"Emma.": My comfort movie of 2020
As someone who enjoys watching and analyzing movies, some of my favorite films are those that dive into the darkest corners of the human psyche and explore some of the most challenging emotions a person can experience. However, at the end of a long week, I just want to sit back and enjoy watching a group of well-dressed young people in Regency-era England attending balls and falling in love. If you are also having a not-so-easy time with everything that's going on and want to watch a comfort movie, I present to you “Emma.”
The 2020 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel “Emma” tells the story of Emma Woodhouse, a smart and confident teenager from a wealthy family who has a passion for matchmaking. Despite feeling like a big fish in a small pond, Emma is perfectly happy where she is, admired by just about everyone she encounters. The one exception is Robert Knightly. The audience follows Emma as she learns a lesson about humility while finding love for herself along the way.
One of Austen’s most popular works, “Emma” has been adapted multiple times into movies, and not all of them were successful. In the book, being prideful and headstrong, Emma thinks she knows what is best for every person and cannot help herself from getting involved in other people’s business. While she is well-intentioned, her blind confidence lets her get dangerously close to hurting those around her. Fortunately, the film finds a good balance, showing her charisma without hiding just how unlikable she can be when attempting to manipulate people.
When I heard that Anya Taylor-Joy was going to star in a British period drama, I knew I wanted to see it, and it did not disappoint. One of the rising stars of the last five years, Taylor-Joy gave an amazing performance that perfectly captured Emma’s childish personality that can be charming one moment and cruel the next. Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightly embodies a kind of ruggedness from the first scene he enters the movie, which is something one rarely sees for a male lead in a British period drama. Additionally, "Emma" is also full of humorous moments, especially with some of the supporting characters. All of these tensions make the end of the story so much more satisfying. Having seen Mia Goth in some other rather intense movies, I was blown away by her performance as Harriet Smith, a wide-eyed child of no suspicion to anyone. Bill Nighy as Emma’s father and Miranda Hart’s Miss Bates have smaller roles in the film, but the two of them are responsible for some of the funniest scenes in the whole movie.
On a technical level, “Emma.” is not a groundbreaking movie, but one can take any scene and use it to teach a class on professional filmmaking. Autumn de Wilde did an amazing job with her feature film directorial debut, managing to incorporate a considerable amount of comedic elements in a period drama without these moments feeling out of place. Knowing that it is impossible to include all the materials from the book, de Wilde wisely chose only parts of the book to focus on, and used cinematic language to incorporate the rest of the details, especially the subtle romantic exchanges between characters. One of the most applauded aspects of the film is its costume design. Set in the Regency era, the story overlaps with a period of time when fashion became less about status and more about utility and self-expression. Working class people were encouraged to show their personalities through combinations of lighter outerwear and accessories. Even viewers who are not familiar with fashion history can easily discern the personalities of characters through their style of dress.
There are plenty of films that I consider excellent but would hesitate to recommend for others to watch. Each person has their own taste, and certain movies require a level of investment of energy and emotion. However, as a rare exception, I want to recommend “Emma.” to everyone. You can enjoy it as a nicely put together movie with great acting and excellent production. However, if you just want to escape for two hours to a simpler time and place, it will surely be an enjoyable experience.