Thoughts from the Directors & Stars of EMMA

EMMA is a humorous and delightful new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel! Releasing in cinemas on Valentine’s Day this comedy drama about finding your happy romantic ending tells the story of a restless queen bee who must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.

We think this is the perfect film to see with someone special on Valentine’s Day. See more by checking out the trailer below:

What’s more, we're sending one lucky winner and a friend on a breathtaking trip to The Cotswolds - a great way to get immersed in the world of Jane Austen! Enter here for a chance to win. 

Want to find out more? Here’s what the Director Autumn de Wilde & stars of EMMA (actors Callum Turner and Johnny Flynn)  have to say!

Autumn De Wilde (Director)

What was your Jane Austen knowledge before you began on this project?

AUTUMN DE WILDE: My mother’s English, so I devoured anything from England. My father’s American, he's from Brooklyn. But I was raised in Los Angeles. And I always wondered what it would have been like if my parents had lived in England. So anything British was part of my obsession. 

With my Mom and Dad, I watched on PBS, Masterpiece Theatre, British television and movies and I read books. I don't remember where I was first aware of Jane Austen, because I feel like she's been there forever. If it came from England, I was interested! And then this is not Jane Austen, but A Room With A View had a profound effect on me at age 15. I knew the score by heart, I knew the lines by heart. I was in love with everything about it. So I feel like that's the film that inspired me the most over the years. 

So there was something inside you that made you want to make a British period film?

A.DW.: So my friends, even the bands I work with, thought it was hilarious that my first film was a Jane Austen film. They were like, ‘Of course!’ They call me the ‘rock’n’roll Martha Stewart’! We'd be on the road, and then I'd make something for them out of folded paper and hand-painted. I have a strange combination of influences in my behaviour and I don't separate them.

How did you set out to make Emma relatable to modern audiences?

A.DW.: I definitely don’t ever try to make anything modern. I feel like it exposes a fear that something will be relevant. When you find the human connection to something, there’s a lot of ‘Will it be old? Will it be old-fashioned? Should we help people to imagine what it’s like to be on their phones?’ And I don’t understand that.

Sometimes unfortunately, humans aren’t really changing enough. We have a lot of the same problems socially and emotionally, with our friends and lovers. The rules change us socially but these things like…‘Am I in love with this guy who I argue with all the time? Is he annoying? Should I marry the most popular guy?’ It’s very high school!

Clueless introduced this story to a younger generation 25 years ago. Would you hope to do the same with your film?

A.DW.: Well, yeah, but not out of fear of not connecting to the young. I'm obsessed with teen movies. I always have been. My daughter is 20. She's in a band. As she grew up, during the puberty teen age, her and her friends, I obsessively observed the comedy and tragedy of being that age. We never forget the scars that form from that age. The twenties can be a blur. But for that reason adults can quickly go back to feeling that teenage-moving-into-the-early twenties thing…you don't belong to either world. You're not a child, you're not an adult.

At Emma's age, you often start thinking you're an adult, but you really aren't. There can be a lot of intelligence and wisdom, but you still have a lot to learn from your heart, maybe forever.

I think when you put people in clothing from another time period, there is this immediate assumption that they're older. I wanted to make sure that the characters were doing things that reminded everybody how young they are, and how foolish we all have been, in love at any age, and I thought Johnny Flynn was the perfect age, because Mr. Knightley is older and behaves like an older brother at first, and I thought he was the perfect age to show their sibling-type relationship and have that relationship transform as the outside world interferes with their little bubble. 

Finally, talk us through how you approached the visual aesthetics of the movie?

A.DW.: The way I worked with costume designer Alexandra Byrne and production designer Kave Quinn and Chris Blauvelt…we were often at locations meeting and throwing on fabric swatches and wallpaper samples and paint swatches together, in rooms, and looking at the light, which feels natural, and where we should amplify it – and what the world looks like in candlelight, what it looks like in daylight, what it looks like in winter and summer. So we had seasonal charts and we were always meeting to compare so we could have this extraordinary variety of colour and patterns. And keeping everyone in the loop, we started making decisions as a team on what autumn felt like and what spring felt like and what winter felt like and what that meant with the clothing and the sets, and the lighting.

Callum Turner (Playing Frank Churchill) 

What is your Jane Austen experience prior to coming onto Emma?

CALLUM TURNER: I’m actually a Jane Austen expert! No, I’ll come clean. I don’t think I’ve ever read one Jane Austen. I read a lot, but I just hadn’t come across her. I don’t want to sound like a Jane Austen dummy, but I saw Clueless. Also, I’ve got a lot of friends my age who once I said I was doing this film were very excited. I had one friend who was texting me and wanted to know all the casting, and said, ‘Yeah, that person’s great and this is what Frank’s like’ and gave me tips. So I had some Jane Austen experts to help. 

Of course I read the book after I knew I was doing the film. But what really drew me in was Autumn. She’s great. I’m a big fan of her photography and her shorter films, her commercials. I was really into her. And as it always is, I’ll take on any part if it’s a really cool director, someone I want to work with. I’d much rather be in the film of someone that’s interesting than take an interesting part with a film that’s not interesting. 

