We don’t have any hockey to distract us right now, so here are some ideas from us at RMNB on how you might spend your time in lockdown.
In today’s episode: a Jane Austen adaptation that isn’t afraid to be funny.
I love Jane Austen most ardently. Her work is sometimes brushed aside because it’s English or upper-class or pastoral, but more often because it is seen as sentimental and therefore female and therefore somehow unserious.
That’s lazy. Even in its time, Austen’s work was always pushing against prevailing attitudes about romance and chastity and (sometimes) class. She should not be considered a revolutionary, but she was certainly critical of the social structures of her day. Check out how many times her male lead characters despite other men for being hypocritical or dishonorable. Arguably her best work, Austen’s Emma has just as much to say about fiction as it does about society.
Emma is miserable. She’s bored, privileged, dangerous, and oblivious. She’s basically the opposite of Amy March in the latest Little Women adaptation. That’s not my criticism of Austen’s character; that’s the conceit of the character itself. Austen tells a story that explores the bad instincts of her protagonist as a function of the society that made her that way. If you were to take that template and apply it to contemporary fiction, you’d get Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or Mad Men: Very Serious Stories about Bad Men who we can’t help but care about and root for, despite all their imperfections.
Austen did that 200 years ago. But because of the way we essentialize fiction by any not-white-dudes, Austen has become something less, at least by popular reckoning. She gets shoved in a little drawer. But Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation of Emma starring Anya Taylor-Joy understands its source material perfectly and upturns the little drawer for us. Her Emma is too smart like Don Draper, she’s self-absorbed like Tony Soprano, and she hatches schemes that blow up in her face like Walter White. And you still love her, and that’s the point. Well, that’s one of the points. There are more.
Like this: the movie is gorgeous, with pastel green landscapes and pink wallpaper and Bill Nighy’s clothes all putting de Wilde’s photography expertise to use. And it’s very funny. Josh O’Connor, known best as Prince Charles in The Crown, slays as Mr. Elton, the only character more oblivious than Emma. Miranda Hart’s Miss Bates is also a total winner, which is why the title character’s tragic arc works so well.
If you like Jane Austen, if you liked 2019’s Little Women, if you liked The Favourite but thought it was too sad or mean because you’re a softy like me, you will love it. It’s available for rent on streaming services now, and it will take your mind off stuff for a little while.
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