There is little doubting the success of David Nicholls’ novel since its 2009 release: its characters, beloved by many, have led to the creation of a cohort of fiercely protective fans. As with many page to screen adaptations, fans of the novel have sought for absolute fidelity, in turn particularly decrying the choice of Anne Hathaway as Emma, questioning both her all-too-apparent attractiveness and her ability to adopt a Yorkshire accent.
Fears for Hathaway’s accent were certainly well-founded, ranging from Received Pronunciation to a hyperbolic impression of what a Yorkshire accent should sound like, her Emma lacks the self-deprecating, acerbic quality that many found so appealing. Aside from her lack of a realistic accent, Hathaway simply fails to make an impression. Jodie Whittaker and Romola Garai breathe more life into their brief scenes than Hathaway manages for the whole film; Whittaker especially would have surely excelled if given the role of Emma.
Nicholls’ narrative focuses upon the intertwining lives of Emma and Dexter. Meeting upon graduation and awaking on St. Swithin’s Day, Emma and Dexter’s subsequent friendship waxes and wanes over the ensuing years, with Nicholls’ narrative returning to St. Swithin’s Day each year. This narrative technique is easy to absorb in a novel form, but makes for jarring, disrupted viewing in Lone Scherfig’s film.
Each St. Swithin’s Day is signalled by a brief title card, often incorporated clumsily within the scene – at one point appearing as a screensaver upon a laptop. This technique leads to little character development: the film would have perhaps benefitted from less focus on the changing years and greater time spent on individual years, allowing for greater character development. The characters barely change, failing in turn to create any real sense of empathy. How can the viewer be expected to care about a character’s journey when so little of it is shown?
Admittedly not a fan of the novel myself, I suspect the appeal for many lay in the depiction of protagonists various foibles. Here Scherfig’s film and Nicholls’ script presents us with a sanitised version of Emma and Dexter. Dexter’s cocaine addiction and increasing alcoholism is barely alluded to, whilst Emma’s self-destructive tendencies are removed entirely, dispelling with the few elements that made the characters engaging. Dexter and Emma in their screen incarnations are entirely dull; I cared little for the characters, nor for the film’s outcome.