VOD film review: Emma (2020)
Anya Taylor-Joy’s sideeye8
An overbearing score5
A hilarious Josh O’ Connor8
Katherine McLaughlin | On 20, Mar 2020
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor, Mia Goth
With the stuck-up, spoilt, busybody Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen famously stated that she had written a character that “no one but herself would much like”. On those terms, photographer and music video director Autumn de Wilde’s feature debut nails the beloved comedy of manners. A fantastic performance by Anya Taylor-Joy in the leading role is complemented by an occasionally stinging and slyly witty script by Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries).
Of course, there have been numerous adaptations of Austen’s material, and though this Emma doesn’t quite match Amy Heckerling’s genius 1990s high-school version, Clueless, it does latch on to the hubris of youth in a similar way. It’s a real pleasure to watch a new batch of young actors interpret these characters against de Wilde’s delicately iced and candy-coloured backdrop. Each image could be framed and hung in a fancy patisserie.
Taylor-Joy is all darting looks and smug shrugs as the complex and unlikeable heroine. Johnny Flynn excels as the exasperated George Knightley, who acts as Emma’s conscience. Their relationship is dealt with in humorous fashion, and the two actors have sizzling chemistry as the tension builds and builds. Mia Goth is also perfectly cast as the pale and terrified Harriet Smith, who bears the brunt of Emma’s meddling in people’s love lives.
Josh O’ Connor as obnoxious, local vicar Mr. Elton – a mismatch for Harriet – turns in an excruciatingly funny and memorable performance. Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, is suitably dashing in his role. Seasoned pro Bill Nighy also does wonderful work as Emma’s father and widower, and much fun is made out of his attempts to relentlessly to warm himself up by an open fire. Miranda Hart, as Miss Elliot, is an object of scorn for Emma, with the less satisfying broader humour primarily at play with their narrative, although it also allows the actor to be versatile. When on the receiving end of a particularly nasty exchange at a group lawn picnic, Hart knows how to reign it in and pare back the giddy energy of her character.
Intimate dance sequences sing with joy and commotion, as they are interlaced with pointed conversations, and passive aggressive niceties. The score by Isobel Waller-Bridge, however, is intrusive, and threatens to overwhelm the stellar cast. Mostly, though, de Wilde strikes a bubbly tone as these enthusiastic players bounce of one another with verve and energy.