Emma. (2020)

[3 stars]

Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries) wrote a wonderful adaptation of Austen’s famous novel, which Autumn de Wilde directed flawlessly in her first feature outing. If you like Austen, you’re sure to love the result. If you like Austen. I’m fairly certain I’ve expressed my frustration with her work in the past. It isn’t a flat-out dismissal, but my bar is high for success.

I will say that I very much enjoyed the second half of this film. The first half was a rather tedious setup for the remainder. Not that there weren’t funny moment as we learned the characters. Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass) proves again what a range and depth she has as an actor as she dominates her house and neighbors. She is surrounded by many women of talent. Amber Anderson (Strike) and Taylor-Joy even perform their own music for the camera. Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) is completely sympathetic as the simpering and sad-but-dedicated pawn who is the secondary thread that ties it all together. And Gemma Whelan (The End of the F***ing World) and Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife) add some wonderful color to the world. As the quietly (mostly) ineffective head of household, Bill Nighy (Pok√©mon Detective Pikachu), of course, is hilarious throughout.

And then there were the suitors. Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country) and Johnny Flynn (Lovesick/Scrotal Recall) were wonderfully odd and oddly human, and the standouts. Flynn, in particular, bringing Knightley to life in a heart-warming way.

My personal tastes aside, I do want to acknowledge that, for a first feature for both Catton and de Wilde, the result is amazing. I’d certainly look for more of de Wilde’s work. Catton I’d be more reticent about. I tried The Luminaries and was bored out of my skull. Like the first half of this movie, it moved very slowly with little to chew on that wasn’t obvious or kept my interest. I appreciate period dramas that retrain their sensibilities, but I do also demand to be intrigued and entertained in a way my contemporary brain expects to some degree. Otherwise what you have is a museum piece, not a show.

So, again, if you like Austen, you’ve found a perfect piece for your dietary needs. If you’re not a fan, and have some patience, this does pay off during the downslope side of the tale. It is certainly a gorgeous production from a cinematography and costume point of view as well.

Emma. Poster

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