At 21 years old, Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) has little interest in getting married. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t a busybody who thrills in acting as matchmaker for others. Her latest project is Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), whom she sets up with Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor) against the advice of her good friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn). Meanwhile, Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) is back in town, and Emma believes she has finally met a handsome and rich enough man to make her a good match.
This iteration of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ is by no means the first. Many will know 90s rom com ‘Clueless’ as a modern adaptation of the novel. Moreover the Gwyneth Paltrow movie and more recent BBC series starring Romola Garai have also proved popular. In director Autumn de Wilde’s approach, the feature stays loyal to its roots and yet is geared at a contemporary audience. As with the recent Kate Beckinsale starrer ‘Love & Friendship’, it is tonally more tongue-in-cheek than you might expect of Austen. Then again, avid readers will be well aware that the author always infused her works with a subtle sense of humour.
There is an irresistible sense of mischief and cheekiness running through ‘Emma’, from the dialogue to the music to the very nature of the titular character. In fact, cheekiness seems the most apt descriptor for the movie given that within 20 minutes of the movie, you’ll have seen not one but two bare bottoms (a woman and a man’s, thank you feminism). The lovely backdrops and decorated interiors, as well as costume and hair design, make for a bright, lively movie at a time when all outside is so damp and cold. It hits cinemas at the perfect time of year, whether you’re celebrating Galentine’s or Valentine’s this weekend.
Playing the titular heroine, Anya Taylor-Joy continues to rise as a star, and effectively captures the vanity, snobbery and scheming ways of her character. Still, she imbues Emma with sensitivity and charm, which are essential to the audience liking her, given Emma can act deplorably. Less recognisable to audiences will be Johnny Flynn, who is well cast as Mr. Knightley – the only man who can match Emma’s wit and keep her down to earth when she gets too big for her boots. But truly the greatest joy is found in the support characters around them. Miranda Hart is hilarious as Mrs. Weston, a gossip who can’t stop going off on tangents. Bill Nighy’s subtle facial expressions work well, as do his character’s son-in-law’s, responding to the nonsense of women they’re surrounded by. ‘The Crown’s Prince Charles, Josh O’Connor, proves to have a knack for comedy while ‘Sex Education’ star Tanya Reynolds is also very funny, blending well among the British comedic alumni.
‘Emma’ 2020 is full of wit, humour and zest, loaded with characters you can’t wait to revisit as they’re not only amusing, but human, the roots of which we really get to as the film progresses. It’s a romantic movie too, but its strength lies in those many small, laugh-out-loud moments. Jane Austen would be beaming.