A playful adaptation of Jane Austen’s acclaimed novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance, Emma circa 2020 is a lavish production.
Attractive, clever and rich, soon to be 21-year-old Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a restless “queen bee” who has lived all her life in the sleepy English village of Highbury with very little to distress or vex her.
Emma has recently discovered the thrill of matchmaking.
She has succeeded in orchestrating a marriage between her governess and the kind widower, Mr Weston (Rupert Graves).
Emma celebrates her success until she realises that she has also orchestrated the loss of her only mother figure and companion in the house.
Left alone with her hypochondriac father (Bill Nighy), she turns to acquiring a new companion, the young and naïve Miss Harriet Smith (Mia Goth).
Her pastime draws a withering eye from the exceedingly moral Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn), a wealthy gentleman whose brother has married Emma’s older sister.
As both a neighbour and a relative, Knightley is often found in the company of Emma and her father.
Once Emma takes Harriet under her wing, she soon determines that the local vicar Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor) would be perfect for her – even though Harriet has feelings for respectable farmer, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells).
Convinced that Harriet would be far better off with Elton, Emma advises her to reject Martin’s proposal and devote her affections to the man of the cloth instead.
What she does not realise is that the vicar only has eyes for Emma herself.
Things escalate from there, with Emma inevitably at the centre of misguided assumptions and faux pas.
Emma, the movie, marks the feature debut for writer Eleanor Catton and director Autumn de Wilde.
It looks spectacular. The settings and cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt are outstanding. The costumes by Alexandra Byrne are spectacular.
Actors were clearly instructed to speak formally – as the times dictated – but to have fun with the material ... and that they do.
It is a measure of their prowess that they were able to keep straight faces throughout.
Foremost among those who master a look or a twitch is the irrepressible Bill Nighy.
He doesn’t have to say much and yet he has his character down pat.
Anya Taylor-Joyas Emma is the wide-eyed manipulator around whom the action unfolds.
Johnny Flynnis well cast as her admirer and frequent companion – a man of scruples.
Arguably the showiest role is that of the impoverished Miss Bates, played with deliberate overexuberance by Miranda Hart.
Josh O’Connorand Tanya Reynolds make the most of their performances as the vicar – who is used to getting things his own way – and his haughty wife.
They are in a number of unforgettable scenes.
At times I felt like hissing, a sure sign the chemistry between them is working.
If you haven’t read the book, it could take you some time to build an understanding of just where a number of characters fit into the bigger picture, but in any event you quickly get the gist of what is going on.
Designed to have you smiling and smirking at the preposterousness of the upper class, Emma succeeds in doing just that.
Rated PG, it scores a 7 to 7½ out of 10.