Directed by: Autumn de Wilde
Written by: Eleanor Catton based on a story by Jane Austen
Featuring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves,
It is the Regency and Emma Woodhouse is a lady of leisure and wealth who seems to have a talent for matchmaking. She makes friends with Harriet Smith soon after her governess marries and leaves. Although Harriet is matched with a tenant farmer of Mr. Knightly, Emma’s neighbour and long-time friend, she cannot help but interfere and get Harriet to decline the proposal. This puts into motion a whole series of events that involves everyone Emma knows and is related to and not in the way Emma has initially supposed….
There are many versions of Emma out there in film and TV-land and the fans of Jane Austen are as voracious and opinionated and dare I say angry as any Star Wars or Marvel Comic fans, in fact they started all of this silliness long before these particular sub-groups.
A well-known and well-loved story is never going to transfer for the screen, big or small, as the prose was written and never as the reader sees it in their mind’s eye. You must get over this quickly or it probably would be wise never to watch an adaptation of your favourite literature. Time, costs, casting, screen/scriptwriting, the director are all going change things, alter the story and characters to suit their means and how they want the story told. Let us all be sensible folks; you must go into any adaptation with your eyes open.
Emma is compressed – the film is just over two hours long – but not to any detriment for my viewing. It starts with Emma seeing herself on her own after her governess leaves to become Miss Weston.
The look of film is bright and airy, with detail to costumes which to be honest I have no expert knowledge if they were accurate or not but they fitted the cinematography and the acting, they looked the part if that makes any sense. Brighter colours were used rather he more diaphanous white night gown look of other versions. Clearly the directing, the way we are shown is with a modern eye, but it always pays dues to the period and original story.
Mia Goth shines so very brightly as Harriet and is naive, innocent and lovely and brings a tear to your eye in the famous dance scene that no other Harriet has done before and Emma for once is shown as not a particularly nice Emma in this version, she earns her conversion to realisation. I particularly like the whole attitude that all the main cast showed to the ‘staff’ entirely accurate from my understand for that time. They were there to serve them hand and foot and nothing else. Credit de Wynter’s directing and Angus Imrie, Celia’s son, and Edward Davies as the main footman ‘servants’ skilfully ringing out all they can from non-speaking and non-main character roles.
Mr. Knightly, a character probably imagined more than Emma by original fans of the book, is well realised in this film. Barrel chested, broad-shouldered, hirsute, manly and rock-star-like I found his character perfect for a 21st century version of Emma. I wanted to be his friend. Mr. Elton was more a version of his namesake Ben Elton and like the other well-known characters in this tale he is somewhat side-lined for the focus of Emma, Harriet and Mr. Knightly but to my mind this is no bad thing. Miranda Hart as the ‘poor’ Miss Bates brings another tear to the eye in another well-known scene.
Emma herself is well-cast by the elfin-like Anya Taylor-Joy who brings a new look and new personality to Austen’s titular heroine. Her father, a very important character in her life, is played by the inimitable Bill Nighy who can do this role in his sleep, probably my only complaint is we could have seen a bit more of the great actor but somethings have to give.
All-in-all Emma is a very well-known story even for people who haven’t read the source or are specifically fans of Jane Austen so you have to be brave and confident to commit it film yet again and try to show or say something different. Even more surprising then the Autumn de Wilde (the greatest name) is a first time director, okay she is a successful photography and music video director but a feature film of a much loved work really is an entirely different kettle of fish. The vision, the confidence of what she wanted to show, cut-out, highlight and who she wanted to cast earn nothing but praise from me. Ably assisted in the screenplay by Eleanor Catton this Emma gets to the grist of the story, a love story of yearning tied up in restrictive strictures and values of the day. Nice work.
Emma is a great entertaining fun film. It holds up well and is better than a lot of adaptations. The acting is uniformly good and the main characters well-cast. The look is sumptuous and eye-catching without being too over-the-top and the feel is modern enough to capture younger audiences that may perhaps not, initially, be so interested.
You may have guessed – I quite liked it.