1 March 2020 Susannah

‘Emma.’ 2020

Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020)

How can two minutes in a movie contain both rapture and disgust? I have been to see the new Emma and, in the scene when Mr Knightley tells Emma he loves her, I was saying the words with him in my head and adoring every minute of his emotion and language. And then came a nose bleed, and I wanted to scream in frustration and horror. Why, oh why, oh why did anyone think a nose bleed was a good idea?

As most of you probably know, I worship Jane Austen’s Emma. It is, in my view, the world’s greatest novel. I know that a film is a different art form and that changes must be made, and I’m not unrealistic enough to expect perfection in both book and movie. I tried to keep an open mind and enjoy the story on the screen. And mostly I did enjoy it, but came away feeling it was a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts.

So … I’ll give you a list of what I loved and what I disliked:

Good

  • The moment at Box Hill when Emma insults Miss Bates. You could feel the hurt and embarrassment and discomfort so superbly.
  • The ball at the Crown Inn was beautifully done.
  • Mr Knightley telling Emma of his feelings (until the nose bleed) and even having tears in his eyes.
  • Some amazing costumes and settings and houses.
  • At first I didn’t think Harriet was pretty enough, but she won me over and Robert Martin was excellent.
  • Mrs Elton was wonderfully vile and her husband suitably wet.
  • The piano duel between Emma and Jane.

Bad

  • That nose bleed!
  • Mr Knightley wasn’t nearly tall enough (and he badly needed a comb). Most of the other men towered over him and it is so important in the book that Mr Knightley is superior to every other man, in height as in all else. I did really like Johnny Flynn in the role, though his feelings were made clear to Emma far too early, but I just wished I could give him several more inches.
  • I love Bill Nighy as an actor, but he was too farcical and sprightly as Mr Woodhouse.
  • Emma’s hair and some of her weird necklines (at times she looked like she was being guillotined by her clothes). I found her to be a spiky and brittle Emma Woodhouse and felt she needed to show more of the warmth that is in the novel’s Emma.
  • Turning Mr and Mrs John Knightley into farce.
  • Frank Churchill’s ears were a major distraction – he should not have had his hair cut but rather allowed his hair to cover those ears. And the Frank and Jane story was cut to virtually nothing at all.

I did enjoy so much of the movie – it was edgy, funny and moving in places – but I came away knowing once again that no film can really do full justice to that particular novel. I know so much of it by heart and felt that generally, the dialogue stuck closely to Jane Austen’s words.

If you would like to learn more about the novel and its author, do consider purchasing my Reader’s Guide to Emma for just $4 by immediate download. I have updated it to include this latest move adaptation.

I hope the film brings new audiences to the novel, and I’ll love discussing all the details with my friends, but I still cannot forgive that trickle of blood! What are your thoughts?

Leave a comment.

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Header image credit- Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9214832/
Body image credit- Josh O’Connor and Tanya Reynolds as Mr & Mrs Elton, in Emma. (2020), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9214832

Comments (68)

  1. Teddy

    Oh my gosh YES!!!! The nose bleed!!!!!! So unnecessary!!!!! I did love the rest of the movie (much preferred to the recent adaptation of Little Women) but that part with the nose bleed – in the middle of one of the most pivotal events of the novel – nearly ruined the whole thing.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I too much preferred the Emma film to the one of Little Women. I felt the flashback technique in that ruined all the build up to Beth’s death and Meg’s marriage. It’s such a pity the nose bleed was near the end, as it made a lasting memory and I find it just too hideous!

    • Barbara

      I so agree! That nose bleed during what must surely count as literature’s most romantic, moving marriage proposal of all times was SO ill-advised and plain unnecessary! Mr Knightley was far too young (though gorgeously convincing); however, I understand why an older man could be found unsettling in our cultural times (as, indeed, are some of Mr Knightley’s comments for a modern reader). The photography, mise en scènes, casting and sometimes surprising music were all laudable, I thought. Anachronisms and nosebleed apart, I also thoroughly enjoyed this film. I just hope it sends new readers scurrying off to read Austen for themselves.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        Yes, it would be wonderful if it sends people off to read the book!

