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United Kingdom 2020
Directed by
Autumn de Wilde
124 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: In England in the early19th century an idle, upper class young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) meddles in her friends' romantic affairs with results that despite her good intentions are not what she planned .

As a transposition to the big screen of Jane Austen's much-admired comedy of manners director Autumn de Wilde’s film is splendid, especially so for a feature debut which this is. The costume design, art direction, production design and set direction are all to-die-for. Whether it could have been better dramatically-speaking is a question that needs addressing.

In the lead Anya Taylor-Joy who is in virtually every scene is very good as Austen’s young woman with too much time on her hands as is Mia Goth as her compliant protégé, Harriet Smith (We can see how right was Amy Heckerling’s appropriation of the relationship in Clueless,1995). Indeed, all the women are excellent, skilfully embodying Austen's carefully-wrought portrait of Emma's stultifyingly narrow society. The men fare less well.  It is true that this is largely the fault of Austen’s writing, her male characters, particularly the principals, tending to be generic foils to the much better delineated, more alive, females but whether this should have been preserved is another matter.

I do not know if doing so was a conscious decision on the part of de Wilde and her writer, Eleanor Catton (also making her debut), but not just in terms of characterisation but also casting and performance some strengthening of the male roles in what is a very female-dominated film (and, admittedly, society) would have, for my money at least, improved it.  Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor, his interpretation largely limited to toothy grinning), Mr Knightley (an oddly-tousled and seemingly too young Johnny Flynn) and Frank Churchill (Callum Turner, at best a background figure) are effectively little more than obliging counter-weights to Emma's manoeuverings. Dangerous Liaisons (1988) it is not.  Bill Nighy, his performance one-note, is simply mis-cast as the hypochondriacal Mr Woodhouse.

Making up for the smallness of Emma's world however Christopher Blauvelt's cinematography is irresistibly seductive particularly the exteriors and the visuals are never less than gorgeous (although one might say the running joke of the  back-and-forth parade of red-cloaked 'Madeleine'-like schoolgirls is over-indulged in) but much like Greta Gerwig’s recent Little Women albeit without the feminist revisionism, Emma will appeal more to the fairer sex rather than their male counterparts.




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