Film Review: Emma

Autumn de Wilde’s refreshing take on this classic story has a quirky charm about it.

Witty, quirkily charming and yet faithful to Jane Austen’s original book, this latest adaptation of Emma is certainly playfully fun to watch from start to finish.

Emma Woodhouse is smart and beautiful but is also interfering and manipulative – as her disastrous matchmaking attempts for her friend Harriet Smith prove. Watching on in despair is her friend Mr Knightly who attempts to prevent Emma from meddling in people’s lives – unfortunately with his words falling on deaf ears. Throw in an extra couple of romantic entanglements and you end up with a enjoyable comedy.

The screenplay by  Eleanor Catton wonderfully captures the spirit of the book and remains faithful to the original material that was lacking in the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It might seem unfair to compare one with the other, but this version certainly captures the sharpness of Jane Austen’s wit and perspective on society at that time, while offering extra depth to the characters. For example, it feels as though there is a nice development of chemistry between Emma and Frank Churchill with moments that makes you believe they could end up together, while the ball scene is suitably romantic to highlight the developing feelings between Emma and Mr Knightly.

Yet, at the same time, Autumn de Wilde’s film while refreshing has a few quirky qualities about it – which sometimes work well, while other elements seem to send out a conflicting message. For example, the confusing quality of music that is a mixture of opera and folk really jars and can prove a bit of a distraction from the things on screen. However, the additional and more quirky elements of the comedy reflect the characters well – not least Mr Woodhouse’s constant worry about draughts and catching cold. It is also reflected well in the costumes by Alexandra Byrne which although look traditional, feel as though there is a lovely contemporary twist to them that works well for this adaptation.

The film features an excellent cast all of whom make the characters their own and are enjoyable to watch. As Emma herself, Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal is distinctive in the fact initially she is not a character you can like. Her mannerism and snottiness work well in conveying the character’s own awareness of her self-importance – but then gradually shows how she changes and develops, particularly with her friendships with Harriet and Mr Knightly helping her show the way. It takes some getting used to but it is a nicely developed portrayal.

Elsewhere, Johnny Flynn is a charming and suitable romantic hero, admiring Emma from a distance but trying to correct her faults close by. It is an understated performance that works well. There is also great support in the form of Bill Nighy’s anxious Mr Woodhouse, Miranda Hart’s suitably funny and endearing Miss Bates and Mia Goth’s wide-eyed and sweetly naive portrayal of Harriet Smith.

If there is something that the film lacks on occasion it is warmth and an emotional core. With the exception of the close up moments at the ball featuring Emma and Mr Knightly or the aftermath of the Box Hill party, it can feel just a tad too polite and careful.

However, this being said this is still an immensely enjoyable and refreshing take on a classic story that allows the audience to see the characters in a different light. A bold and playful film.

By Emma Clarendon

Emma is available to download now. It will be available to buy on DVD from the 22nd June.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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