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Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ Returns to the Big Screen With Two New Adaptations

You can’t keep a classic heroine down.
Paramount Pictures
By  · Published on October 26th, 2018

Fans of Jane Austen, rejoice! Two fresh takes on the classic novel Emma were commissioned on the same day. That’s right, Austen’s eponymous protagonist and her meddling ways will be the subject of two new feature films.

Does that seem a little overkill to a non-Janeite? For the uninitiated, Emma — a satirical look at English high society — is an artful critique on vanity and social ritual. Heroine Emma Woodhouse is intelligent, rich, spunky, but very full of herself due to her own self-sufficiency at her tender age. Although more strait-laced in the ways of love herself, she takes deep pride in her perceived ability to oversee all manner of social interaction among the people of her village.

This leads to Emma sticking her nose where it clearly doesn’t belong. She attempts to matchmake everyone around. However, in interfering with the lives of her peers and neighbors, Emma inevitably gets caught up in the knotty, disastrous realm of marriage and suppressed emotions as she grapples with her personal fear of confronting her own feelings.

One of the new Austen adaptations seems to be a more straightforward take on the aforementioned narrative, and it notably has the brilliant Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) on board in the lead role. The Hollywood Reporter announced that Working Title’s take on Emma will be written by Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton and helmed by music video director Autumn de Wilde.

Already, this film has an eclectic mix of women lined up as part of its core creative team. Prior to Emma, which marks her debut as a feature filmmaker, de Wilde cut her teeth taking portraiture and commercial photography, as well as directing consistently eclectic videos for such acts as Ingrid Michaelson, Death Cab for Cutie, and Rilo Kiley.

To date, Catton is the youngest author to take home the prestigious Booker Prize for her complex historical fiction novel The Luminaries. The book is set during the New Zealand gold rush and is most well-known for an impeccable structure and attention to detail of the 19th-century era that it is re-telling. That kind of remarkable studiousness makes Catton an ideal candidate to bring Regency England to life.

Of course, Taylor-Joy is the most seasoned big-screen player out of the lot. She is no stranger to portraying young women with considerable bite, if her roles in The Witch and Thoroughbreds are any indication. What’s more enticing is that Taylor-Joy is normally a lot more reserved on screen. Hopefully, Emma’s bubbly, outrageous confidence makes for a markedly different challenge for her. The fact that Taylor-Joy is adding more comedic works to her oeuvre is certainly a great sign for her budding career.

Meanwhile, the second of these upcoming Austen projects will be a remake of a modern cinematic classic that’s loosely based on Emma. Clueless is coming back! Deadline has reported that Girls Trip scribe Tracy Oliver and GLOW writer Marquita Robinson are in the midst of putting together a new version of Amy Heckerling‘s ’90s gem.

A staple within the canon of teen movies, Clueless focuses on the Valley girl version of Emma, Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone). Like her Regency-era counterpart, Cher believes whole-heartedly in her prowess as a matchmaker and supposed good Samaritan. But when she takes on the gawky new girl as a pet project of popularity, she begins to see that her busybody nature has consequences. Along the way, Cher finds out that she has much to learn about friendship and love.

Despite the hefty reputation that Emma already has, Clueless‘ own legacy also revolves around its fantastic script, an endlessly quotable experience peppered with ’90s slang and anachronistic historical references that somehow merge into the perfect blend. Moreover, Heckerling’s film is noteworthy for its portrait of the teenage girl that adamantly disrupts tropes and stereotypes of femininity and likability.

Sure, we know that remakes are having their heyday in general, but Clueless has never really left public consciousness since its release. The original film was such a hit that Cher’s story continued as a sitcom of the same name that lasted three seasons. Certain members of the original cast reprised their roles in the show, though Silverstone was replaced with Rachel Blanchard. A series of young adult books chronicling Cher’s exploits were commissioned, too. And most recently, a jukebox musical version of the film starring Dove Cameron is set to open in November 2018 as an off-Broadway production.

As far as the Clueless reboot is concerned, Oliver acts as producer while Robinson prepares to take the reins as screenwriter. Frankly, there isn’t a better duo for the job, either. Both women have contributed to some of the best off-beat and lovable female characters that we’ve gotten to know in the last couple of years. Girls Trip and GLOW are rule-breaking feminist statements on screen. They constantly push the envelope of hilarity and never forget to ground their stories in layered characterization and compelling drama.

Other than that, the Clueless redo is said to be in its early stages and details about it are scarce. We’re not privy to whether it will sport a brand new cast or if a revival of sorts with the 1995 roster will be underway. Regardless, this writer (a fan so devoted she made her Twitter handle a Clueless reference) is on board anyway. A recast doesn’t even sound so bad when someone like Lana Condor (All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before) or Kiernan Shipka (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) could totally do a present-day Cher justice.

Over the years, Austen adaptations may seem to have become a dime a dozen. However, the universality of the author’s literature stands the test of time. Whether traditional or updated, Emma is a solid story that can definitely be revisited time and time again.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)