Hello everyone. Happy Monday. Happy Valentine’s Day. I know that some people don’t care about Valentine’s Day and that’s absolutely fine. I’m kind of indifferent about the day. I think it’s sweet if you choose to celebrate it with someone special or with friends, but I also don’t feel the need to go out of my way to mark the day, so to those of you who do love Valentine’s Day, I hope you have had a good one and that you enjoyed however you chose to celebrate.
With all of that being said, let’s dive into this week’s #moviemonday discussion.
Today I am talking about the 2020 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. The movie was released in February of 2020 and it was directed by Autumn de Wilde.
The movie is based on Austen’s novel, which is a story about romantic misunderstandings all fuelled and orchestrated by the overconfident Emma. Emma is wealthy, beautiful, determined, headstrong, and overconfident in abilities of matchmaking. Throughout the novel, and the movie, Emma meddles in the lives of those around her, not realising the damage she is doing until it’s already done.
The movie’s entire plot begins when Emma’s governess Miss Taylor gets married, leaving Emma to find a new companion. Emma finds a new companion in Harriet Smith, and when Emma can’t help herself from meddling in Harriet’s proposal, this is the beginning of a series of romantic misunderstandings between different couples, all because of Emma’s overconfident meddling.
In the midst of all the confusion, Emma herself finds love.
Emma Woodhouse is of course the movie’s main protagonist, although people may find her unlikable. Jane Austen famously said that when she was writing Emma, she was creating a heroine that may not be liked by anyone but herself. Emma’s likability is up to interpretation, and each viewer will respond to her differently. Emma frustrates me but I do not actively dislike her, and I appreciate the arc she has in the story.
There is a large ensemble cast in this movie. We meet many characters. Harriet Smith, Emma’s new companion, the first of her meddling victims. We meet Mr. Knightly, I would argue he is the male protagonist. He is the one who gives Emma a reality check about her behaviour, and he eventually becomes her love interest.
Jane Fairfax is the one character whom Emma is jealous of, although she really doesn’t have any reason to be jealous as she is better off in nearly every way. I love Jane’s character, especially in the novel. Jane was orphaned at a young age, and although she was cared for by caring family members, and although she is beautiful, elegant, and very well accomplished – a fact that bothers Emma, Jane is destined to become a governess which is an interesting station in life. I will touch on this more at another time, because the concept is also discussed in Jane Eyre. A governess was a strange sort of in-between station in life, as one was more educated than a regular servant, but they still were not equal with the pupils they were teaching. Emma is of higher social status than Jane. She has much more financial security, and more comfortable prospects.
I think what makes Jane so interesting to me is that she is the complete opposite to Emma regarding how she behaves romantically. It is interesting that in the book she can come across a tad cold, or quiet at social events, but it is important to remember that we are seeing Jane through Emma’s eyes, and Emma is jealous of her. The fact that she is the only person Emma envies is very interesting to me, and unlike Emma, she keeps her love life, particularly her engagement to Frank Churchill, a secret.They had to keep their engagement a secret, because his wealthy aunt did not approve, but when she dies, they are free to share their love and marry at last.
I’ve focused a lot on Jane here and that is because some have argued that she could be described as a secondary heroine and I would have to agree.
There are various themes that are presented in Emma. Many of Austen’s novels discuss the idea of social class and class differences, and Emma is no different. The movie’s major theme is the idea of what marriage means for one’s social status as the plot centres on so many relationships. The story shines a light on how important marriage was for women in that time period as having a good match could make or break you. Miss Bates in my opinion, is the character who demonstrates just how important marriage was to one’s social status in that time period, because without a husband to care for her and her mother, they are facing poverty.
I think that one could interpret Emma as a cautionary tale about arrogance. Emma is a headstrong character. Emma is extremely overconfident about her matchmaking abilities and she takes it upon herself to meddle in everyone else’s lives without thinking about anyone else’s feelings or the ramifications of her actions. Emma is wealthy and she is in a very privileged position in life, she has great prospects as it is very likely that she will marry well, even though despite her matchmaking interests, she does not really spend too much time thinking about her own love life.
When Emma convinces Harriet to turn down a proposal, the action that kicks off the rest of the plot, Emma does not ever seem to realise that she has severely impacted Harriet’s life. Harriet is not of the same status, she does have the options that Emma does, and so Emma had no right to mess in her affairs.
The idea of one’s imagination running wild is also a major theme of Emma. Emma gets ideas about the people in her life into her head and then she manipulates situations and people so that things play out the way she wants them too. She believes that Mr. Elton has feelings for Harriet for example and likewise, Emma does not speak highly of Jane because she is jealous of her, so all of these perceptions and misunderstandings largely stem from Emma’s ideas about these people in her head. She’s so wrapped up in her own thoughts about what would amuse her, she never stops to think about the practicalities.
Seeing as it is Valentine’s Day, I suppose that one could interpret the piece as an example of true love conquering all, because despite all of these misunderstandings and despite all of Emma’s meddling, things tend to end up as they are supposed to, and everyone ends up belonging with the person that they have true feelings for. I think that one could suggest that this shows the impact of love. This piece explores the idea that your love for another person will always win in the end. This is an idea that I feel is very much of the romantic era of literature, as there is this idea presented that love offers clarity despite all odds.
The 2020 adaptation of Emma is just over two hours long, and I think that this may feel a tad long, but then again, the idea of multiple misunderstandings in one plot is always going to feel somewhat tedious no matter how well the story is told as naturally all of the miscommunication gets frustrating. I think that you need this time frame though because there are so many characters and they all play an important role in the story, because in order for all the pieces to come together at the end, and for the clarity to form, first we must have the confusion that Emma causes in the most frustratingly charming way. The story is compelling and the cast did a brilliant job so I like the movie’s pacing and length even though it is a tad long.
I enjoyed this adaptation. I enjoy Emma in its many forms. I would highly recommend watching this movie. It’s fun. It’s great if you enjoy period pieces. The costumes were stunning, and the story is compelling even though at times it is frustrating – but that is all part of Emma’s charm.
This has been Movie Monday. Happy Valentine’s Day.