      • Evelin Mayara

        Actually, Johnny Flynn has the same age than Mr. Knightley: 37.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Thanks so much for letting me know that. As I’ve read the novel, Mr Knightley has seemed younger and younger. Looks lik that is happening with the movies too.

  2. JOAN REYNOLDS

    Dear Susannah, I love your review, so very thoughtful. I have many of the same sentiments as you. Granted I have to recognise that a feature film does not have the luxury of time that say the TV series with Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller had, but I did miss some of the more poignant plot details, and the slow growth of Emma and her underlying kindness. I felt a lot of the minor characters were reduced to mere caricature for easy laughs at the expense of revealing the subtlety of the story. Emma was very rigid, and I felt the treatment of Mr. Knightley’s decision to move out of Donwell Abbey was too rushed. It failed to show the deep anxiety Emma had in having to refuse the man she loved because she loved and worried about her father just as much, and I did not really enjoy the running gag with the screens – a bit overdone, too farcical. I am completely baffled by the nosebleed, thought the treatment of Jane Fairfax not at all reflective of her presence in the novel in terms of talent, beauty and importance to the plot. That said, it was a light and lively version bound to attract new readers to Emma. I thought the costumes exquisite, and I liked the music, a good mix of elegance and country folk. I actually didn’t notice the under-height of Mr. Knightley, and he is now neck and neck with Johnny Lee Miller’s performance in my opinion – and as for his messy hair, apparently that was a particular piece of direction in that De Wilde would run around fluffing it up (to make it more rock-star perhaps?) For a couple of hours’ entertainment inspired by Jane Austen it was delightful, and the set design and locations to me were a joy to look at – I did like that Donwell was shrouded in dust covers – Knightley not having found any reason to make it a home yet as he had no Emma to share it with.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I agree that the dust covers were a lovely idea.I also loved the music! And the running gag with the screens was ridiculous – Mr Woodhouse is a pain, but not in that way and it really simplified the difficulties Emma has with him.
      No movie will have that luxury of time to slowly develop character and themes. There was much to enjoy in this new film, and some things to deplore. Back to the book!

  3. Nauha

    I must admit I did not like the new Emma movie
    Every thing looked very artificial and sterile the costumes, the background even the characters and I Could not get emotionally involved either, except maybe in one scene, the pinic
    Just,my opinion

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, the picnic scene was very moving. I had such mixed feelings about this film – loved some things, hated others.

  4. Heather Batten

    I really enjoyed the movie, however, like you, found the blood nose totally unnecessary!
    I agree with your summary but want to add that I loved Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. She made her seem a bit more real, than some other versions where she seems too ridiculous.
    Mr Knightley’s intro didn’t do him justice. The naked scene and him running around late made him seem unorganised and unhero like. My friend wasn’t even sure who he was at first. And why wasn’t he at the wedding anyway?
    Mrs Goddard’s girls’ school uniforms looked like they were borrowed from the Handmaid’s Tale.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Miranda Hart is a fabulous actor. At first I was worried that she was too big physically and that she would make the role purely comic, but she didn’t. I don’t think she was given enough talking to do and would have loved to hear her doing one of her monologues, but her moment at Box Hill was superb. You could just feel her hurt and see her trying so hard to be brave. Mr Knightley isn’t at the wedding in the book either. Weddings were more private in those days – not such big events.
      Yes, those cloaks were straight form Margaret Atwood – if only they’d made them sky blue or some other colour.

  5. So agree about the nosebleed. And glad you mentioned Harriet’s attractiveness. She is meant to be attractive so you believe at the start Elton could be interested. Thought Martin’s farm should have been more of a pastoral idyll. Also the film makers set the Woodhouse house too high. It is in the details in Emma that the message reveals itself. And as you say the Jane Farirfax story, meant as a foil and a juxtaposition hardly existed. I went with a friend who didn’t know the novel or previous films and she was just confused. Sticking to the dialogue helped a little but I must say I was very disappointed. I write the blog, Austen’s Guide to Happiness.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Congratulations on your blog and for helping to spread the Jane Austen word!
      Glad you agree about the nose bleed and also about the details. The houses were gorgeous, but most of them were wrong for the homes in the novel. Many people have been telling me that for those who have not read the book, the film is rather confusing.

