Emma.: An In-depth Review

Year: 2020
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Writer: Eleanor Catton (screenplay by), Jane Austen (based on the novel by)
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth

By Tom Moore

The second I saw the trailer for director Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved comedy “Emma.”, I just knew that it was something special. Even as someone who wasn’t familiar with the book in the slightest, there was just something so visually appealing and intriguing and it looked to kick off an incredible year for Anya Taylor-Joy. Now, that the film has finally hit theatres, it has met and exceeded my expectations and bolsters some of the strongest performances we’ll likely see this year – especially from Taylor-Joy.

The film catches viewers up with Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) – a handsome, clever, and rich woman whose found little to vex or distress her as she becomes a matchmaker for people in the village of Highbury, England. After attending a wedding for a couple that she accredits herself for setting up, she becomes determined to help Harriet (Mia Goth), a beautiful but unsophisticated girl who loves a friendly but poor younger farmer named Robert Martin (Connor Swindells).

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Emma doesn’t approve of Harriet marrying Robert, though, as she enjoys Harriet’s company and he is not a distinguished gentleman. So even with the constant judging of her dear friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), Emma attempts to maintain her friendship with Harriet, while also trying to achieve her wish to be married and navigate her own feelings of love.

[it] has met and exceeded my expectations and bolsters some of the strongest performances we’ll likely see this year – especially from Taylor-Joy.

Taylor-Joy is an absolute delight as she commands every second of your attention as she embodies the selfish nature and quick wit of Austen’s titular character and has a devilish charm that impossible to resist. Emma is almost like an omnipotent being in Highbury as Harriet’s classmates treat her arrival like the Queen is coming and everyone seems to know her name and care about her opinion – especially Miss Bates (Miranda Hart).

Even when her ulterior motives are clear in delaying her finding a match for Harriet and disapproving of her love for Mr Martin because of financial status, there’s something incredibly intriguing about her that constantly draws viewers in. Her arc in discovering her own narcissistic faults and her own love is actually one of the most endearing things about her and Taylor-Joy slowly creeps her way into viewers with her realizations and depictions of Emma’s faults. It’s certainly one of Taylor-Joy’s best performances and kicks off a strong year for her.

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Taylor-Joy is an absolute delight as she commands every second of your attention as she embodies the selfish nature and quick wit of Austen’s titular character.

The supporting cast is just as excellent and have great chemistry that brings out the more comedic elements of Austen’s story. Every time Hart’s voice can be heard calling for Emma it’s hard not to find yourself chuckling at Emma’s vexed reaction and there’s a strong emotional scene with her later that shows her genuine loyalty to Emma – even when she doesn’t have to be. Goth is absolutely delightful as Harriet and the way she brings out her genuine desires for love is incredibly sweet. Her friendship with Emma is very easy to connect to as she has this sense of trust that ultimately results in some conflict when Emma’s ulterior plans are exposed.

The two big MVPs for me, outside of Taylor-Joy, have to be Flynn and Bill Nighy as Emma’s father. Flynn adds a genuine love and humbleness to the film that’s totally infectious and he’s appropriately a strong, trustworthy person.

I will say that Emma’s adoration of her friendship with Harriet feels a little out of character, granted that she has such a determined mentality, and her not realizing that Harriet eventually gains a crush on Mr. Knightly seemed strange because it’s both incredibly obvious and an oddly oblivious moment for Emma. Regardless, their friendship is incredibly strong, and it ends on a truly heartwarming note.

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The two big MVPs for me, outside of Taylor-Joy, have to be Flynn and Bill Nighy as Emma’s father. Flynn adds a genuine love and humbleness to the film that’s totally infectious and he’s appropriately a strong, trustworthy person that doesn’t want to feed into Emma’s ego all the time and tell her when she’s wrong. With the way he openly desires to walk everywhere, talks to everyone equally, expresses his feelings, and even help Harriet when she’s at her lowest, he’s not only a true gentleman but a genuinely good person that viewers can always find solace in. He’s certainly more likeable than Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), a man whose charm is outweighed by his inflated ego, and Mr Elton (Josh O’Conner), an eccentric vicar who seemingly shows feelings for Harriet, even if Turner and O’Conner also give great performances.

While “Emma.” has certainly seen plenty of adaptations, including Douglas McGrath’s 1995 adaptation and Amy Heckerling’s timeless classic “Clueless”, de Wilde’s adaptation breathes new life into the classic Austen comedy.

The scene of Mr Elton presenting the framed portrait of Harriet that Emma drew is priceless and one of the funniest parts of the whole film. Nighy is also just as likeable as Flynn as he shows genuine care for Emma throughout. Not to mention, Mr Woodhouse’s paranoia about drafts coming through their rooms is hilarious every time and presents some great imagery. It’s also utilized well in the film’s final moments to create a great scene between Mr Woodhouse and Mr Knightley that viewers will never forget.

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What’s also unforgettable is the delectable scenery and costume design that really makes the characters come alive. Whether we’re in the luscious mansion that Emma and her father live in or the local haberdashery, the setting becomes a strong part into what viewers are seeing on-screen and constantly immerses viewers into Emma’s world. It all looks incredible and the costume design plays a dual role in not only showing off the personalities of characters but also showcasing their financial standing and class. Not to mention, with the story being divided between the four seasons, the colour palette and style of all the scenery and costumes are always changing and it’s incredibly refreshing to the eyes.

While “Emma. has certainly seen plenty of adaptations, including Douglas McGrath’s 1995 adaptation and Amy Heckerling’s timeless classic “Clueless”, de Wilde’s adaptation breathes new life into the classic Austen comedy. Not only does Taylor-Joy kick off a tremendous year for her with a handsomely clever performance, but de Wilde creates one of the strongest films of this so far and it’s certainly my current favourite.

4.5 stars

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