Directed by Autumn de Wilde — Screenplay by Eleanor Catton.
Autumn de Wilde’s feature film directorial debut, Emma., is a romantic-dramedy period piece based on the 1815 Jane Austin novel of the same name, which has been adapted numerous times. Autumn de Wilde’s film takes place in the early 19th Century and it follows its privileged titular character, Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), as she interferes with her friend’s love life. Her friend, the sweet but impressionable Harriet Smith (played by Mia Goth), is attracted to a Mr. Robert Martin (played by Connor Swindells). But, instead, Emma thinks that Harriet should pursue a romantic relationship with the local vicar, Mr. Elton (played by Josh O’Connor), even though it’s clear to everyone except for Emma and Harriet that he is actually attracted to the title character.
I decided to watch this film to catch up on some of the films that may earn recognition for their costumes at the upcoming awards ceremonies, and so I was looking for something very specific when I finally watched Emma. more than a year after it had been released in theaters (or on PVOD) back in February of 2020. As a matter of fact, I didn’t plan to review this film, but then something quite magical happened. Slowly but surely, the film got its hooks into me, and I eventually really loved it.
One of the things that I loved so much about this romantic-dramedy was that it takes place in these luxurious but surprisingly colorful British country-side houses, some of which have colors that really pop. The production designer (Kave Quinn) and set decorator (Stella Fox) deserve a lot of credit for using rich and vibrant colors to accentuate the main locations. The film has an intentionally heightened set decoration and characters that can sometimes seem equally exaggerated and this helps to establish a comedic tone that I really liked. Because this absolutely is a witty costume drama, and, as expected, I thought Alexandra Byrne’s costumes were absolutely fabulous.
Again, the ensemble cast helps to really earn that comedic tone, and, from top to bottom, the cast really is delightful. Bill Nighy’s amusing Mr. Woodhouse is a real scene-stealer, I loved how Josh O’Connor amplified his insufferable character’s behavior when he was trying to woo Emma, and, not to be outdone, I also thought that the actors who play the main characters — Mia Goth, Johnny Flynn (who plays George Knightley), and the really talented Anya Taylor-Joy — all brought something really special to their characters. I also really want to mention that I thought Miranda Hart, much like Nighy, also gave a scene-stealing performance as the amusing Miss Bates, who plays a pivotal role in the film’s best scene, in which Anya Taylor-Joy’s clueless but privileged character is particularly cruel.
For a feature film directorial debut, I think Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. is remarkably confident. The film and its tone won’t be for everyone. Admittedly, some characters are perhaps not as well-rounded as others, and I am sure there will be some that aren’t particularly interested in watching another adaptation of a Jane Austin classic. Nevertheless, I liked this film a lot. I am really impressed by the film’s style, which relies on impressive set design (or set decoration) and costuming, and I thought the filmmakers and the cast did an extraordinary job of amplifying the characters’ behavior in a way that makes the film’s humor even more effective. This film was a really wonderful surprise, and I’m looking forward to seeing what de Wilde does next.
8 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.