Ah, Emma, our favourite spoiled rich girl with a heart of gold. There’s been a bit of a resurgence of love for our girl due to the awesome new adaptation that’s been keeping people swooning in their self-isolation.
You guys, I love the BBC version with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller to an embarrassing degree. I’ve watched it so many times that I can recreate the exact cadence in which Mr. Knightley says, “badly done.” Buuuuuuuuuuuut, it’s 4 hours long, and even though we’re all overrun with time right now, I shall respect your attention spans.
Plus, the newest adaptation really is quite dreamy.
The movie opened with our girl Emma dragging her servants out in the wee hours to pick the perfect bouquet of flowers for her ex-governess who was about to be married.
This whole situation set up the Woodhouse family perfectly. Yes, Emma and her father are very rich, and a bit stuck in their adorably clueless privileged bubble, but they’re also very warm-hearted. Miss Taylor had long outgrown her usefulness to them as a governess, yet both Emma and her father would’ve happily had her stay in their home for the rest of her life.
The day was lovely, aside from Miss Bates getting overexcited, and the mysterious Frank Churchill not showing up for his own father’s wedding. You see, he was shipped off as a child to live with his aunt and hadn’t returned since.
Meet Mr. Knightley’s butt, a neighbour of the Woodhouse’s butts, of equal social standing among all the butts, and perhaps the most moral of all the butts.
[Note the strategically placed chair in the mirror.]
Mr. Knightley sauntered on over to Hartfield to have a visit with his favourite neighbour and possible secret crush. He asked about Frank and seemed almost delighted to find out he had disrespected his father with his absence, and he proceeded to happily shit all over Frank’s character.
Wonder whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy… *wink*
Emma took an interest in the shiny new toy at the boarding house because no one knew her parentage, and she was therefore worthy of Emma’s notice. New Toy’s name was Harriet, and she had a crush on Farmer Rob; something Emma immediately put a stop to because no new toy of hers was to be sold along with some farming accessory, you know?
Emma took her New Toy to visit her Old Toy Mrs. Weston, and who should be there but Mr. Elton; reverend by day, creepy creepo by night (and also day). He was ever the charmer, dolling out hyperbolic compliments and staring intensely. So much so that Emma convinced herself that he and her New Toy should fall madly in love.
Emma and her New Toy ran into Miss Bates (played effing brilliantly by one my favourite actors Miranda Hart), and she told them all about her niece Jane Fairfax; a topic Emma wasn’t super duper thrilled about.
We all have that one annoying friend who can’t read social cues (my apologies for every person who read this and thought OH SHIT IS IT ME??), and we’ve all probably been as rude as Emma was when she tried to dismiss Miss Bates. Luckily Miss Bates was oblivious enough not to notice. But the rudeness didn’t stop there! On the way home, our girl and her New Toy ran into Farmer Rob, the working-class toy accessory that Emma wanted to do without. She just walked by, pretending to notice a particularly bad smell in the air, and then shit-talked him for good measure.
Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen!
[Before everyone starts wishing upon me a chill draft, know that I love our girl, and I know the fact that she’s a bit of a bish in the beginning is the whole point, because character growth, and so forth.]
Emma’s New Toy was gaga over Emma (as everyone was), and Knightley was all, “sure, she’s like the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen in real life, and she’s super cool, and the only woman who can match my wits, BUT her grasp on reality is a smidge skewed, so I’m going to have to remind her that she does, in fact, have faults.” And so he did! Every time someone went overboard complimenting her, Knightley was there to counteract it.
What a dick, I hear you say? Yes, but again, I’m pretty sure that’s the point.
Emma’s New Toy seemed pretty pumped to show off the letter Farmer Rob wrote in order to propose, but Emma was none too thrilled to lose her New Toy to a match she didn’t orchestrate herself. So, she did what any well-meaning yet largely clueless manipulator would do, and she subtly hinted that her New Toy should refuse him.
Mr. Knightley scold-chased Emma around the house yelling at her for convincing Harriet out of a pretty darn good match, and Emma shot back that being beautiful is a woman’s only worthy commodity, and nothing else matters, because men are the worst.
Elton went bananas over the painting Emma did of her New Toy, so he offered to get it framed. And boy did he! Boy is so extra, and Josh O’Connor played him brilliantly.
Emma’s sister arrived with her husband, Mr. Knightley’s brother, and their children. Turns out, Mr. Woodhouse’s eldest daughter was just as neurotic as he was, and they all raced out of the room to get a doctor because the baby sneezed. This gave our titular couple some time to flirt-fight some more, when Emma was like, “K but, Farmer Rob isn’t like, upset, right?” and Knightley was all, “uhhhh, YEAH BISH, obviously.”
It was the evening of the Weston Christmas party, but Emma’s poor little Toy was defective, so she couldn’t go. At the party, Emma was like, “I’m sorry my New Toy couldn’t be here,” and Elton was all, “Who?” and Emma was like, “Your one true love,” and Elton sort of laughed nervously like, “ahhhh, yes, of course… the Lord?” And Emma laughed like, “haha, stop being coy,” and he was like, “YOU stop being coy,” and then he talked for sixteen hours about the Churchill house being the finest in the universe or something.
