Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connell, Tanya Reynolds, Rupert Graves, Callum Turner, Gemma Whelan, .
This is the umpteenth film version of Jane Austen’s classic 1815 novel and satire about class, gender politics, social etiquette and mores in Georgian England. Austen’s novel was given a more contemporary treatment with Amy Heckerling’s 1995 romantic comedy Clueless, with Alicia Silverstone in the Emma persona as vapid rich girl Cher, and which cleverly transplanted the themes to an American high school.
Emma Woodhouse (played her by Anya Taylor-Joy, from Split and Glass, etc) is a virginal, snobbish and manipulative 21-year old who meddles in the romantic lives of those around her in the picturesque village of Highbury. She takes under her wing the naive Harriet (Mia Goth) and tries to guide her romantic life. She tries to pair Harriet up with the local vicar Mr Elton (Josh O’Connell). She has had little to distress or vex her, but Emma finds herself a little nonplussed when romantically pursued by a couple of gentlemen, including the handsome George Knightley (musician and actor Johnny Flynn), with whom she exchanges caustic barbs.
The script has been written by Booker Prize winning novelist Eleanor Catton, and remains reasonably faithful to the source material and will probably resonate strongly for those familiar with the novel. But as with Greta Gerwig’s recent take on the classic Little Women, this version of Emma has something of a contemporary flavour, with some snark and richly arch dialogue making it relevant for today’s audiences. There is much more of a comedic element to this take on Emma. However, there are a few flat spots in the film.
First time feature film director Autumn de Wilde hails from a background in photography and is best known for her work on music videos and commercials. She gives the film a stunning visual quality, thanks to some beautiful cinematography from Christopher Blauvelt (The Bling Ring, etc), who uses natural lighting to good effect. The film boasts some stunning production design from Kave Quinn and wonderful costumes from Alexandra Byrne that bring the period beautifully to life. The soundtrack of chamber music from composers Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer makes a perfect accompaniment for the action.
In the 1995 adaptation Gwyneth Paltrow gave her a more sympathetic quality than does Anya Taylor-Joy here who gives the character something of a prickly edge. Bill Nighy is his usual phlegmatic self as Emma’s cantankerous hypochondriac but doting father, and his droll delivery of his lines is wonderful. Miranda Hart is memorable as the impoverished Miss Bates, who is the target of some of Emma’s unthinking barbs.
I liked this new take on Austen’s classic romance, but I didn’t love it!
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