Humour is vital in Jane Austen. Did you have many discussions with Autumn about this?

C.T.: Very much so. There’s lots of moments of finding the ridiculousness of the situation. The dance with Frank and Emma when they’re in the chairs, it’s so preposterous. And trying to take the Mick out of the characters, as well as finding the truth. Situations like when Emma is playing the piano…she sits down, all smug, and Harriet is like, ‘Don’t worry, she’s not going to be as good as you.’ And then Jane gets up and she’s like Mozart, killing it! So it’s about finding those moments. Another example would be where Mr Elton says, ‘It’s going to be snow tonight’ and then the whole table gasps. Those stylised moments…it’s all Autumn’s idea. She’s incredibly clever.

The bright colours are also very smart, so different to how a stately home looks now…

C.T.: Because we see them old. It’s the same in Rome. I just did a movie in Rome, and you walk around, and everything is 2000 years old. It’s not like it looked at the time!

In a way, by being faithful to the era, Emma feels very modern, right?

C.T.: Same with the acting. Everything had to be ground in truth. So we had a week of etiquette lessons, we had two weeks of rehearsals. It was so important for all of us. Autumn was leading the charge on this, but it was very important for all of us to be in the same film. So finding those boundaries, those restrictions, the rules and regulations of the time, was important. And when you find those, when you set the rules up, working out how to jump over…it’s in those moments, that’s where the comedy comes. But it has to be from truth, otherwise it’s not real. 

Did you find those lessons difficult?

C.T.: I found it very difficult at the beginning. I remember my first day, the etiquette lady told me how to put down scissors. I was like, ‘I know how to put down scissors! Everyone back off, let me do my thing!’ But you learn how to do it, and that becomes very important for the piece.

We often forget how young these characters are…

C.T.: Well, completely. And that’s actually another bit of the comedy. These young people playing dress up. And people like Frank and Emma…they have a lot of power but don’t know the world at all. Emma has never left the area. She’s never seen the sea. She’s not a worldly being, as much as she likes to think she is. That’s the beautiful thing about that scene, with Jane Fairfax and the piano. For me, she really gets to see doses of the world as they come into her space. I wonder what she goes on to do after this. 

Johnny Flynn (Playing George Knightley)

Did you have a big history with Jane Austen?

JOHNNY FLYNN: Well, we studied Emma at school. The other ones I’d seen films and TV adaptations. And I grew up in the countryside that she lived in, and I had violin lessons from the age of six in the house that she died in. There’s a plaque outside on the house in Winchester that says ‘Jane Austen died here’. Which was always quite eerie. The violin teacher’s daughter, who is the same age as me, would have these birthday parties, and I would go. We’d play hide and seek and I was so spooked…at the age of six, it’s quite evocative to think that's somebody died in this house. I didn’t know who Jane Austen was, but I’d think, ‘I’m going to find a dead body!’ So I was familiar with her world.

Did that attract you to this project? Or was it simply meeting Autumn?

J.F.: I mean, I do love the writing, and find a fantastic sense of wit, humour and wisdom in the novels. I suppose I was a bit wary. It felt like there have been some adaptations of this novel fairly recently, and then I met Autumn, and I realised, ‘You’re the person to do this.’ Her vision for it was so complete and so perfect and I knew that it would be a very fresh take on it. And then meeting Anya as well, who has such brilliance and such a distinct energy…I just knew it would be a different thing. 

What do you think modern audiences will relate to watching Emma?

J.F.: Yeah, the reason why it works with Autumn directing it…as an American…I sometimes think that maybe if it was an English director who had grown up with it in their kind of cultural history, they would have it on a pedestal, and we’d be saying these lines with a sense of reverence, rather than the immediacy that Autumn brought to directing it, where she was able to translate the situations. She was able to go, ‘I know that.’ She’d tell us a story from her own life, or her friend’s, and that would relate to the scene. So I think modern audiences will connect to it on that level. We’re just a group of people acting out very real situations, which are ageless or timeless. But she brought a fresh sense of references. It took an outsider to think, ‘We’ll do this scene like it’s a Marx Brothers scene’ or a scene from Thirties Hollywood comedy. Stuff that she knew, which actually really worked and hasn’t been done before in an Austen adaptation. 

What was it like going through the ‘boot camp’ for etiquette and so on?

J.F.: It was great. These things are always hard at first. You have to carry yourself differently, and walk differently, and there are rules. It was so clever to do that on Autumn’s behalf. The more attention you paid to the rules, the more fun you can have in breaking them. The higher the stakes get. If you’ve been really casual in your deportment all the way through telling the story, the fact that you suddenly start holding hands won’t really mean anything. Whereas if there has always been this rigidity and gracefulness, suddenly touching somebody or dancing with them or looking at them means a lot. And Autumn really wanted to investigate what it would’ve been like for these characters, so we could experience that. So it was a fantastic gift for us as actors to be put through that.

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