Jane Austen adaptations seem to come around every few years and rarely with a new twist or interpretation. With the announcement that, yes, another adaptation of Emma, Austen’s most adapted novel is being made, you might stop and ask, do we really need another? However, with the release of the trailer, a different attitude was taken. There is a quick smart wit shared between characters as well as the feeling that they are ‘in’ on the joke about what is happening, something missing from previous adaptations. In other words, this was not quite what was expected.
Emma; clever, handsome, rich is a self-proclaimed matchmaker after successfully bringing together her former governess and widowed family friend. She sets her sights on the naïve Charlotte who welcomes this new friendship and unaware of Emma’s matchmaking plans. This is all observed by Mr Knightly, Emma’s close friend and sometime confident, who warns her actions are not in Charlotte’s interest but her own. So goes another romantic comedy drama from the master storyteller, Jane Austen.
What sets Emma apart from Austen’s other novels is the character Emma herself. Unlike all the other heroines who are impoverished or not rich but still part of the gentry, Emma is wealthy. While she does offer charity and wants to help where she can, she is also somewhat unlikeable. Being vain, she looks down on people who don’t meet her standards, makes fun of those who are less fortunate, and can be quite tactless. It is only through her friendship with Charlotte and thought of losing Mr. Knightly does she start to see the error of her ways.
The approach to this fresh-faced adaption from director Autumn De Wilde is that everyone in the film is fully aware of the caricatures they are portraying. This makes all the amusing scenes and jokes ‘land’ instead of being hidden amongst heavy dialogue. Another aspect of the film which was welcome was the chemistry Emma and Charlotte, their friendship feels realistic and genuine, thanks very much to Anya Taylor-Joy and Mia Goth. Equally you actually feel the ‘heat’ between Emma and Knightly but you also feel the connection between Harriet and Farmer Roberts which is a new and again welcome exploration.
On the surface, this may ‘look’ like any other Jane Austen, costume drama but there is a sardonic humour and open awareness that is unlike other versions that came before it. It’s a shame that the film wasn’t given a fighting chance at the box office, hopefully, it will find an audience on home entertainment release and appreciated beyond the usual expectations of its genre.
Dir: Autumn de Wilde
Prd: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin
Scr: Eleanor Catton
Based on: Emma by Jane Austen
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy
DoP: Christopher Blauvelt
Music: Isobel Waller-Bridge, David Schweitzer
Run time: 124 minutes
Emma will be released on Blu-ray/DVD on 22nd June