Movie Review: Emma. (2020)

Emma. is an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name. It is about Emma Woodhouse, who has no need of men or money, so she plays matchmaker for the other women around her. This is complicated of course when she and Mr. George Knightley are at opposite ends of a match. The two of them butt heads as Emma learns playing Cupid's hard enough without developing feelings of her own. The film stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Josh O'Connor, Callum Turner, Rupert Graves, Gemma Whelan, Amber Anderson, Miranda Hart, Tanya Reynolds, and Bill Nighy. It is directed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton.


I found this film utterly charming. It's not a laugh out loud in a guffaw kind of funny, but as a comedy of manners and a farce of society, it is a delight. I must admit that while I'm a bibliophile, I haven't read the original work, so I have no context for what is "supposed" to happen. Yet, the Austen tropes are there in the film. We do have the man who is eligible, but rejects the inherent cruelty of society, the main character who is an independent and clever woman who eschews the necessities of a woman her age and then the roguish man who could upend our hero with a wink and an offer of marriage. Though, I feel as I always feel about Austen's archetypes, they don't hinder or detract from the story. The characters feel as rich and three dimensional as the places they inhabit.


Autumn de Wilde and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt have created a lush tapestry of visuals from the beautiful browns and brightest blues of Emma and Knightley's eyes to the mouth watering feasts at every dinner scene. The production design team also deserve a hearty round of awe as Kave Quinn, Alice Sutton, and Stella Fox have built the incredible places for us to look at from Knightley's lonely abbey to Emma's warm and colorful home with her father, who always feels as if there's a draft. It's a marvelous tableau of a film with several gorgeous set pieces.


My favorite scene of all has to be the whole of the dance at the ball thrown by Mr. Weston in honor of Frank Churchill. There are many looks many heartbreaks and shade coming from every which way in between, but when Knightley and Emma share a dance it becomes tight. All attention of the camera is on them alone and as they start to feel that deep connection between them, we can feel it. Editor Nick Emerson and de Wilde have crafted an incredibly chaste, erotically charged dance. Hands and eyes linger as breath gets heavier. At the end of the dance I want nothing more than for these two to kiss, but there's a moment when the feeling is lost and they break apart. That tension remains, though and it's very good. I'm fanning myself just thinking of it.


There are so many great moments like that in the film. I especially love as Emma and a party of people have made to lay about after touring Kightley's estate. Emma attempts a witty remark, but it hits far too close to home for Miss Bates who has done nothing but adore Emma and her company. It's a scene that wouldn't land in less assured hands, but the combination of the great actors, the material and de Wilde's not letting the moment slip before it really resonates. We feel the anguish of just what Emma has interrupted in this delicate social balance and as the fulcrum of the film it works so well to tip Emma away from her vanity and toward humility.


Every actor in this film is devastatingly good. From Bill Nighy's incredible comedic timing and genuine pathos, to Miranda Hart as the constantly talking Miss Bates, to Johnny Flynn as the handsome, forthright George Knightley all of them fire on all cylinders. Yet, Anya Taylor-Joy is an absolute star. With a glance she can show what she's thinking and with a well placed barb she can cut even the most confident enemy down to size. Taylor-Joy embodies attitude and shows the growth of the character exquisitely. She even walks in a certain way that conveys the most supreme attitude. It's a marvelous performance to watch.


I highly recommend Emma. it's delightful and gorgeous to look at. Some of the humor falls flat in some places, but the background humor is enough that it picks up the pieces of any dropped lines. Go and see it and revel in the pettiness and the prettiness of the haves and the have mores.

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