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Why Austen’s Emma would be ‘queen of social media’

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Anya Taylor-Joy as EmmaImage copyright
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Anya Taylor-Joy plays the film’s heroine

There are plenty of screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma – faithful ones like the earliest BBC version of 1948 to Clueless, which moved the action to 1990s California. Director Autumn de Wilde’s film returns Emma to Regency England – but with a lot to say about life in 2020.

De Wilde made her name as a stills photographer and directing videos for bands like Florence + The Machine and Death Cab for Cutie.

It’s not a career path automatically associated with someone making her feature film debut with a Jane Austen adaptation. But de Wilde is a far from standard Hollywood product and her love for the story is obvious. She’s fascinated by what Austen’s insights still tell us today.

“I didn’t care about modernising the world that Emma exists in but I did care about humanising it for a modern audience,” she says.

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Harriet, played by Mia Goth (left), seeks romance advice from Emma

“We still have the same set of problems. There are bullies and the people who are so sure they’re not bullies but really they are. There are the same social pressures. There are class divisions and we’re having these invisible wars on the internet. I don’t think humans are changing that much.

“Our world is basically on fire and all hell has broken loose – or maybe we’re only now seeing it for real.

“But in the middle of all this we have the same personal issues that Austen wrote about 200 years ago. We think, ‘Oh I wonder if so-and-so likes me.’ Or ‘You’re my best friend so now you have to do a certain thing’. All that ‘I hate him – I love him – I want you all to myself’ stuff never goes away. Is that fact comforting? Sometimes I think it’s terrifying.”

Some Austen fans find the novel’s central character Emma Woodhouse the most fascinating of her heroines. At the start of the story, published in 1815, Emma seems supremely self-confident but her wit can lacerate.

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Austen shows her learning a degree of humanity and finally identifying the right turnings in the great maze of relationships.

In the new version she’s played by Anya Taylor-Joy. At 23 she has already attracted attention in films such as Thoroughbreds and Split.

“I think if Emma were alive today she would start out as queen of social media. She’d be living her life through a filter and trying to present herself in a certain way. But by the end of the story Austen wrote she’s changed so I suspect she would take a break and go travelling to try to find herself,” says Taylor-Joy.

“At least as we first meet her she’s confident that she knows how other people should be living. She’s a dictator of taste and would make a perfect social media influencer.”

Taylor-Joy says de Wilde too is a sort of modern Emma but quickly adds that in her case that’s a positive. “Autumn puts people together well and makes matches brilliantly, which is what my character thinks she’s good at.

“Autumn helped me a lot in places where we had to modulate Emma’s character. Sometimes she’s mean and uptight but at times she’s more sensitive. So there were scenes, like when I’m arguing with Johnny Flynn [who plays George Knightley], when Autumn would keep the camera rolling and we’d shoot several times over without a break but with slightly different thoughts in Emma’s head each time. It was exhilarating to act.”

Taylor-Joy says it’s still very rare to find a film with a female central character, female screenwriter and female director. “It would be good to think that next time the film awards will show things are changing.”

She says most people know someone like Emma, or perhaps have aspects of her.

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“Definitely there are times when I wanted to shake Emma. Without giving too much away, there’s a crucial moment when she says something cruel to the character Miss Bates [Miranda Hart]. Miss Bates is devastated and it was a tough scene to play – but I went up to Miranda afterwards and gave her a big hug.”

After 205 years it’s probably no spoiler to say that towards the end of the story Emma starts to realise the true nature of her feelings for her friend and brother-in-law George Knightley.

“Emma initially is clearly a young person with a journey to go on,” he says. “But I think she engages your compassion because she has a lot to learn about herself.

“If you write her off too early you’re really writing off all young people. Because aren’t we all like that at 20 or 21? You think you know the world so well and then you have an experience which allows you to take stock of what you don’t know.”

Flynn thinks double standards are at play in the way Emma is judged as a young woman.

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Johnny Flynn plays Mr Knightley

“In a young male hero, brilliance and precociousness might be interpreted as wit and flair. But the same characteristics in a woman might be deemed irritating. I think Jane Austen was aware of that.”

The New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton had to construct a dramatic form for Austen’s story.

In 2013 her novel The Luminaries won the Man Booker prize (she’s the youngest winner yet) and she’s also written the six-part BBC Two adaptation to be seen later this year. She says adapting her own novel was such a gruelling process that she was delighted to be asked to take on the Austen.

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Josh O’Connor (recently seen in The Crown) plays the Mr Elton the vicar while Tanya Reynolds (from Sex Education ) plays his wife

“My relationship with my own work is more fraught because I know what could have been on the page but isn’t. As an adaptor you start out as a reader and that’s totally different. I’d never read the book and when I did I found the form of it is so perfect.

