One of the joys of social media is that you can connect with people from around the country and around the world. Kirk Companion, the man behind Austen in Boston: A Jane Austen Book Club (AiB), has been one of our region’s long-distance supporters since we started on Facebook in 2017. He has come to many of our online events and, like Mr. Knightley says of Robert Martin: “I never hear better sense from any one than” Kirk. I asked him to join me in this discussion of the 2020 EMMA. movie. Michele Larrow, Co-Regional Coordinator JASNA Eastern WA/Northern ID
**Note: There are some spoilers in this review.**
Kirk: I saw EMMA. 2020 in a free preview Feb 25 (the Biogen conference that brought Corvid-19 to Boston had just started that day) @ Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre. I attended with two members of AiB, two members of the Jane Austen Reading Group, and one friend from a meetup.com social group. The Director Autumn de Wilde and Lead Actress Anya Taylor-Joy of EMMA. 2020 attended a Q&A afterwards. It’s on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyDhhwDq-S4
Michele: I did not see EMMA. until it came out for rental because it came to Pullman when COVID-19 started shutting things down. I watched the movie three times since I had the rental for 48 hours 😊. I also re-watched Clueless, Emma 1996 movie, and Emma 2009 before writing the review.
1. What aspects of the 2020 film did you like?
ML: The cinemaphotography is amazing with lots of wide shots out of doors. I also like the locations and set design, although having Mr. Knightley live in a palace seems ludicrous. The costumes are wonderful and derived from period fashion magazines, but I feel like they came out of a Georgette Heyer novel (i.e., Regency high society and nobility) rather than a Jane Austen novel. I loved the music and how it both feels modern and of the time period; I bought the sound track and am enjoying it a lot.
KC: Hmmm….well I liked Harriet Smith’s story. She gets a delightful ending. I agree about the cinemaphotography and the locations. Laugh at myself…not big on costumes in general (I’m as unfashionable as can be!) and disliked 2/3 of the one Heyer novel I read. I’m glad you enjoyed the music. I enjoyed the classical music in the movie. Whereas….I hated (going full Marianne) that music from the Cold Mountain (big US Civil War reader) sound track in an Emma adaption. Seriously???? NO NO a thousand times….
2. You and I are both huge Mr. Knightley fans. What do you think about the way the character is written in the movie? Thoughts about Johnny Flynn’s performance?
KC: Okish. While apparently, he is actually not too many years younger than most of the other Mr. Knightleys, he appears to me to be in his mid 20’s. I hate to say he lacks gravitas but… One moment unacceptable…rolling on the floor…seriously??? One of the trailer scenes is Emma and Mr. Knightley arguing about Harriet (I think). That’s fairly well done. While I think he’s the youngest to play Mr. Knightley on screen, he is in fact nearly the actual age in the book…which matters not one wit to me. Judge the performance, not the age of the performer!
ML: I thought the movie was trying to romanticize Mr. Knightley—to turn him into a silent, brooding, isolated hero. He is the center of the community in the book—always doing for others and, in his own word, “amiable”. I agree about the rolling on the floor—also, OUR Mr. Knightley does not run anywhere, least of all through Highbury to Hartfield. I did like Johnny Flynn’s performance of the role as it was written. He is a fine musician and I loved that he played the violin and sang in the movie.
3. What about how Emma is portrayed in the movie—do you feel like anything is missing compared to how she is characterized in the book? Any thoughts about Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance?
ML: I thought Emma in the movie was missing the sweetness and care-taking with her father that makes her character more likeable in the book. The book also shows how much of a strain she experiences in trying to manage his life and minimize his distresses. Movie Emma doesn’t seem very friendly with people—in the book she may be bored with Miss Bates, but knows what is expected of her and talks politely to her. I also thought that Emma’s reaction after Mr. Knightley’s proposal of telling him she can’t marry him because of Harriet lacks the impact of Emma’s decision in the book to keep Harriet’s love of him a secret from Mr. Knightley in order to maintain Harriet’s dignity. Anya Taylor-Joy was so serious in the role—it seemed like the fun of Emma was missing, although she did capture her self-confidence and condescension.
