The celebrated Jane Austen novel “Emma” is now on the big screen. From first-time director Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor-Joy of “The Witch” and “Split,” now, “Emma.” puts its own unique spin on the period film genre.
Taking the plot of the novel, Emma is a bright yet spoiled woman of 21 who holds high esteem by most in her town not far from London. But when she takes on new friend Harriet and toys with her affections in a demented game of matchmaking, Emma soon finds that playing around with love can get dangerous very quickly!
Jane Austen’s better-known works include “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice,” while “Emma” is a work that hasn’t seen as many adaptations. So this film will come across as much more fresh and original than a typical Jane Austen adaptation.
The director is Autumn de Wilde, who until now was a commercial photographer. Her eye for composition and color is on full display, as the visuals of the movie feature exaggerated pastels and excessive symmetry. This is a beautiful movie just to look at, as the set design and costumes pop with color and style. The film was shot on location for the exteriors at Firle Place in Sussex, and perfectly fits the extravagant style of the period.
The plot is a comedic look at romance, as Emma begins the film with no intention of ever being married. As a substitute, she attempts to set up her new hapless friend Harriet, played with perfect innocence by Mia Goth. Emma manipulates her way around the various romantic entanglements in town, with little regard for the emotional toll it takes on the people around her.
Her sister’s brother in law, Mr. Knightley, is the only character who reacts negatively to Emma’s actions. His actor is Johnny Flynn, a musician who has made the transition into acting and pulls off his role with rugged handsomeness.
But it’s a cast that on the whole is fantastic. Josh O’Connor is the hilariously hammy as the pompous vicar Mr. Elton. Bill Nighy pops up as the hilarious father of Emma, making witty comments and pulling hilarious reaction faces. Miranda Hart is also gut-busting as the enthusiastic yet dull town gossiper Miss Bates, and there’s a heartbreaking story beat involving her that most viewers will not anticipate.
Jane Austen “Emma.” had a limited release around Valentine’s Day, which is appropriate as it’s the perfect date movie. But now, it’s getting a wide release this weekend.