What to watch: Emma - a quirky new adaptation of Jane Austen's classic

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Mia Goth (left) plays Harriet, who falls victim to the matchmaking efforts of her friend Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) in this new Jane Austen adaptation.
Mia Goth (left) plays Harriet, who falls victim to the matchmaking efforts of her friend Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) in this new Jane Austen adaptation.

The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel sees a departure from the typical sweeping landscapes, dramatic music and long winded dialogue usually associated with period films. Instead Emma. – the directorial debut of photographer Autumn de Wilde and now with an added full stop – gives us an energetic and quirky version with dreamy visuals and heaps of charm.

The incorrigible Emma (Split’s Anya Taylor-Joy) is a conceited and spoilt young woman who loves matchmaking – often to the detriment and annoyance of others. The movie addresses the unlikability of the heroine head-on in the opening credits: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, had lived nearly 21 years in the world with little to distress or vex her.”

In her quest to see her friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth from Nymphomaniac: Volume II) married, the viewer glimpses her selfishness and vanity – flaws that Taylor-Joy doesn’t shy away from with her sassy performance. In Johannesburg-born actor Johnny Flynn’s kind-hearted Mr. Knightley, we find a worthy counterpart – and it’s the balance and chemistry between these two that cements the film’s success.

Other noteworthy performances include Bill Nighy (Love Actually) as Emma’s hypochondriac father, and comedian Miranda Hart as the exasperating but harmless Miss Bates. With its quick-witted humour, Clueless-like quality and a cheeky peek or two at a naked derrière, Emma.is a modern romcom in bonnets and high collars, while the original text is paid enough respect to appease Austen devotees. 

– LAURI KING

2020. 132 MIN. 10-12PG DP. ALSO AVAILABLE ON GOOGLE PLAY AND APPLE TV+

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