Top 10 Goofs in Emma (2020), by Diana J Oaks

Top 10 Goofs in Emma (2020), by Diana J Oaks

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!

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30 Responses to Top 10 Goofs in Emma (2020), by Diana J Oaks

  1. Is it me, or does Emma change her dress halfway through Mr Elton’s visit when she paints Miss Smiths likeness? I’ve watched this film so many times – at least 20! – but I didn’t spot the ringlets when the two ladies took tea, an excuse to watch again!

    • The nose bleeding was a sign of how intense her emotions were thinking of how she would tell her friend that once again she was losing out on another opportunity for love and that she took that from her friend. Her blood pressure went up. ???

  2. I seem to be a little late to this post? However I haven’t seen it yet! I’m waiting for it to appear on TV or on Netflix! But I’ll definitely try to remember all these and look out for them (with my memory lately I’m afraid there’s actually little chance of that!) LOL

  3. I noticed that Emma is dancing without gloves what seems strange when all other ladies wear them.

    • You are right that all the other ladies were wearing them, and wearing gloves when dancing was considered proper. It is absolutely a goof, albeit a deliberate one. The director knew it wasn’t proper, but didn’t want there to be a physical barrier between Knightley and Emma’s touching when they danced in this scene, so she decided, with the approval of the “propriety expert” that since the dance was immediately after dinner, it was okay.

    • Five is an excellent score! Of people who declare their score in this series, 2-3 is the average.
      I didn’t notice Harriet’s hair on the first watch, or even the second, although I did notice that she was gradually transforming her style to mirror Emma’s style. It was nearly at the end of the movie, probably around the fourth time I watched it that I said out loud to the screen, “Wait. Does Harriet have highlights?” I convinced myself that it was an illusion due to the lighting, but paid closer attention to her hair the next time I viewed. It was cleverly done, starting with little glints of a golden tress or two in her bun, which is actually visible in the first picture above if you look closely. The change was so gradual that I think they meant the effect to be essentially subliminal. I suspect this was intended to demonstrate a physical manifestation of Emma’s influence on Harriet. That caramel color is exactly the hue that the sun might bleach brown hair over the course of a summer, but the lightening occurred in winter, and they wear bonnets outdoors, so it honestly can’t be attributed to natural means. (Do you think I’ve overthought this?) Thanks for commenting.

  4. I also haven’t seen it yet. It wasn’t available on our streaming services last time I checked, and I haven’t checked for a while. But I have to say how much I love these posts, and how totally impressed I am at your eagle-eye for spotting these details.

  5. I love this adaptation the most of all the Emma adaptations I watched because it gets how humorous and satirical Austen really was, it’s historically accurate, faithful to the text and has the most in character Emma yet. I always felt Paltrow, and Garai especially, made her too likable and didn’t really convey her cleverness and frustrated intelligence, as well as the ambiguity and contradictions of the character for you aren’t really supposed to like her at the beginning and her character maturation, as well as her relationship with Knightley, is only truly incisive if you don’t shy away from showing her flaws in full. It’s a pity that Kate Beckinsale played her Emma into an otherwise underwhelming movie because out of the other actresses who played the role previously, she was more faithful to the book than Paltrow and Garai sugar coated disney renditions of a character Austen favored precisely because she isn’t a nice girl and Mary sue. Taylor Joy is a great actress who gets Emma’s contradictory sides, her sweetness and her less likable snobby side, and effortlessly gets in the role of a lady from another time and expresses her emotions in the confines of a mannerism that is appropriate to the time and the character. She is poised and very believable and charismatic, same goes for the guy who plays Mr Knightley. They have great chemistry.

    The movie is so accurate that these goofs are likely still minimal compared to other adaptations. It’s very possible, actually, that some of these inaccuracies were deliberate and are part of the tone of the movie. Emma’s curls for example were perfect on purpose to emphasize her character’s concern for a perfect look and her being the queen bee of the village and the most fashionable lady. Wouldn’t surprise me if Harriet turning into an Emma wannabe was deliberate too. John and Isabella seem all wrong I agree but still, something should be said about the fact these two are expected to travel with all their kids and just act as if it’s the most comfortable thing in the world. Is it really so forced to think even the happiest couple would be stressed by having to leave the comfort of their home? Their youngest is only 9 months. Maybe the humor is about the expectations that this couple has no problems in spite of their characters definitely having flaws that might create conflict in the right context. For sure, it’s a bit more memorable because I can’t say I actually pay much attention to Emma’s sister and her husband in other adaptations.