  6. Susannah, I agree totally with your summary of the new ‘Emma”. I was anticipating the love scene with Mr Knightley and Emma to be the anthesis of an emotive bonding and to culminate their love for one another, and then the ‘nose bleed’. I actually felt quite annoyed by it, and it seemed unnecessary actually. I felt it just didn’t deliver that depth of feeling required. Yes, Mr Knightley should have been taller, and he looked the same age as Emma. He lacked strength of character. I found the movie a feast for the eyes in regard to costume, settings and décor, but I felt it lacked the slow build up of sexual tension between these two main characters. Overall, it was different, but to me it was a bit of a parody. Not sure how I feel otherwise, perhaps a bit disappointed.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Sounds like you share my very mixed reaction – some really good things, and some things completely wrong! I am not just annoyed about that nose bleed – incandescent would be more apt!

  7. Sally

    I was also shocked by the nose bleed. How strange to put it in. Was it meant to indicate the strain of emotion? I thought the costumes and sets were all very edgy and loved the vibrancy of colour and style. Emma was portrayed as nastier than I ever imagined. The box hill picnic scene was well done, cringe-worthy, awkward and bitchy. Loved every moment of the film except the notorious nose bleed.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      There was much to enjoy, if you can forget the nose bleed. The Box Hill scene was so moving, there were some amazing costumes (though am not sure about that hard yellow gown) and some really good acting. But oh that nose bleed …

  8. Ann

    Hi Susannah, I really enjoyed this latest movie of Emma. I thought the actress was perfect, when she looked at the camera you immediately knew she was scheming something in her mind. I thought the costumes and cinematography were superb. I also read that the “nose bleed” which was, I agree a distraction, ended up being a real nosebleed by the actress. When the make-up people, ready to apply fake blood, said “what will we do now”? the Director rightly said…keep filming! I thought the movie apart from the issues you named as bad, was good entertainment, and that for the most part is why we go to the movies. Ann

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, there was much that was really entertaining. However, I think I go to see a film of Emma with higher expectations than just entertainment. I want Jane Austen’s irony (very hard to capture on screen), her portrayal of character development, her understanding of what makes people tick. And I missed the Emma I love so much – this Emma was hard and scheming, but lacked the book Emma’s warmth and compassion.
      I am relieved that Eleanor Catton did not write that nose bleed into the original script.

  9. Sharon Flynn

    Yes I agree with most of what you have mentioned Susannah. The nose bleed was totally off putting and unnecessary. I did although like the sets and most of the costumes but thought it lacked substance except for the Box Hill scene where most of the best acting was done. I did find the film quite funny in a few scenes and maybe Bill Nighy was a little too sprightly but overall I enjoyed it for what it was and I will continue re-reading Jane’s novel over and over again until the next movie adaption comes along.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I will of course go and see every new film adaptation, but know that the books will always be better. It is only by constant re-readings that you come to adore and appreciate Jane Austen so much.

  10. Not seen this one but I recently rewatched the earlier version with Gwyneth Paltrow and really enjoyed it…and felt it honoured the book ,also a huge favourite of mine..is this an inferior version do you think?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      The versions are very different. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow and felt she made a more sympathetic Emma, but Harriet was totally miscast in that film, and Jane and Frank were barely there. I know every producer has to cut and leave things out, and casting is a very individual thing, so it all ends up as a matter of personal taste. I think my favourite is the Romola Garai TV version.

  11. Louise Gain

    As you point out there are one or two great scenes but on the whole there were far too many jarring notes. Emma lacked warmth & was far too pert & wooden while Mr Knightley lacked gravitas. I can’t imagine a man of his stature & background flinging himself on the floor! Emma was young, spoilt & filled with self-importance but she was loveable and this wasn’t apparent in this portrayal and the production lacked Austen’s subtlety. Fortunately one can’t mess with the beautiful English countryside.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I totally agree that Emma’s loveable nature is left out of this film version. She is brittle and spiky and seems very selfish. We don’t see Emma helping the poor, tending patiently for hours to her irritating father, coping silently with her frustrations at never going anywhere.

