I’m not sure that Clueless needed to be remade in the 1800s, but here we are with Autumn de Wilde’s debut film. In reality Emma is an adaption of Jane Austen’s classic 1815 comedy novel of the same name following Emma Woodhouse, a young woman who meddles in the romantic lives of her friends and loved ones.
Now I am coming to Emma as someone who is not a fan of Austen’s work. I find that these period pieces are very much not to my tastes. But with Anya Taylor-Joy playing the titular Emma I decided to give the film a shot. And Anya Taylor-Joy is a delight in the lead role. She’s charming and likeable for the most part, but does at times come off as cold and harsh. This allows Emma to grow throughout the film, and Taylor-Joy plays that exceptionally. The rest of the cast is also fantastic. Johnny Flynn was the only actor I’m not hugely familiar with in the principle cast, but he does a great job as George Knightley, Emma’s oldest friend who she frequently clashes with.
This was also something that writer Eleanor Catton helped capture fantastically in her screenplay. By letting Emma be almost unlikable at times it makes Emma’s journey far more impactful, even more than in my favourite adaptation of the novel, Clueless. Where this version does fall down a little is the comedy. The film is funny, but not with big laughs. In fact I don’t think I heard one proper laugh from the audience I watched the film with. Instead this is the kind of film that will have you chuckling along for much of it. And that’s fine, but for Emma to really stand up as a great adaption I would have liked it to be funnier.
I also thought that Autumn de Wilde did an excellent job for a first time feature film director. She is obviously helped capture the time period by the fantastic work from the production design, costume, and hair departments who really bring 1800s England. But de Wilde does bring a fantastic visual flair to the film as well. It’s easy to see why given that her background is based in photography, and she brings that eye in her work with cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt.
On the whole whilst I didn’t expect to enjoy Emma I ended up having a good time with it. The comedy in the film does hold it back from being great, but it was still a pleasant enough time.