Emma (\N)

Anya Taylor-Joy,
Emma. is a movie starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, and Bill Nighy. In 1800s England, a well meaning but selfish young woman meddles in the love lives of her friends.
  • 6.9 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-11-08 Added:
  • Eleanor Catton, Writer:
  • Autumn de Wilde, Director:
  • Producer:


6 / 10

All bonnet and no breeches

Autumn de Wilde's Emma, with Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn, is not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. My review might be influenced by how much I love Jane Austen's novel and how many times I've watched the 2009 miniseries, but I always give every adaptation a try. And I can't really judge if what I was watching would make sense to an Austen virgin, shall we say, so what seemed disjointed and rushed to me might work perfectly for others.

I'll start with the good: I loved the costumes and the interiors, which were sumptuously beautiful. The wood-shaving ringlets on the women and the high collars on the men were distracting, though. And of course Anya Taylor-Joy made for a quirky and regal Emma (Austenites will be pleased to note that she has perfect posture.) I also loved how Anya Taylor-Joy and Amber Anderson as Jane actually played the pianoforte during the Coles' party (but could have done without Mr Knightley's contribution, when Frank Churchill is supposed to be singing with Jane). BUT. The music was horrendously jarring, alternating between Hanna Barbera cartoon incidentals and freakish folk music. The supporting characters suffered once again - I couldn't honestly tell the difference between Mrs Weston, Mrs Knightley and Mrs Elton, except that Isabella was for some reason a complete cow in this version, and Mr Elton and Frank Churchill were also interchangeable (perhaps that's why Elton never seemed to be without his dog collar, to help tell them apart). Bill Nighy's Mr Woodhouse was a weird combination of fusspot and Edwardian fop, and Johnny Flynn's Mr Knightley strayed way off character by stripping off in his first scene and never really recovered for me. (Apparently, that was a way of 'humanising' the character because he is always 'mansplaining' - very woke.) Anya wasn't kidding when she talked about the focus being on 'bodily functions', by the way - not only are we 'treated' to Knightley's backside, but Emma hitches up her skirts to warm her bare arse by the fire, and the 'cannot make speeches' proposal scene is a bloody mess. Literally. The script leans so heavily on lines from the novel that I think Eleanor Catton thought she was writing an essay for an English Lit exam - Austenites will be happy, but there was no feeling behind any of the grand words. When Emma and Mr Knightley argue, they constantly shout over each other, for instance, instead of the usual playful back and forth.

The whole film felt like a weird mashup between a stage musical and a Victorian farce, with choreographed servants and slapstick humour. There was also a lot of 1996 Emma in there, taking pastel and pastoral scenery from the film and Andrew Davies' wearisome obsession with wealth from the television two-parter. Not on a sliding scale of Emma and Miss Bates, but in how Mr Knightley's strawberry picking party turns into a National Trust promotional video for Wilton House, Salisbury. There's also a lot of emphasis on servants dressing their masters and mistresses, presumably to fit in more scenes of 'natural nudity'.

I went, I watched, I did my duty to Emma. But I think I'll stick with the 2009 miniseries.

9 / 10

Simply Sublime.

I loved the look of "Emma" from the trailer. And I was not disappointed. It is a simply sublime piece of comic entertainment.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a rich, privileged 21 year-old looking after her elderly and quirky father (Bill Nighy) in the family stately home. She has never loved, despite the persistent presence of 'family friend' George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), but finds it entertaining to engage in matchmaking, particularly in respect to her somewhat lower class friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth). Emma has high ambitions for Harriet... ideas significantly above what her social station and looks might suggest.

Emma has her sights on a dream.... the mystery man Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), son of wealthy local landowner Mr Weston (Rupert Graves). She has never actually met him, but is obsessed with his myth. #fangirl. As a source of immense annoyance to her, but often a source of valuable information on news of Churchill, is the village 'old maid' Miss Bates (Miranda Hart). "Such fun"!

But Emma's perfect life is about to face sticky times, as her machinations fail to yield the expected results and a stray comment, at a disastrous picnic, threatens to damage both her reputation and her social standing.

If you like your movies full of action and suspense, you are digging in the wrong place. "Emma" is slow... glacially slow... wallowing in beautiful bucolic scenes (with superb cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt); gorgeous costumes by Alexandra Byrne; and hair styling by Marese Langan.

The movie also benefits from a joyfully tight and funny script by debut screenwriter Eleanor Catton (a Man-Booker prize winner). This picks relentlessly at the strata of the class system set up by Jane Austen's novel: "Every body has their level" spits spurned suitor Mr Elton (Josh O'Connor).

I know Anya Taylor-Joy as the spirited Casey from "Split" and "Glass": she was impressive in "Split"; less so for me in the disappointing "Glass". But here, I found her UTTERLY mesmerising. She has such striking features - those eyes! - that she fully inhabits the role of the beautiful heiress who haunts multiple men sequentially. I even muttered the word "Oscar nomination" at the end of the film: though we are too early in the year to seriously go there.

An even bigger surprise was the actor playing George Knightley. Johnny Flynn has been in a number of TV shows I haven't seen, and a few films I haven't seen either (e.g. "Beast"). But I had the nagging feeling I knew him really well. The illustrious Mrs Movie Man clocked him: he's the Cineworld "plaid man"! (For those outside the UK or not patrons of Cineworld cinemas, he was the 'star' of a Cineworld advert that played over and Over AND OVER again for months on end before every film I saw. Arrrgggghhhh!).

