New Emma Trailer Highlights Why Jane Austen’s Novel Is One of the Best Romantic Comedies
Handsome. Clever. Rich.
There are several adaptations of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, the most popular being the modernized adaptation Clueless (1995) and the Gwyneth Paltrow version from 1996 that people seem to really enjoy. Emma has always stood out among Austen’s works because instead of the usual down on her luck heroine, Emma Woodhouse is, as the book’s first line puts it, “handsome, clever, and rich.” Her tragic flaw is a touch of Darcian snobbery and a Mrs. Bennett tendency to meddle. Now, coming in 2020, we are getting another incarnation of the classic tale.
Directed by Autumn de Wilde, starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) as Emma Woodhouse and Johnny Flynn (Lovesick aka Scrotal Recall) as Mr. Knightley, this version of Emma seems to be leaning more into the physically comedic aspects and an overall sharper take, which seems to be common with period dramas these days.
21-year-old Emma Woodhouse has sworn never to marry and being the rich daughter of a nobleman, the youngest Woodhouse is an independent woman who ends up meddling into the life of her friend Harriet Smith. Miss Smith is the low-born, poor pupil at the local boarding school, who catches Emma’s eye and the wealthier woman decides to make Harriet her new pet project. This means interfering with her romantic prospects, by steering Harriet away from the steady Robert Martin, a respected farmer, in favor of Mr. Elton, the village vicar, who, unbeknownst to Emma is seeking to marry a woman of fortune.
On the romance end, we have George Knightley, the older brother-in-law of Emma (her older sister is married to his brother, not quite step-siblings ala Clueless) and he is one of the few people who does push back against Emma’s spoiled and classist snobbery. Their dynamic is very love-hate, but all with an overarching sense of respect. Unlike a lot of couples, what makes the Woodhouse-Knightley relationship so strong is that these are two people who know each other as people. They aren’t a series of missed moments, but have a long history of snarking and respect. Now, I know that some people find the age gap suspect, but I think Austen does a good job of having Emma be 21 when they actually end up together (spoiler?) and it is never implied that Knightley ever tried to groom Emma in any way.
I’m looking forward to Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse and Taylor-Joy is already selling me on her version of Emma; I seriously can’t wait to see her make this role her own.
However, since I had this criticism for Little Women, I will pass it on to Emma as well: there is no need for period dramas to be this white anymore. They are doing a version of David Copperfield with Dev Patel playing the titular character plus we can even see from one of another of Austen’s works, Sanditon, that Austen knew there were wealthy Black people who could exist in her stories. The Masterpiece Theater drama Sanditon brought to life Georgiana Lambe, a Black West Indian heiress played by Crystal Clarke.
“It’s really important for us to have the knowledge of that history of black people, people of color,” Clarke said in an interview. “That history goes much farther back than (you think) … it would be great to see more of it.”
With diverse period dramas becoming more of the norm, seeing one that leans so strongly into whiteness within the main cast looks very jarring. I love Austen and I will still check this film out, but I think it is a norm that should be challenged. This will be de Wilde’s directorial feature film debut, and we will see the outcome of her adaptation in February 2020.
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