  12. Carolyn Cossgrove

    Agree with all your comments Susannah. Just a couple of my own…
    Making Emma lovable is a difficult task when making a film/tv adaptation…I just didn’t really care this particular Emma.
    Found the “Mr. Knighley dressing” and “Emma toasting her bottom” scenes a bit off…
    Will add that I thought the most noteworthy thing about the film was the unusual music which I quite enjoyed.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, the music was excellent. I agree about the gratuitous nudity and bottom-warming scene – so unnecessary! Can’t film producers realise that you can have sexiness without naked flesh on display?

  13. Karen

    I agree with the overall sentiments above and from Suasannah. Generally, I found the movie version quite light and not memorable. Great costumes and scenery ….. but characterisation seemed very superficial and one dimensional. It was hard to feel engaged or caring for the characters, including Emma. Not to say the movie was bad as it was enjoyable but not sure it would keep the interest of or encourage anyone new to Jane Austen to read the book.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree Karen. It was not a bad movie and there were some really good things about it, but overall it somehow missed the mark and wasn’t a memorable film. People who have not read the novel (poor things) tell me they found it all quite confusing.

  14. Lynn Clayton

    I was glad to hear that you had some enjoyment from the movie, Susannah. I was thinking of you when I watched it, and wondered what you thought of each scene.I did enjoy it as I love to see costumes, interiors, gardens, and food! I loved Mr Knightly’s dinner scene because the lighting (table candles and chandelier) looked so authentic and we don’t often get to see that.

    As for the bloody nose, it wasn’t originally planned, but actually happened during filming. I heard that in an interview with Anya Taylor-Joy. Both actors carried on as if it was meant to happen, and the director must have decided to keep that footage.

    A scene that momentarily disturbed me was the schoolgirls walking to school. Their red cloaks made me think of The Handmaids Tale!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That’s fascinating that the nose bleed was genuine. Still doesn’t make it forgivable at that moment though!
      I rather liked the school girls in their capes who walked along like a flock of geese, but wished they were not wearing red as it was too ‘Handmaids Tale’ for everyone.
      The houses and clothes and candlelit dinners and details were all very lovely, though Hartfield was too grand and full of servants, Abbey Mill Farm looked like it had escaped from ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Donwell was more of a Renaissance Palace, so although gorgeous, they were not correct for the novel.

    • Linda Jeffries-Summers

      Well, what a fuss! Physicality (mortality) is a theme of the book, brought in by Mr. Woodhouse’s unresolved grief.
      I loved Emma’s having to earn her redemption (the nosebleed forestalling the clinch, the gift of a goose (signaled by Harriet early— the maccaroon), perfect real farm and so Chardin a shot. She has been the real goose. Then she can be happy.
      I thought the screens, echoed by the footmen and doorways, visually reminded us of insight, blindness, and a visual cue of the author’s measuring Irony when viewing the characters.
      Loved the use of artificial performances (performing a marriage, dinner, the watercolor, dances, dueling musical performances) to encapsulate character and refine intimacy when it does occur. Note the use of the little foyer with Frank Churchill when he lies to Emma at the haberdashers; the headless statue as a cinematic warning of Box Hill, after Emma’s puzzled glance at Love before passing Hercules. Her labors, inded.
      The accordion effect of all these cinematic impressions makes me remember The Seventh Seal.I know we are in the presence of greatness.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        Yes, mortality is indeed a theme of the book although I don’t think Mr Woodhouse is still grieving – isn’t he too self-absorbed for that?
        I think there are many good things about the film, but the nosebleed is definitely NOT one of them.

    • Linda Jeffries-Summers

      Yes, thank you, Erica, re nosebleed, a visual sign of her being overwhelmed, like her tears.
      No, Mr. Woodhouse, rather than being a manipulative hypochondriac, like Mrs. Bennett, seems innocently selfish, growing out of his fear of illness/loneliness. His fear of change and illness seems a shorthand for his unresolved grief and hypersensitivity.
      Red cloaks and red uniform coats were quite official in the period for England.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        Yes, those red cloaks were evidently very common all over England.
        Interesting to compare the hypochondria of Mr Woodhouse and Mrs Bennet, but I get the feeling that Mr Woodhouse is happier without a wife – she might make demands on him! He almost never mentions her.

