‘Emma.’ is a cleverly conceived adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel with a fantastic cast.
Kernel Rating: 4 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 124 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel about a young woman prone to match-making her friends and acquaintances is probably best for a tween or teen audience because most of the plot points are about marriage and romance. Characters flirt, fall in love, and are engaged to be married; there is talk of a character being sexually active; we see a few kisses; and we see a man’s bottom half as he is changing his clothes, including his bare bottom, as well as a woman lifting up her dress to warm her bottom half against the fire. Characters fight and insult each other, and the film’s climactic moment involves the titular character being unfathomably rude to an older woman; characters drink wine and alcohol at parties, leading to one drunken and rejected come-on.
By Roxana Hadadi
Thirty years ago, Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” became the definitive adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” with its reimagining of British match maker Emma Woodhouse as pampered California teen Cher Horowitz. In the latest spin on Austen’s work, “Emma.,” director Autumn de Wilde returns the story to its origins in Regency Era England, wrapping the story in beautiful production design and a clever script. The result is a deeply satisfying watch that, while lacking the contemporary feel of Heckerling’s version, is charming and lovely in its own right.
“Emma.” focuses on the “handsome, clever, and rich” Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), nearly 21 years old, who in her young life has had “very little to distress or vex her,” we’re informed by an introductory intertitle. Living in a lovely manor with her father, the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy), Emma is beautiful, witty, and mostly quite bored. Well-liked by nearly everyone, Emma thinks very highly of herself—and of her ability to pair people together romantically.
She’s been successful most recently with encouraging her former governess and a local wealthy widow to fall in love, and when the film opens with their marriage, Emma finds herself in need of another companion. So Emma sets her sights on Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a young woman renting a room at the girls’ school in town. Harriet doesn’t belong to the same class as the wealthy Emma, but the two become fast friends, and Emma takes Harriet under her wing. The two laugh together, spend time at the Woodhouse manor together, and consider the town’s men together. Who should Harriet end up with? And is there anyone worthy of Emma’s time?
There’s the farmer who proposed to Harriet, who she likes, but who Emma warns her could be far below her in status. There’s Emma’s neighbor Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), whom Emma treats like a brother and with whom she often butts heads. There’s the town vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), who has a certain peculiar style all his own. And there’s the new-to-town, mysterious Mr. Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), who came into a surprising estate after his uncle’s passing.
“I must admit I have not yet been proved wrong,” Emma says of her match-making ability, and so she tries to push Harriet and Mr. Elton together, while she conspires to spend time with Mr. Churchill. But each of her plans seems to hit a wall—and when a female rival comes back to town, Emma begins to realize that perhaps her sense of herself is not exactly shared by everyone else. Mr. Knightley had warned her of an inflated idea of her own understanding of other people—could he be right?
“Emma.” is gorgeous to look at thanks to the work of costume designer Alexandra Byrne, set decorator Stella Fox, art director Alice Sutton, and production designer Kave Quinn, who create pastel-colored dreamscapes for Emma’s home, a wonderfully opulent manor for Mr. Knightley, and a rotation of gorgeous outfits for Emma. They help us imagine a world in which Emma would consider herself so singular, and Taylor-Joy’s performance is winsome and delightful. A moment late in the film when her cutting humor veers into outright rudeness has great emotional impact, and the romantic tension between Taylor-Joy and Flynn also works quite well.
There are a few brief moments when “Emma.” drags slightly, when the film spends time reinforcing some of what we already know about Emma’s cocoon of wealth and privilege. But otherwise, the movie’s ensemble cast is uniformly strong, the look of the film is precise, and the romances are satisfying, and “Emma.” is a comforting bit of escapist entertainment for our current times.
Given the closing of movie theaters thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Emma. has been made available by studio Focus Features for digital purchase online at Amazon, Apple, and other online streaming services.