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EMMA gets 8/10 Highbury times


Directed by Autumn de Wilde

Starring Ana Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Johnny Flynn

8/10

Jane Austen’s 1815 comedy, Emma, has been adapted into three feature films, four TV miniseries, and countless stage adaptations, and even a YoutTube series. Rock photographer and music video director Autumn De Wilde has a crack at Emma, who was last portrayed on cinema screens in 1995 by Gwyneth Paltrow in Douglas McGrath’s adaptation (and in the same year by Alicia Silverstone in the loose adaptation Clueless). What is achieved besides some incredible Barry Lyndon style interior lighting, grandiose sets and photography is a film which understands the book’s universal and time-defying themes, and gives them the contemporary accessibility of Clueless, whilst staying true to the time and setting.

As with the book, the story deals with romance, class, gender, and coming of age in a way so charming, it still seems fresh 205 years later. It remains to be seen if this particular adaptation will stand out as a definitive take, but there’s enough energy and fun to know that it will surely make an impact on newcomers to the material at least.

Portraying the title character of Emma this time around is Ana Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Glass), who brings the charisma and striking beauty the character deserves to set her apart from the Highbury locals. The good people of Highbury have really been given a lot of care here in the casting. Wisely, among the stars there are some great up-and-coming actors here, who have yet to become big names, and they seem to step right out of the book as the characters they inhabit. Bill Nighy is the perfect Mr. Woodhouse, Johnny Flynn provides a sensible and grounded Mr. Knightly, Mia Goth is a wonderfully unsophisticated and sweet Harriet.

Personal favourites are the hilarious Miranda Hart as Miss Bates, the bored spinster, garrulous and yet annoyingly endearing, and Josh O’Connor takes a bit of a deviation as weak-minded chump Vicar Mr. Elton, whose abrasive new wife Augusta stirs the pot before the audience can get bored with the established dynamic. And let’s face it, there are times when all of the period staples (horses, carriages, ornate paintings, fluffy dresses and formal dialogue) can threaten a heavy eyelid, but Emma quickly snaps you back to attention with an amusing scenario before you find yourself praying for a car-chase to somehow happen.

Isobel Waller-Bridge (who composed the score for her sister Phoebe’s Fleabag) is in charge of the music, and the most striking parts are the charming choir which seems to be singing country gospel songs. It’s appropriate for the film, and yet I can’t recall anything in the stuffy collection of period films of this type ever poaching this style. It gives the film enough quirk, that it skirts the boundaries of being Wes Anderson-y from time to time – which isn’t a bad thing. The trailer with its snappy editing promised a quicker-paced iteration of Emma, which could suggest more Wes Anderson in its DNA, but ultimately the director De Wilde’s own voice shines through, which is very much worth regarding.

JOHN HOLDCROFT

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