  15. Erica

    I liked this version of Emma. Her presentation at the beginning as a spoilt and opinionated young girl with potential was spot-on for me. It also gave me a chance to watch her grow up into the lovely young woman she became.
    I also loved Bill Nighy’s interpretation of Mr Woodhouse. From the moment he ran agilely down the stairs we were reminded that he was a hypochondriac, perhaps using it for his own ends all along. He saw the potential for a real love match between Emma and Mr Knightley (note the business with the screens at the end) , and knew that it would be good for him as well.
    Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley suited me too. His tendency to look scruffy at times seemed appropriate since he preferred walking to carriage rides and often spent time with his tenant farmers. His view of the world for me is Jane Austen’s voice, both ironic and romantic. He had to provide that contrast with the Eltons of the world.
    I loved Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. We saw Emma’s view of her as a silly old maid, and Mr Knightley’s truth. It was a truly nuanced performance.
    All in all, I liked this ‘Emma’ very much. It showcased Austen’s wonderful characterisation, sly wit and clear understanding of people, no matter what period we happen to be living in, including today.
    As for that nosebleed!!!!? Could it have been a visual metaphor? Emma Woodhouse, perfection itself, placed in a situation which is unattractive, out of her control and very human. And she doesn’t appear to notice. What do you think?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That is a good explanation for the nose bleed, but I’d still say it was completely unnecessary and unsightly.
      I agree that there was much to really enjoy and approve in this film. Miranda Hart’s pain was so real and you do see Emma growing to some extent. Can’t agree about Bill Nighy though. Mr Woodhouse would never have been so intelligent as to pick up the clues and the novel tells us how shocked he is when Emma announces that she and Mr Knightley will marry, so I thought the screens business just seemed silly.
      However, one of the joys of being a Janeite is that you can discuss and disagree over film versions and the novels, and all have fun doing so.

  16. Pam Nielson

    Agree with all your ‘bads’ Susannah and some of the ‘goods’.
    I felt that the film makers had taken out the love story elements and dressed them up to appeal to a supposed now audience. I have the BBC DVD recording of Doran Goodwin and John Carson in the lead roles first shown in 1972 and watched it after coming home from the film – it is infinitely superior to this film version because so much truer to the book and the underlying seriousness of Jane Austen’s writing.
    In short – this version short-changed Jane and her followers and I was glad to see that the credits merely said ‘Based on the novel by Jane Austen……’ Pam

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, that version is extremely faithful to the novel and because it is much longer, it can afford to include far more of the plot. However, I really disliked Doran Goodwin as Emma. I felt all the other characters were very well cast and the script was good. I rather like the Romola Garai TV series – she was a lovely Emma. Not so fond of Kate beckinsale as Emma. I do realise that no version is ever going to entirely satisfy me – so it’s back to the book again!

  17. Paul Millay

    I agree with your likes and dislikes
    The casting of Miranda Hart as Miss Bates was an absolute coup. Mr Knightley was good looking and well acted but a bit younger than I expected given that he had bounced Emma on his knee when she was a child.
    I have very fond memories of the 1996 ITV version staring Kate Beckinsale which I thought considerably better than the Gwyneth Paltrow movie of the same year. I will have to dig out the DVD and see how it stands up.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, Johnny Flynn was too young for Mr Knightley.
      I am not keen on the Kate Beckinsale one, but many people liked it when it came out. She was a shrewish Emma.

  18. Paddy

    I rather liked the nose bleed. Stopped it being too Georgette Heyer (and don’t get me wrong, I love Georgette Heyer).

    Also loved the music and the duet was lovely.

    Actor’s previous incarnations do influence one’s reactions – Mr Elton was Prince Charles in The Crown, and Frank Churchill the evil brother-in-law in War and Peace.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I kept thinking of Prince Charles when I looked at Mr Elton, but it’s been a while since I saw War and Peace and kept wondering where I’d seen that actor (and his ears) before.
      I think the nose bleed might have been more in keeping in a Georgette Heyer novel – I can picture The Grand Sophy coping very competently with such a problem.

