Celebrating EMMA

This week we were delighted to attend a press screening of the new film adaptation of Emma, which opens in UK cinemas on Valentine's Day. We all left the screening with smiles on our faces and agreed it was one of the best 'Emma' adaptations we'd seen. Here, trustee Kathryn Sutherland shares her thoughts on the film.(Contains minor spoilers):

“A new Austen film doesn’t just face one challenge—to transpose a classic, much loved novel from page to screen; every previous film of every Austen novel calls it to account. A heavy weight of expectation hangs over writer and director. Emma, re-imagined by New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton (the 2013 Man Booker Prize winner) and American director Autumn de Wilde, is a witty, funny, thoughtful, and consistently smart homage to Austen as we know her from book and film.

Sets are teasingly inflated in tribute to the heritage movie genre: Hartfield, Donwell Abbey, and Mr Cole’s aspirational real estate are only slightly less grand than Chatsworth. Even Harriet Smith’s room at Mrs Goddard’s school exudes luxury. The musical score is nuanced and delicious. Any doubts that Mr Knightley is a sex symbol are banished in practical fashion—an early scene has him strip naked—quite gratuitously, but necessarily, of course. By turns he is manly, censorious, and the vulnerable focus of a love story.

Emma, whose eyes see everything and nothing, wears a topaz cross on a gold chain in tribute to her author.  The dramatic scenes, conversations, and stage business, the building blocks of Austen’s novels, are cleverly reconstituted in visual form.  Dialogue is crisply Austenian. The characters are in no doubt that they are inside an Austen novel recast as film.  It is as if the spoofing spirit of the teenage Austen herself were paring back and reworking her mature fiction.

Some might decide too much is cut away: the Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill subplot, for instance, loses its purpose. But characters we think we know well are freshly imagined: Bill Nighy’s Mr Woodhouse and Miranda Hart’s Miss Bates. The comedy, accentuated by quirky camera close-ups, is keen. At the film’s centre sits Emma’s treatment of Harriet Smith. Hollywood in the 1990s was loathe to confront the unpleasant inequalities of female friendship as portrayed in the novel. Not so here, where Harriet, played with great intelligence by Mia Goth, is a triumph, growing in the course of the action from stooge to Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma to become the moral heart of the story and her friend’s justified accuser. Then there is the final proposal and the nosebleed (yes, nosebleed)—surely set to become a new iconic screen moment for Austen fans.”

To celebrate the release of the film, we have some Emma-related objects on display at the House. From 14 February to 13 March, visitors can follow our Emma Trail and hunt for objects related to the story, the settings and the legacy of this much-loved novel. Children and grown-ups alike will enjoy our Emma-themed fancy dress station in the Historic Kitchen  – complete with red cloaks reminiscent of those that Harriet and her fellow boarders at Mrs. Goddard’s school wear throughout the film.

EMMA Trailer # 2 (2020) Anya Taylor-Joy, Jane Austen Comedy Movie HD