Current Issue #488

Film Review:

Anya Taylor-Joy in EMMA.

Jane Austen’s 1815 novel is filmed again, this time with photographer-turned-director Autumn de Wilde at the helm, a full stop in the title for some reason, and Anya Taylor-Joy breaking out from her horror-heavy filmography in the title role.

Often adapted for TV, and filmed in 1997 with Gwyneth Paltrow, in 2010 as the Indian project Aisha and, essentially, as the Beverley Hills-set Clueless back in 1995, this might seem an odd choice for model/actress Taylor-Joy , who’s best-known for The Witch and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Glass, but she just about captures the spirit and wit of the piece, and certainly looks striking in all the frippery and fancy hats.

Her Emma is a haughtier sort than Paltrow’s, and she’s capable of being surprisingly scathing too, although when we first meet her, she seems merely sweet. A moneyed matchmaker living in a stately home with her neurotic Dad (who else but Bill Nighy?), Emma is happy dispensing romantic advice to others, while avoiding any question of getting her hands dirty with the well-to-do young men who circulate around her.

She’s also a terrible snob, and scenes where she’s not-so-secretly rude about poor, hopelessly talkative Miss Bates (Miranda Hart from TV’s Call The Midwife) have a darkly cringing aspect. When she decides to take naïve Harriet Smith (Mia Goth, another star of creepy pics) under her wing in the hope of setting her up with preening vicar Mr. Elton (funny Josh O’Connor), it’s obviously all going to go wrong, especially when Elton later gets sloshed at Christmas dinner and clumsily proposes to Emma in the coach home.

When Emma commits the infamous faux pas that Austen fans are expecting, she has quite a crisis afterwards, and thereafter finds herself drawn not to dour heir Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) but windswept-haired George Knightley (poet, muso and actor Johnny Flynn), who until this point had treated her with considerable disdain. And if you’ve ever seen a movie before, then you’ll surely know what happens next.

There’s much sumptuousness here to enjoy, and the soundtrack adds to the period flavor, with folk tunes and classical snippets alongside original pieces by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge (yes, Phoebe’s sister). And Taylor-Joy works hard to make Emma sympathetic, despite the fact that she’s surely the most deeply unsympathetic character in all of Austen’s writings.

But would Regency-era icon Austen have been entirely happy with some of the choices this latest modern adaptation makes? An early scene where her heroine subtly lifts her skirt to warm her bum before a fire, perhaps, is something the author might have preferred to remain clueless to.

EMMA. (PG) is in cinemas now

Reviewer Rating

DM Bradley

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