  19. Margaret Debenham

    I was very disappointed in the movie. I’m not sure Emma could ever be truly successfully compressed into a movie, but I thought this one really missed the mark – most of the character nuances that turn the inhabitants of Highbury and environs into true delights on the page were completely absent, and I couldn’t warm to any of them, except the fabulous Miranda Hart. Her hurt at the Box Hill picnic was a lovely piece of acting, and I wish she could have been given more of Miss Bates’s wonderful lines – her monologue in the haberdashery was a delight. (And also except Miss Taylor, partly because she was as warm and kind as Miss Taylor should be, and partly because she was played by Gemma Whelan, the wonderful Kate in “Upstart Crow”, so I liked her immediately.) Totally agree about the nose bleed – even if it occurred naturally, why on earth leave it in – quite bizarre – and the bottom-baring by both parties was utterly gratuitous and just wasted valuable film time (which could have been given to Miss Bates for further monologues, or to Jane Fairfax who was scarcely sufficiently present to make any impact at all). And Mr Knightley was SO unimposing!

    Something that intrigued (and irritated) me was how apparently exceedingly well sprung the carriages were – during the carriage interior scenes not a single bump or pothole in the road disturbed their smooth progress. It seemed very unreal.

    I have fond memories of a 1960 television “Emma” – 6 episodes, black-and-white – with Diana Fairfax and Paul Daneman, although it would probably seem rather primitive by today’s standards. But apparently all prints have been destroyed, so comparisons are not possible.

    However all the friends and relatives I’ve spoken to who have seen the movie but not read the book really enjoyed it. Although one did say he thought Emma was a horrible person – which shows how much of Emma was missing from the screen. (A heated discussion followed this revelation!)

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You know whose side I’d have been on in that heated discussion! I think there could be many who have never read the book who enjoy the movie, but there were too many problems for me to have loved it – I had such a mixed reaction.
      I hadn’t noticed the carriage rides, but all the settings were just a bit too grand and comfortable. There’s no mention of servants at Box Hill – do you think that’s just because servants were so taken for granted, or did they just go without any (once the servants had packed the food and rugs)?
      Lucky you having seen that old version of ‘Emma’. I do so wish they had not destroyed these old film as it would be fascinating to see a 1960’s Emma – that’s the year I was born.

  20. Miland Joshi

    I am only guessing but perhaps someone involved in making the film may have experienced a nose-bleed during strong emotions, and decided to include it as their interpretation of Knightley’s feelngs.

    However the reaction to the nosebleed device seemed to me to be unexpectedly strong, whether or not Jane Austen would have accepted this as a possible interpretation of her work.

  21. Brian Doyle

    I’ve just finished reading the book for the umpteenth time and loved it sooooooo much I decided not to ruin that enjoyment by seeing the movie and will wait for the DVD by which time I may be in a more accepting mood especially after reading your comments Susannah, A Nosebleed, Quelle Horreur. Johnny Flynn is to young I decided when I saw the previews and I love Bill Nighy but not as Mr Woodhouse who is a character I adore and I’ve been told that one of my favourite scenes where he is discussing the evils of eating wedding cake is not included which is madding as it really gives the essence of his character. It won’t matter how many versions are made absolutely nothing can give the same joy as reading the book.Have just bought your literary review of Emma and my absolute favourite Edith Wharton, a treat tomorrow I’ll be having thank you muchly.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Doesn’t the novel just blow you away with its brilliance each time you read it. With it so fresh in your mind, I think you are wise not to rush to see the film – it can only be a disappointment. I’m afraid those wonderful moments about the wedding cake are left out – I love to think of the little Perrys scoffing it!
      I hope you enjoy all of my Emma guide and the one on fabulous Edith Wharton too.

  22. Hazel Jones

    The Kate Beckinsale / Mark Strong version achieved so much more in less than two hours and stayed true to the plot and characters. And no nosebleeds. Blink and you missed Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in the recent film. Mr Woodhouse bouncing down the stairs??? Stunning landscapes and costumes, however, and Johnny Flynn is around the right age – 36 – although he should have gone to London to get his hair cut. I am glad I went to see it on the big screen.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, the Kate Beckinsale version did more justice to the novel and certainly to the Frank / Jane plot, but I seriously did not like ehr as Emma – she was too shrewish and far better cast as Lady Susan.
      Yes, Mr Knightley did need a London hair cut, but I think messy hair appeals to younger viewers so they insist of having it.
      Definitely a film for the big screen!

