In EMMA, Autumn de Wilde brings a fresh new approach to Jane Austen’s beloved comedy. When it was published in 1815, Austen’s tale of “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich,” proved an immediate success. Each new generation rediscovers how perfectly Austen's witty satire fits their own times. To bring the novel to the screen, New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton—whose own novel The Luminaries won the 2013 Man Booker Prize—connects with the sparking, delicious, and sometimes ridiculous world of Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her peers, as well as acknowledging the book's universal theme of seeking an equal partner in this world.
With EMMA coming to theaters on February 21, we wanted to celebrate the work of other great women authors whose novels and stories have inspired filmmakers to create unforgettable cinematic experiences.
Jane Austen | Pride & Prejudice
In 1796, Jane Austen wrote her first draft of Pride and Prejudice, originally titled First Impressions. Although it was rejected for publication, there was something about the romance between the spirited Elizabeth Bennet and the reserved Mr. Darcy that Austen could not let go of. In 1811, after a major rewrite, her book was published as Pride and Prejudice, going on to become one of the most revered works of English literature. Working with Deborah Moggach’s screenplay of Pride & Prejudice, director Joe Wright stressed the the novel’s ambitious scope. While certainly a charming love story between Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), Pride & Prejudice is for Wright also “about Jane Austen and English literature and, more fascinating, the grand sweep of political and social history.”
Charlotte Brontë | Jane Eyre
There was perhaps no greater powerhouse literary family in 19th-century Britain than the Brontës—with sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne all penning masterpieces within years of each other. In 1847, Charlotte published Jane Eyre under the name of Currer Bell. The harrowing tale of a young woman struggling to preserve her moral compass in a world rocked by greed, madness, and rocky romance proved an instant classic. Indeed young women (and men) continued to find the plight of dear Jane powerfully poignant. Screenwriter Maria Buffini, who fell in love with the novel at 15, saw the tale as a gothic thriller with Jane as “a vulnerable young woman in this creepy old house.” With Mia Wasikowska as plain Jane and Michael Fassbender as the stern Mr. Rochester, Cary Fukunaga’s film Jane Eyre taps into the book's moody emotions in a way that is, according to USA Today, "both faithful to Charlotte Brontë's classic and distinctively original."
Sarah Waters | The Little Stranger
In her novel The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters uses her suspenseful imagination to explore the disturbing changes affecting Britain after World War II. For Waters, “A haunted house story struck me as a good way” to illustrate the flickering power of the English aristocracy in the mid-twentieth century. In Lenny Abrahamson’s expressive adaptation of The Little Stranger, Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson) exclaims, “There’s something in this house that hates us.” As things get creepier and crawlier at the Ayres’ venerable estate Hundred Hall, the local physician Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) tries—with little success—to apply reason and science to experiences that defy logic. For AV Club, “The movie, like towering Hundreds Hall, casts its own foreboding spell… subtly clarifying what Waters left deliberately ambiguous.”
Eileen Chang | Lust, Caution
In many ways, the life of Chinese novelist Elieen Chang is as romantic and tumultuous as the novels she penned. Born in Shanghai to a prominent family, her life was turned upside down when she was forced out of university after Japan invaded China. She became an immediate success as both a novelist and screenwriter, only to see that career evaporate when her first husband was accused of being a Japanese collaborator. After moving to America, she was rediscovered by a new generation of Chinese and Chinese Americans who were taken by her sensual, sophisticated style. Ang Lee, who “grew up reading and loving Eileen Chang’s stories,” immediately saw the cinematic potential of her novella Lust, Caution, a tale of a theater troupe training a young actress (Tang Wei) to seduce and assassinate a Chinese official (Tony Leung) who worked for the Japanese during the occupation. “It’s a story about women’s sexuality set against patriotism and the two put together is, for Chinese people, quite scary,” explains Lee. For Slate, Lust, Caution takes Chang’s tale and “spins it into a 158-minute saga of espionage, deceit, sexual humiliation, and something that could be perversely—but not untruthfully—called love.”
Winifred Watson | Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
Born in a seaside town north of London, Winifred Watson was forced to become a typist when her family's shoe business went belly up during the depression. Eventually she decided to type her own material, writing a series of popular comic novels about small English towns. In 1937, she took a different tack, conjuring up the depression-era fantasy Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. "I didn't know anyone like Miss Pettigrew,” admitted Watson, adding, “I just made it all up.” Watson's fanciful tale of high living and low morals proved the perfect antidote for the hard times people were experiencing. For his film adaptation of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Bharat Nalluri intentionally stressed this screwball comedy's lack of social realism with Frances McDormand playing the unemployed governess and Amy Adams the giddy ingenue. “This is a frothy confection, but it doesn’t only know its limitations, it revels in them,” notes Time Out’s Anna Smith.