“Urgh, as if?!” – wait, sorry, our bad, wrong adaptation. We hear the name Emma and immediately our minds transport back to the chic, shiny hills of Beverly. Of course we are referring to Amy Heckerling‘s superb Clueless, the loosest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much-revered novel, but despite its location and story changes, it still ranks as the best. But like all classic literature, there’s room for countless interpretations and the latest has more in common with the 1995 version that you may think.
Returning to its roots in the 1800’s, Autumn De Wilde‘s flamboyant, sun-drenched vision feels both of its time and utterly timely, floating it’s way through the classic wardrobes and setting of the period while it’s 21st century vibes pierce through its screenplay with subtle nods to new obsessions with popularity and playing Cupid.
From its opening moments as Emma. – the period only accentuating the nuances of modern-day Twitter handles, all that’s missing is some stars or emoji’s alongside it – moves like a ballet, slow but purposeful, but tickles the funny bone almost immediately and never lets up, for better or worse. De Wilde has made her name from music videos for Beck and The Raconteurs (to name a few) and its shows: every shot is purposeful and never wasted, brimming with life and energy that brings a smart and thoughtful verve.
Curiously though, whilst its never dull, the film never really gets out of third gear and feels a tad flabby with the romantic elements of the story never hitting the notes it should and while there’s much that works with its new “outer shell”, there’s never the follow through nor indeed the surprises you might expect.
The wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy is the newest incumbent of the title role and she blossoms: strangely, some quarters were surprised by her casting but anyone who has seen her in Corey Finlay’s fantastic Thoroughbreds will now this is the talk of fools. Bristling with intrigue and quick wit, Joy excels throughout and whilst the romantic strand of her story doesn’t feel quite right, she shines as brightly and warmly as her wardrobe.
Ably supporting her with equally excellent turns are Bill Nighy (when is he not?) and his obsessions with draughts whilst Miranda Hart‘s dry humour works beautifully. It’s Josh O’Connor, though, who steals the show as Mr. Elton in what will be one of the year’s standout comic performances. Johnny Flynn, meanwhile, fresh from his standout turn in Beast is solid enough but his chemistry with Joy never truly sparks into life despite their best efforts, leaving the film feeling empty and us as an audience unsatisfied.
While it might be a bit of a mixed bag, Emma. is still worth seeking out on the big screen as it looks phenomenal and its winning cast, led by the terrific Joy, are utterly splendid. Just don’t expect anything truly revelatory with this adaptation.
Drama, Comedy | UK, 2020 | PG | 14th February 2020 (UK) | Universal Pictures |Dir.Autumn de Wilde | Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Miranda Hart