“But with Autumn de Wilde we didn’t only talk about the narrative and formal elements – we spoke about the plight of all the characters. Autumn brought a warmth to that which was a massive help.

“We both loved the original but more importantly we loved it for the same reasons. And I think we agreed on what didn’t work in some adaptations. But films are intensely collaborative and there’s huge input from the cinematographer and others – and of course from the cast.

“Josh O’Connor, for instance, plays Mr Elton the vicar with a lot of humour. And early on Bill Nighy made certain points about how I’d written the role of Emma’s father and we changed the characterisation.”

Most of the film was shot at Firle Place in East Sussex, which Catton visited to watch some of the filming.

“You’re very aware that the writer is the one person who has nothing to do. You end up bumping into the set and tripping over power cables.

“But It makes for a very heady spirit and it’s very easy to fall in love with everybody around you. Especially because actors tend to be very good-looking – that makes it even easier. It’s not like writing a novel.”


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Paris Fashion Week: Facemasks on show amid coronavirus concern

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Models wearing facemasks at Marine Serre's Paris Fashion Week showImage copyright
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Models were seen wearing facemasks at Marine Serre’s Paris Fashion Week show

One show at Paris Fashion Week proved to be unintentionally timely as models wore a range of outfits complete with matching facemasks.

The outfits were shown earlier this week by French designer Marine Serre.

The catwalk show took place amid rising concern about the outbreak of coronavirus, which caused markets to fall around the world on Friday.

But Serre’s collection was designed before the outbreak, and she has used facemasks in her collections before.

Her previous show in September also saw models cover their faces with veils or facemasks as part of the designer’s spring/summer collection.

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Models wearing facemasks at Marine Serre’s Paris Fashion Week show in September

The masks Serre uses have previously been described by her fashion house as “anti-pollution masks”.

The 28-year-old has been praised in the fashion press for the practicality of many of her designs.

“Serre’s energy has dynamised the fashion industry,” Vogue said last year. “Her hybrid garments, each a radical cocktail of century-flitting references, utilitarian practicalities, plus a sporting streak, are never so complicated as to miss the contemporary mark.”

At her showcase this week, Serre also showed a range of outfits which went further than facemasks in obscuring models’ faces.

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In some cases, Serre’s designs covered the entirety of models’ heads

But in addition to the designs appearing as part of Paris Fashion Week shows, facemasks were also being worn by some audience members at catwalk shows.

Several people attending Dries Van Noten’s autumn/winter collection showcase this week were seen wearing facemasks.

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Guests at Dries Van Noten’s Paris show were seen wearing facemasks

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Model Kozue Akimoto wore a facemask as she attended shows at Paris Fashion Week

The entertainment industry has been significantly affected by coronavirus, with several events and tours being postponed or cancelled.

On Thursday, Green Day announced they would postpone their forthcoming Asian tour “due to the health and travel concerns with coronavirus”.

“We know it sucks, as we were looking forward to seeing you all, but hold on to your tickets we’ll be announcing the new dates very soon,” the band added in their statement.

Korean pop group BTS cancelled several live shows due to take place in April at the Olympic Stadium in Seoul amid health concerns.

“It is unavoidable that the concert must be cancelled without further delay,” said a statement, originally written in Korean, which was posted on the group’s mobile fan platform.

“Please understand that this decision was made after extensive and careful consideration.”

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Brit Award-winning singer Mabel cancelled a show in Italy over coronavirus concerns

South Korea has been heavily impacted by coronavirus – the country has more than 2,300 confirmed cases so far, making it the biggest outbreak outside of China.

Other artists who have cancelled tour dates in Asia include UK grime star Stormzy, R&B singer Khalid. and a-ha, who have cancelled their show in Singapore.

Earlier this week, Brit Award-winning singer Mabel cancelled a scheduled show in Milan after a wider coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

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Taylor Swift literally plays The Man in new video

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Taylor Swift; before and afterImage copyright
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Taylor Swift plays a man-spreading, cigar smoking, strip-club-going male business executive in the new video for her track, The Man.

The song is taken from her seventh studio album, Lover, the first new music released since her departure from Big Machine Records.

It takes aim at male music executives – in particular Scooter Braun, who purchased her back catalogue last year.

The credits stress the video was directed, produced and owned by Swift.

In the video, the lead character, in heavy prosthetics, stops to relieve himself against an underground wall which has been graffitied with the name of Swift’s first six albums – all of which are owned by the Big Machine label.

Pinned to the wall is a poster reading: “Missing. If found return to Taylor Swift”. Beside that is a “no scooters” sign.

