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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Emma. is a delightful adaptation of Jane Austen's much-beloved classic about a clever, charming young woman who can't stop meddling in her friends' love lives. It's quite tame overall, but there's a quick scene of partial nudity when Knightley (Johnny Flynn) undresses (his naked backside is shown) and another side view of Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she warms her rear end near the fireplace for a moment before lowering her gown. Neither scene is sexual in nature. But characters do kiss, flirt, and talk about marriage and courtship. Characters drink socially, and Emma believes a man to be drunk. There's no strong language or violence, though one character is nearly set upon by thieves, and another gets a nosebleed. The movie, like the book, explores issues of women's roles in society, friendship and courtship across social classes, and why manipulating others, even for their own good, rarely ends well. Adapted by screenwriter Eleanor Catton and directed by photographer and music director Autumn de Wilde, the movie has themes of empathy, compassion, and learning to ask for forgiveness.
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What's the story?
Director Autumn de Wilde's EMMA. is based on Jane Austen's classic 19th century novel in which aristocratic not-quite-21-year-old Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is bored after the marriage of her beloved governess, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), to widower Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves). Looking for a matchmaking project, Emma, who lives with her anxious father (Bill Nighy), befriends Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a young woman of unknown parentage who attends the village's boarding school for underprivileged girls. Emma is determined to pair Harriet with young vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor), so she convinces Harriet not to accept a proposal from handsome tenant farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells). Emma's neighbor (and sister's brother-in-law) Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) advises her against meddling, but she'll hear none of it. Meanwhile, Mr. Weston's mysterious son, Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), who's set to inherit a mansion, and Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), the accomplished and educated niece of village spinster Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), each arrive in Highbury, adding comedic drama to Emma's social circle. Love triangles, social faux pas, balls, proposals, and weddings ensue.
Is it any good?
Gorgeous details combined with a funnier-than-expected screenplay and a wonderful ensemble make this one of the best Jane Austen adaptations in many years. Director Autumn de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton have infused Emma. with heart, humor, and a positive gloss on the female relationships in the story. Taylor-Joy's expressive face and spot-on mannerisms turn the well-intentioned but clueless main character into a redeemable person who's far more substantial than her superficial matchmaking suggests. Flynn is an unconventional but fabulous choice for Knightley. He's not the typical tall/lantern-jawed hero like the men who play Frank Churchill or Robert Martin, but he's passionate and generous and he sees Emma.
The production design is top-notch, transforming England's countryside into a Regency village with its abbey manses, tenant farms, town shops, and more. The costumes are amazing, including the way that so much about each character is expressed through the costume choices, from Vicar Elton's overblown sleeves to his pretentious bride's larger-than-necessary accessories to Harriet's simple but beautiful dresses and, of course, Emma's to-die-for gowns, which connect her to surroundings and people in each season. Then there's the introduction to Knightley undressing and dressing (yes, you'll see his bum for a quick moment). Even stripped of all the finery and societal norms, it's the relationships that are most important here, and Taylor-Joy, Flynn, Goth, Nighy, and company don't disappoint. The back-and-forth between Emma and Knightley is reminiscent of screwball-comedy banter, and it's hilariously fraught with sexual tension. Those familiar with Austen's work will likely appreciate Emma. the most, but newcomers will also be delighted by this charming adaptation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the continued appeal of Jane Austen novels and their adaptations/retellings. What do you think of Emma.? How does it rank among other Austen adaptations?
Is Emma a likable character? How does she redeem herself for her self-described vanity, arrogance, and selfishness? How do you think she compares to Austen's other central characters?
Explore the representations of female friendship in the story. Why does Emma befriend Harriet but resent Jane Fairfax? Do you agree with Knightley that Emma is envious of Jane's accomplishments, despite Jane's less prosperous upbringing?
There are a couple scenes of partial nudity. The director has explained that she wanted to humanize Knightley and Emma in a nonsexual way. What do you think about those two moments? Do you get the director's meaning, or do you think one or both scenes were unnecessary?
- In theaters: February 21, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: May 19, 2020
- Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O'Connor, Bill Nighy
- Director: Autumn de Wilde
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: brief partial nudity
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 26, 2020
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