Top 10 Goofs in Emma (2020)

Top 10 Goofs in Emma (2020)

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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Julie Freeman
Julie Freeman
September 23, 2021 2:32 AM

I know I am late to the party, but can we address the nose bleeding at the end? I enjoyed the movie until then.

July 1, 2021 11:59 AM

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

May 20, 2021 8:41 PM

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

January 16, 2021 11:13 AM

I enjoyed the movie and spotted 5 of the goofs you mentioned. Can’t believe I missed Harriet’s hair, it seems so obvious now.

January 14, 2021 7:37 PM

Wonderful post, Diaan! Thank you for sharing.

Riana Everly
January 12, 2021 7:53 AM

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.

January 11, 2021 8:35 PM

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

January 11, 2021 7:31 PM

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?

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
January 11, 2021 3:33 PM

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!!!

Elaine Jeremiah
January 11, 2021 3:06 PM

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…

Walter Krause
Walter Krause
January 11, 2021 11:26 AM

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.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
January 11, 2021 10:38 AM

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.

Mirta Ines Trupp
January 11, 2021 8:54 AM

Wonderful post! And all valid points. Makes one wonder if the production was sloppy or they just didn’t care. 🙁

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
January 11, 2021 7:22 AM

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!

Corrie Garrett
January 11, 2021 1:35 AM

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!

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