  23. Mary

    Susannah – I agree entirely with your view. I had reread Emma prior to seeing the movie and felt the dialogue was very true to the text. I loved the introductory paragraph to the movie as integral to the novel and such an enticing opening. I found the role of Mr Knightly- never George!- rather unlike the text. He was 16 when Emma was born and not the superior man of the text. Maybe it was a deliberate choice to appeal to younger viewers who might not have read the novel. In the movie theatre, the Box Hill scene was received with an audible gasp. I would see it again to enjoy the sumptuous visible appeal

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a fabulous moment in the novel when Emma remembers how she once called Mr Knightley George to tease him, and he took no notice of him! I can never think of him as George. Yes, the Box Hill scene was wonderfully done. I gasped even though I knew what was coming.

  24. Leah

    I enjoyed the movie overall, but felt the comedic timing was off in places. Mrs Elton was hilarious, but Mr Elton made no impact at all. Harriet was delightful and I felt tremendous affection for her by the end of the film. Mr Weston was far too good looking. That nose bleed….what was the director trying to achieve? Such a beautiful moment ruined. The scenes that stuck out for me were the naked buttocks, Emmaa and Mr Knightley. It was because my 8yr old daughter was at the film with my husband and myself. She wasn’t impressed and called out loudly “Can I take my hands off my eyes yet?” Now that is something I never thought I would hear during a Jane Austen film lol

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh I do enjoy the story of your daughter covering her eyes!! Thanks for sharing that.
      Yes, Harriet also really grew on me and you could see her getting stronger as a person. But oh that nose bleed!!!

  25. Carol Dawson

    So disappointed, why don’t I take my own advise and never go see a film of a book I love, because I am always disappointed. Emma was so stiff, no expression, Mr Knightly all wrong. I agree with most of your good and bad lists, Susannah, and I kept thinking if Susannah goes to see this movie, she will love the bonnets. My friend who has not read the book was confused about the movie, and could not understand why I was gritting my teeth, she thought a lot of the film was a comedy. The next time someone brings a Jane Austen book to the big screen or even T.V. I will most likely go and be disappointed, so then will enjoy talking to or reading comments from other Jane Austen devotees.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, sometimes I vow I will not go and see another film adaptation of a beloved novel, but then curiosity drives me there. I can understand your friend being confused if she hadn’t read the book. It had some good things, including nice bonnets, but also some really bad things.

  26. Yvonne

    It’s been lovely reading everyone’s feedback.  I almost walked out after half an hour.  The music was so loud (too much of it and unnecessary) such that it smothered the dialogue.  I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I cringed at the momentary nudity.  But I also felt the Emma character was miscast, wooden.  Her grasp of the English accent for that region was flawed (I’m English so I can say that !) and English people tend not to talk as fast as she did.  There are so many actresses in the UK who could have imparted the warmth, authenticity, subtlety, softness and possibly the irony so much better.  Her ringlets reminded me of plastic Christmas decorations and didn’t seem like hair at all !  Her eyes are so far apart that her frequent pouts followed by a robotic 90 degree turn seemed to leave one eye partially out of view !  The star, for me, was Miss Bates !  Yes, thank goodness for Eleanor Catton.  Back to the book for me.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I was interested in your comments about Anya Taylor Joy’s accent. She was born in the USA, and then had some years in Argentina and spoke Spanish, but from the age of 6 she was educated in England. A relative of mine was her teacher in London. Perhaps those early years had an impact on her accent and so you picked up something foreign and recognised that it wasn’t a Surrey accent. Her ringlets were so rigid and I also found them a distraction. Someone suggested to me that it would have been interesting to see the actress who played Harriet try the part of Emma. I guess no movie is going to cast characters in a way that suits us all – I have such a clear picture of Emma in my mind and so no actor is ever going to be quite right.
      Yes, back to the book!

  27. Dyah

    Hello Susannah.
    I am wondering if you have reviewed 1996 Emma movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow … I’d love to read it. Thank you!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have some fairly brief comments about the Gwyneth Paltrow film in my 26 page Reader’s Guide to ‘Emma’ which you can get from my website for just $4. You can also sign up there to my free newsletter, if you don’t already get it – ‘Notes from a Book Addict’.

  28. Brian Doyle

    A FRIEND whose never read the book,I am indeed shocked by such a scandalous utterance, it should be compulsory amongst ones friends, what would one otherwise discuss whilst strolling through the shrubbery, friend indeed.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, one does rather wonder if anyone can be a true friend if they have not read ‘Emma’, but there are some strange people in this world. And as JA reminds us, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”.

