Director Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved Emma released this Valentine’s Day is the perfect cinematic adventure, whether for a romantic date or a chuckle with friends.
Lead Anya Taylor-Joy captures the mischievous, misguided and sometimes insidious manipulations of Emma perfectly. Her unflinching gaze and piercing eyes follow the characters and audience’s attention around the scene without fail. Emma Woodhouse is a force to be reckoned with in this 1815 world where the marriage market dominates. She is beautiful, clever, rich and most importantly apparently uninterested in marriage- a subversion of everything expected of her. Instead, Emma spend her days carefully matchmaking her friends. The story opens with Emma having found a husband for her governess Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) who leaves to marry Mr Weston (Rupert Graves). The loss of this conquest leads Emma to find a new female friend to transform. She tries to educate her bumbling and subdued friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) into a sophisticated and upper-class woman. However, Emma’s decisions for Miss Smith are misguided and her chosen match Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor) proves a worthless choice and the local farmer she deemed to lowly Mr Martin (Connor Swindells) the perfect pairing.
In a classic Jane Austen fashion this plot is complicated with confusions in love, multiple suitors including an elusive Frank Churhchill (Callum Turner) and rival women in Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) and most of all a romance that our heroine never expected to find in the kind and consistent Mr Knightly (Johnny Flynn).
Johnny Flynn is a case in point for the bold yet flawless casting in this adaptation. He perfectly encapsulates the gruff, yet perfect heartthrob expected in a period adaption, whilst also providing jovial background singing, which consistently keeps the comedic pace afloat. However, a large section of the casting is indeed risky with this being the first feature-length work for a lot of these actors. For example, Connor Swindells as Mr Martin and Tanya Reynolds as Mrs Elton are both taken straight from the Netflix hit show Sex Education. For those who love this series seeing Swindells as an awkward farmer with a full brown mop of hair adds intense humour, as does Reynolds with ludicrous hair styles and sense of fashion. However, in amongst these newbies there are classic favourites such as Bill Nighy as Mr Woodhouse. In many ways he was my favourite character. His gentle and quiet nature was interrupted only with hysterical humour at his hypochondria and his obsession with “drafts” which seemingly blew from nowhere and revealed Nighy’s charm. Another big name who truly paid of was Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. Her iconic comedic style fitted this role perfectly, and yet was nuanced with real emotion and dramatic skill.
Casting aside, one of the merits of this adaption is the mouth-watering aesthetics. Every shot incorporated perfect pastels, rich florals and rolling English countryside. The sometimes-drab period stylising was reinvented with both millennial flare and classiness. The break down of the film into four seasonal sections was introduced with an Instagram worthy shot of a floral wallpaper and side table which was only one example of this flaw-less aesthetic. Another was the costuming. Each dress was soft, delicately embroidered with florals and exceedingly lavish with various bizarre trinkets and the iconic tight ringlets which Emma takes to a whole new level. Somehow these stylistic choices were both intensely 19th century and groundbreakingly modern, a real triumph in this film.
Another strength of this film worthy of discussion is the comedy itself. I was mesmerised with the timing and coordination. The slightest glance, or touch of a hand, on screen was welcomed with roars of laughter from the cinema audience- and they were deserved. The dialogue itself was rich but the true comedic genius was in the subtleties of movement and interaction between characters which told the whole story in and of itself. Josh O’Connor as Mr Elton was particularly good at this, with wide open stares and facial gimmicks. However, it is worth noting that the potential of O’Connor was somehow lost in this casting and he could have been more of an asset as a more serious and loveable character. Nonetheless, the sometimes-slow movement of the film was always resurrected with these intrinsic moments of comedy which both distinguished this as a stimulating adaption, but also harked to the charms of Emma as a novel.
Emma was a wonderful film. I think this is more than clear from my one-sided and glowing review. It was hilarious and had the audience consistently in stitches, whilst also pronounced in the justice it gave to the novel. Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation achieved a perfect balance between recognisable modernity, with on-trend casting and colour palettes, and 19th century accuracy as a true period piece. The much loved and witty take on Emma in Clueless used to be my favourite adaption, but this film has now forced its way to top spot and I cannot recommend it enough.