Film review: Emma. (2020), directed by Autumn de Wilde
tl;dr: Does what it says on the tin.
From a director mostly known for music videos (this is her only feature film to date), comes a shiny new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a spoiled and selfish young woman living in a big old mansion with her hypochondriac father (Bill Nighy). She’s sad to see her governess become Mrs Weston (Gemma Whelan), but since Emma was her and Mr Weston’s (Rupert Graves) matchmaker she isn’t sad for very long.
Tired of being subjected to the prattling of old maid Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), she quickly befriends the newcomer in town, Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a woman who for all intents and purposes is a penniless orphan. Perhaps she could be a good match for the vicar, Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor)? Because why should she settle for Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), a lowly farmer, when she should be able to bag someone of better social standing?
Emma isn’t interested in finding a husband for herself, at least not until Frank Churchhill (Callum Turner) shows up. He’s rich and he’s interesting. So is Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn), but Emma has known him for so long he’s just part of the scenery. And then there’s shy Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), who has a secret admirer sending her a pianoforte … and then a Mrs Elton (Tanya Reynolds) shows up.
Emma has never been a favourite of mine, because I’ve never liked the heroine. Yes, the whole point of her is that she is a spoiled brat who realises she isn’t infallible and shouldn’t meddle in certain things, but … she isn’t a sympathetic character. The only reason she really feels bad about the picnic on the hill incident is that the other people there aren’t laughing along with her. She isn’t ashamed for saying something awful about an alleged friend, only that the other people shunned her as a result of her poor joke, and to top it off was told off by Mr Knightley about it. Had the other people giggled along with her, even if Miss Bates was heartbroken by it, I doubt she would have felt any kind of remorse. I can’t remember if I felt the same about the other adaptations, and I don’t remember the book.
The clothes and scenery are bright and colourful. Sometimes it reminded me of Wes Anderson, colour palette wise. The actors, a lot of whom aren’t all that well known, are great in their respective parts. Maybe the story takes some modern liberties at times, but not in ways that are too grating.
It’s a perfectly fine adaptation. It’s lighthearted and a visual delight to watch, but if you’re not really a fan of Emma as a story, you won’t be bowled over because it’s much the same as the adaptations that have gone before. A bit more colourful, perhaps, but it’s still Emma. I liked that the bigger parts were played by lesser known actors. Miranda Hart was great as Miss Bates, and Bill Nighy was … well, Bill Nighy, I guess, but I do still enjoy that.
4 out of 5 bonnets.