FilmReview by BrianPenn
Four versions of Emma have hit the big and small screen in the last twenty five years; but this latest addition directed by Autumn de Wilde is by far the best. A sparkling script by Eleanor Catton is laced with nuggets of humour exploiting the absurdity of Regency manners; and a similarly bright cast freshen up the Jane Austen classic with confidence and sureness of touch.
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) attends the wedding of friend and former governess Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) to Mr Weston (Rupert Graves). Emma introduced the couple and eagerly claims credit for the couple’s new found happiness. She begins matchmaking much to the consternation of her sister’s brother-in-law Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn). She attempts to match her friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) with Vicar Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor); even though local farmer Robert Martin is madly in love with Harriet. Emma’s meddling begins to affect her reputation and endanger her own chances of personal happiness.
Despite the new adaptation, Emma can never stray far from the pen of Jane Austen yet still challenges the safe world of costume dramas. I was impressed the film drew such a strong reaction from the audience; there were frequent laughs but also a genuine intake of breath in sympathy with characters’ predicament, something one rarely sees in the cinema. There were pleasing performances throughout; Miranda Hart delivered a fine cameo as Miss Bates and Bill Nighy was in terrific form as the eccentric but lovable Mr Woodhouse. But all were outshone by the remarkable Anya Taylor-Joy, whose beguiling presence stole virtually every scene. She has incredible eyes that convey the full gamut of emotions; and certainly makes Gwyneth Paltrow’s earlier performance in the title role pale by comparison. The final piece in the jigsaw was the location filming, which took place at Firle Place Manor House in the South Downs National Park. Visually stunning and impeccably researched, it really felt like an authentic window into the 1800s. Similarly, interior shots featuring charming dance sequences perfectly captured the mood. Period dramas occasionally have a seen-one-seen -them-all quality about them, but there’s enough here to win over new converts.