Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Bill Nighy
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…a wondrous retelling of a timeless literary masterpiece…
There is no shortage of public scowling directed towards female-centric entertainment – just ask any fans of the Kardashians or the Twilight saga.
Regardless of your stance on these properties, the harsh maligning they endure online for their perceived lack of depth, passionate fandom and sense of vapidness, exists outside the quality of the content.
Undeniably, the online world loves to belittle properties embraced by women.
Not without their scrutiny, adaptations of literary properties – a la Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-winning Little Women – have fared much better in the public domain. Their serious and political demeanours grant them a sense of prestige that popular entertainment is seemingly not entitled to.
Where the double standards lie, so too exists an opportunity to silence the judges, with another adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved comedic novel Emma, succeeding as both a pointed statement on sexism and a seriously enjoyable rom-com.
Told in vivid colour and packed to the brim with charismatic performances, director Autumn de Wilde succeeds in elevating the well-told misadventures of self-entitled matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (a career-best Anya Taylor-Joy).
Born into an immensely wealthy family, a rare privilege that rendered women of early nineteenth-century England immune to the pressures of co-dependency aka marriage, ‘handsome, clever and rich’ twenty-one-year-old Emma dreams of a life lived independently… or so she tells herself.
Emma’s defiant rejection of love is called into question when lifelong friend, and perhaps the only gentlemen in Highbury, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) comes into the picture. Their dialogue, exchanged as a series of electric ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ barbs which question one another’s morality, adds to the film a charming mood that captures the tantalising excitement of budding romance.
The love Emma denies herself, she relishes in forcing upon others, with the wannabe cupid taking on the mantle as a matchmaker for high-society’s most eligible. Despite initial success, Emma’s failure to partner the highly impressionable Harriet Smith (portrayed impeccably by a scene-stealing and gummy smiling Mia Goth) jettisons Emma’s inflated ego back down to earth. The result calls into question her pragmatic stances on love and culture.
To ramp up the dramatics further, the arrival of the uber-talented Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) and potential suitor/dream-boat Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) toss Emma’s mindset further into the midst of a dizzying tailspin.
Beyond being a series of baffling romantic triangles and awkward escapades, Emma is testament to Austen’s engrossing knack for storytelling – a rebellious piece of literature that has been challenging notions of gender-inequality and classism for over two-hundred years. Emma’s maturity throughout the film is owed to her healthy dissatisfaction with societal conventions, with the titular heroine realising throughout the film that despite it being good to have money, money does not make you good.
De Wilde is deft in her ability to convey the inequitable disorder of the time, and does so to great effect through applying humour to communicate the preposterousness of high-society (Bill Nighy’s hypochondriac father figure is comedic dynamite) and to humanise characters via their awkward romantic encounters. de Wilde, along with composers Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer, manages to synchronise this vibe into an accompanying score that proves as sweeping as the romance itself.
As grand as the romance in Emma, de Wilde dazzles just as impressively in the production department, delivering a spectacular barrage of set-pieces – a vision in peach and turquoise – that feel lifted out of the early nineteenth century. de Wilde dreams in landscape, with her background in photography being on full, gorgeous display in Emma. This effect elevates what could have been insignificant movement – an effortless glance, stroll, or turn of the head – into divine artistry.
Austen’s genius is not lost upon de Wilde’s film, with Emma proving a wondrous retelling of a timeless literary masterpiece that should hopefully generate interest in Austen’s work to the post-Clueless generation.