With the initial tale of Emma being penned by Jane Austen 205 years ago, one would think that the story, adaptation after adaptation, would have nothing new to offer. However, director Autumn de Wilde and writer Eleanor Catton breathe a fresh new perspective into Emma’s tale, not only providing a modern take to the comedy-drama classic but also showcasing the domestic struggles and trivial squabbles that are incredibly relevant and relatable to our own family and lives, even now.
Set in 19th Century England, Anya Taylor-Joy is Emma, queen bee of the fictional village, Highbury. Emma is beautiful, intelligent and a little bit spoilt. Financially secure and socially comfortable yet feeling the responsibility to stay with her father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) at their home in ‘Hartfield’, Emma has never travelled, nor does she seek marriage. With very little to do in Highbury, instead, Emma finds joy in playing matchmaker. Yet to be proven wrong and unsuccessful with her attempts, Emma’s new project consists of her young new friend, Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) and the handsome town vicar, Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor). Naturally, despite Emma’s good intentions, lives are entangled, and chaos ensues.
In the past, I’ve never really understood nor liked period films, but recently I feel I’ve grown to enjoy and understand them better. I believe this is largely to do with the way these stories are now told. More recently, I adored Gretta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, a story I had never understood until Gerwig’s retelling. Wilde has done the same with Austen’s work, which was at a time, foreign to me in my youth.
I loved Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Emma. Even though Emma appears spoilt, you can’t help but like her yet enjoy the drama that she has created for herself at the same time. Mia Goth is perfect as Harriet Smith, playing the role of the gullible, young and innocent friend that foolishly trusts Emma with her every decision. And while I, like many, adore John Flynn as a very awkward yet kind Mr. Knightley, it is Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse that pretty much steals the spotlight as the ever erratic yet adorably hilarious father of Emma, especially in every scene where he complains about the cold.
The story of Emma, as stated, has been around for 205 years and counting, but I believe that (apart from Clueless, which is more inspired by Emma than about her) this version of Emma is the best one yet. With stunning cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt and incredibly beautiful costuming provided by Alexandra Byrne, Emma’s every frame is picturesque. But if you strip all these decorative distractions back, the core of Emma is the coming-of-age tale of a young girl who grows to learn of mistakes, regret, pain, shame, sadness and romantic love, transforming into an much more socially wise young lady. No other version of Emma has kept me captivated as this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
Review by Stephanie Chin
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