    Some other points:
    – Emma isn’t really wearing black. It’s a very dark burgundy color that may look black because of the candlelights. That dress, including the color, is one of those inspired by authentic dresses from the time. Even her hairstyle in that scene. Her look is almost a replica of a painting.
    – the church thing, I read conflicting informations. For sure, it’s true weddings weren’t like nowadays for things were truly minimalistic but I remember reading that small abbellishments were an acceptable custom for small country chapels like that one, especially if the people marrying were considered important by the community . Truthfully, different places had their own customs too (including for things like honeymoon and how the quests would congratulate with the couple after the wedding etc etc). This could be in a gray area between inaccuracy and tolerable ignorance. If I want to nitpick, there are too many people invited to their wedding, including Mrs Elton who actually wasn’t invited in the book and had to rely on what her husband said about it, lol but I like she’s there to give them a disapproving look that is a nod to her book counterpart thinking Emma’s wedding was shabby compared to her own because from her husband’s details about the event there wasn’t enough satin, ribbons, etc

    • Thank you, Ladyb for sharing your thoughts and information on the film. Your passionate defense speaks volumes about how you feel about this adaptation, and I’m glad you love it. Please understand that the “goofs” posts are intended to be for education and entertainment, and are not meant to be harsh criticisms, or even come across in the spirit of a film review. I considered some of the explanations you posed as I was writing the post, and recognize that some of the goofs I listed are intentional anachronistic choices on the part of the filmmaker. Please do check back in four weeks when I post the trivia challenge. I think you might just ace it!

  6. I loved this version and watch it every time it is on HBO. I noticed at the ball at The Crown, Emma has her gloves off when she thanks Knightley for rescuing Harriett. She carries her gloves as they go to dance and then they disappear. Also, isn’t she supposed to be wearing her gloves while they dance?

    • Excellent observations, Jane, and you are correct that the ladies danced in their gloves. I spent a bit of time watching cast interviews, and they actually talked about the decision to have Emma and Knightley dance without the barrier of gloves. The director wanted the dance to feature the more intimate skin-to-skin approach, and their etiquette expert approved it on the grounds that they had just eaten dinner and gloves would have been removed for the meal and Emma (conveniently) hadn’t had an opportunity to put them back on when they were approached to join the dancers. So the breach of etiquette fell into a gray enough area that they figured they could get away with it. Thanks for bringing that up – I’m sure others wondered about that too.

  7. This was a great post and very enjoyable. I didn’t pick out the gaffs. I’ll have to watch it again and spot them. I wasn’t over keen on it. I’ve watched it twice now and my opinion hasn’t really changed. I agree with you that they got John and Isabella Knightly TOTALLY wrong!!! Couldn’t understand that at all. Also, Mr Elton was just plain creepy. There was more slime oozing from him than a pond in a horror film!!!

    • I see a lot of screwball comedy influences in Emma, and I think Josh O’Connor played Mr. Elton as a fully comedic role. His arrogant cluelessness added that creepy edge to him in a lot of scenes, like in the coach when Elton is untying his cloak and looks like he’s about to eat his prey. There was a similar feeling when he was presenting the framed portrait of Harriet. Slimy is a good word for it. It sure made him seem like a good match to the ridiculous wife he wound up with. At the end, when he was conducting the marriage service of Emma and Mr. Knightley, he suddenly acted rather normal which seemed a bit weird too. I guess it would have been problematic for the creep factor to be in play at the wedding. Not really “goofs” per se, but certainly legitimate observations!

  8. Thanks for this Diana, very interesting, I didn’t notice all of these in the film. I did really enjoy it, it was one of the funnier JA adaptations, but I thought that some of it wasn’t quite right – like Harriet Smith having no eyebrows! The actress clearly plucks hers all out! And the proposal scene at the end was rather spoiled for me by the nosebleed…

    • Harriet Smith’s lack of eyebrows was a common theme in the reviews I read. I checked out Mia Goth’s photos on IMDB and it appears that she has thin/sparse, light-colored brows in almost every picture, so I wonder if part of it is due to her natural coloring. It’s common to have actresses appear sans makeup in period films, so if nature did not endow her with luxurious brows, this could explain it. I’ll be doing the trivia post next month – perhaps I’ll track down what was going on (or actually, what was NOT going on) with Harriet’s brows. There IS a story behind that ghastly nosebleed, but I’m saving that for the trivia post and won’t go into details here. Thanks for commenting, Elaine!

