Emma. (2020)

Beautiful to look at, clever and funny – that’s Jane Austen’s heroine Emma and also Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of it – Emma. .

Pretty in Pink

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Emma. (note the period period in the title) is a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 final novel. A lovely, funny, pastel-coloured rom-com of manners that gently retains Austen’s timeless wit and satire, it’s a perfect Valentine’s Day movie.

Anya Taylor-Joy really is a joy as Emma, the beautiful, clever, privileged, snobbish and self-indulgent – yet endearing – nearly-20-year-old who fancies herself as a matchmaker for her friends. The opening image, as servants light her way in the garden with lanterns as misty dawn breaks so that she can hand-pick white roses for a bouquet sets the tone of her cosseted lifestyle.

In a plot with as many twists as Emma’s captivating blonde ringlets, the film is a merry-go-round of suitors and stately homes. Sceptical Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn), mocking Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), gullible, naive Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), love-struck farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), accomplished Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) and unctuous Rev Elton (Josh O’Connor) are matrimonial jigsaw pieces that Austen throws up in the air to see where they fall. So it’s satisfying to find that, as Emma finally learns self-knowledge, they all happily fit together in the right romantic way.

As well as excellent performances from an ensemble cast, a reliable comic backbone runs through the matchmaking shenanigans with Bill Nighy his usual self as Emma’s testily hypochondriac father and Miranda Hart as ridiculously garrulous, genteel spinster Miss Bates, who also manages to tug at our heartstrings when she’s the distraught victim of a tart quip. And the director has added a mysterious re-appearing crocodile of schoolgirls in red capes and white bonnets who cannot help now but remind us of Handmaids.

Previous film adaptations of Austen’s Emma have included Gwyneth Paltrow (1996) and Romola Garai on the BBC in 2009: 1995’s Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, catapulted the early 19th century into Beverly Hills in the 20th.

Another adaptation is not wholly necessary, but Autumn de Wilde’s unpretentious Emma. can be enjoyed as the most beautiful by far. De Wilde is a music video director and she has created a fluid film that moves pacily through shots framed like paintings of tastefully costumed people in high collared shirts and high-waisted dresses, bucolic landscapes and formal dances backed by the appropriately atmospheric classical music and folk songs. Though the bedrock of Austen’s story is the pitfalls of prosperity and indulgence (and, as in Little Women, the economic necessity of marriage), despite these serious undertones, Emma. has an indefinable contemporary feel that will surround you in a blissful blush-pink cloud. Enjoy!

Emma. is released on 14 February 2020 in the UK.

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