Emma - a Non-Review

I was fortunate enough to go see the new Emma film in the theatre just before the COVID-19 lockdown, and if you were not so lucky, you may be just waiting for it to hit the streaming service of your choice. These are my thoughts on the film, which you are welcome to argue with me about once you have seen it yourself, or to take into consideration when deciding which of the MILLION programs to choose when you sit down in front of your screen.

Personally, I never watch previews, but in case you find them enticing, here is one to draw you in:

This is a charming, clever, stylish, romantic, delightful film with endearing performances and remarkable use of fabric. Honestly, this film is worth watching just for the fabric. I don't know if I have ever said that before. And I don't just mean the costume fabrics. I mean all the fabrics, and there are a lot of them in this movie.

You will not find in this film a thorough adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. If that is what you are after, I recommend either the Kate Bekinsale film or the Romola Garai mini series. The latter is more engaging and believable, but the former has more accurate hair colouring. I really don't know why they always insist on Emma's being blond and Harriet brunette, when the book clearly specifies the reverse. I know it's a small point, but so easy to correct.

In the 2020 film that is my subject here, the hair colours are all wrong. But if you put the book out of your head, and stop watching for the particular scenes you had in your mind, this film is just wonderful. The filmmakers take the audience on the journey of these characters, and I and all my party were thoroughly diverted. I really didn't think it was going to work at the beginning. I thought I could never see Mr. Knightly with tousled, blond hair, and Emma was not at all amiable. But it totally worked! I was won over on every front, and left the theatre positively sighing.

The tone and texture of the film is a bit of a departure from previous Austen adaptations. The soundtrack included a lot of traditional folk music, which put me in mind of the Blue Mountains of Tennessee or some such. But that is no surprise really, since those old American folk songs all have their roots in old British songs. I do wonder whether Johnny Flynn had anything to do with those choices, or perhaps the director was a fan of folk music, leading to both the casting of Johnny Flynn and the inclusion of all these lovely old songs. Whatever the case, I do highly recommend looking up Johnny Flynn's music. It is everything lovely, and you will thank me for it.

The direction was very stylized, making the film often feel almost like a ballet. There was minimal actual dancing, but the movement on screen had a lot of artistry and care in the timing, so it really felt like an alternate, more beautiful, possibly magical world. Personally, I love this. I love feeling like a film is a candy shop for my particular, fantastical inner child. And I defy anyone to walk away from this film NOT in love with Johnny Flynn. Seriously, those cuffs? Be still, my beating heart.

For the sake of my reputation, I probably should mention once more that I am well aware there was a lot missing from this film that was in the book. I appreciated this film as a stand-alone work of art that draws on the novel, rather than as the book in movie form. This is how I view adaptations, and how I believe they are intended. As long as the film delivers as a film, I won't criticize it on the basis of deviation from the original work.

I would go so far as to say that this is my favourite screen version of this story so far. I'd love to hear your opinions. I feel certain that there are many reviews and comments about how disappointing this film was because it took some liberties with the content. Do you feel that way? I never read reviews until I have clearly formed my own opinion, so now that I have posted this summary, please hit me with your worst. I do enjoy a bit of controversy.

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