  9. I watched the DVD only yesterday and admittedly did not look for goofs (yet I am much impressed by Diana’s sharp eyes). The opulent costumes, the architecture and the landscape are compensating the flaws of this “Emma”-version which is far from Jane Austen’s spirit. Austen’s subtle and elegant irony is often turned in a sort of sledgehammer humour. Maybe, my present toothache is influencing my judgement, but there are better “Emma”-movies. I concede that the majority of the actors was really good, especially Mia Goth. Johnny Flynn, however, is too young and too tousled to be a convincing Mr.Knightley (notwithstanding his sympathetic personality) and Anya Taylor-Joy cannot compare to Paltrow or Garai. Responsible for this is supposedly the – too inexperienced – director. Autumn de Wilde is surely gifted, the result, often a sum of single moments put together without much connection, is not bad. It just could be better. The short sexy scenes are harmless but unnecessary and not integrated.

    • This is an excellent assessment of why I didn’t enjoy it as much as expected on first viewing. In preparing for this post, I did look up Johnny Flynn’s age, and he is 37, the exact age of Austen’s hero, so I eliminated that “goof” from my list. After repeated watching, I can see his age now, but my first impression of his was mid-twenties. I knew little about Autumn de Wilde before I started researching this film, and you are right that she is inexperienced as a director, in spite of having achieved the age of 50, this was her directorial debut. As a photographer, she did well on framing the shots, but the “flow” wasn’t as smooth as we’ve come to expect from a period piece. I’ve come to appreciate Taylor-Joy’s interpretation of Emma also. I think she captures Emma’s cluelessness and self-satisfaction. Thank you for your insightful comment, Walter.

  10. I have not yet brought myself to watch it. I wasn’t impressed with the previews and haven’t gotten that taste out of my mouth yet. We don’t have cable and I haven’t decided it I want to buy this new version or not. I will have to think on it. I love this type of posts and… if I see the movie… will look for these goofs. Blessings, my dear, and thank you for bringing us these unique and interesting posts. You know I love them. Stay safe and healthy.

    • I understand your reticence. I had arranged to see it in the theater with my niece and sister-in-law on opening day, but my SIL wasn’t feeling well so we postponed and never did get our movie theater outing. Then I started hearing the criticisms and decided that I was glad I hadn’t spent the money on tickets after all, but then I decided that I really did want to see it, having sought out every other Austen adaptation I could get my hands on. It’s grown on me to the point that I enjoy watching it now. It’s quirky and fun. Every shot is pretty much eye candy.

    • I don’t think the production was sloppy – the production values were actually very high and the cinematography was gorgeous. I think the continuity errors are just the type that can creep into any production where they have filmed multiple takes and cut the best pieces together in post-production. The production is highly stylized, and I think in some cases they opted for the style over accuracy. Mrs. Elton was just odd in general, and I think they intended to present her that way – shimmy and all.

  11. I have not seen it yet but I desperately want to! I can’t find the DVD so maybe I can rent it. I’ll have to look for the goofs!

    • I wound up “buying” the digital streaming rights one day last summer when I needed distraction from lock-down and I didn’t want to wait for the DVD to be released. It was about $15.00 (US Currency) I figure that since I’ve watched it so many times now, and will watch it more in the future, it’s been cheaper than multiple Red Box rentals. It’s also on HBO for those with a subscription.

  12. Wow, you’re so good at this! Sometimes I notice the historical ones (like Emma wearing black for no reason and the decorations in the church), but things like Harriet’s hair changing or accessory inconsistencies totally float by me. I liked it alright. Some stuff they did so well and Mr. Woodhouse, Harriet, and Mr. Martin were wonderful… but I just didn’t like Emma as a character as much as I did in some of the other versions. Fun times! Thanks!

    • Thanks Corrie. It’s funny, I didn’t like Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma the first time I watched it. By the third time or so watching it through, I felt like she nailed the character and really embodied Austen’s Emma. I know what you mean about some of the other versions though – Anya was up up against some seriously good actresses who had previously played the role. I loved Mia Goth as Harriet, and the actor who played Robert Martin was, I think my favorite of all the versions of Emma. There was something about him. Thanks so much for commenting. Have a great week!

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