Period dramas may be a common meal in the British cinematic appetite. You can’t help, however, to dive into Autumn de Wilde’s extravagant and lush Emma is a sweet adaptation of Jane Austen.
Set in the Georgian-Regency era, Emma revolves around the titular character – Emma Woodhouse. Described as handsome, clever, and rich, she uses her prominence and prestige to play matchmaker across her small village of Hartfield. Using her wiles to set up her new friend Harriet Smith with local vicar Mr. Elton. However, despite Emma’s cleverness and natural charm, she finds herself causing more trouble than she thought. It doesn’t help that she is stuck with affections for the dashing Frank Churchill and also her close friend Mr. George Knightley. Can Emma find herself out of these predicaments?
Autumn de Wilde directs a stunning period piece which is a rhythmic adaptation of Austen’s work. It flows with a distinguished rambunctious nature. There is a massive care to the original text whilst still being salubrious and wholesome (beyond Johnny Flynn’s bare arse, that is.)
Refreshing the Austen language so it feels modern (without necessarily changing the wording) is thanks to Eleanor Catton’s refreshing script which utilises the era whilst keeping it near lyrical. The script is then lovingly lifted off the page by the talented cast. Leading the way is Anya Taylor-Joy. The young actress is brilliant as Emma because she has to balance all of the character’s sides. That’s because Emma can come across as cutting, spoiled, and bratty in many places (especially when she is dealing with the eccentric over-bearing Mrs. Bates.) However, there is a softness to the character that is interjected by Taylor-Joy’s competent acting. When she curls up on the windowsill, battered by her own insolence, you feel her pangs of guilt. When she looks softly at Mr. Knightley, there is genuine affection there. Taylor-Joy is a fantastic choice here.
Then again, the cast are so in-sync with one another. Johnny Flynn makes a fantastic brutish but caring Mr. Knightley whilst Bill Nighy interjects energy from the beginning, skipping down the steps of his manor house. Mia Goth makes a shy Harriet Smith whilst the gaudy Mrs Bates is played with impressive vigour by Miranda Hart. Josh O’Connor, however, as the foppish Mr. Elton is a scene stealer. Utilising his whole body to make Mr. Elton as awkward as he is revolting, O’Connor is superb.
Alexandra Byrne’s stunning costume design for the film is absolutely splendid. The dresses are unique and plentiful, crafted with impossible detail that in some scenes I just stared at the lace trimming or the matching green pepper necklace that goes with a whole ensemble. Precise and perfect, the costume design is a real treat here.
Christopher Blauvelt’s colourful cinematography is crisp, adding vibrancy and a whole vivid spectrum to the plush country manors and rolling emerald green hills of England. It’s a feast, much like the heaps of fondant cakes and cream teas that they partake in.
Isobell Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer craft a delicious score that titillate the film with flutes and strings in an utterly divine whimsy.
Truthfully, Emma does feel decadent. In a world beyond the Regency era, it’s hard to fall completely into a film about very rich people and their marriage woes. Still, similarly with the Downton Abbey, sometimes you need to immerse yourself in the worlds of the spoiled, especially when they are this enjoyable. Occasionally, there are slow beats that drag the rest of the almost musical feel of Emma.
De Wilde’s work, however, is an accomplished and lavish triumph from every aspect of the filmmaking process and it looks as though everyone involved was having such great fun. De Wilde crafts an enchanting and captivating film filled with handsome, clever, and certainly rich, people.
Emma is out 14th February