Paltrow’s performance, I can say that I thought Taylor-Joy is pretty good here. She seems the right combination of arrogant and genuine empathy. And most of the rest of the cast is pretty good, especially Nighy and Hart. My understanding is the guy who plays Knightly doesn’t look remotely old enough, however. (He is old enough for the role apparently, he just looks young.)

I found the whole thing reasonably amusing but I think I most appreciated how distinct the film was from other period pieces I’ve seen. (Not that I’m a connoisseur or anything.)


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