Here, Flynn is excellent as the frustrated and brooding Austen-hunk. He even gets away with an ar*e-shot within a U-certificate!

Particularly strong in the supporting cast are Bill Nighy (being delightfully more restrained in his performance); Miranda Hart (being "Miranda", but perfectly cast) and Mia Goth (memorable for that eel-bath in "A Cure for Wellness").

And a big thank-you for a web review in the online Radio Times for naming one of the comical (and bizarrely uncredited) footmen as Angus Imrie - - the truly disturbed stepson of Claire in "Fleabag". It was driving me crazy where I knew him from!

The one criticism I would have is that I found the (perfectly fine and well-fitting) music, by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge (sister of Phoebe) poorly mixed within the soundtrack. There were times when I found it overly intrusive, suddenly ducking under dialogue and then BLASTING out again. Sometimes music should be at the forefront.... but more often it should be barely perceptible.

As you might guess.......I loved this one. The story is brilliant (obsv!); the film is simply gorgeous to look at; the locations (including the village of Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds and Wilton House - near me - in Salisbury) are magnificent and a blessing for the English Tourist Board.

All the more impressive then that this is the directorial feature of video/short director Autumn de Wilde.

This comes with a "highly recommended" from both myself and the illustrious Mrs Movie-Man.

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on Facebook or the web.)

4 / 10

Beautiful to look at, but shallow

It looks gorgeous - fashions, interiors, etc - and it has a good cast. But it lacks the depth, subtle observation and wit of Austen's superb novel. Some of the characters are more like caricatures (Mr Woodhouse and Mr Elton, in particular). This works well in Dickens but not for Austen. It is difficult, admittedly, within the space of a two-hour movie to show character development and to do justice to the subplots, consequently some aspects of the story seemed very rushed. Yet the director wastes valuable screen time showing people walking down corridors, strolling about in the grounds, etc. Also - huge problem here - Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn (both good actors) have a serious lack of on-screen chemistry.Disappointing! Can't hold a candle to the 1996 version starting Gwynneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, in my view.

5 / 10

Not the best adaptation

Unfortunately for me, this version of Emma was more a miss than a hit. It was too slow & failed to draw me in. Some of the scenes were just too long or superfluous, making me wish for them to hurry up to get to the good bits. Visually speaking it was lovely & depicted the Regency period well. But the soundtrack was often jarring & distracting rather than enhancing a scene. The odd choir singing is a case in point.

I could not like Emma herself. Anya Taylor-Joy was miscast, in my opinion. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was her unusual eyes? I know I disliked her hairstyles intensely. Horrid! I couldn't connect with her character.

I thought some of the characters were wishy washy. You would not know that Emma's sister Isabella is married to Mr Knightly's brother John. Or perhaps I blinked & missed it? Jane Fairfax was fairly insipid & there was not much to indicate that Frank Churchill was a bit of a cad weaving elaborate lies. Bill Nighy's Mr Woodhouse was too childish & effeminate for my liking. Mr Knightly, whilst likeable, was a bit childish for his age & station & not a match for this particular Emma & I could picture her walking all over him.

The actors I did enjoy were the characters of Mrs Weston, Harriet Smith & Miss Bates, played by Gemma Whelan, Mia Goth & Miranda Hart. Gemma Whelan of Game of Thrones fame, handled Mrs Weston with dignity & grace. Harriet was delightful & suitably innocent & gullible. My favourite character in this adaption was Miranda Hart's portrayal of the unfortunate Miss Bates. Miranda is an expert at playing socially awkward characters & did not disappoint with Miss Bates. Her embarrassment & vulnerability at Emma's spiteful words at the picnic brought me to tears. As did her graciousness in accepting Emma's attempt at an apology. Bravo Miranda!

So there were some redeeming scenes throughout the movie. But overall, it fell short of my expectations & the 1996 version of Emma remains my favourite to date.

8 / 10

Well worth seeing

I have previously seen three TV versions of Emma, and the 1990s Hollywood film with Gwyneth Paltrow - which I find excessively sentimental. Emma is not my favourite Austen novel, but the adaptation used for the 2020 film version is generally very good. One or two specifics are omitted, but this is inevitable in compression to the running time of just over two hours.

As all reviews have noted, the film is beautifully designed and shot. Some of the design may even be thought to be over the top, but I thought that was consonant with the mannered approach of the cast, an approach which works well in making this essentially a comedy of manners as well as a love story. The detective story element of the novel doesn't go for very much - little is made of the piano, and Frank Churchill's slip in knowing about Dr Perry's carriage is omitted.

I thought Mia Goth's well-rounded performance of Harriet the best I have seen, and it is certainly difficult to take one's eyes off Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular lead. Other female performances are perhaps more so-so, although Chloe Pirie's harassed Isabella is interesting. The comedic Mr Elton would be well over the top in some adaptations but just about fits in here. Other male roles are adequately filled even though the portrayal of john Knightly is slightly bizarre. Bill Nighy is...well, Bill Nighy, this time with amazing costume.

I enjoyed it, and I intend to see it again soon. Overall I would just favour the 1996 Kate Beckinsale ITV version but this is close behind and in some ways better