The film, Emma., starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role opened in March this year. I was fortunate to see it before the cinemas closed because of the pandemic. It is a beautiful visualization of Jane Austen’s novel.
Beautiful because of the landscapes, the colour and the light of the country, and period buildings and rooms with their rich decorations and furnishings. Beautiful also because it sets the many pages of the novel’s conversations within these magnificent settings.
I am not sure if the novel Emma (1815) has the most dialogue of any of Austen’s six novels, but conversation predominates. Every aspect of a character, event and setting is commented on and discussed very entertainingly, and at great length. The movie, of course includes many of these conversations within the beauty and magnificence of the mansions and countryside of Emma’s world.
The settings of the grand houses echo the complexity of the dialogue by their ornate and intricate details. As a party sits down to dinner, the viewer can marvel not only at the sharp wit of the conversation but also at the presentation of the many dishes and their artistic arrangement.
The same can be said for the setting of dining room, salon and great hall. Within this visual beauty conversations and banter run on. The viewer can speculate about what is going on in the speaker’s mind.
One pivotal scene both personally and socially for Emma takes place during a picnic lunch overlooking sloping fields and woods falling down toward the ocean in the background. The landscapes and views of English countryside are beautiful, and in sharp contrast to Emma’s action and speech.
The unkindness and harm of Emma’s words and behaviour to Miss Bates is obvious and within this setting all the more shocking. Framing her words the panoramic view contrasts vividly with the narrowness of Emma’s meanness.
The plot is a simple one focused on romance and its joys and perils. Maria Grace in her study of England’s Regency period, Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, describes the intricacies of Emma’s social world.
Marriage based on love was a new experience in the Georgian era (1714-1830). Prior to this period marriages of the landed gentry were familial contractual arrangements. Such contracts were based on the complexity of family organization, wealth and its lack.
Such concern colours Austen’s narrative as it is experienced in Emma’s horror of the possible marriage of her protégé, Harriet, to a farmer.
The introduction of romance into courting, however, produces its own concerns as is the case for Emma herself in her encouragement of acceptable suitors like Frank Churchill, a handsome, affluent young man, and her discouragement of unacceptable ones like Mr. Elton, the parson.
Here the background that Maria Grace provides adds to an understanding and enjoyment of both the book and the film. Emma is a film well worth seeing once cinemas open, and the film’s run continued.