Jane Austen has a vast catalogue of literature that is ripe for retelling in various medium, and one that we seem to keep gravitating towards is Emma (first published in 1815), her final novel to be published during her life. Back in the ‘90s, Hollywood seemed determined to throw the story of Emma at us with the films Clueless (1995), a loosely based adaptation starring Alicia Silverstone; Emma (1996), starring Gwyneth Paltrow; and a made-for-television movie Emma (1996), starring Kate Beckinsale. After the long drought from the Emma storyline, Autumn de Wilde has delivered a faithful adaptation that is sure to politely tickle your funny bone.
The opening line of both the book and the movie tell it all: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Our story follows Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), a delightfully annoying daughter of an estate owner (Bill Nighy) in Georgian-Regency England who enjoys nothing more than manipulating the love affairs of everyone around her but finds herself above such menial things. Through her meddling in the love life of her dimwitted friend Harriet Smith (played by Mia Goth), Emma finds herself in the midst of the ramifications of her selfish exploits.
Anya Taylor-Joy delivers an incredible performance of the title character. Jane Austen is often quoted as saying that when she sought out to write Emma, she was creating a character that only she would quite like, and Anya Taylor-Joy does not shy away from making her that way. What she and director Autumn de Wilde pull off is a welcomed dichotomy between Emma’s unlikability and your sympathy towards both Emma and those she is meddling with. Other notable performances include Johnny Flynn as George Knightley, Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse, and Miranda Hart as Miss Bates—all the performers in this film did a terrific job, but these in particular really shine through.
Do not be surprised when this film wins Oscars for Best Hair and Make Up and for Best Costume Design. The set production of this film is incredible. All of the sceneries and sets used are bright and colorful which brings an added layer of whimsy to Austen’s already whimsical tale. As previously stated all of the costumes and make up are absolutely stellar as they find a well-balanced mix of the “Downton Abbey” abbey look with colorful outrageousness.
Through and through, Emma is a terrific rendition of a classic tale. Be warned, if you aren’t used to hearing 1815 speech, the film is going to be a little jarring at the beginning as they go full Jane Austenian with the dialogue. If you are looking for a well-mannered trip to the movies that will leave you feeling good and like a member of high society, this is the movie for you.
Emma is rated PG for brief partial nudity.