Autumn de Wilde and Johnny Flynn Told Us All About Sexy Emma | The Mary Sue
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Autumn de Wilde, Johnny Flynn Told Us All About Sexy Emma

Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020)

(Focus Features)

The world of Jane Austen is often filled with us, as fans, longing to be on the screen. Are we all sexually repressed, as well? Who’s to say, but with director Autumn de Wilde’s Emma, we’re thrust into a world of a bunch of young Georgian kids who just want to all fall in love with each other. So … relatable.

Talking with Johnny Flynn, who brings Mr. Knightley to life in the movie, I asked him about the difference between Mr. Knightley and other Jane Austen men and how Knightley, who has been a childhood friend of Emma, is more of a balanced love interest than some of the other Austen men:

I love that about Knightley. He feels like a man drawn by a woman 200 years ago as a kind of lesson to men, in a way. You know, his moral compass and his sense of the world is just overwhelmingly good, even though he has this high social position in this society and he’s essentially humble.

Flynn went on to talk about his love of the character:

I love him, and I think that there is a lot we can take from him, in the perspective, now—which, yeah, feels kind of modern. We still haven’t gotten there yet; we still haven’t adhered to all the advice that Jane Austen gave us.

Now, the moment in the movie that gets everyone flustered is the dance scene, which leads into, probably, the best Austen moment ever (Knightley is so flustered he just flings himself down on the FLOOR). Flynn talked about keeping with the rules of that society and how it leads into the sexual tension we see onscreen:

I think it’s one of the strengths in Autumn’s way of approaching the story. She kind of was really strict about adhering to the rules of this society at this time that they live.

Because of the time period, touching was not a thing universally allowed, and so, when the dance scene happens, there is a lust present that gives us this overwhelming feeling as audience members.

The fact that you establish those rules so strongly means that, as people break down underneath that cool veneer of politeness, you really feel it. And especially, never more so than at the dance, when there’s so much going on that Knightley and Emma are kind of just unraveling in each other. So, that sense of nearly touching—and then they do touch, when they hold each other—should feel revolutionary.

What’s great is that when I spoke with Autumn de Wilde, we focused mainly on that dance scene. Within Emma, the conventions of society keep everyone away from each other. Very rarely do we see anyone touching each other, and if it does happen, it’s usually between friends and, briefly, between Emma and her father. But the dance, like many a great Jane Austen scene, is our source of sexual tension.

Filming the dance scene, though, isn’t exactly easy. Talking with director Autumn de Wilde, we discussed the character aspect of the ball and what it was like to explore that. She told me,

What’s really exciting about the ball is that there’s a collision of misunderstandings and secrets, like everyone’s at risk there, and there’s never been a ball in that town, so everyone is thrilled. Even the darkest characters are just stoked there’s a ball, so I wanted them all to retain their complicated relationships with each other, but I wanted to add in this sort of childlike thrill that they all have. So, I wanted everyone to feel special, too.

That led to the actors getting to add in little moments themselves:

The actors were also creating small clues themselves. Amber Anderson would come up to me and say, “I snuck a look at Frank at this moment,” because I had choreographed the whole scene like a ballet. So, everyone knew where their bodies were going to be, and then we went in deeper.

De Wilde also loves Johnny Flynn and what he brought to Knightley as a character:

I’m obsessed with Mr. Knightley because, I mean, I think everyone has had that best friend where you just argue, you do everything together, and years go by and you wonder if you should have kissed that person. And I think that’s why when Harry Met Sally exists, because of Knightley and Emma—and Reality Bites with Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. That’s a totally Mr. Knightley/Emma relationship.

We then started to talk about our love for Johnny Flynn, as you do, to which she said, “Oh my god, wait until you see him in Beast,” so I cannot, personally, wait for that.

Emma is in theaters now, and as someone who has already seen it twice, I cannot recommend Autumn de Wilde’s beautiful take on the world of Jane Austen more!

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.