Jane Austin gets a good of the modern in director Autumn de Wilde debut feature Emma, as she brings Austin’s classic satirical romantic comedy to the screen in what is simply a darling experience of a movie.
Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever and rich”, meddles in the romantic affairs of her friends and loved ones.
Celebrated photographer Autumn de Wilde makes her directorial debut here with Emma and she brings an artists vision and deep attention to detail to this lavish screen work. Centring her focus on young Emma Woodhouse, de Wilde’s direction recalls both the classic narrative structure of the romantic comedy, along with drawing inspiration from the character study, and through her protagonist’s actions we gain a greater portrait of herself, and just what the relevance of love and attraction play within our lives. Emma is a darling little picture to look upon, and it’s utterly charming in its exploration of young love and youthful portraits. All of it can be attributed to de Wilde’s enchanting style of direction and a focus on character and emotional interaction between Austin’s classic cast of characters.
Taking on the role of the ‘handsome, clever and rich’ central character of Emma Woodhouse is rising star Anya Taylor-Joy and she’s sensational in the role. This young thespian perfectly plays the role of the juvenile gossip, and her stance as Queen Bee of Highbury and mischievous matchmaker gives Taylor-Joy plenty of room to play at with her performance. Being both flirty and closed off, Taylor-Joy’s Emma is very much an enigma, a young woman whose only preoccupation seems to be love, but whom for herself is rather closed off from it. While she’s very happy to play with the love lives of those closest to her, her own love life is rather interesting and Emma Woodhouse turns out to be a far more complex young woman than first thought of.
Emma is a great production for Taylor-Joy to showcase the length of her performance, and her ability to handle the dramatic, comedic and emotional cords of drama all at once. In an instant, she can go from the perfect young woman to a pouty and moody teenager, and a lot is going on to stretch Taylor-Joy’s command of this character. This young actress presents a very pretty figure in the role of Emma and she asserts herself as a young performer of tremendous talent and range with the part, almost in the mould of a young Cate Blanchett. I believe very much that this performance is a signal of great things to come in Taylor-Joy’s career.
Standing opposite Emma is Johnny Flynn as Mr George Knightley, a closed-off, rather cynical young gentleman who has known the flighty and flirty Emma her entire life and who disapproves of her matchmaking games. He’s very much the exact opposite of Emma in every single way and through the course of the film’s narrative, their shared story is very much of opposites attracting. Both Flynn and Taylor-Joy have terrific chemistry together and this adds a layer of believability to their constant back and forth bickering, and also helps to build out the bubbling level of sexual tension that exists between the two of them. While Flynn’s Knightley very much presents himself as a cynic, he’s a secretive romantic, who slowly sheds his armour and opens himself up to the emotions of connection and love when his feelings are matched with Emma’s. And with his guard down plenty of magic blossoms between these two characters.
Jane Austin has always been noted for her collection of amazing characters and Emma has an incredible list of them. There’s Emma’s best friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a mousy young woman who is a little bit oblivious to the length at which Emma schemes with her matchmaking, and who finds her relationship with Emma tested as she searches for a true love that will work for her. There’s the always sensational Miranda Hart as clucky spinster Miss Bates, who is all too eager to share the latest happenings with Emma, and who rubs this mean girl the wrong way at times with her eagerness. And how can we not forget the appearance of the great Bill Nighy as Emma’s hypochondriac and immensely superstitious father Mr Woodhouse, whom is aware of the talents of his younger daughter and knows that there’s more going on for her than she dares speak up about.
In terms of its cinematic experience, Emma is gorgeous to look at, and it feels as if one is almost looking at a Regency canvas come to life. A vast array of colours that move from crisp whites to silk creams, opulent casts of silver and gold, and a mix of pastel hues of green, blue, purple and of course pink jump off the screen in Emma, giving the film an incredible Romanticism to its visual style. From its grand production design to lavish costuming, Emma is a portrait of the Regency with all the trimmings, along with plenty of Baroque luxuriousness and audiences will find themselves watching this one in complete awe.
Emma is that perfect mix of romance and comedy and this production strikes a grand balance between the two of them. Austin’s original 1815 work is highly satirical in nature, and director Autumn de Wilde effortlessly translates this through in her lavish production with moments that shine with romance and will have you giggling with laughter. You feel so many different emotions when watching this movie. Scenes that illustrate this mix of comedy and romance perfectly include Emma’s interaction with her sister’s infant child which initially leaves her non-too pleased before giving herself the giggles, a hilarious meeting between herself and Miss Bates in a fabric store and the film’s glamorous centrepiece ball where Emma’s true feelings for Mr Knightley are first shown.
Emma is a beautifully rendered picture of youth and romance, and this classic tale comes to life with a contemporary relevance thanks to its direction from Autumn de Wilde and a magnificent performance from rising star Anya Taylor-Joy. This film is cute, sassy, hilarious, romantic and quintessentially heartwarming and you’ll be in love with what you see here.
Image: Universal Pictures