A fresh-as-daisy take on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, Emma is the debut feature from music photographer and video-maker Autumn de Wilde. And, no, that does not mean Regency-era England is getting a rock’n’roll makeover. Her take on this tale of youthful hubris is as faithful as they come, with pin-sharp production design, ravishingly costuming and a sly wit that is obligatory with any Austen adaptation. But the casting has a spirited quality that will – hopefully – encourage a youthful audience to explore their first Austen.
Twenty-five years ago, Emma was the inspiration for the high-school set Clueless, and de Wilde doesn’t forget that in producing a story about first loves, first friendships and, well, bitchiness. Emma Woodhouse (played quite regally by Anya Taylor-Joy) is admired by many in the well-to-do circles in which she mixes, but there’s something quite innocent and naive about her behaviour as she mischievously acts as matchmaker whilst looking for love.
Befriending Harriet (Mia Goth, perfect), a girl of lower social standing, Emma interferes in her potential marriage to a farmer. Other men come into their orbit, including Josh O’Connor’s clergyman and Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who frequently visits Emma and her father (Bill Nighy) but disapproves of the girl’s rash and unfeeling behaviour. The emotions are as delicate as the beautifully-baked cakes that adorn the bone-china stands in just about every scene.
De Wilde shows great skill in unearthing the gentle humour of the piece (from Mr. Woodhouse’s constant fretting about other people’s health to Miranda Hart’s incessant chattering). These are characters that live in a bubble, shop in haberdashery stores and takes carriages to sprawling country estates. But underneath the early 19th century manners and mores, their hearts beat loudly and for each other.
Taylor-Joy is, as her name suggests, a joy to watch, but she is surrounded by a wealth of talent, including Callum Turner as the dashing Frank Churchill and Amber Anderson as the musically talented Jane Fairfax. True to her roots, de Wilde ensures this version of Emma has a great deal of musicality to it (including a song by Flynn over the end credits). It may not be rock’n’roll, but her take on Jane Austen is a perfect way to introduce the writer to a new generation.
Emma opens on 14 February. For more details, visit here.