Jacob Richardson | 13/02/2019
Emma is a funny, engaging and entertaining Austen adaptation.
Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a young wealthy woman in 1800s England. She busies herself with meddling in the love lives of the surrounding population, matchmaking as much as she can - much to the chagrin of George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), Emma’s long suffering friend who sits with her draft-obsessed father Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) of an evening, and disapproves of Emma’s meddling. For her own love life, Emma is obsessed with the extremely viable romantic prospect of Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), who is expected any day in town, and who Emma plans to make a match for herself with when he does arrive.
The most impressive part of this Austen adaptation, directed by Autumn de Wilde, is undoubtedly the lead performance from Anya Taylor-Joy. Taylor-Joy is irrepressible as Emma; funny, engaging, contrite when required, verbose and furious when needed. Throughout it all she conveys so much with her eyes, a flick of her lashes, or her perfect poise (undoubtedly aided by de Wilde’s assured direction). It is a performance worthy of a lead, and absolutely expected from an actress of such supreme talent, coming off such an impressive spate of performances.
She is aided ably by her assorted cast mates. Turner and Flynn both turn in engaging performances, and bring the dichotomy of their personality differences to full light, but subtly enough to be realistic. Bill Nighy is absolutely and remarkably hilarious, his obsession with even the slightest chill in the air ably accentuated by his remarkably fastidious clothing choices.
Emma is also impeccably designed. The set design, transitioning between balls held in halls, to manor houses and carriages, brings both a sense of the period and a joyously pastel palette. The costuming is also exquisite, with humor even being brought from the production that goes into dressing.
Yet, despite the indubitable performances and the beautiful costuming, Emma never seems to rise above its place as a well written, well acted and charmingly funny period piece. There’s little in the way of ‘new’ brought to this adaptation, and for some, that may leave you wanting. That doesn’t make this a bad film by any stretch; in fact, it is a very good one. One does wish, however, that that matchmaking spirit Emma herself shows in the film would have transcended the restrictive pages of the script and made its way into the heads of the creative team, and had resulted in a merry match of the source literary work and a more modern, important message.
Emma is an effective and upbeat adaptation of Austen’s comedy, but does little in the way of exploration with the subject matter, instead relying on the strength of performance and design to create an enjoyable piece of cinema.