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Emma review- the Growth of a “Mean” Girl

As a novel only beloved by Jane Austen herself, why the adaption of Emma is still welcomed and popular today?

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich
Attribute: Focus Features

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition,” Unlike other heroines in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma “seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Just like Jane Austen described the character of Emma: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Indeed, lots of audience will consider Emma is a self-centered, precocious and even snobby heroine at the beginning.

Mr. and Mrs. Elton, a funny couple with unique outfits
Attribute: Focus Features

Even the actress who played Emma, Anya Taylor Joy described Emma is “confident that she knows how other people should be living. She is a dictator of taste and would make a perfect social media influencer.” And she admitted that: “Definitely there are times when I wanted to shake Emma.”

Undoubtedly, with a shiny blond hair, intelligent brown eyes and elegant manner to everything around her, Anya gave a new life to the social queen, Emma. So what exactly are attracting audience to spend their money on the new film adapted from an over two hundred years old novel?

“Compared to the original novel, Mr. Knightley is made more tender and vulnerable.”
Attribute: Focus Features

“She[Emma] might start the novel and the film as almost a mean girl – certainly as a know-it-all,” told by the writer of the Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser, “but she ends it with the recognition that her community’s happiness, and her own happiness, depends on her not creating pain and conflict but on her finding ways to be more generous with how she carries her wealth and status.”

“I think what Emma learns over the course of the novel is how to wield and share her resources and social privilege with greater care.”

It is a fair that people may not like her because they think she doesn’t end up sharing enough or questioning how she came by her power enough, but the most important thing is Emma does it at all, said by Devoney.

Bill Nighy, played Mr. Woodhouse, is the first actor came into Wilde’s mind for the adaption
Attribute: Focus Features

Though Jane Austen’s era may be far away from us, the new adaption of Emma leads the character much closer to the audience.

“I really wanted to make sure Emma was unlikable at times and yet, ideally, you see yourself in her.” Connected the audience to the character Emma, the director Autumn de Wilde tried to use comedy to humanizing the world that Emma exists rather than modernizing it, “So I knew I needed the audience to flip flop between being frustrated and wanting to strangle Emma for being so selfish and being so horrible, and loving her so much that you want to see her improve,”

“because this story is about someone like that realizing they’re wrong, as well as about romance and friendship.”

Harriet is learning to drink a cup of tea gracefully from Emma
Attributed: Focus Features

As a scholar in Jane Austen, Devoney are glad to see the new adaptation of Jane’s works because they indicate that her fiction is still a living text—that it continues to speak to us even after 200 years.

“The best new adaptations are those that have us returning to the original novel with a new set of thoughts and questions that deepen our reading experience of the original.” Commented on the new Emma, “To my mind. Autumn de Wilde’s new Emma film does exactly that.”

“It is remarkable in its capturing of the original novel’s tone—it’s comedy, sensibility, sentimentality, and social criticism. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to do.”

Devoney Looser, a Jane Austen scholar, speaking at ASU’s 2019 graduation.
Attribute: Wikipedia

It is undeniable that Wilde made a new breakthrough in the new adaptation, not only in shaping the characters based on the original works but also standing out in the costumes’ designs.

The Oscar-winning costume designer, Alexandra Byrne charged with the sumptuous costumes this time in the new Emma. Compared to the previous illustrations and adaptions of Emma, it showed that colors play a significant role in the whole costume designs.

Overall, no matter which adaptation it is, the values of the basic philosophy brought by the great writer Jane Austen is never changed, just like Devoney said: “Austen’s works are still read because they raise questions that continue to speak to us today, on subjects ranging from love and money to family duty and conflict. I think we return to Austen’s novels because they continue to help us think through how to live a meaningful life in a world that is often deeply unfair.”

For the new Emma, she may not be your favorite character, but one thing for sure is she is unforgettable, not because of her romantic love story, kindness or not even her beauty, but for her self-awareness and encouragement towards her changes during her growth, which is just like you and me.

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