Emma by Jane Austen: Book vs. Movie

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Emma book vs. Emma 2020 movie adaptation

Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is reimagined in this delicious new film adaptation of Emma. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.

This is the first of a new recurring category of posts I want to start sharing on my blog – book vs. movie comparisons, where I take recent movie adaptations and the books they’re based on and compare the two! Importantly to note, unlike my book reviews, these will contain spoilers for both the movies I discuss and the books they are based on (because it would be kind of hard to do without spoilers involved).

Emma is my all-time favourite novel ever since I first read it in high school. I’ve seen every adaptation that exists – even the Gwyneth Paltrow feature-length film, and I don’t even like Gwyneth Paltrow. (Look, on a side note, I don’t dislike Paltrow because she’s a powerful, successful woman as many people do, I dislike her because she’s a powerful, successful woman who uses her platform to promote harmful mis-information.)

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So, I was beyond excited to hear about this movie adaptation. My partner had never seen any adaptions of Emma (outside of the 90s classic: Clueless), so I was also really looking forward to sharing my most beloved story with her – and this new movie release was providing me with the perfect opportunity!

Of course nothing can compare to Jane Austen’s work – it is considered a classic for a reason after all – but the 2020 movie adaptation of Emma did a very good job with what is was allotted.

Emma is a huge book – by far Jane Austen’s longest one – and condensing that into a 2-hour event while maintaining it’s content is a challenge for sure. (BBC previously needed 4 hours to do so in their 2009 serial.) Director Autumn de Wilde did a very good job of this I believe!

One thing that I really enjoyed about this adaptation was that it not only upheld, but really leaned into the satirical nature of the original novel. Emma is meant to be a commentary on society’s upper class. I think de Wilde captures this perfectly, in a comedic way that resonates well with modern-day audiences – my partner who couldn’t even sit through Pride and Prejudice said she enjoyed it, haha. (Mr. Woodhouse’s incessant need for folding-screens was hilarious.)

It’s impossible to talk about this movie adaptation without bringing up its biggest depart from the original book: the nosebleed scene. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. When I first watched the movie, I hated it. Since then I’ve learned to accept it, but I’m still not completely sold on its inclusion in an otherwise solid film.

All things being said, this is definitely the best available feature-length film adaptation of Emma that sticks to its original premise and time-era (nosebleed scene and all).

If you’re more interested in something that follows the book even closer, the BBC serial Emma is a definite recommendation – it’s longer, so it has more time to delve into this complex plot. But if you’re looking for something that upholds the feeling of the book without following it strict to form, Clueless – a 90s romcom modern retelling – is the obvious choice. I would argue that even though Clueless is the least accurate retelling of the original book, it is Emma‘s best adaption.

Which Emma adaptations have you seen? Which ones did you like best?

What did you think of controversial nosebleed scene?

Let me know!


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