KC: Far far too chilly! 90% unpleasant 10% pleasant…whereas maybe Emma ‘09 the reverse. And the nose bleed…no…gross…not not acceptable EVER!!!
Alas…having watched and read various versions of Emma, it’s hard to compare to the actual book, and I reread the book this year!
4. In the book, Emma and Mr. Knightley clearly start the story almost like siblings in that they argue, but have a close relationship and then they evolve into a romantic relationship. What do you think of how the relationship is portrayed in the movie?
KC: Ugh…not like siblings please!!! Too many people who dislike the Emma/Mr. K story use that! (I wrote a blog post about a long time ago) A bit chilly, perhaps. With such a chilly Emma, it’s hard to see the romantic relationship. Also, the short time of the movie. Emma ‘09 and Gwen Emma (and perhaps Kate Emma too) have them doing stuff in a sorta “dating” way. I can’t remember…does Emma in 2020 hold Isabella’s baby? In Kate Emma and Emma ‘09 it is quite touching. And Gwen Emma has the archery scene.
ML: In the book there seems to be several cycles of fight and make up between Emma and Mr. Knightley, where when they make up, you see that they would be good together and there is emotional closeness. There doesn’t seem to be much making up and emotionally connecting before the proposal scene in EMMA. Even when they sort of make up at the holidays (where Emma does hold the baby), the 2020 scene ends with discord about Robert Martin’s pain, rather than some emotional connection about it (as is shown in 2009). I also like the archery scene in the 1996 movie—even though they are fighting it seems gentler than the fights in some of the other versions. Also missing from 2020 is how Emma and Mr. K tag team to manage Mr. Woodhouse—which was very well done in the 2009 movie!
5. Aspects of the film that you didn’t like or characterizations that seemed wrong?
ML: Of course, to condense a long book into a 2-hour movie you have to cut a lot, but I think that the Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill subplot gets almost written out of the 2020 movie. Jane is supposed to be a foil and potential rival to Emma for Mr. Knightley’s affections, but she just seemed depressed the whole movie. There is little sense that the disaster at Box Hill is instigated by Frank Churchill in his frustration about his fight with Jane. When Frank and Jane become engaged, it is out of nowhere if you don’t know the book. Also, I hated the way that the Isabella and John Knightley marriage was portrayed, with Isabella being a shrew. WHY?
KC: Apparently a Jane Fairfax/Emma reconciliation was deleted….what?? John Knightley, from what I remember, is basically a blank. Zero personality. While I’d rather be George Knightley, in truth I’d too much like John Knightley in real life!! In Emma 09, he almost steals the scenes he’s in. And Isabella shows a quiet strength and wit of her own. As Michele points out, she is a shrew in 2020. Mrs. Elton 2…no thank you!!!!
6. Favorite scene in the film?
KC: I hope a re-watch will increase my appreciation for the film. Harriet Smith’s final moments in the film with Robert Martin. Also, Harriet’s moments with her friends.
ML: My favorite scene is probably the ball scene when Emma and Mr. Knightley dance.
Rating and Ranking all the Emma versions
KC: I’ve seen it once and it was better than I thought it would be. Rolls eyes…I suppose I should watch again.
ML: Love the new setting, costumes, fun of the dialogue. Don’t like that Cher is in high school and Josh is in college, ugh! They do get the playful dynamic between Cher and Josh. The movie is very funny!
#2 Emma (movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, director and screenplay: Douglas McGrath, 1996)
ML: Playful relationship between Emma and Mr. K, well written and summarizes the novel well in 2 hours—hits all the subplots. The proposal under the oak tree is lovely. Gwyneth is too pouty at times, however. “Try not to kill my dogs” is a funny line and Jeremy Northam’s performance is perfect.
