An Artist’s Review of Emma. (2020)
Earlier this year, the latest adaption of Jane Austen's classic novel was released. It looked fun and interesting to me (not to mention my love of period dramas), so I watched it. My only previous exposure to Emma's story was from once watching the 1996 adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow, so I did not have many expectations, and my utter adoration for this film came rather without warning. Emma. is an absolute work of art, and I am here to explain why.
This is not a traditional film review, where we would discuss the casting, writing, directing, and general narrative of the film. That should be an entire article on its own. But for now, I am going to break down the more visual and artistic elements of the latest Emma adaption, because I think it deserves a lot of appreciation in that respect.
Before we get into the visuals, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the brilliant soundtrack, composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer. It just blows me away and draws me in simultaneously every single time I watch the movie. Like Pride & Prejudice (2005), this film has music that shapes and carries the entire thing. The variety and intricacy in the soundtrack are spectacular, and the use of old English folk songs along with the whimsical score with all of its rising and falling emotions is just,
"Oh! Too pretty."
Mrs. Bates, Emma. (2020)
Some specific songs that stand out to me in the soundtrack include Emma Woodhouse, Walk To Mrs. Goddard's School, Emma Is Lost, and The Game of Cards by Maddy Prior and June Tabor. Every tune not only fits the mood and tone of the scene it plays in, but it also enhances the overall charm of the film.
The environments and rooms in Emma. are absolutely breathtaking. Just as you'd expect with any period drama made in recent years, the set design is one of the elements that help make the film feel cohesive. When there is one continuous style or feeling in the design, it's immersive and so rewarding to watch (not to mention the genius comical use of ornate screens).
One way that production designer Kave Quinn and set decorator Stella Fox achieved the bright, airy, whimsical look of the film (which I adore) was by the use of color. The film has a distinct color palette that sets it apart from anything we've seen before in the same genre. They were not afraid to give us towering pastel walls, pink furniture, and sparkling fresh flower gardens.
I have seen the movie referred to as taking place in a Georgian dollhouse, and I couldn't agree more. The sets work so well because the tone of the story lends itself to a fun, playful atmosphere. Nothing terribly consequential happens in the film, so the characters can roam about in their carefree little world without it being a distraction. Rather, it is a feast for the eyes.
Costumes & Hair
I think one of the biggest takeaways for a lot of people after watching Emma. is the costume design, and rightfully so, because it is a rare thing when a period drama (especially one taking place before 1900) is adorned with such historical accuracy. With the mind-boggling number of ensembles that the characters wear, they still managed to make almost every one accurate down to the tiny details.
If you look at fashion plates from the regency era, you will notice that the wealthy during this time wore extravagant clothes and a comical amount of accessories. This over-the-top look was emphasized in the film, accompanied by hairstyles of the same nature. The costume design is such a beautiful comparison with old fashion plates and even surviving garments from the era, and I applaud the designers for not holding anything back in this department.
Aside from the clothing being a work of art in itself, with all the embroidery and tiny stitch work and unmatched care for detail, the costumes come together in a pleasingly artistic way and add to the cohesion of the film. Clearly, costume designer Alexandra Byrne and her team were not throwing together historical garments willy-nilly. They had a vision, and it was executed brilliantly.
The elements I have talked about so far - the music, set design, and costumes fit together so gracefully that it's as if only one person was behind all three. It's just a marvel to see such a unified work of art that was so carefully crafted by a team of creative people.
Autumn de Wilde (director) is a well-established portrait photographer. She is known for her work featuring celebrities as well as in music videos. So, it is no surprise at all that the cinematography in this film is amazing. Every single frame is so well composed and choreographed that it looks like a fine art photograph or classical painting in itself.
I cannot give enough praise for the framing and composition of these shots. They use the figures of characters interacting with their environment and each other to tell a visual story that is both a part of and separate from the narrative. You can watch the whole movie just for the graceful cinematography which, if you look for it, gives credit to de Wilde and cinematographer Chris Blauvelt for the apparent care they took in crafting each shot.
There is such a pleasing balance and scope in so many scenes, along with beautiful framing in the natural world and lovely placement of people relevant to each other. It is amazing to behold.
I don't think I've seen any other movie or TV show where each visual art form involved in traditional filmmaking stands out in its own right so resolutely. You can see the creativity of everyone involved in the fruit of their labor. The artful nature of Emma. makes it feel complete, and, to put it simply, it is just a beautiful film.
To watch the latest adaptation of this classic story, head over here.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below and tell us what you thought of this film!