By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 17 2020 02:00PM
We’re just days away from one of the year’s big Janeite events: Friday’s U.S. opening of the new feature film adaptation of Emma, a week after the Valentine’s Day release in the UK. It’s the first big-screen Emma since the 1996 version that made Gwyneth Paltrow a star.
The new Emma. – yes, that’s the title, “.” and all; not since the controversial ampersand in the title of 2005’s Pride & Prejudice has so much ink been spilled over a punctuation mark -- has some sterling credentials. The direction is by Autumn de Wilde, a well-known rock photographer; the screenplay is by Eleanor Catton, a Booker Prize-winning novelist; and the cast includes some of the funniest British character actors working today, including Miranda Hart and Bill Nighy.
Early reviews have been pretty good, if not rapturous (for instance, here, here, here, and here), lauding the acting and the production values while describing the movie in such damning-with-faint-praise terms as “faithfully unambitious,” “unchallenging,” and “curiously old-fashioned.”
Curious indeed, since the film’s trailers seemed to promise just the opposite: a quirky, off-center Austen adaptation with a modern vibe. Why, there’s even gratuitous male nudity! (Between the skinny-dipping men of Sanditon and this latest Mr. Knightley’s Chippendales routine, male nudity is fast on its way to becoming the newest Austen adaptation cliché. It’s the female gaze, and all that. Progress? You decide.)
Still, faithful and old-fashioned aren’t necessarily bad words for us Janeites, and I’m just as . . . receptive to a bit of well-chosen male nudity as the next girl. Crossing my fingers that this new Emma – oh, sorry; I mean Emma. -- is one for the ages.