KC: My first Emma (although my hometown High School was filled with Emmas….Emmi?). I agree with the “Try not…” line! While I hate to use the word perfect….Jeremy Northam’s performance wow just wow.
#3 Emma (TV series with Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong, director: Diarmuid Lawrence and screenplay: Andrew Davies, 1996)
KC: Yes, Mark Toooooo Strong. Kate B’s Emma a bit too cool for me but Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax! The harvest scene at the end is a nice touch…that’s not in the book.
ML: Kate B. is quite good, but I found Mark S. too angry. (I know this version the least).
#4 Emma (TV mini-series with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, director: Jim O’Hanlon and screenplay: Sandy Welch, 2009)
ML: Extremely well-written and close to the book. Romola Garai and JLM are a great match. Michael Gambon is a great Mr. Woodhouse and we get a full sense of how challenging life with him is. The Jane F/Frank C subplot is fully developed.
KC: And Mrs. Weston and Emma joking about Jane Fairfax and Mr. K and the John Knightleys and Frank C that isn’t so foppish and this is my favorite Austen Adaption!
#5 EMMA. (movie with Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn, director: Autumn de Wilde and screenplay: Eleanor Catton, 2020)
KC: A rewatch is needed but my rating declined from 3.5-3.75 just after seeing it to 2.75-3 a few days later.
ML: I think 2020 has great sets, costumes, and amazing shots but not the emotional connection for me that the others, especially 2009, have.
ML: (I like them all in some ways, but 2009 is head and shoulders above the others, the next three are close together and the last one is farther back) Emma 2009, Clueless, Emma 1996 movie, EMMA. 2020, and Emma 1996 tv
KC: Emma 2009…big gap Emma 1996 movie…small gap Emma 1996 tv…small gap…Clueless small gap EMMA. 2020. i.e. maybe 5….3.75…3.5…3….2.75 Frankly….the recent on-line Emma musical and Emma 1972 (sedate version of Emma) are more enjoyable to me than EMMA. 2020…at least without a re-watch of it. I’m not usually soooo critical….well sorta…. oh and there’s Emma Approved too.
Kirk’s Austenography: My first Austen experience that I remember was S&S 95 movie (my parents watched Masterpiece Theatre every week so it’s possible I could have seen the 1980 P&P (Robo-Darcy!)). I saw it three times in the movie theater. It was love at first sight for me and Marianne!!!!! 🙂 My favorite cousin purchased P&P ’95 and we cousins watched it at holiday gatherings. I saw ’96 Emma in a movie theater. Read those three, found other three Big Six novels, and read them. I then read what little fan fiction was out there, starting with The Third Sister (Margaret Dashwood). I joined several meetup.com groups in January 2010. One was an Austen group that had met three times in 2009 but was inactive. A week later a new person joined and said they had three of the books. So I asked which ones and on the site suggested that the group meet. Lol…the person who started the group then quit!! I and one of people who attended in 2009 volunteered to manage the group for a while (I had never attended a book club before). After a year, she wanted to read all Dickens all the time. NO WAY….and she quit co-leadership. In April 2011 we moved from meetup.com ($) to Facebook and renamed ourselves Austen in Boston (AiB). In Sept 2010 I attended my first JASNA-MA meeting (the great John Wiltshire was the speaker) and I was recruited to the JASNA-MA reading group.
Michele’s Austenography: I read P&P and saw 1980 BBC P&P when I was in high school (both probably 1981). I read the other novels at some point in my 20s, but didn’t become a major fan until re-reading them all in my 40s, when Emma became my favorite novel. I joined JASNA in 2009. One of my proudest accomplishments was presenting on “Mr. Knightley’s Development of Sympathy” at the 2016 Emma AGM in Washington DC and then having that published in Persuasions On-Line (http://jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol37no1/larrow/). Following the AGM, I knew I wanted to form a JASNA region in my area and, with Amy Lyons, founded the JASNA Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho region in 2017.