To top off Emma’s annoyance, the mysterious Frank Churchill once again didn’t show up, giving Mr. Knightley the opportunity to throw so much shade at him again.
Then Elton mentioned snow and the Hypochondriac Crew freaked out and took off, leaving Emma in a carriage alone with Elton.
In a shocking twist, Mr. Elton had zero interest in Emma’s New Toy, and in fact wanted to marry Emma herself.
Emma told her New Toy the news, and she took it as well as could be expected after being peer pressured into having a crush on a town celebrity. This mourning went on for a bit, and Emma was like, “girl, quit having emotions,” so her New Toy threw away her prised book of transcribed sermons.
Meanwhile, look who came for a visit…
It was none other than Miss. Bates niece, Jane Fairfax herself! Girl seemed downright peeved to be there visiting her aunt before starting her career as a governess. Emma, of course, had been hearing about Jane’s accomplishments her whole life, and wasn’t super pleased to have her in town, until she heard that Jane had met the mysterious Frank Churchill.
Girl was SO CAGEY about Frank and then to add to Emma’s peeve-itude, she 100% showed her up on the piano. Mr. Knightley was like, “Damn, she can sing and dance and is beautiful and can recite the opening scrawl to every Star Wars movie, she’s the perfect woman,” and Emma was like, “well sure, if you’re into that sort of thing.”
He called Emma out so hard about being jealous of Jane’s accomplishments, and he was 100% bang-on. But this is the way of life, isn’t it? Emma didn’t have to be accomplished. She was rich and beautiful, and had been given everything she’d ever wanted her whole life. She never had to work for it. One of the many Emmas explained this phenomenon pretty well in an interview one time.
Jane, on the other hand, WERKED, because she had to. She was poor, and she had to make herself into the kind of woman who could succeed in life. A bit like Austen herself, no?
Emma and her New Toy ran into the Farmer Rob and his Farmer Sisters in the haberdashery, and it was very clear that Robert and Harriet still had some of the ol’ tinglies for each other. Emma gave her permission to go visit them on the condition that she not marry any of them, and look who happened to ride by while she waited…
It was Mr. Frank Churchill himself! The Westons brought him over to show him off to Emma, and they went for a flirt-stroll about town. She asked him about Jane, and he was also cagey about it, which probably meant nothing, no big deal. *wink* And they decided to have a ball!
At a party, Emma was curious about the mysterious benefactor who gifted Jane a piano, and Frank was all, “Who? Oh Jane, right, I forgot she existed, but now that you mention her, ugh, gross, she’s so yucky, just the absolute yuckiest.”
Then Jane and Mr. Knightley did a duet with her on the piano and him playing a violin, and they both sang, and I nearly had to excuse myself.
Emma was ABOUT IT, until Mrs. Weston suggested a possible love connection brewing and Emma was like, “NUH UH!”
Elton went and got himself married in a matter of weeks, and his new wife sure was something. First she sat in the front pew, then she visited Emma and prattled on about someone else’s house, then had the STRAIGHT UP NERVE to call Mr. Knightley as simply “Knightley”, like some kind of overly-familiar boob.
But whatever, who cared about her, because it was time for the ball! (There’s always a ball).
Elton very rudely refused to ask Emma’s New Toy to dance, so Mr. Knightley asked her instead. It was all such fun, and everyone took a train to flirt town, eliciting some sexy feelings that they were unprepared to deal with, ESPECIALLY when Emma suggested Mr. Knightley ask HER to dance.
They were in LOVE and suddenly it was very obvious to both of them, so off he ran to confess his feelings and probably give her a lil’ smooch, but oh no, they were interrupted by a very thrilling and heroic situation.
Emma’s New Toy was rescued from some Gypsies (who, let’s be honest, were probably just saying hi and the girl freaked out) by Frank Churchill. It was all very dramatic, and she moaned and wailed over a sprained ankle like she was giving birth. She whispered to Emma that she’d fallen in love again, and Emma set right to making sure this time her little Toy would win the object of her affection – Mr. Frank Churchill. *wink* So she asked Frank to stay and help with Harriet, giving Mr. Knightley the impression that Frank was Emma’s crush.
Poor Mr. Knightley with his tortured, burning heart, believing all romantic hope was lost.
So the year wore on, and no one spoke directly about their crushes, and everyone was bored, so Mrs. Elton invited herself over to Mr. Knightley’s bachelor mansion. Thus, a party was formed!
The party was okay, but a bit of a bust, considering Jane peaced out early, Frank Churchill came late, and Mr. Knightley, nursing his wounded lil’ heart, paid more attention to Emma’s Toy than to Emma herself. BUT, never fear, thrill seekers, for a trip to Box Hill was on the horizon.
“Box Hill” sent a horrible shiver down my spine the instant it was muttered, because we all knew what was coming, didn’t we? Frank and Emma flirted shamelessly in front of everyone, and then, prompted by Frank’s obnoxious game, Emma let slip a foul insult to poor Miss Bates, who took it rather hard.
