Emma. ★★★

This probably outs me as a certifiable weirdo, but Emma is my favorite Austen novel. I wasn't always this way—I went through both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility phases, and the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite Austen adaptation by a long shot—but when it comes to the stories themselves, Emma took me a while to get into but has only grown in my appreciation.

I love how strong Emma is on her own, in her position outside of marriage, apart from men (even her father is subordinate to her); her decision not to marry makes her a decidedly singular pre-Victorian proto-feminist icon, showing how women don't need men to live good lives. And, at the same time, I love how wrong she is, how poorly she treats Ms. Bates, how desperate she is to live vicariously through women like Harriet Smith at the expense of herself, how the trajectory of her matchmaking reveals the tragedy of her vanity (she's so confident in her own talent that she doesn't see her best friend falling in love with the man she's taken for granted all her life). Her character is an implicit indictment of the privilege of other Austen protagonists and other popular romantic characters of the time. She is a beautiful contradiction, simultaneously a symbol and critique of contemporary representations of femininity.

Emma. (with the period) is a (relatively) faithful adaptation of that source material, so I struggle to engage with it critically because I love the story so much that I unconsciously fill in gaps and cover over flaws and because I'm simply content to see a new and fresh version of it on screen. What I can say is that this is certainly the funniest and most stylized adaptation I've seen, but (perhaps obviously) it doesn't handle the serious drama quite as well (e.g. "But when have you ever stopped at three?" hits hard, but the consequences are a bit broad).

I love Emma and was only too happy to see this new adaptation of it, but when I sit down to watch Emma in the future I'll stick with Jim O'Hanlon's.

2020 ranked

PS. Bill Nighy wears suits made from what looks like curtains or upholstery the entire movie, and I couldn't get enough of it

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