Emma (U) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir: Autumn de Wilde, USA/United Kingdom 2020, 124 mins.

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Rupert Graves

Review by Carlie Newman

Available on DVD or streaming

You might have seen the film in the cinema just before lockdown, or perhaps you have seen another version of Jane Austen’s novel in the past, But just like a Shakespeare play, the book can be read many times and the film can be seen again and again. And this interpretation of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde, is well-worth re-visiting.

Although this is her first film, the director has caught both the character of Emma as well as the class-ridden milieu of the original. The manners of the time, 1815, are shown clearly. How people behave both in society and in particular to each other is the background to Emma’s story.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is absolutely sure that she is right about many things concerning manners and romance. So, when she becomes friendly with Harriet (Mia Goth), she pushes her towards the odious Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor), who, as a vicar has good standing in the community. It is obvious to all except Emma that Harriet is in love with the farmer, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), who, in turn dotes on her. But Emma makes Harriet reject the farmer as she believes Mr Elton will propose to Harriet. Instead he proposes to Emma, who is mortified and rejects him. While Emma’s father, Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy), is worried about Emma leaving him to get married, their family friend, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) warns Emma against meddling in other people’s lives. She takes no notice and continues to put Harriet forward with other potential suitors. When she is rude to the gentle but garrulous Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) and humiliates her in front of their friends, Knightley speaks firmly to Emma so she begins to understand that her own behaviour is not always perfect. And then Emma and Knightley become attracted to each other. More misunderstandings occur before the conclusion of the film.

Beautifully filmed, we see the rural surroundings of the small community and feel part of their lives. Autumn de Wilde’s casting is spot on and young Anya Taylor -Joy is indeed delightful as Emma. Good to see Nighy in a part which suits him so well and the young men are dishy or snobbish as appropriate!

It would be good to say that the film has a feminist slant, but really the main thing that the young women desire is a husband and home of their own. It is a romantic novel and a romantic film. Lovely for the present time when most of us want to be taken away out of our confined homes.

Cinematography which is exactly right for all scenes, sensitive performances and a well-written script contribute to a most appealing movie.