Story: Emma Woodhouse lives a perfect life. She’s rich (well, her dad is), beautiful (just ask anyone), and has an incredible talent for matchmaking (just ask her). But being so perfect can be a curse; her reckless attitude toward friends and acquaintances of lower station can put them in serious social (and fiscal) danger. Will she ever learn to just let things be? Probably not, but one can hope.
Genre I’d put it in: Incredible Adaptations Of Classic Novels
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the classic novel by Jane Austen. Who didn’t put the heroine’s name in all caps, just so you know.
Gotta say: I think of Emma Woodhouse as I do Mary Poppins; practically perfect in every way. But while Mary is in fact PPiEW, Emma simply believes that she is. Cue shenanigans! Austen herself said Emma is “…a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” And I didn’t much like her the first time I read the novel. I wasn’t all-in with her counterpart Cher Horowitz in Clueless either, no matter how perfectly Alicia Silverstone captured the essence of the heroine. This was one leading lady that seemed a bit too full of herself for my taste. But in this adaptation, director Autumn de Wilde and writer Eleanor Catton manage to find the humanity in Emma’s pigheaded belief in herself, lending the character a passion that’s infectious, and ultimately a pathos that warmed even my cold heart.
Praise goes to the incredibly talented Anya Taylor-Joy as well. I’ve loved this performer since her excellent work in the mediocre Morgan, and of course her standout turn in The Witch. In EMMA., she brings a sly sauciness to her character that makes viewers understand why so many characters flocked to such a self-important young girl. In fact, the entire film brings this Georgian tale into the modern world, much the same way that Kenneth Branagh made Shakespeare easily understood – and enjoyable – to the masses in the 80s and 90s. de Wilde, Catton, and a game cast sink their teeth into the tale, turning it into a delightful romp that’s part comedy of manners, part comedy of errors. And it’s pure enjoyment.
The cast is just as delightful. There’s Mia Goth as Emma’s put-upon BFF Harriet, a wide-eyed ingenue who’s more than willing to go along with anything Emma requires, even forgoing true love. Skeevy Mr. Elton, played with a deliciously creepy simper by The Crown‘s Josh O’Connor. Bill Nighy, always a welcome sight onscreen, whose Mr. Woodhouse plays his hypochondria as a humorous quirk (and who has The Best Costuming Ever, and that’s saying a lot among all the luscious fabrics here, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) And of course Call The Midwife‘s Miranda Hart is wonderful as the talkative Miss Bates, whose heart of gold is easily wounded, and even more easily repaired.
Then there’s Emma’s sparring partner George Knightley, played with subtle flair by Johnny Flynn. Oh my, but the chemistry between these two characters is absolutely electric. Let’s just say that it’s the hottest Regency dancing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m an absolute whore for Austen adaptations. Speaking of the way things look, art design junkies will find much to love here; the exacting hair styles (ZOMG Emma’s delicate curls), the gorgeously opulent fabrics used for the upper-class men’s waistcoats, the drool-inducing teacakes, and the gardens so perfectly green they give Parasite‘s magnificent backyard a run for its money. I love the small touches of period authenticity, like the use of red coral in Emma’s jewelry (a popular item in the Georgian-era) to the lush riviere necklaces with linked gemstones. What? I’m a jewelry design nerd too. I have layers.
If you’re an Austen junkie, you’ve probably already bought your tickets. Good. Enjoy. If you’re waffling because you’re not sure if this is “your thing”? Go. Absorb the beauty, focus on the story – as with most classic tales, there’s a lot of folks doing a lot of things, so you’ll need to be on your game – and watch the performers beautifully inhabit their characters. Have fun, and maybe sneak in a few teacakes. You’ll want some.
#Protip: Learning Georgian etiquette ain’t easy. Take it from the stars of EMMA.