Emma. Parent Guide
A wildly funny adaptation of one of Jane Austen's most famous novels, served up with a wicked wit, solid acting,and lush sets.
Parent Movie Review
While writing Emma, Jane Austen stated that she was going to create “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”. It is a mark of her genius that Emma Woodhouse, despite her snobbishness, arrogance, and inveterate meddling in the lives of those around her, has become a much beloved character in the pantheon of English fiction.
It is a daunting task for any director to adapt an iconic novel and as a lifelong Jane Austen fanatic, I was afraid that this film wouldn’t live up to previous versions. Fortunately, director Autumn de Wilde rises to the challenge and brings a “light, bright, and sparkling” touch to this production, and the story leans heavily into the comic aspects of the plot. In fact, de Wilde seems to be laughing at her characters as often as she laughs with them, delighting in their moments of folly, absurdity, and self-delusion. That lighthearted comic sensibility spills over into every aspect of the production, including the visual design and even the soundtrack. Emma’s interior sets come into two color palettes: the pastel tones of trays filled with macarons and the rich warm tones of autumn foods seen by golden firelight. The entire film looks good enough to eat - its scenes are filled with one decadent dessert after another, telling us that the story is an outsized sweet confection. The soundtrack, too, floats along on a bubbly tide, mixing period folk songs with buoyant classical-sounding choral music, designed to underscore the film’s comic moments.
Fortunately, Emma’s cast are all capable of punching up the wit and humor intrinsic to the plot. Anya Taylor-Joy is a brilliant Miss Woodhouse, all smug self-assurance as she plans to find a husband for her illegitimate friend, Harriet (Mia Goth), because it will be “amusing’. Veteran actor Bill Nighy is sadly underutilized as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse, managing to avoid the easy trap of turning Emma’s father into a mere caricature. Josh O’Connor and Gemma Whelan as the smarmy vicar and his pretentious wife are enormous fun to watch as they ham up their roles, playing right on the edge of parody. The only real letdown in the cast is Johnny Flynn, who makes a very scruffy, and often unappealing, George Knightley. The movie’s other weakness comes down to time: the plotline involving Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) is poorly developed and might be confusing to viewers who aren’t familiar with the story.
There’s always a risk that a sweet production can become cloying, but this film balances its farcical moments with touches of reality. There is real feeling when Emma recognizes the emotional cost of toying with people’s lives and her abuse of her social privilege. The movie also takes a penetrating look at the wealth of the major characters, bringing an army of servants on screen, all seen but not heard as they dress, clean, and serve their ludicrously pampered employers. Nothing is said about the social cleavages of Regency England, but these images are worth a thousand words.
In the novel, Emma is described as “faultless in spite of all her faults” and that’s the judgment I will give to this adaptation. Is it perfect? No. Will I buy the DVD the day it comes out and put on the shelf with the three other versions I already own? You bet I will. And I’ll enjoy laughing at this farcical confection all over again.Directed by Autumn de Wilde. Starring Anna Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O'Connor. Theatrical release March 6, 2020. Updated March 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for Emma.
Rating & Content Info
Why is Emma. rated PG? Emma. is rated PG by the MPAA for brief partial nudity
Violence: A man raises his voice and bangs on a carriage. A woman has a nosebleed. There is mention of a woman being attacked by gypsies: she is carried into a house by the person who rescued her.
Sexual Content: A man is shown nude from behind in a non-sexual setting. A woman hoists up her skirts to warm her backside by the fire; her thighs are visible. Men and women kiss on a few occasions.
Profanity: A single term of deity is heard.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters drink wine socially. A woman tells a man he has had too much to drink.
Page last updated March 6, 2020
Emma. Parents' Guide
Why does Emma decide to try matchmaking? Why does she encourage Harriet to reject Robert Martin? Do you think it’s ever justified to interfere in someone else’s life? What does it take for Emma to recognize the consequences of her behavior? What does Emma do when she recognizes that she has hurt someone? How have you behaved when you have hurt someone?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you enjoy this movie, you will definitely want to read Jane Austen’s original novel, Emma. Two of Austen’s other beloved novels that feature appealing female protagonists include Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility.
Victoria Grossack has imagined a sequel to Emma entitled The Highbury Murders. This whodunit sees Mr. and Mrs. Knightley determining the identity of a killer stalking their beloved village.
Alexander McCall Smith has written an updated Emma: A Modern Retelling which brings Emma and her father into the 21st century.
Related home video titles:
If you want more of Emma, you can watch the 1996 theatrical version, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
Jane Austen’s effect on the lives of modern women is clearly illustrated in The Jane Austen Book Club.
One of the most popular period novels involving spunky young women is the classic Little Women. You can watch the 1996 or 2019 big screen versions. A Christian version set in the 21st century is also available.
A real life love story set in the Austen era is the tale of poet John Keats and his love for Fanny Brawne. If you’re looking for a weepy costume drama, check out Bright Star.
Viewers who just can’t get enough of Emma Woodhouse, will want to watch on of the detailed TV miniseries versions, filmed in 1996 and 2009.