• Ben Keightley

EMMA. (2020) - Autumn de Wilde

EMMA. is uproariously fun, moving, delightful, and a genuinely uplifting experience. Adaptation of novels by classic writers such as Jane Austen can often feel stuffy, old fashioned affairs, but EMMA. thanks to a sharp script, playful direction and some truly entertaining performances is light, hilarious, fresh, and energetic in a way that enlivens the period romantic drama.

Emma is a meddlesome, misguided know-it-all matchmaker who delights in influencing and manipulating those in her social sphere to set up loves, liaisons, and marriages. When we met her she has successfully thrust together her governess, Miss Taylor, and the bereaved Mr. Weston together. Having successfully matched Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston she turns her attention to Harriet Smith. Harriet is of unknown parentage but her education has been afforded her. She is impressionable, knows little of the world, and is easily influenced. Emma adopts her and uses her subtle manipulation to try and secure Harriet as a husband.

But gradually, her powers of perception and persuasion begin to wane as she frustratingly misjudges the desires and affections of local men including the local vicar, Mr. Elton, Mr. Martin, a tenant farmer on her sister's brother Mr. Knightley's estate, and the elusive son of Mr. Weston, Frank Churchill, who is due to inherit a large estate upon the death of his aunt.

Written economically, emotively, and stylishly by Eleanor Catton and directed with assuredness and a lightness of touch bt Autumn de Wilde, EMMA. is a truly delightful experience, made all the better by a superb cast, all of whom shine. Emma is played by Anya-Taylor Joy in her finest performance to date. She is over-confident, looks down on her peers, and has short patience for many of them; most notably the annoying Miss Bates (Miranda Hart). She rejects the advances of men, resisting the urge to get pulled into the machinations of courting in this upper-class world. Instead, she revels in playing the matchmaker, manipulating people with her self-belief in her ability to read situations, assess the suitability of matches, and identify engaged parties. Slowly though, she begins to find her abilities faltering and at the same time, growing affection for Mr. Knightley emerges. Anya Taylor-Joy navigates these emotions with clarity and subtly, and as the centre of the film delivers a performance where you cannot take your eyes of her. Which is some feat considering the significant talent around her.

Bill Nighy as Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse is exceptional, if delivering a very Nighy role. He's all grunts and groans. Desperately lonely, Emma is the light of his life. He's a man who has become accustomed to familiarity and anything that threatens this throws him into a panic and bluster. It's the type of role where you can't help but alter your gaze on the screen to ensure you capture everything he's doing, even when he's not the focus of the action.

Josh O'Connor nearly steals every scene he's in as the slightly pathetic, unpopular, and boring local vicar. His sermons are hysterical and his misguided attempts to seduce Emma is one of the most painfully funny scenes of 2020. The real standout though is Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley. His scenes with Emma, from the initial annoyance of her meddling to the growing, unexpected love and desire to their final declarations are ultimately the core of the film and had Flynn and Joy not had such. chemistry, the film would have failed regardless of the array of supporting players bringing a lightness of touch to proceedings. He embodies the Austen hero perfectly.

As with all period films, you expect exquisite costumes and locations, and EMMA. doesn't disappoint. Special mention should be given to Alexandra Byrne because the costumes are evocative of character, time, and place and just sumptuous to look at. So to, the production design. So much is discussed about the houses and estates of the films and the production design by Kave Quinn is exceptional. Everything is also captured lovingly by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, who manages to strike that delicate balance of making everything look beautiful whilst simultaneously capturing the emotion of Emma and the characters.

EMMA. is one of the finest adaptations of Jane Austen I've seen. It reminds you of how, in the right hands her stories are energetic, fresh, and vibrant. That she was not merely a writer of romance novels, but something so much deeper. She wrote a complex, engaging, and captivating character who effortlessly find their way into your heart. Autumn de Wilde has captured that on screen with great power and beauty.

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