Our Beloved ‘Emma’ — the Witty and Self-Indulging Matchmaker — Is Back in Town

Autumn de Wilde directs her debut feature film Emma, in collaboration with writer Eleanor Catton. Anna Taylor-Joy stars as the playful, witty young heroine in this adaptation of the well-known Jane Austen classic of the same name. Believing she has a talent for matchmaking, Emma takes on the responsibility of navigating the complex relationships of the town. (KIZJ: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributing Editor Katusha Jin

“Emma” (Anna Taylor-Joy) is a young lady with delicate curls who has led a carefree life under the guidance of her father and governess. On this particular morning, she heads purposefully to the family greenhouse with an air of poise and points to the flowers she wants snipped for her perfect bouquet. Going back into the house, she knocks on (soon-to-be) “Mrs. Weston’s” (Gemma Whelan) door with the flowers. Today is the wedding day of the Westons, and Emma is about to lose her close friend and confidante — her governess is moving out. Despite being happy for her friend, this is perhaps the biggest change she has experienced for years in her stable and comfortable life.

Now that she is without a governess, Emma realizes it may be time for her to pass on her wisdom to another girl — someone like “Harriet Smith” (Mia Goth). As a mentor, Emma believes it is her job to ensure Harriet’s happiness, and their top priority is to find Miss. Smith a suitable husband. The first piece of advice she gives her mentee is to reject the proposal of Mr. Martin (Connor Swindells), and instead, take interest in the local vicar “Mr. Elton” (Josh O’Connor).

One big takeaway for young Emma from the successful coupling of Mr. and Mrs. Weston, which she takes credit for, is that her matchmaking instincts are quite good. So when “Mr. Knightley” (Johnny Flynn), a long-time family friend, warns her from meddling in the affairs of others, she proudly says that her instincts have yet to be proven wrong. Yet when “Jain Fairfax” (Amber Anderson) and “Frank Churchhill” (Callum Turner) step into the picture, things get much more complicated, and Emma’s instincts are put to the test.

Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. has definitely managed to find its own style, which greatly separates it from previous adaptations. Eleanor Catton’s script is witty and filled with little gem-like moments resulting in many moments of chuckling from the audience. The execution is very stylistic and this interpretation holds its own character and quirk, especially with its well-designed pastel color palette. Some standout elements include costume design by Alexandra Byrne, production design by Kave Quinn, and makeup designed by Marese Langan and done by Denise Stocker.

For those who remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance in the 1996 adaptation, Anna Taylor-Joy’s is indeed very different. With a signature look and stare, this performance of Emma has its own charm and cheek and is also very lovable. Despite my personal feeling that Mr. Knightley should have been a bit older, Johnny Flynn plays his role well and the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable. Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart are the colorful comic stars of the film as Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates. Their consistent performances are very nuanced and both were responsible for many laughs!

I think that as someone who knows the story fairly well, this was a very pleasant viewing that refreshed my memory in a nostalgic and fun manner. For those who have not read the book, however, it may be a little difficult to follow all the characters and their complex relationships with each other. Some simplifications, an introductory explanation to set the scene, or more detailed introductions of the characters may have helped. But overall, this is a wonderful feature debut from Wilde. Despite many previous adaptations, Wilde has managed to create a newfound modern, playful twist to the popular novel.

© Katusha Jin (02/23/2020) FF2 Media

Photo Credits: Focus Features

Feature Photo: “Emma Woodhouse” (Anna Taylor-Joy)

Center Photo: Emma and “Harriet Smith” (Mia Goth)

Bottom Photo: Emma and “Mr. Knightley” (Johnny Flynn),

Q: Does Emma. pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes, Miss Bates talks a lot about Jane Fairfax!

Tags: Autumn de Wilde, Emma, FF2 Media, Katusha Jin, period pieces, womeninfilm

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As part of the FF2 Media team, Katusha Jin interviews filmmakers, write features and reviews, and coaches other associates. She grew up in the UK and studied briefly in Russia and China before moving to New York for college. Graduating magna cum laude from New York University, Katusha majored in Film and Television at Tisch School of the Arts with minors in Business and Philosophy. She has worked as a producer, director, writer, and composer for various award-winning projects including short films, branded content, independent features, and music videos.
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