On Watching Emma

How has your past month gone?

It’s been a crazy one, dealing with this whole Coronavirus Covid-19 quarantine social distancing thing.

My gym shut down and then services shut down. The two types of activities that oriented my days, just evaporated. My romance writers’ group didn’t meet. In this brave new world, we are turning to virtual meetings, and I’m looking at services on line.

Now that I’m living like a hermit, I bought a new exercise machine the week things were getting shut down. I dragged out an old exercise mat and some free weights, creating my own home gym. I’m reading more books than usual, and my e-reader shows it through Overdrive, Barnes and Noble’s and Amazon.

I go out at most once or twice per week, and only for necessities.

So how is my writing going? It’s coming along. Austin and Natasha are hanging out, just watching as Helena’s book is taking shape. Her hero is Austin’s cousin Leon, so I’m enjoying seeing these two young men as they interact.

This past week or so, I learned from Twitter that there was a new movie adaptation of the Jane Austen book, Emma. That tells you how out of the loop I was. I last saw the Gwyneth Paltrow one. Apparently there was one that came out in 2009 besides the one that came out this year.

I’ve always enjoyed period pieces, Masterpiece Theater in particular. The costumes and clothes always appealed to me. So how might her work from 1815 be relevant to me today?  Austen was writing about elite English culture where standards of behavior were rigid. Courtship took place under very constrained circumstances.

In writing my inspirational romances, I’m pushing myself to do something similar to what Austen’s characters were dealing with. I wanted to see how the directors of both movies dealt with the couples experiencing an awakening sexual interest but with constraints placed upon them.

Mr. Knightley had always been the older brother/young uncle type to Emma, a neighbor and family friend sixteen years older. They were in and out of each other’s houses because of that neighborliness, but also because his brother was married to her sister. Her father was much older and eccentric, more removed from offering parental guidance.

Emma never imagined him as a love interest, but dedicated herself to finding matches for everyone else, until the point she realized her protegee was interested in Mr. Knightely himself. This was unfathomable to her. If anything, she was in love with him and should be his natural partner, due to their longstanding affection and connection.

As for Mr. Knightley, he had been interested in her for a long time, but he had been a mentor to her for so long, it seemed impossible for him to make the transition to becoming a love interest. Not only that, but Emma seemed attached to another man who wound up marrying another woman. It was at that point that he realized he had to put it out there and tell her exactly how he felt. And thus, the movie ended with their happily ever after.

The 2009 Emma was the best at demonstrating Emma and Mr. Knightley’s friendship and attraction. Their dance scene in particular was swoonworthy: link. The actors were well matched, with Emma as a young and immature 21 year old and Mr. Knightley as a sober and responsible older man looking out for her. He urged her to grow up and be better.

The 2020 Emma was better at presenting Mr. Knightley as a tormented man tortured by his unrequited love and seething over his rival. Yet, he didn’t appear to be sixteen years older, even though the actor’s real age matched: link. He had the look of a young rock star.

So returning to my writing, I have to think of my characters as starring in a movie. What is happening in their scenes? How are things moving forward? What are the emotional stakes at play? How are they handling their attraction?

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.