Emma

The 1815 Easter bonnet competition was fierce
Verdict: 
7/10 - Autumn de Wilde's Emma features a strong cast and beautiful sets, but unfortunately lacks romantic chemistry between the two leads.
Release Date: 
Friday, February 14, 2020
Written by: 

Emma follows the antics of Emma Woodhouse, who can't help but meddle in the romantic lives of her friends.

7

Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma has been adapted for the silver screen several times, including the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Now, director Autumn de Wilde has unveiled her take on the English classic, with the reimagined version featuring Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role of Emma Woodhouse.

Screenwriter Eleanor Catton sticks fairly closely to the events of the book, with the narrative opening with the "handsome, clever, and rich" Emma as she attends the wedding of her former governess Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) to Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves), where she smugly takes credit for matchmaking the pair.

A restless queen bee, Emma powers ahead with her new hobby - against the advice of her sister's brother-in-law and neighbour Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) - and seeks to set up her new acquaintance Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) with the local vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor).

Soon, the protagonist can't help but continue meddling in the love lives of the genteel men and women of her Georgian Regency society, often with mixed results.

While Emma's privileged status and sheltered life, as preceded over by her hypochondriac father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy), means that she is one of the few women in her sleepy community who doesn't actually need a husband, all the talk of love matches makes her question whether she should pursue the much-hyped about visitor Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), or investigate other potential prospects.

Marking her directorial feature debut, de Wilde's Emma presents a faithful and carefully constructed take on the material.

Her background in photography is evident in the stunning landscape shots that evoke the particular atmosphere of each of the seasons and the English countryside, the beautifully detailed mise-en-scene of the indoor sets, and Alexandra Byrne's costume design - which captures both the time period and each character's personality.

Taylor-Joy fully commits to the lead role, with her wonderful facial expressions put to use in delving into a character who is navigating the complexities of embarking on adulthood, misguided relationships, and the societal conventions of the day.

Her Emma perhaps doesn't have the quite same level of charisma as Paltrow or Alicia Silverstone's Cher Horowitz in loose 1995 adaptation Clueless, though her quirky vibe certainly makes up for that.

And even though Taylor-Joy and Flynn have some snappy exchanges, especially in the third and final acts, a touch more romantic spark wouldn't have gone astray. This film is released on Valentine's Day after all!

Elsewhere, Goth delivers a solid performance as Emma's long-suffering pal and O'Connor has a lot of fun with the misguided Mr. Elton. Yet, it is appearances from Nighy and Miranda Hart as Miss Bates that really inject some much-needed joy into the 124-minute runtime.

In all, de Wilde serves up an adaptation that will not only keep Austen fans happy but makes Emma accessible for audiences in 2020.

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