Are classics still relevant today? A film review of ‘Emma’

Another remake of Jane Austin’s ‘Emma’ has hit the cinemas. Charlotte Lloyd reviews the latest film, questioning if such classics are still relevant to today’s society.

The film ‘Emma’ (2020) is the latest classic remake to hit cinemas. Following Jane Austen’s storyline, it showcases the somewhat arrogant yet self-assured young Emma Woodhouse who juggles the difficulties of friendships and relationships, developing in maturity and in an understanding of the world around her.

From growing up in a very pro-Jane Austen household, it was clear to me that seeing this film was not going to be free from bias, nor was I ever going to see it with anyone other than my mother. This meant that from the moment I sat down in the cinema to watch it, the expectations were already quite high. If you’ve seen the hit box office classic ‘Clueless,’ you can’t help but hope for a more traditionalised version of this chick flick, and I was not disappointed!

The opening lines are that of the novel, reading;

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever rich…had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

This line immediately sets up the story to produce someone of very little humility and very high vanity. However, from watching this film, while also comparing it to the original film and novel, this adaptation brings much more humour, adding a lightness to the script that is not as apparent formerly. And while this is the case, it maintains that sense of a period drama, so it both, engages those familiar with the classic and those seeing it for the first time.

Though still being seen as an adaptation, this film can be looked at as more of a reinvention for the time, doing the original justice, but going beyond the former social limitations of women. The director, Autumn de Wilde, shows many challenges that societies face today, nodding towards aspects of feminism and women’s stance in society. The character of Emma and those intertwined around her, create a multi-layer of depth to the film that compliments women’s current need to be assertive and somewhat dominant as an individual. Aside from this, we can also see a cross-over of classes, both in female and male aspects of the film. By Emma taking a middle-class and somewhat naive girl under her wing, the storyline pays tribute to the obvious difference in the traditional class systems and the perspectives of those from the community.

Emma’ uses a quirky cast and humorous take on the script to appeal to a much younger audience. The lead, Anya Taylor-Joy, as well as Bill Nighy as Emma’s father, gives this film a comical edge that can be seen as a new take for returning audiences.  It is this comedy, coupled with Emma’s misgivings, that allows for attention to character development, playing off one another to build the story. Indications of the time period of the 18th century are definitely evident through the costumes, scenic design and the soundtrack, honouring the film as a period piece at heart.

Emma‘ (2020) has the traditional novel, the 1996 film of the same name, and the Americanised adaptation ‘Clueless,’ to derive its themes from. It takes the drama from the original yet the humour from the stereotypical chick flick (‘Clueless‘). If anything, Emma is not only more arrogant in the original, but it is the softening of traditional values that has allowed this film to keep up with the times. ‘Emma’ is made extremely time appropriate, so much so that she realises her vanity and faults much more than she ever would if it were in a drama during the era in which it was written. Although it’s hard to admit at times, Emma is not only relatable in her personality, but it is her eventual realisation of her faults that makes this film really hit home. We all struggle to tackle the ins and outs of relationships on varying levels, and it is this movie that makes us feel like we are not alone in it all.

Watch the trailer here

Image source: © Liam Daniel – Focus Features, no changes made

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