April 28, 2020

“Emma.” Review: Funny, Charming and Witty

by Grace Ripley

We have seen Emma, the novel written in 1815 by Jane Austen, adapted for the screen countless times, how does this version make room for itself in the extensive lineup?

Emma is the story of an indelicate but well-born matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy, who portrays the iconic character with an unmistakable grace and haughtiness) living with her father (Bill Nighy) in early-1800s England. She befriends Harriet Smith, who lives at the local school, and takes it upon herself to guide Harriet to who she believes is the right lover, and away from the one she thinks is unfit — although he is the one Harriet would choose. Harriet looks to Emma for everything, and Emma — often misguided, although she believes herself the most fit in every situation — tends to abuse that.

It seems the most accurate way to describe Emma is, simply, effervescent. It bubbles to the top with life. From the first scene the visuals forcibly plunge you into the world of Emma, that feels more like a Wonderland-like dream world than reality. And it’s delightful. It crackles and strikes with wit, this wit seems almost delightfully unexpected, no matter how far into the film you are. Josh O’Connor, who played Mr. Elton, the odd vicar, and Bill Nighy were the film’s comedic standouts.

The costumes and set only add to the scrumptious decadence of the visuals. The empire cut dresses and elaborate and many-layered outfits of the men in the movie are effective in their telling of the time. The intricate style of the manors used in the film make it easy to know how well off many of the characters are — and the homes and settings of the poorer members of the films are made clear through their dull coloring and modest showing.

The connections between all of the characters are immediately clear — familial connections, dear friends and friends characters would rather not have, the characters who are in love (whether they know it or not). It is all clear whether it be through the tension of the dances and the eye contact, or simply a passionate love — romantic or otherwise — acknowledged and clear to see through words and affections.

The title character is obviously flawed, but it is her realization of her flaws that are the most human part of the film. When she blurts out an insult at Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), a well-meaning and oblivious character, during a group outing, Miss Bates receives it with disbelieving despair. Although Emma is obviously uncomfortable throughout the encounter and after, it takes Mr. Knightly (a charming Johnny Flynn) for her to completely break down. She is struck with such a desperation to reverse what she has done, a desperation many of us feel when dealing with the consequences of our rash decisions. The movie does not allow us to feel bad for Emma, but rather to understand that she needs to amend her ways. And she does — little by little — she is determined to and she succeeds.

The latest version of Emma has no problem standing out. It seems to demand it in every aspect: the decadent colors, the undeniable chemistry, the striking wit and banter. This is not an adaptation that will be forgotten any time soon. [Grade: A]

Director: Autumn de Wilde
Writer: Eleanor Catton
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Callum Turner
Rated: PG for brief partial nudity (it’s just a butt, don’t worry)
Available: On Demand
Fun Fact: The film’s title unconventionally has a period at the end. The director has stated in multiple interviews it is to signify the movie as a “period piece,” set in the original era.

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