March 7th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Beyond the Great Divide

EDITORIAL Holden, China, covid19: Time for industry reset

CANBERRA OBSERVED Political promises on the Never Never never never work well for the nation

CLIMATE POLITICS Business joins in climate change chorus

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Divided Democrats will help re-elect Donald Trump

GENDER POLITICS Project Nettie: Science takes on ideology

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Myth-busting China's 'soft power'

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Covid19 outbreak hits China's growth, imperils Communist Party

POLITICS AND SOCIETY What should the champions of democracy care about?

HISTORY Putting Lenin on the train: History's biggest blunder

NCC CONFERENCE 2020 Strengthening family, freedom, and sovereignty in a hostile world

HUMOUR Hooray for our premiers

MUSIC Handel: A composer who knew the value of a quick turnaround

CINEMA Emma: Handsome, clever, rich

BOOK REVIEW Useful but limited analysis of the breakdown of distinctions today

BOOK REVIEW The successive possessors of the West's first printed book




NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal in the High Court this week

Books promotion page

Emma: Handsome, clever, rich

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, March 7, 2020

Emma. is a gorgeous film. It could even be described as “handsome, clever, and rich”. Every frame is a joy to behold, beautifully composed and utterly delightful. The colours – be they rich and vibrant or delicate and demure – are entrancing. The soundtrack is clever and witty. And the performances are superb, adding shades upon shades of meaning with a glance or a gesture.

There is a luminosity and intelligence throughout the whole film that abundantly illustrates the universality and insight of its original author while also showcasing the talent of this particular creative team. More, there is an element of screwball comedy that gives the film a vim and vigour that make it jolly good fun.

Rather than subvert or “update” Jane Austen’s novel, screenwriter and Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton and photographer and music video director Autumn de Wilde have instead brought out its sparkling essence in such a way as to make even its most distant elements eminently rela-table. They have scrupled to maintain as much realism as they can manage so as to make the actors truly inhabit the world that Austen created.

As with all fictions, this world is an imagined one that is not real, but it has a philosophical and psychological realism that make it transcend its artifice – like a painting of Vermeer or a play of Sophocles.

The story is about the romantic and social adventures and misadventures of the inhabitants of the fictional village of Highbury. Principal among these is Miss Emma Woodhouse (the riveting Anya Taylor-Joy), a beautiful and intelligent heiress who does not lack skill or charm or good feeling, but never quite applies herself, instead preferring to dally with this or that, especially with regard to the social land-scape.

She is devoted to her draught-obsessed papa Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy, whose dry witticisms and antics with screens readily lend themselves to audience guffaws) and devoted to her position as lady of the manor. She is not interested in matrimony for herself, but is most assuredly interested in it for others.

Emma is exactly that sort of person – young and not so young – who is genuinely clever and insightful but whose lack of wisdom, due to a lack of experience and the maturity that comes with it, gets them into trouble. They see things others miss, they know things others don’t, and so they fancy themselves a sharper judge than they are. More, because they might have a knack for something, they decide to skate by on talent, rather than work, and do not achieve what they could.

Their ego leads them astray, even if they are not conscious of it. Their understanding of the world might be good, but it is likely to lack the necessary nuance to be entirely correct.

Emma herself does not set out to hurt, but she can be hurtful, precisely because she is unconscious of the role her desires play in her decisions. She is focused upon others, but her motives are mixed and, depending upon the circumstances, this focus can be as much for her benefit as it is for those others.

It is the charming and hard-working George Knightley (a magnetic Johnny Flynn), who sees what Emma herself misses. Like Emma, Mr Knightley is focused upon others, but it is out of a duty gladly done, rather than some sort of grand design.

However, he too can be blind to both his impact and his true intention. He is so used to being the master and willingly being of service to others that he is unaware of his half-thought thoughts and half-felt feelings. He and Emma are both made abruptly aware of those parts of their innermost selves that they have ignored – Emma through a sharp and sudden awareness of the pain she’s caused others, while Mr Knightley feels the pain in himself. This awareness is their catharsis and the rare joy of a truly earned and satisfying happy ending.

Emma. is a cinematic exploration of the good life. It is philosophy class in vivid colour and stunning performance, an entertainment for the mind and the heart, a delight in more way than one.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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