The problem with Emma. is, why?
There was a time (and it wasn’t that long ago) when Austen adaptations, re-imaginings, biopics and Bath fever hung heavy over pop culture. Instigated simultaneously by a previous adaptation, the very overrated Clueless, and moreover the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, still the hallmark of performative Austen, it’s easy to forget that Emma had once been the more influential text.
Not a but the formative modern narrative of love intrigue, triangles and romantic aspiration, just as Flash Gordon seems a little passe Emma’s no end of imitators has seen its stylings transplanted throughout literature, television, film and else. With Clueless lacking so much of the consequence of its precursor primarily for the equivalent relationship dynamics forgoing the urgent finiteness resemblant of such affairs in more traditional pre-Victorian England, a new adaptation has come along, again, to remind us where this all started.
There being nothing so engaging about Austen’s Emma from a commentary or class perspective as befitted Pride and Prejudice and moreover the less translated Mansfield Park, Anya Taylor-Joy here heralds this relatively faithful version alongside Mia Goth, Bill Nighy and a host of British actors you’ve probably seen on TV.
Taylor-Joy, like Nighy, bears the enviable ability to make audiences laugh with simply-exaggerated line-delivery. Seen sparingly in her case with the script conversely (and fairly so) saddling her with much more dramatic material, her reliably excellent performance is much more of a credit to Emma. than anything else herein; Taylor-Joy remaining, alongside the main cast of the most recent Little Women, one of the most interesting and effective breakthrough performers of her generation.
Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown) is very funny and oft dramatically effecting as Mr. Elton, as is Gemma Whelan (Yara from Game of Thrones) as Mrs. Weston. Johnny Flynn and Callum Turner are poorly cast as George Knightly and Frank Churchill respectively, with neither near matching the magnetism or charisma necessary to sustain any dramatic tension with the exponentially more talented Taylor-Joy.
The failings of Clueless aside, to Paul Rudd’s great credit you could still have cast him in the equivalent role here and this film would have been better.
The aforementioned talent and humour aside, there’s simply nothing distinct about this feature’s staging or direction which distinguishes it or recommends it beyond the myriads of adaptations, versions and copycats that have come before. The approach and indeed scripting emerging static and restrained in a feature that so required differentiation from that with which we are so recently and overly familiar, sure if you’re an Austen fan you’ll enjoy this but even if you aren’t you’ll have seen it all before.
Emma. is in cinemas from February 13