It’s the latest shot fired in her war with Braun, who she accused of attempting to “dismantle” her “musical legacy” after he bought Big Machine for $300m (£237m) last June.

In November, Swift claimed Braun and Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta had prevented her from performing a medley of her old hits at the American Music Awards.

They denied the claims, and the performance went ahead as originally planned.

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Taylor Swift

Braun later pleaded with her to stop the public campaign against him, saying his family had received death threats.

The singer made a subtle nod to their spat while performing at the AMAs, where she won six awards including artist of the decade.

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Media captionTaylor Swift makes American Music Awards history

She took to the stage wearing a prison-style white shirt stencilled with the names of the albums in question, while performing new and old songs.

While receiving another artist of the decade award at the Billboard Awards, Swift called out Braun directly, saying her treatment had been “the definition of the toxic male privilege”.

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Taylor Swift

“The man” in the video bears more than a passing resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street (the song references DiCaprio’s playboy lifestyle), as he’s congratulated for his business and sporting achievements and being the “greatest dad in the world”, all while getting up to no good.

It’s a thinly-veiled attack on the disparity between how men and women in the same roles are viewed by society.

The lyrics include the words: “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man / And I’m so sick of them coming at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man”

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Taylor Swift

At the end of the music video, the director, real-life Taylor Swift, asks her male counterpart – voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – if he could do it all again but this time make it “sexier”.

Swift is likely to play the song when she headlines Glastonbury later this year.

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How does the UK’s Eurovision entry stack up against the competition?

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Eurovision contestants (clockwise from top left) Montaigne, Ulrikke Brandstorp, Arilena Ara, Benny Cristo, Tom Leeb, The Roop and (centre) James NewmanImage copyright
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Some of the singers hoping for success at Eurovision 2020 in Rotterdam

James Newman has produced the UK’s best Eurovision entry in years – but will that be enough?

The 31-year-old, whose younger brother is Brit Award nominee John Newman, has already written for Ed Sheeran, Jess Glynne, Calvin Harris and Little Mix.

He got a Brit Award and a Grammy nomination for his work on Rudimental’s song Waiting All Night. On the other hand, he co-wrote Ireland’s 2017 Eurovision entry, Dying To Try, and got knocked out in the semi-finals.

In May, he’ll head to Rotterdam as a solo artist with a mid-tempo banger called My Last Breath. It’s short and direct, with the sort of “woah-oh” hook that would make Chris Martin envious.

“That was definitely intentional,” says the singer, who wrote the song in January. “We wanted to create an anthemic post-chorus that makes everyone feel involved.”

“Can you imagine 20,000 people in the arena going ‘woah-oh-ohhh‘? It’s something you can sing along to without knowing the lyrics.”

Newman’s selection comes after a dismal run for the UK at Eurovision. Last year, Michael Rice’s Bigger Than Us came last, scoring just 11 points.

As a result, the BBC scrapped the public’s role in the selection process and invited music company BMG to help it find this year’s entrant.

“We started with the sole aim of changing the perception of the contest,” said Alistair Norbury, the company’s president of repertoire for the UK.

That’s all well and good – but the perennial argument is that Eurovision’s voting system is broken, with the UK being “punished” for everything from the Iraq war to Brexit.

Yet over the years, several academic studies have looked into political voting, and found little evidence that it affects anything beyond the mid-table results.

Countries do vote for their neighbours and allies – but the winner needs pan-continental support to rise above the pack. Songs that come last tend to be boring, unconvincing or poorly-performed.

So how does My Last Breath compare with the competition?

Here’s a quick guide to some of the contenders – with the caveat that some of Eurovision’s big hitters, including Sweden and Russia, are yet to reveal their entries.

Lithuania: The Roop – On Fire

An early favourite with fans, On Fire is essentially a trance remix of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, performed by Right Said Fred.

It’s better than that makes it sound, though, with a catchy chorus and squiggly synth line that quickly lodge in your head.

The choreography is weirdly compelling, too: Singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius looks like he’s been allowed to watch all the Fortnite dances once, then tried to recreate them from memory. Voters will lap it up.

Can James Newman beat them? He has the better song, but The Roop are classic Eurovision crowd-pleasers.

Albania: Arilena Ara – Shaj

Eurovision wouldn’t be Eurovision without a windswept ballad or 12, preferably sung at top volume by a woman with too much hair.

On that front, Arilena Ara more than delivers. Her song is literally called “scream” and she belts out the high notes with all the subtlety of a klaxon in an elevator shaft.

But the song’s cleverly constructed around those big moments, breaking down to a quiet string section in the mid-section before ramping to the final chorus.

