At this point, one should know what to expect from an adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Emma. There will be numerous comedic misunderstandings, most of which stem from the titular protagonist, that will both hinder love and ultimately ignite it. The real question one must ask themselves when taking in Autumn de Wilde’s debut film Emma. is, does it bring anything new to the already overflowing table? The answer might surprise you.
Unlike Douglas McGrath’s charming 1996 version, which solidified Gwyneth Paltrow as a leading lady, and Amy Heckling’s 1995 film Clueless, which brilliantly updated the tale for modern audiences, it is the visuals that are true stars of the show here. Dripping in vibrant colours, everything from the lush art direction to elegant costume design pops off the screen. One can practically feel the fabrics of the coats and the texture of the gold-plated frames that house portraits in enormous sitting rooms.
One gets so swept up in the world around Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) that it is easy to lose sight of the protagonist herself. Young, rich, and handsome Emma indulges in the worry-free life that her privilege affords her. After her governess marries, Emma seeks a new companion in Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) and decides to employ her self-proclaimed matchmaking skills to find Harriet a suitable husband. Initially setting up her friend of common standing with the eligible local vicar, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), Emma encourages Harriet to reject his marriage proposal in favour of an even more financially desirable suitor.
Knowing that marrying Mr. Elton would have greatly elevated Harriet’s social standing, Mr. Knightly (Johnny Flynn), the Woodhouse’s handsome and single neighbour, cannot help but question Emma’s motives. Continuing to meddle in the lives of others, Emma sets her own romantic sights on the dashing Frank Churchill, who is about to inherit a small fortune. However, the arrival of Miss Bates’ (Miranda Hart) niece Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) throws an unexpected wrench in Emma’s plans.
Staying close to the source material, almost too close for its own good, de Wilde’s film will no doubt delight hardcore Austen fans. While not as memorable as its predecessors, there is plenty to enjoy here. Anya Taylor-Joy brings an icy flare to Emma, but still manages to remain likable in the end. Unfortunately, Taylor-Joy’s strong work is frequently overshadowed by scene-stealers Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart. Nighy is hilarious as Emma’s father who always claims to feel a draft in the house as a ploy to get out of awkward conversations. Hart is equally amusing as Miss Bates, but also brings a surprising amount of heart to this tale.
The Blu-ray comes with a handful of bonus features that brings you deeper into the world of Emma. The most intriguing one is “Crafting a Colorful World” which dives into the visual aesthetics of the film. Everything from the scene locations to the colour palettes used is explored. A nice companion piece to that feature is “The Autumn Gaze” which explores Autumn de Wilde’s directorial vision for the film.
Emma. may not be among the best adaptations of the timeless novel, but it will satisfy those looking to step inside Austen’s charming world for a few hours.
Bonus Features: Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel; A Plaful Tease; Crafting a Colorful World; The Autumn Gaze; Feature Commentary with Director Autumn de Wilde, Screenwriter Eleanor Catton, and Director of Photography Christopher Blauvelt.