  29. Brenda

    Re: film adaptations of great novels, I will plagiarize/paraphrase a snippet from this very work: “My friend Susannah says they are quite a horror to her—and I believe I have caught a little of her nicety.”

    In truth, I have disliked such things for a very long time, ever since the *Gone with the Wind* movie disappointed me as a young girl. Like the actor’s who played Frank Churchill in this curious cinematic assay, Clark Gables’s ears were…just too big. And Olivia de Havilland was too beautiful, and too chunky, to be a believable Melanie. And on and on. Frankly, my dear, the only movie-from-book that has ever succeeded brilliantly, in my view, is Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” But before we “quit such odious subjects,” I would like to add a wee bit to this interesting discussion.

    This is not a faithful translation, no, and I must say that I almost envy non-Janeites, who have never read the book, who will enter the theater with absolutely no expectations. These viewers will be treated to a lavishly beautiful film, and enjoy a highly entertaining story. These happy few, in their ignorance of Austen’s oeuvre, so rich with subtlety, nuances, high comedy, psychological intrigue, simply won’t know what they are missing. Viewed for what it is, on its own terms, there is much to love. It just isn’t the “Emma” that readers adore.

    I liked your bullet-point “good/bad” format, so here’s mine, adding a bonus category, “ugly” (with apologies to Clint Eastwood):

    The Good:

    — The cinematography! The costumes! The architecture! (Yes, I know, too grand by half, but nobody minds eye candy on the big screen!)

    — The music, ohhhh, the music. The…music! (That said, I do so wish the duet of Jane and Mr. Knightley had been in Italian, so that Harriet could have given her silly line, “l hate Italian singing! There is no understanding a word of it!”)

    — The casting, in general. Had they been allowed to flesh out the drama more fully, as they could have in a multi-part series, I think none of them would have been bad choices., with one exception (see below). Flynn’s height and age were not a problem for me, as the movie went on. I even found the tousled (okay, messy) hair rather sexy. He was, after all, meant to represent the antithesis of foppery. And with all respect to almost everyone commenting here, I must say that Bill Nighy was an absolute delight. I timidly submit that Jane Austen herself would have agreed (cue thunderbolts and lightning from on high!) Making the Mr. Woodhouse character less infuriatingly weird and more lovably quirky was a stroke of brilliance.

    The Bad:

    — The gratuitous, if mercifully brief, view of Mr. Knightley buck nekkid. Please! Now, Colin Firth, maybe…

    — Emma’s stiff little corkscrew curls . Needed more volume.

    — That strange, overlong choreography of Frank Churchill’s entrance carrying Harriet, when he whirled her around, knocking Emma and Mr. K out of the way with her limp legs. What was that all about? Bring her in, dump her on the divan, and get on with the scene!

    The Ugly:

    — Frank Churchill., or rather, Callum Turner. What a pity that we could not turn back time and bring a young Nigel Havers to the role.

    Thank you, Susannah, for letting us all chime in. Now, as you say, back to the book, before I get a nosebleed!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Loved all your comments and agree with them all, except for what you say about Bill Nighy. I do love him as an actor, but he just wasn’t Mr Woodhouse. Yes, wasn’t the scene with Frank carrying Harriet strange, and that line about Italian singing is so fabulous – great pity it was left out, but then so many wonderful lines have to be left out in a movie. Yes, the music was fabulous!
      My comments on the film have certainly provoked plenty of reaction and it has been fascinating to read all the different responses to the same film. As Jane Austen comments in ‘Emma’, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”, so we can all happily agree to differ.

  30. Loved reading the comments. Rather like sitting down to afternoon tea with friends.
    Costumes were brilliant but most of the characters seemed too frightened to move in them for fear of them creasing. Emma I found brittle and her ‘acting’ was just that workshop acting. The saving grace was the English countryside complete with the drenching showers which really do occur.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree about the costumes. They did not look as if the characters actually lived and moved in them on an everyday basis. Emma’s hair was so rigid and I longed for a gust of wind or a good English shower to disarrange it. And there is nothing as fabulous as the English countryside!

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