In early-19th-century England, young Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) believes herself to be an excellent judge of character. Revelling in her favourite pastime of matchmaking, she pulls on the heartstrings of all she encounters in her small community. However, when her father (Bill Nighy) and neighbour George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) tell her she’s gone too far with her romantic meddling, she ignores their warnings and sets about finding a suitor for young, naïve Harriet Smith (Mia Goth)…
…is an attractive-looking, breezy adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved classic.
Opening with a fast-paced and deliberately jaunty tone, first-time director Autumn de Wilde’s ‘Emma’ is an attractive-looking, breezy adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved classic. With every frame perfectly lit and composed and even when it is intentionally dowdy, the production styling can’t help but veer on the creaseless. Also adhering to the well-known appetites of successful romantic dramas, ‘Emma’ is riotously English in its casting: Bill Nighy is pedantically perfect as Emma’s father who is phobically obsessed about catching “a sickly chill”; Josh O’Connor is a vicar whose smiley diction could curdle a cream tea and Miranda Hart is the chattering Miss Bates gifted with such gems as “Mother! -You must sample the tart!”
Yet set against such a rich retinue of British thespians, the film’s main actors are comically plainer by comparison. For whilst Anya Taylor-Joy’s take on coitus-instigator-cum-coitus-interrupter Emma is a fetching rendition, her Emma’s see-sawing affections are overly drawn out. As a result, having exhausted most of what can be ad-libbed from her Brit back-ups, Autumn de Wilde’s whirl-wind romance duly wobbles on an exposed axis in its third act.
That said, in a lustrous update where all Bill Nighy has to do is walk into the frame to own it, there are many reasons to fetch thyself to a cinema and not spare the horses. However, if your wish is to attain “a degree or two nearer (period) gentility” then 1996’s Oscar-winning ‘Emma‘ with Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette should still be available to rent.
Comforting and consistently comedic, Autumn de Wilde’s ‘Emma’ isn’t the convention-breaking update to send your fans a-fluttering but with such an incandescent supporting cast, that alone should be reason enough to comfort yourself when it arrives later on streaming services.