Mr. Knightley gave her the what-for about punching down, and Emma got understandably upset about possibly being the worst. It’s hard finding out you might be the worst! We’ve all been there. Anyway, she cried about it to her dad, taking full responsibility for her actions, which, YAY, CHARACTER GROWTH!
She visited Miss Bates and gave her some apples, and was like, “sorry I’m the worst” (with her eyes), and Miss Bates was like, “yeah, that was rough” (with her eyes), and Emma was like, “won’t happen again, I promise” (with her eyes), and Miss Bates was all, “I can’t really do anything other than accept your eye-apology because of our respective stations in life, so we’re cool, I guess” (with her eyes), and Emma was like, “that’s settled, then” (with her every action).
Meanwhile, Mr. Knightley, unable to handle all the big feelings invading his poor lil’ heart, was off on a trip to visit their siblings, to just, like, shake it off, I guess? Because what does a brooding Austen hero do when he can’t handle having emotions? He runs away! Off you go, dear!
Meanwhile, Frank Churchill’s rich aunt died, leaving him all her money, and he was finally free to confess the deepest secret of his heart.
Frank was secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax! He was the one who got her a pianoforte, and he came to town not only to visit with his family, but to continue their secret liaison! Oh the absolute SCANDAL of it all! But more importantly, this meant Emma had to break the bad news to her New Toy about another heartbreak.
Ruh-Roh! Turns out that her New Toy wasn’t in love with Frank Churchill, but with Mr. Knightley! He had won her heart when he offered to dance with her at the ball, and she’d been crushing ever since. Worse still, the evidence supported her claim that he returned her affections! Emma was all, “oh shit, really? Shit, shit, shit, you got a point,” and Harriet was like, “girl, are you after my man?” and Emma was all, “ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm….?” Harriet pointed out that the only reason she refused Farmer Rob was because of Emma, so maybe Emma was responsible for her happiness a bit?
It was all very awkward, and the awkwardness compounded when Mr. Knightley came back from his Shake It Off Tour to comfort Emma about losing Frank Churchill.
Finally, FINALLY, once Emma stopped telling him to shut the eff up long enough, Mr. Knightley confessed his love. BUT, she once again had to deal with breaking her New Toy, so she finally, FINALLY relented and decided to buy the Farmer Rob accessory.
Harriet informed Emma that she was engaged to Farmer Rob, and her dad worked at Nike or whatever, and Emma was like, “ain’t no thing, bring him round for tea.” Again – yay! Character growth!
And that was that! They got married, Mr. Knightley agreed to move into Hartfield so that Mr. Woodhouse wouldn’t be left alone, and he and Emma smooched the days away for the rest of their long happy lives (I assume).
This was such a fun, ballsy adaptation, with a lot of passion and wit. The risks this movie took definitely paid off. I’m not sure the world was ready for an Austen story like this ten, even five years ago. But Austen fans have exhausted our go-tos, our old faithfuls, our feel-good rainy regency Sunday afternoons. We were ready for something this funny, this quirky, this… dare I say, sexy.
I know there’s a plethora of Austen adaptations out there, but this movie has made me want more. There is always something new to discover, and a new take on an old story can revive the tale and make you look at it differently.
MORE I SAY!
- This was an honest to goodness nerd’s dream cast. Scrimgeour! Yara Greyjoy! Inspector Lestrade! Theseus Scamander!
- The way Mr. Elton said In-o-cence, and the way Mr. Woodhouse questioned it, set up the tone of this movie spectacularly.
- When Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax did their duet, the song they sang happened to be one that I had learned in choir, so I actually gasped and said, “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes?? This shit is my JAM!”
- Speaking of music, the soundtrack, with all those choirs, was freaking amazing.
- Bartholomew and Charlies were the standout MVPs of this movie. #BartsPoetryCorner
- I wonder how they decided on the character names for Clueless. They kept Mr. Elton as Elton, so why not keep Emma as Emma? (Though I understand changing Harriet to Tai)
- I love that this adaptation allowed the characters to wallow in their feelings; Mr. Knightley on the floor, Emma crying in her window-nook, Harriet expressing her frustration at Emma’s interference. It made this story a lot more real than I’d seen it before; a lot more accessible to modern audiences. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the BBC version. These two adaptations were very different, and both are enjoyable AF for different reasons.
- I didn’t include any pictures with Mr. Woodhouse (this thing was too long already) so I feel I must say that Bill Nighy was simply delightful in the role, and I loved him dearly.
- Another thing I adored about this adaptation was the trust it had in the audience. It didn’t over-explain situations, it didn’t over set the scene… it just told the story as it happened. It either assumed we’d read the book, or it assumed we could follow along even if we hadn’t. I appreciated being trusted.
- Does hearing “Box Hill” make your stomach queasy?
- Do you have any dreamy neighbours? Did this movie inspire you to confess your feelings via text / window sign / carrier-drone?
OKAY THAT’S IT, THANK YOU FOR COMING, STAY SAFE OUT THERE, FRIENDS!