So, full disclosure here: I’m a Janeite. While Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels, Emma is a very close second. I’ve seen most of the adaptations of Emma and have read the book multiple times. That’s a bit of a blessing and a curse when it comes to checking out a new version. I get super excited about seeing it, but I’m also a little too familiar with the source material, and a little too familiar with the various ways Emma has been portrayed over the years to give it a totally fair shake.
In Emma. (yes, there is a period at the end of the title for reasons unknown), Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a popular and privileged busybody. Her managing ways feature most prominently in her habit of matchmaking everyone around her. George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) is the longtime friend who never hesitates when it comes to calling her out on her more overbearing actions.
Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) is the latest recipient of Emma’s romantic machinations. When she decides that Harriet’s suitor Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) just won’t do, Emma manipulates Harriet’s affections in the direction of Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), the local vicar. While Emma has no romantic inclinations of her own, the arrival of Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) presents her with a possible suitor.
If you’re a fan of films with a Regency setting, Emma. delivers. The costumes and sets were absolute eye candy throughout. The secret to getting any version of Emma right, however, is getting the audience to root for a character that can be unlikeable. Emma. does well enough in that regard. Director Autumn de Wilde created a film with a cartoonish tone that takes a bit to settle into, but one that eventually falls into place. This Emma does manage to get you on her side.
The cast also delivers mostly solid performances, with a few standouts. Bill Nighy plays Emma’s father in what might be my favorite Mr. Woodhouse performance to date. He’s not the only one. Miranda Hart gives new life to Miss Bates, Emma’s impoverished and talkative neighbor. While I don’t want to criticize the overall performances of either Taylor-Joy or Turner, there was a decided lack of chemistry between Emma and Frank on screen.
The biggest failure when it comes to Emma., however, is its failure to deliver anything new to the story. It’s unlikely that fans of the novel or previous version will list this amongst their favorite of the adaptations. That doesn’t mean it’s not a somewhat fun and totally watchable movie. It’s just not the best. We can all agree that would be Clueless, right?
You can catch Emma. in theaters on February 21, 2020 (limited) and March 6, 2020 (wide).
Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is reimagined in this delicious new film adaptation of EMMA. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.