Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Running Time: 124 mins
Emma. is a British film about a young woman who, despite having a kind heart, acts selfishly as she interferes in the love lives of her friends.
Moderately succeeding as it tries to find a middleground between modern-day comedy and sumptuous costume drama, Emma is an enjoyable and undeniably pretty watch throughout.
It does at times hang heavier on the side of costume drama than witty comedy, and struggles to really engross in its early stages. But, with gorgeous visuals and strong performances, plus a great final act, it proves a thoroughly delightful watch come the finish.
Now, I’ve always been one of those people to shy away a little when it comes to big-screen costume dramas. Too often is it a genre that priorities quaint production over genuinely engaging storytelling, regularly coming off as a little bit like style over substance.
Saying that, however, there has been a delightful rebirth in recent years of the costume drama, taking the tropes of classic stories that have been adapted on the big screen a thousand times and injecting a modern, almost anarchic energy into the mix.
The best example of that is director Whit Stillman’s brilliant Love & Friendship (adapted from Jane Austen’s Lady Susan) which, along with gorgeous costumes and production, is an absolute riot throughout.
And that’s what I felt Emma was missing at times. It’s an undeniably beautiful watch, with director Autumn de Wilde’s background in photography shining through in the form of beautiful production design, but it’s not the non-stop laughterfest that Love And Friendship surprisingly proved.
Of course, these are two different stories with differing levels of comedy, but Emma tries to replicate that anarchic approach to Austen on the big screen, and often comes up rather short, never really sparking any big laughs with quick-witted jokes or a sense of gleeful sarcasm.
So, as a comedy, Emma isn’t a perfect film, but it really comes into its own when it comes to delivering a classic costume drama story. I went into this film hoping for yet another anarchic Austen adaptation, and while the film doesn’t quite manage that, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed its faithfulness to the original story.
Once again, the lack of comedic zip does mean that the film’s themes on high society are less entertaining, but when it comes to romantic intrigue, Emma is a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
Particularly in its second half, when we see the meddling Miss Emma Woodhouse meet her match, the film develops a number of pleasantly entertaining romantic storylines that all tie up wonderfully come the finish. It’s not a groundbreaking story, but it delivers classic Austen fare in genuinely delightful fashion, without the need for sarcasm in the process.
The fun factor of that romantic intrigue is bolstered by a fantastic lead turn from Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Emma Woodhouse to perfection throughout. With a delightfully ambiguous blend of self-absorbed vanity and still likable characteristics, she’s always an interesting watch, and it’s a genuine delight to watch her on a rollercoaster of romance throughout.
The whole cast is excellent, with memorable supporting performances across the board, but Taylor-Joy is an outstanding lead, bringing the strongest energy and often the closest semblance to a sarcastic, modern approach to Austen in the film as a whole.
As a result, there really is a lot to like about Emma. It’s far from a perfect film, and lacks comedic energy and ingenuity throughout, also struggling with an often muddled first act.
But, once the film gets into its stride, it really impresses with enjoyable and pleasant romantic intrigue, backed up by engaging characters, great performances and utterly gorgeous production and costume design. It doesn’t suffer from style over substance as many other costume dramas do, but delivers classic Austen fare in delightful fashion throughout. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4 overall.