“Emma.”, the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic literature novel of the same name, is packed with a lot of wit, charm, and heart. Although it has been several years since I belatedly read Austen’s novel, the movie reminds me again of how much I enjoyed its sassy young heroine and her amusing tale of romantic troubles, and it also delights me further with a number of splendid moments to be appreciated.
At the beginning, we see its heroine Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) enjoying her latest success. Although she is one of the richest girls in her rural village, Emma is not so particularly interested in marriage for now, and she has usually paid more attention to pairing people around her including her former governess, who recently becomes the second wife of an affluent local squire mainly thanks to Emma.
Not long after this happy incident, another woman who may benefit from Emma’s matchmaking enters the picture. While she is young and pretty, Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) does not have much prospect as a girl without any substantial social standing, and Emma is determined to find an ideal match for Harriet as her closest friend. Although Harriet seems to be quite interested in a local farmer, Emma thinks Harriet is too good to marry that guy, and she soon embarks on pairing Harriet with Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), who recently comes to the village as its new vicar.
While it looks like things are going as well as Emma hopes, she soon finds herself conflicting with George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), a young and wealthy bachelor who does not approve much of what Emma has been doing for Harriet. In his viewpoint, Harriet is more suitable to someone not so different from her instead of a petty snob like Mr. Elton, and, as your average headstrong girl, Emma is often annoyed by Mr. Knightley’s acerbic opinion on her matchmaking affair.
The movie gives us a series of humorous moments which clearly convey to us how Emma is rather oblivious to the unintentional outcome of her well-meaning actions. Eventually, there comes an unpleasant moment of realization for her not long after the end of the disastrous dinner party during one winter evening, and she certainly comes to learn a hard lesson on those tricky matters of heart.
As Emma tries to move on after her big mistake, another change comes into her life via Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), who has been the most desirable young bachelor in the area but has frequently been unavailable as making various excuses including his rich aunt. He did not come even when his father married Emma’s former governess, but Emma has become more curious about him just like others around her, and, what do you know, she eventually encounters Mr. Churchill by coincidence when he finally comes to the village for meeting his father and others in the village.
In the meantime, Emma is also introduced Miss Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), the niece of Emma’s longtime friend Miss Bates (Miranda Hart). While she may look rather plain compared to Emma, this young lady soon distinguishes herself in front of others with her very sophisticated aspects, and it looks like she can be a good new friend to Emma, but then it later turns out that she has some inner conflict behind her calm façade.
And it becomes more evident that Mr. Knightley loves and cares about Emma more than he can admit on the surface. At one point, he does a significant act of kindness for saving Harriet from misery and humiliation, and that certainly touches Emma a lot, but she and Mr. Knightley still find themselves clashing with each other as usual even while sensing more of the mutual attraction between them.
Leisurely and cheerfully rolling its story and characters, the screenplay by Eleanor Catton deftly alternates between humor and poignancy, and director Autumn de Wilde, who made a bunch of short films before making this feature film debut of hers, did a skillful job of filling the screen with lively mood and enjoyable details including the frequent presence of servants around its main characters throughout the film. While the production design by Kave Quinn and the costume design by Alexandra Byrne look gorgeous as required, the cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt often provides us several impressive shots to be savored, and the score by Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer effectively functions along with several chirpy songs on the soundtrack.
Above all, Anya Taylor-Joy, who has been one of the most promising new actresses in Hollywood since she drew our attention for the first time with “The Witch” (2015), is utterly charming in the titular role, and she is also supported well by a number of various supporting performers. While Johnny Flynn and Callum Turner are suitably cast in their respective roles, Bill Nighy is always a pleasure to watch as Emma’s fastidious father, the other substantial cast members including Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Rupert Graves, Amber Anderson, and Josh O’Connor are also solid on the whole.
Overall, “Emma.” is another successful movie adaptation of Austen’s novel, which was previously adapted for the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. For now, I cannot say whether the movie is better than the 1996 film and many other adaptations out there, but the movie delighted and entertained me enough during my viewing, and I am willing to revisit it for more enjoyment and appreciation.