Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation of Emma mixes screwball comedy, romantic charm, and social satire to delightful effect.


This new 2020 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma has had a polarizing reaction from Jane Austen fans. The classic story of Emma Woodhouse, a snobbish young woman in the 19th century playing matchmaker to disastrous results, stays mostly true to Jane Austen’s text. Although, the added screwball comedy elements mixed with bold creative choices arguably left the audience with mixed reactions.

For sure, Emma is undoubtedly more comical and whimsical than previous interpretations. Plus, Emma is pricklier in this movie when compared to previous incarnations. While Romola Garai brought a naïve sweetness to the part, Taylor-Joy enhances the cruelty and classist sides of the character to mean-girl effect. She’s not exactly likable. And yet, as a viewer, I found myself still rooting for her.

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That said, on my first watch, I had mixed feelings, which took me time to digest. However, after letting my thoughts sit for a while and watching the movie a second time, I concluded that I mostly love this romantic period drama. And I expect my admiration for this Emma 2020 adaptation will grow with each viewing. 

EMMA 2020 REVIEW

The new Emma 2020 promo image - Jane Austen Retelling
Photo: Focus Features

The classic love story has been told numerous times before, but never in such style.

At first, the film’s farcical style felt jarring and almost absurdist, and it wasn’t easy to empathize with Emma. Director, Autumn de Wilde interprets Emma as a self-indulgent, selfish, and pretentious snob. But Emma evolves, and there’s a likable feminist quality to the character as she roots for her friends to have better lives comparable to hers.  

I’d also argue that while the Emma 2020 adaptation has a different tone than Jane Austen’s novel, out of all the interpretations, what this Emma gets right is how beautiful it is to watch. The lavish costumes, the gorgeous production design, and the brilliant use of color was indeed a splendor to behold. Not to mention, the irony and humor sprinkled throughout in subtle ways. The comic elements were a lovely tribute to Austen. The soundtrack was also gorgeous.

Ultimately, Autumn de Wilde’s artistic vision proves she’s a promising filmmaker to watch. Her flair for the dramatic captured my attention, and I appreciated her unique approach. Yes, the female students looking like they walked out of The Handmaid’s Tale was bizarre, but the rest I loved from an artistic perspective. I was also incredibly amused throughout the film.

THE CAST

bill nighy and miranda hart in emma 2020
Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in Emma. Photo: Focus Features.

One aspect of the film that won me over was the performances. I was especially enamored with Miranda Hart (who I LOVE and wish was in everything) and Bill Nighy. They both chewed the scenery splendidly. The stars of the film, Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley and Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse, were also excellent.

Emma and Mr. Knightley Dance
Emma and Mr. Knightley Dance. Photo: Focus Features.

Of course, for the film to work at all, the romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley must work. Thankfully, it does! Flynn brings a masculine charm to Knightley while Taylor-Joy continues to prove she’s an up and coming young actress. Together, they have good chemistry, and you root for their happy ending. The proposal scene was especially delightful.

Still, at times the humor comes off a bit ridiculous, and the emotions don’t always work. I also feel the Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), and Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) characters needed more fleshing out. But overall, I was mostly pleased with the film – especially on the second watch.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

promotional image of Emma 2020.

I feel I will enjoy the Emma 2020 movie more each time I watch it. Emma’s romantic meddling, Knightley’s swoony Romantic hero-ness, Mr. Elton’s (Josh O’Connor) comedic miscalculations, Mrs. Bates’ love of tarts, Harriet Smith’s (Mia Goth) naivety, and the always scene-stealing Bill Nighy as the agoraphobic father make this adaptation worth your time.

Once you get past the film’s strangeness, I recommend going back and watching it a second time to appreciate de Wilde’s vision. It’s a movie that grows on you. Like relationships, sometimes that’s the best kind!

Where to Watch: Rent/buy on Digital and DVD.

Content Note: PG

What did you think of the movie? Do you agree with our review of Emma (2020)?


Credit for Photos: Focus Features

OVERALL RATING

“You had me at hello.”

ROMANCE RATING

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My

feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me

to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

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