Adapting Jane Austen to the screen: fashion and costume in Autumn de Wilde’s movie "Emma"

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Carlos Manuel FigueiredoAna Rafaela DiogoJoana André Leite

Abstract: The visual and behavioral codes prevalent in society at any given moment are part of its social conventions and constitute a framework that rules everyone´s image, dress and the attitudes that society not only tolerates but expects from them. However, it is unquestionable that despite the rigidity and formality imposed on personal appearance and manners, it is still possible to find some room to play with the possibilities afforded to people, albeit conditioned by their social status, so as to manage to express their inner self, mood, and even outlook on life, at any point in time. What is more, it is possible for an individual inserted in such a society to become the center around which everything revolves and trace a path to success, without necessarily trespassing any of the red lines drawn by society's norms. In her novels, Jane Austen chose as protagonists middle to upper class young women that stand out by managing to, in the limited scope of action afforded to them, work society in their favour so as to achieve their perceived notions of fulfillment and personal happiness. Based on one of Austen's novels Emma, and its 2020 movie adaptation directed by Autumn de Wilde, we will assess how Alexandra Byrne’s costumes work in relation to the aesthetics of Emma’s world and surroundings. As well as investigate how they showcase, are impacted and can even be read as symbolic representations of the course of her life, evolution and relationships in this movie, which is considered to be particularly faithful to the novel.Keeping this in mind, we will analyse several scenes that are key both in terms of the plot and the costumes of the main character—Emma. This analysis will consider filmic and design notions of characters, narrative and space, as well as their construction and representation. It will focus on questions of storytelling regarding how the viewer is informed about Emma’s personality and mood, as well as capable of feeling her emotions, in the key events of the plot. As well as try to answer why and how Emma and her costumes remain the main focus in almost every shot of the movie, and how components such as the fictional space, its framing and composition are always in relation and dependent on her and her portrayal.Despite this movie being Autumn de Wilde’s debut, her mastery of notions of visual hierarchies, aesthetics and cinematic techniques that keep Emma highlighted and the focus of the action at all times, in the foreground of the shot, is undeniable. This translates to impeccably shot spaces that are completely in tune with the costumes, providing a sense of ease or contrast to the characters' relation to the space, further highlighting the subjects in the main action.In such an aesthetically developed piece, it is then also unavoidable that Emma’s every interaction and the development of her relationships will have a direct impact on her inner image, and therefore her outer image, affecting her relation and attachments to her costumes.

Keywords: Identity, Costume Design, Jane Austen, Regency Era, Movie Adaptation

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1001538

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