Released: 13th February
Seen: 8th June
Time seems to have no meaning anymore, it really doesn’t. I could swear to you that my last review was a few days ago and I would be so very wrong because it’s been two whole weeks. Obviously, these last few weeks are not exactly the weeks where anyone wants to hear the opinion of some random Australian about whatever movie he stumbled upon but it still feels like this year is going at the weirdest pace ever. Time is meaningless, up is down, left is right and people still somehow think the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is scary. I don’t get it, I really don’t but what I do get is that I need to pick up the pace and catch up on some movies that have finally made it to VOD when their cinematic runs got cut short or abandoned in general. Today, we talk about the 2020 adaptation of Emma.
I have to specify that this is the 2020 adaptation because Emma is in the same camp as Little Women or A Star Is Born, namely that it’s a work that’s been adapted and remade multiple times over the years. Emma has seen multiple film adaptations, including the 1996 Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and the 1995 film Clueless, about eight assorted TV adaptations, stage plays, musicals and even a Manga. I’d say it was Jane Austen’s most adapted novel but then I remember that Pride and Prejudice exists. The big thing about a work that’s been adapted this often is that we’re starting to hit the point where a new adaptation has to have something new to offer that makes it worthy of mention… and that’s the big gaping problem with this adaptation of Emma.
Emma (2020) is just a straight forward period piece where women in silly headwear exchange Austen-tacious dialogue while completing the romantic plot that has been a mainstay of the genre since 1815. Nothing is modernised except for the filming equipment and even that isn’t being used in an interesting manner. If you put a light layer of scratches and grime over the footage this film would feel like it came straight out of the 60s. This isn’t intentional on the part of the filmmakers, or at least it doesn’t feel that way. It’s not timeless because of intent, it’s timeless because we’ve seen this film over a dozen times and they changed nothing about it. Little Women at least offered meta-commentary on the story itself, A Star Is Born at least offered Lady Gaga the chance to write some of her best music, this offers no one the chance to do anything other than retread the same old material.
This isn’t to say the film itself is bad, it’s quite adequate. The performances are good all round and everyone is clearly at ease delivering the period-appropriate dialogue in a manner that doesn’t sound forced. Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular Emma is a genuinely fascinating actress giving a performance that does carry the film and makes me excited to see what she does next (which apparently is going to be The New Mutants… you know, that film that keeps almost being released and then pulled because an angry vengeful God doesn’t want it to exist in the world?). It’s a good adaptation, and notable for being the first adaptation of Emma (that I know of anyway) that was written and directed by women who have clearly got a ton of skill. I will not dare suggest that there isn’t a lot of talent here because there is, it’s just being put towards a tale we’ve heard told so often that I’m just flat out bored at this point.
If you’re a huge fan of the novel and are the kind of person who has to see every possible adaptation of the material, I totally get that and you will probably love this because it’s just a straightforward adaptation of the 200-year-old novel. Hell, you might even notice changes to it that I didn’t catch and that’s great, but for me, it feels like a perfunctory reprise of a song I’ve heard before with no changes or interesting flourishes. It’s not bad, but I have plenty of identical versions I could look at any time I want. It’s good but it’s just not doing it for me and to be honest, If I were to be asked to watch it again. I would only need to quote the most famous loose adaptation of Emma… “As if!”