Starring Anya Taylor Joy, Mia Goth, Bill Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Callum Turner, Gemma Whelan
Aside from the gorgeous production design that looks like the inside of an Easter basket, do we really need another film version of Emma? The answer is no, and the longer you watch music video director Autumn de Wilde wallow in her directorial debut, it becomes more apparent. Wilde is either trying too hard or not hard enough, perhaps both, at different points in the film. The decadent look of the film comes from Kave Quinn who also worked on “Far From the Madding Crowd”. Despite keeping our eye balls entertained with pastel color pallets, some of the locations are also quite breathtaking. Less impressive is the lead performance by Anya Taylor Joy (“The Witch”, “Split”), wasted is the whimsy of Nighy and this rendition of Jane Austin’s work lacks all the creativity that made Joe Wright’s adaptation of her “Pride & Prejudice” award worthy.
At 21-years-of-age, Emma Woodhouse (Joy) leads a contented life with her father (Nighy). Filthy rich, not a care in the world, so the young beauty meddles in her friends affairs. Neighbor, friend and brother-like figure, George Knightley (Flynn) warns Emma of toying with other peoples feelings. The most exciting thing to happen in the Woodhouse residence occurs when Governess Mrs. Weston (Whelan) marries and leaves Emma to her own devices. Emma’s focus shifts to the less fortunate, and highly impressionable Harriet (Goth), a pawn in a matchmaking web of misunderstanding. More new faces in the town, including the infamous Frank Churchhill (Turner) mean more people for Emma to flirt with and manipulate. It’s all fun and games until hearts get broken and feelings get hurt, with Emma getting a taste of her own medicine.
Wasted is the whimsy of Nighy and this rendition of Jane Austin’s work lacks all the creativity that made Joe Wright’s adaptation of her “Pride & Prejudice” award worthy.
The energy seen in the trailer for “Emma” isn’t quite what you see on screen. Quick edits, witty dialogue, and sarcasm are spread so thin, you come to understand the marketing is playing off the embrace of “The Favourite” style of filmmaking, which “Emma” is certainly not. “Little Women” also works against “Emma”, Louisa May Alcott’s story as adapted by Greta Gerwig focuses on a character who struggles with important and meaningful situations. Juxtaposition with Austin’s “Emma”, it just comes off as trite. Spurts of whimsical behavior from Nighy land the most laughs, but his character is relegated more to a comedic ornament than something pivotal to the plot. If you saw Josh O'Connor’s breakout performance in “God’s Own Country”, his role here display’s his range. While Johnny Flynn (“Beast”) is easily the highlight of this remake from the moment he steps on screen.
Screenwriter Eleanor Catton doesn’t manage to find that delicate balance between honoring the original text of the story while simultaneously modernizing it for today’s audience. That perfect harmony is something Emma Thompson (co-writer on “Pride & Prejudice”, and Oscar winner for “Sense & Sensibility”) seems to have a knack for. Catton’s interpretation is more often dull, combined with the novice filmmaking skills of Wilde, make “Emma” the type of period piece slog general audiences stay away from. Which is a shame since award winning films like “Little Women” and “The Favourite” have made such strides in the genre.
Emma tries to get by on just it’s looks (production design), but looks aren’t everything.