If you want to escape for a couple of hours into British aristocracy, then Emma allows you to do just that. Considering the influence of all six of Jane Austen’s novels, this story, written in 1815, has had universal appeal through the decades. Many remember the more modern-day version in the 1995 “Clueless” movie and other adaptations on both television and film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale. This version has no recognizable stars, but the entire cast does an admirable job pulling off this period piece full of stunning costumes, complete with bonnets and stuffy collars put on masters by their servants.
Emma Woodhouse, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, lives in the quaint village of Highbury, complete with a haberdashery. Living a life of privilege with her funny, doddering father, played by Bill Nighy, in the austere, statue-filled Hartfield House, Emma is predictably bored. She fancies herself a matchmaker and occupies her time helping others find their soulmates, while she herself has decided never to marry. With one successful union under her belt, her second attempt is with schoolgirl Harriett Smith, played convincingly by Mia Goth. Smith is an orphan and as the story unfolds, she hangs on Emma’s every word and follows her everywhere. It is delightful to see the spoiled Emma challenged when rival Jane Fairfax, played by Amber Anderson, shows up.
Emma has much to learn about love as she meddles in the lives of others. Austen famously once remarked that Emma was “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,” but even though she is snobby and cruel at times, she has a likable spirit. When everyone else’s romance is finally sorted out, after learning of a secret engagement and re-enticing Smith’s suitor, Emma can finally see her own secret crush and act on it with the beguiling, down-to-earth neighbor George Knightly, played by Johnny Taylor, who walks everywhere rather than taking his fancy carriage. The living room scene where her humorous father calls for the servants to strategically place screens around the room for warmth and privacy is particularly amusing.
It’s fun to immerse in this very proper world where manners are everything and everyone is called Mister, Miss, or Missus. Austen’s stories have a distinctive literary style which shines through in this critical and humorous glimpse into a year in the life of Emma. The costumes are impressive, and my friend Carolyn thinks they deserve to be nominated for an academy award. The dry wit humor keeps you smiling throughout; and the bullet pudding scene, where the girls place a coin on top of a mound of flour and then slice it until the last girl has to put her face in it, is especially appealing. You won’t be disappointed with the gorgeous cinematography, as it showcases ethereal fields and magnificent mansions, and don’t forget about those incredibly detailed period costumes.
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Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Written by: Eleanor Catton
Actors: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Conner
Running Time: 124 minutes