A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma has been released and is, as I edit this post (originally published just before its release), is about to be released for streaming. I have access now only to images from the trailers–but even having seen only those tiny previews of this production, I decided I am HERE FOR IT. (Note, March 21: I’m preparing a second post now I can do screenshots—come back in a couple of days and I’ll have a post showing historic sources/examples of many of the costumes!) …Anyway, me wanting a new Austen is quite something, actually, because I generally think we could put a moratorium on Austen adaptations–I know, heresy from me, a big Austen fan–because there are so many novels, and real people’s stories too, which deserve telling before we do YET ANOTHER Austen (or for that matter, Dickens or Bronte) adaptation.
I wasn’t sure from the trailers how the script and acting would be. Editing this now after having seen the movie, I found it delightful. Having said this, I will just let the blog stand in its original format, assuming I have not yet seen it… So: here are some things I am Here For:
Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse! (Also, delicious late Georgian period wall colors and plaster work!)
Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. SUCH FUN! (Watch her series Miranda on Hulu and you will get that.)
Apparently Harriet and Emma discuss Robert Martin’s proposal while Emma is being fitted for a pelisse, so we see the tailoring stitches on the bodice. I LOVE THIS.
The costumes place the action in the late 1810s or just about 1820. Waistlines haven’t started to go down yet, but we see plenty of sleeve puffs and hem trim that come in in the mid to late teens. Costumes are by Alexandra Byrne who designed Persuasion (1995), which has some of the BEST EVER Austen adaptation costumes, so no surprise these are looking so good.
The pleats at the back of the pelisse look a lot like the pelisse below, in an 1816 French fashion plate. I SWOON at this kind of attention to detail on the part of the designer. YAY ALEXANDRA!
I’m guessing the lady on the right, looking affectionately at Emma, is Mrs. Weston and I AM IN LOVE WITH HER COTTON PRINT. We don’t see enough cotton prints in these adaptations, and they were SO widely worn. Perhaps now with digital printing making it easy for a designer to produce just enough yardage for one dress, we’ll see more designers taking the trouble to use these. (Otherwise–it’s nigh impossible to get the right period look in a print, because each period’s designs are so distinct, and are not what’s in style now.)
I am ecstatic about the cording on this spencer, along with its fabulous sleeve treatment. These openwork tabs creating a puffed oversleeve effect are SO late teens-early 20s, and I can’t get enough of them. And the cording is spot on too: very like a spencer in the DAR Museum collection, one of my favorite pieces:
At first I thought the cording and sleeves were inspired by this spencer in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, although there are other surviving spencers and pelisses which might have served:
But I have since found the actual inspiration–the cording on the bodice is nearly exactly copied, though the collar has been simplified:
At first I thought that Emma’s outerwear (to my count in the trailer–when I re-watch the movie I’ll check that number) five spencers, three pelisses (the checked one in the photo below, a fur-lined one, and the blue one we saw being made), and a red cloak were a bit much. (The 1995 Pride and Prejudice gave Lizzie far too many spencers and pelisses too.) But Hilary Davidson, author of the magnificent new book Dress in the Age of Jane Austen (Yale, 2019) thinks it reasonable for the richest woman in Highbury. If we suppose that she is buying perhaps one or two pelisses a year, for example–maybe one for mild weather and one a bit heavier?–and still wearing last year’s–it starts making sense.
I am Excessively Displeased (to channel Lady Catherine De Bourgh) with Frank Churchill’s waistcoat’s fabric, which looks just like some curtain fabric I got on sale at G Street Fabrics about ten years ago. It is WRONG in so many ways. But I do like the fact that Frank is wearing two waistcoats. You see this in fashion plates and portraits, and it’s a lovely touch for the self-satisfied Frank.
But to return to things I’m excited about…we have Emma and Harriet in nightie and a corset, with their hair in rag curlers. I LOVE getting glimpses of underwear and nightwear–there aren’t enough scenes where we costume types get to enjoy the under-layers!
I am HERE FOR white muslin dresses, especially glimpses of hem trim, with bouillonnés (puffs) on Harriet’s and rosettes or something on Emma’s. The fullness of Emma’s skirts, and its length just above the ankles, is SO GREAT for the teens.
I am HERE FOR pelisses.
I cannot WAIT for ballroom dancing, especially long shots of evening dresses with hem trim and so many that are net or gauze over colored slips–so right for the period, and so seldom seen in these adaptations!
I am ALWAYS ready for some English Country House eye candy. And they’re using Wilton House (both above and below)–which you’ve seen in the ball in Sense and Sensibility (1995), Pride and Prejudice (2005), The Young Victoria, and The Crown. (Look for the ENORMOUS family portrait with the woman in pale gray satin in the center, and columns and cherubs at left, enclosed in a massive gilt frame, and you’ll start to recognize it in many more; I’m just listing the productions most likely to have been seen by someone reading a blog post on costumes in Emma.)
I’m seeing attention to costume details that THRILL my geeky costumey heart. LOOK at the woven straw in this bonnet! LOOK at the embroidered net gathered in the lining of Emma’s bonnet below!
And OH MY SAINTED AUNT, DORSET BUTTONS on Emma’s dress!
Dorset buttons are made of thread wrapped in decorative patterns around a small wire ring: here’s a closeup: AND PLEASE NOTE the topaz cross, a shout-out to one of the only pieces of jewelry we know Jane Austen owned, a gift from a brother (and if you want one of your own, my friend Taylor of Dames à la Mode sells them in a variety of colors at damesalamode.com).
The chemistry between Emma and Mr. Knightley looks good. (Oh, that’s Johnny Flynn by the way. He’s cute. I’m supposed to know who that is. He was adorable as Dobbin in Vanity Fair, anyway. I only know the Regency Flynn, apparently.)
Mrs. Elton’s hair is from the 1830s, but never mind–it does its job of making her look ridiculous: willing to look absurd in pursuit of fashion. (And OH!, her hair is even parted in a triangle from the center of the forehead! Be still my heart!) The teardrop earrings are also TERRIFIC. Compare hair and earrings in fashion plate below. (Want some? Dames à la Mode makes these too. No, I’m not getting a discount or a freebie for the shout-outs, I just love Taylor’s jewelry and if you like this period, you might too.)
But my absolute favorite of all that I saw in the trailers is this evening dress worn by Emma. I nearly shrieked when I saw it because I recognized its source.
They’ve copied this HEAVENLY embroidered net dress from the Victoria and Albert Museum!
Look, side by side:
And the reason I can look forward to all this this with unalloyed delight is…
THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HAIR UP. ALL THE DAMN TIME. No wispy bangs, just period-correct curls. And guess what? We are going to have NO PROBLEM RELATING to this period. We’re going to REVEL in it.
Emma comes out February 21, google tells me. Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on the production, to whet your appetite and tell you more about the cast: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_(2020_film)