Review by Sean Boelman
The newest adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. is likely the most true-to-form version of the story to grace the screen yet. Having the perfect Austenian wit, this is an absolute treat to watch, particularly if one can revel in the absurdity of the humor and beauty of the execution.
The film tells the classic story of an entitled young woman who plays matchmaker to her friends, only to find herself caught in the complex web of relationships of her own design. In the translation to the screen, writer Eleanor Catton takes surprisingly few liberties from the iconic source material. As a result, the movie holds few surprises, but also feels undeniably authentic.
One of the main things that sets de Wilde and Catton’s vision apart from other adaptations of the novel is that it makes no attempt to present itself as mainstream. Other big-screen versions are admittedly much tighter and audience-friendly, but Catton seems much more concerned with maintaining the pre-existing rhythm of Austen’s writing. Because of this, the film is unlikely to be everyone’s cup of tea, but will almost certainly be appreciated by fans of classic literature.
Catton’s dialogue is also perfectly on-the-nose in terms of capturing the wit and charm of the source material. Plenty of quips are sprinkled throughout every scene and will have some audience members rolling in their seats in laughter. Additionally, de Wilde does a great job of incorporating some visual gags into the movie, particularly in relation to the character of Mr. Woodhouse.
As with any version of this story, the character development in this film is quite strong. The eponymous protagonist has a very interesting arc, brought to life wonderfully by a phenomenal performance from Anya Taylor-Joy. With a great deal of nuance, Taylor-Joy makes the movie not only a ton of fun to watch, but also extremely affecting on an emotional level.
In addition to Taylor-Joy, the film’s cast is rounded out with some excellent supporting performers. Myra McFaden’s performance as Mrs. Bates is spot-on, capturing the charming yet sometimes annoying ditziness of the role to a tee, and it is nice getting to see Bill Nighy doing more upscale roles again as Mr. Woodhouse. Other highlights include Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Johnny Flynn, and Tanya Reynolds.
That said, it is on a visual level that the movie impresses the most. The production design and costuming are truly exquisite. The visual style of the film is so vibrant and lively that it is almost impossible not to admire the level of artistry that is on display. Furthermore, the score by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge, although a bit overbearing at times, is just as gorgeous and complex as the visuals.
Emma. is ultimately a very satisfying version of a well-known story. Thanks to a faithful translation of the source material with the talent behind and in front of the camera to pull it off, this is an adaptation that like won’t be beat.
Emma. is now playing in theaters.