Emma

Anya Taylor-Joy in 'Emma'. (Universal Pictures)
Anya Taylor-Joy in 'Emma'. (Universal Pictures)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rival in her sleepy little town. Through the pain of growing up in her social class, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

I'll be honest, before I even walked into the cinema to watch this movie, I thought I already had its measure. Having read the Jane Austen novel on which it is based and having watched Emma Thompson's brilliant adaptation (as well as Clueless) I thought 'this is a story that I've seen one too many times'.

But Autumn De Wilde's incredible direction and lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy's wonderful performance proved me wrong. They, along with the stellar cast and crew, manage to breath new life into this classic story of a meddler caught in her own loved-up web.

This is done by De Willde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton to inject a modern feeling into this period piece through the script and the framing of the story; allowing it to entertain and connect with a wider audience than I think might have been possible. They use a distinctly female gaze to subvert the genre of romance and comedy into a piece of cinema that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

In some readings or adaptations of this literary classic, filmmakers have taken away the lead protagonists' agency, especially when it comes to her own love story. In contrast, this film remembers that this movie is about a strong, powerful lead who is flawed and intense and most importantly – strong-willed. This version also says in bold and certain terms that, yes, there are men in her life, but they are not her main driving force. Friendship, love and loyalty are. 

I also have to commend cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, production designer Kave Quinn, art director Alice Sutton, set decorator Stella Fox and costume designer Alexandra Byrne for creating a world along with the director that was rich and stylised in a way that enveloped me into Emma's life.

Each detail, from the ribbons in the hair to the dresses to the fainting couches let me know on a subliminal level, that I was watching a story about well-rounded characters in a lived-in backdrop. Throughout the film, I felt that there was a whole lot of research and backstory behind every piece and choice made.

It reminded me of a letter Jane Austen wrote to her teenage niece, Anna in which she encourages the aspiring writer to focus on the relationships between the characters against a well-crafted backdrop of place.

The author of Emma wrote: "You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life. Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on, and I hope you will do a great deal more and make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged."

That's what this movie does, and that is the way that it is most faithful to its source material. It zooms the audience into the lives of three or four families shows us that their relationships with each other, are where the most interesting things happen.

My favourite thing that happened while I was watching this movie though, aside from all the technical and brilliant aspects of it, was how much it made me laugh. Emma has always been a comedy, but very few adaptations had me laughing out loud and clutching my sides. This Autumn De Wilde version, however, did. In this vein, my stand-out performance by the supporting cast comes from Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. She is simply fantastic in this role that seems tailored to her.

She, along with the rest of the cast and crew, made me wish there was a long-running television special where I could watch each of them explore their characters' lives in their small community.

I would recommend watching this movie. It's levity that I think the world needs right now to get through all the horrible moments that seem to be driving each day and week and month.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: