Some might say that the topic for this post is too soon. It hasn’t even been a year since Emma temporarily made it to the big screen. Its theatrical debut was cut short in the United States after seven days when theaters closed in the wake of the COVID-19 national emergency. It opened in February in some countries but was quickly relegated to streaming options only, courtesy of the global pandemic. If you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t want spoilers, come back when you’ve had a chance to watch it.
From my perspective, this confection of an Austen adaptation was a bright spot in a year of hardship, which makes pointing out goofs, anachronisms, and historical inaccuracies feel just a bit ungrateful., On the other hand, I enjoyed every re-watch. I read many reviews, and I know that opinions are mixed. For those who don’t like it, I’m handing you a few more criticisms. For those who like it, hey, here’s an excuse to watch it again! Let’s get started!
10.) Harriet’s hair. Harriet’s coiffure goes through a transformation over the course of the film. The scene where Emma paints her portrait is the first time she sports ringlets, and you can see they are the same color for the entire length of the ringlet. Gradually, her hairstyles become more like Emma’s, and lighter spots start showing up. By the time of the ball in Frank’s honor, the effect is complete, with all of her ringlets tipped in caramel-colored highlights. It’s a great effect, but not authentic to the period.
9.) Those perfect ringlets. You knew I was going to mention these, didn’t you? Because face it, those were made with a curling iron, a device that wasn’t even invented until much later in the century. They might have gotten away with some story about how all the lady’s maids in Highbury knew a special trick, but they show Emma with her hair up in rags in a couple of scenes, which eliminates their alibi.
8.) Who desecrated the sanctuary? The chapel is lovely, with all the flowers and such, but decorating the chapel for a wedding wasn’t done in 1815 when Emma is set. Decorations such as flowers and garlands were often added to the shrubbery on the lanes leading up to the church, but the chapel itself was a sanctuary, and embellishment was considered a desecration.
7.) What happened to Isabella and John? Isabella Knightly is a minor character, but Austen gave her specific traits. Although she was somewhat obsessed with health in the same vein as Mr. Woodhouse, she had a sweet and amiable temperament, almost too perfect. This is why, when George Knightley went to visit his brother in London – the similarity between the sisters was tortuous. They turned these two into caricatures of a shrewish wife and a whipped husband. They got it wrong.
He had gone to learn to be indifferent. But he had gone to a wrong place. There was too much domestic happiness in his brother’s house; woman wore too amiable a form in it; Isabella was too much like Emma — differing only in those striking inferiorities, which always brought the other in brilliancy before him, for much to have been done, even had his time been longer.
6.) Winter? The film announces the season, so it’s only logical to expect the ensuing scenes to align with the declared season. The obvious problem here is Winter, where the trees are still green and in full leaf in December.
5.) Who died? Anya Taylor-Joy looks great in black. The costumer still shouldn’t have put a young, unmarried lady during the Regency period in a black gown for social events. Wearing black was a cue, a signal to those you might encounter that you are in mourning. It wasn’t fashionable, it meant something.
4.) Mrs. Elton’s shimmy. This is an odd moment, particularly because there were experts on set who were there to make sure the actors didn’t have movements that weren’t true to the period. How did Mrs. Elton’s shoulder shimmy make it past the experts? She aims it at her dance partner, Mr. Weston. When the shimmy shows up early in the 20th century, it is considered a scandalous, overtly sexual move. Not cool, Augusta. You’re a bride!
3.) Catch and release. This happens in the scene where Emma and Harriet are having their first tea together. Emma’s ringlet is caught in her earring, then it isn’t, then it is again, and so on. You’ll be sorry you know this now – you won’t hear a word they say – you’ll be too busy watching Emma’s hair.
2.) Running in his dancing shoes. Knightley walked to the ball (in spite of the claim that his horse threw a shoe.) Then he dances all night. Then he runs after Emma’s carriage. Then he walks from Hartfield to Donwell Abbey. At the end of this marathon, he collapses in despair, still wearing his dancing slippers. In reality, men wore regular shoes or boots to the ball, and stored them in the cloakroom, changing into dancing slippers upon arrival, and back to their street shoes when the event was over. Women also changed into slippers in the cloakroom as a general rule too. In Jane Austen’s world, Knightley would have changed out of his slippers and into shoes before leaving the building. He would have had slippers in his hands, not gloves. This leads us to…
1.) The magic gloves. As George watches Emma’s carriage drive away, he is holding his yellow gloves in his hands. We see them in his hand as he races after her, over the footbridge, and down the road. It is clear that he runs all the way to Hartfield, yet when he arrives, the gloves are on his hands and he hurriedly pulls them off once he knows Emma saw him and is coming down to the courtyard.
And now we have a bonus image, for those who stuck it out this far. Mrs. Elton’s crazy hairstyle is closer to the hair fashions of 1830 than 1815.
To those who have seen the film, how many of these goofs did you spot? Did you see any that we missed that we should add to the list? Oh, and just for kicks, what did you think of Emma (2020?) Please comment below. We love to hear from you!