Arilena has the experience to pull it off, too. Since winning The X Factor Albania in 2013, she’s become one of the country’s biggest stars, with more than 1.1 million followers on Instagram. Her single Nentori has also been a hit in Russia and Romania, which means she’ll be familiar to voters there.

Can James Newman beat her? No. Shaj is an early favourite amongst Eurovision-watchers, and looks set for a top five finish.

Latvia: Samanta Tina – Still Breathing

Samanta Tina has been chosen as Latvia’s Eurovision contestant on her fifth attempt; and heads to Rotterdam with a strident hymn to female empowerment.

It starts well. Tina’s vocals sizzle with attitude and she seems to be building to a killer chorus. But then she deploys the “pop drop” – swapping out the melody for a distorted, heavily-filtered synth.

It’s a technique that arrived, peaked and outstayed its welcome in the space of about six months in 2015; and completely kills the momentum of this Gaga-indebted bop.

Her rap in the middle-eight doesn’t improve matters; and the whole enterprise eventually collapses like a soufflé that’s been poked by Paul Hollywood.

Can James Newman beat her? If there’s any justice, yes.

Australia: Montaigne – Don’t Break Me

Australia take Eurovision very seriously – ending up in the Top 10 four times in the last five years – and this year is no exception.

Their entrant is Aria Award-winner Montaigne whose song, Don’t Break Me, is a dramatically-spun story of tortured love. Driven by pounding drums and soaring chorus (“You thought I was elastic / But maybe I’m just made of glass”) the track sounds distinctly like the work of another Australian pop star, Sia.

The singer’s stage presence is as striking as her song. She wears Elizabethan ruffles in reference to the humanist philosopher Michel de Montaigne (after whom she’s named), while her complex choreography will keep Eurovision’s camera crews on their toes.

Can James Newman beat her? Unlikely.

France: Tom Leeb – The Best In Me

France hasn’t won Eurovision since 1977 and Tom Leeb’s not about to change that fact.

Best In Me is as grey and uninspiring as dishwater, with an insipid lyric about someone being the “air I breathe”.

It even won the disapproval of France’s culture minister, Franck Riester, who criticised the song’s English-language chorus for damaging the country’s “pride”.

“It broke my ears,” he told parliament earlier this month.

Can James Newman beat him? Yes, but maybe he should sing the bridge in French.

Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – Kemama

Professional jiu-jitsu competitor Benny Cristo has a successful sideline as a musician in the Czech Republic, scoring four number one singles and selling out Prague’s O2 arena since he emerged in 2009.

His entry, Kemama, is a joyous celebration of life, even in the face of prejudice. “I don’t care if they don’t like me, I just came to dance,” he sings over a funky pulse of Afrobeat.

But Cristo, whose father is Angolan, admitted the song had made him the target of further abuse. “Racism is far from over even when you try to represent the country you were born in,” he wrote on Instagram, while announcing he intended to re-record Kemama in Kenya “to take the song to the next level”.

It could definitely do with some work. The current version just sits in the same groove for three minutes, bubbling along pleasantly without any real breakout moments.

Can James Newman beat him? Both songs feel destined for the bottom half of the results table, but James’s track still has the edge.

Belgium: Hooverphonic – Release Me

This could be the contest’s dark horse. Hooverphonic are one of Belgium’s biggest bands, scoring nine top 10 albums since they emerged as part of the trip-hop scene in 1995.

Release Me has the sound of a vintage Bond theme, all sultry strings and descending chord sequences, as singer Luka Cruysberghs moodily pleads to be cut loose from a doomed relationship.

It’s not right to make me stay,” she sings. “All the lies and all the pain / Only you can make them go away.

It’s almost too good for Eurovision, which probably means it’s doomed.

Can James Newman beat them? In a perfect world, no. At Eurovision, yes.

Norway: Ulrikke Brandstorp – Attention

Ulrikke Brandstorp had to fight 24 other contestants to be selected as Norway’s Eurovision entry – and her progress through the competition was wrought by controversy after the voting system crashed, leaving a back-up jury to decide who made it through to the final.

But the bumpy journey will stand her in good stead when it comes to Rotterdam, as will her TV experience from the Norwegian versions of Pop Idol and The Voice.

Her song is another lovestruck ballad, but it takes a quiet approach – with Brandstorp conveying delicate vulnerability as her vocals flutter up the octaves.

It’s not as immediate as some of the other songs, but could easily pick up fans during the semi-final stages.

Can James Newman beat her? Probably not – but as one of the co-writers is Christian Ingebrigtsen of the British boyband A1, we could claim it as a partial victory.

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